First Jobs


First jobs are special, really.  Like a first car or first crush, they are unforgettable.  Recently at the lunch table my friends were reminiscing  about their first jobs.  As I traced back my own work history, I realized I have worn many hats.  Here are some of my most interesting jobs, beginning with my first.

The Tanning Bed Sanitizer

Gramma Ginny owned a tanning salon within walking distance from my home.  To prepare me for the workforce, I was hired to clean the tanning beds after the customers zapped themselves orange with ultraviolet rays.  The beds were shaped like a large celery sticks, dipping in the middle where people would lie on their backs wearing nothing but goggles and a playboy bunny sticker.  After roasting for ten minutes the skin underneath the sticker would remind the customer what their skin was supposed to look like.  I knew to focus my sanitation work on this middle section of the bed because this is where the mixture of sweat and tanning lotion would settle.  Of course this all happened a very long time ago… by the age of twenty-five I was on to bigger and better things.  

The Butler

After college graduation I needed a job quick so I made the sensible choice and searched for employment on Craigslist.

 I forget the actual job title and description, but I was basically a butler for a rich, elderly couple in Wayne, PA.  Some days I would weed the garden or clean parts of the house, other days I would show up and Louis would hand me the keys to his black Escalade.  “Sandra has physical therapy at 10:00 AM, and drop the clothes off at the dry cleaners.”  At physical therapy, Sandra would lay on her side to complete her leg lifts.  “Nice work, Sandra,” I would say “Only three more.” Sandra was clinically bi-polar and depending on the day she would be angry at me or her husband.  When she was angry with her husband, she would nonchalantly explain that she was waiting for her husband to die because she was going to marry Mr. Nelson, her hairdresser. “We have it all planned out,” she would say.  

The Sub

For six months I was greeted with the same question every morning, “Are you the sub?”  Yes, I would say, as I reintroduced myself to a new set of smelly middle school kids.  I would then glance at the lesson plans and have a conversation like this:

“Ok everyone pipe down.  We’re watching a movie and you’re supposed to fill out this worksheet.”

“Oh man, do we have to fill out the worksheet?”

“It’s up to you.”

“Can we eat snacks?”


“Can we sleep?”

“Yes, please.”

After I worked my way up the substitute teacher rankings, the online scheduling system allowed me to hand-pick the school and subject area I would teach.  I learned quickly that phys-ed teachers never leave lesson plans (not the surprise of the century, I know).  This meant I could show up to the gym, take role, then dominate the pickup basketball games until the end of the period.



Yes, This is Real Life

David After Dentist - May 2008

Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?” -Henry David Thoreau

What would happen if we stopped asking high school students what they want to do when they graduate, and started asking them what they are currently doing with their lives?

Sometimes we focus so much on the future of our middle school and high school students that we lose focus of the present.  Student’s are constantly asked, “What will you major in?  What school will you attend?  What do you want to do with you life?”  These are important questions, but are we devaluing the importance of living in the present?

Students, the world you are currently living and breathing in will not magically transform when you receive your college diploma. Middle school, high school, and college are not the preface to the story. When YouTube sensation David was questioning everything on the ride back from the dentist, his dad was spot on. Yes, this is real life.  Maybe you already had this realization and, like John Mayer, you ran through the halls of your high school screaming at the top of your lungs, saying “there’s no such thing as a real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.”  Whether the “real world” exists or does not exist is beside the point. What I am focusing on is the exciting news that you do not need to wait until college graduation to accomplish something significant with your life!

Pastor Louie Giglio, speaking to an audience of college students, summed up a flaw in our education system like this:

run through halls“I’m not against education, I believe very much in it. But here is the problem that I think we are up against right now. You are in a system that is setting you up for a not yet arrived at destination.” 

Our school system encourages a culture of waiting, an extended childhood of sorts.   Just listen to the language we use to describe high school and college education. It is training, preparing, and visualizing, in a classroom setting that attempts and usually fails at mimicking a real life scenario. Then there is the gap year, which sounds like a small hiccup or parenthesis in the process.  This language is not wrong, but language has the power to frame our reality.  When a student’s current state of existence is summed up in training, preparing and visualizing, it is easy to forget that students have the power to change lives and do incredible things now, not then.

For this blog, I’m not focusing as much on changing the system as I am making sure students (whether in grade school or college) realize what they are up against. If you want to read up on bettering the education system in America, I just finished reading Neil Postman’s insights in The End of Education.

Students, this is real life. What are you doing right now? While you get bombarded with questions about your major, your internships, and your future, remember that you can do something significant with your lives right now!  If you want some inspiration from a christian perspective, watch this sermon from speaker, author and pastor Louie Giglio. The full video is worth the watch!

1999 Summer Beach Trip (Part II)

more from twelve-year-old Ben…journal


We did lots of stuff today.  First we went out to eat at a place called M.O.I.  We were about to go sailing but it was too windy.  I think we went to the pool three times today.  We were driving around and decided to stop at the Holiday Inn and check it out.  It was suppose to open the very next day  We thought it was pretty cool.  The manager said if we wanted to we could be the first guests there.  Later that day mom took me and Joey to the movies to see Big Daddy with Adam Sandler.  That was really funny.  Today was lots of fun.  Did I mention the waves were a lot bigger.

big daddy ticket


Today we didn’t go anywhere.  We went to the beach twice and to the pool twice.  Today would have been boring had the waves not been bigger than any other of the days yet.  At the end of the day the whole family decided to take a walk on the beach.  Joey had his swimsuit on but me and Jakey did not.  We could not resist.  Me and Jake took off our shirts and dove in with Joey.  Eventually we walked about a half a mile to a hotel where mom picked all of us up and drove us to our hotel.


Today the waves were bigger than yesterday.  They seem to be getting bigger everyday.  We went to the beach two times today.  One time it started to hail and me and Joey came running back.  Then it stopped and we went back to the ocean.  We went to the pool two times today also.  I didn’t say it but on Tuesday we ate supper at a place called the Oceanic.  We went to eat lunch there today.  Later we went to a salt marsh.  At places there were tiny shallow tributaries from the inlet, partly salty and partly clear.  This is located at the north end of the island.  It was very calm.  No waves whatsoever and also it was very warm.  Me and my brothers swam around in one big one for a while.  We saw about five dogs.  That was a lot of fun.  Then we went home, ate a bowl of cereal for supper and went out for ice cream.

Joe, dad, and josh

1999 Summer Beach Trip (Part I)

20150808_184725I recently found an old journal entry written by twelve-year-old Ben.  Apparently I enjoyed talking about food, I complained a lot, and I loved my family but would get super annoyed by my two little brothers, mostly Joey. Not much has changed!  🙂

1999 Summer North Carolina Beach Trip

On the way there


Last night me and my brothers spent the night at my aunts and uncle’s house.  We got up at 7:30 in the morning and ate breakfast.  Pancakes and bacon of course.  Then at 9:00 o’clock mom and dad came and picked me, Joey, and Jakey up.  But Joey wanted to say good-bye to Ginny.  So we called Ginny and arranged to meet her at the car wash.  So we did, but Ginny also brought Biscuit.  So we said good-bye to Ginny and Biscuit and were on our way.  The first thing I did when I got into the car was open up some packs of basketball cards that Sharon had got me.  As usual Joey got all the good cards.

Jakey Flying


We stopped at the Maryland Welcome Center.  I got some potato chips.  After that nothing really happened until we got to Virginia.


Joey saw a McDonalds sign.  But dad said, “No.”  Then Joey started to cry.  We ended up going to Wendy’s.  The food was really good.  When Jakey went to the bathroom he was in a stall and we were waiting for him.  Then someone walked in the bathroom and then Jakey screamed, “I got poop on my finger.”  Then we got back in the car.  But not long after that we stopped at a Dairy Queen and were forced to get very small ice cream cones. No Blizzards, no sundays.  But at least we got to pick our flavor.  Joey was making fun of my writing.  So then I noted him that about a year ago it took him a half an hour to write, “I kicked the ball over the fence yesterday, it was amazing.”  Then dad separated us because he didn’t want us to get into a fight or anything.  I think it was a good idea.  We have seen 12 people caught speeding.  Dad just fell asleep. (5 minutes later) Dad just woke up.  Only three hours left to go.

“I Started Digging a Hole”

beachMaking preparations for our day at the beach was the easy part.  The trick was figuring out what to do when we arrived.  We had a free Saturday, so Katie and I decided to make it a beach day.  My brother-in-law Kendall and his wife Rachel joined us along with their two little ones, Emma and Micah.  We headed towards Belmar, a straight shot east from Penndel.  We arrived, bought our beach tags, set up the umbrellas, and took a seat.

So now what?  I said, thinking out loud.  I turned my attention towards food to start off the day, and began snacking on some mango that Katie had cut up the night before.  Emma, who is two and the eldest sibling, invited herself to the party and quickly took control of the food situation.  The mango container was not situated to her liking, so the container was shifted away from me and a bit closer to her.  Emma picked two pieces of mango with her fork and said “Ben.”  This meant that Emma had generously decided to grant me the first serving.  After this she helped herself to a piece, and then signaled once again that it was my turn to eat.  This went on for a little while.  I sat staring at the waves, waiting for my name to be called.

Kendall started digging a hole.

There are multiple purposes for digging a hole in the sand when you are at the shore.  Some people dig so they can bury someone in the sand, covering them with only their head sticking out.  I would often volunteer to be buried by my two younger brothers.  If I could get past the sand being kicked in my eyes, I could enjoy the weight of the cold, gritty sand being pressed on my body.  And then, once my brothers thought there was no way I could get out, I could let out a roar and wrestle my way to the surface. 

Others will dig until they hit water, creating a small kiddie pool for the little ones who aren’t ready for the big ocean.  Some dig a type of moat with a built up barricade in front of the area to protect their towels from the incoming tide. And then others dig just for the sake of digging.

Later in the day Kendall explained to me, “Ben, I don’t know what to do when I’m at the beach. I was bored so I started digging a hole.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I went through the day going through cycles of activities, with no segment lasting more than ten minutes.  Snack on fruit and sandwiches,  body surf in the ocean, lay down on the towel, sit under the umbrella, take Emma to the playground with Kendall, and snack again. Katie and Rachel sat under the umbrellas the entire day, venturing out only to dip their toes in the water before quickly returning to our plot of sand.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, always feeling the need to be doing something.  That is at least how it worked out this past Saturday at the beach.  When I don’t have some kind of project to work on, I can get restless fairly quickly.  Katie knows I need to get out of the house when I start pacing about, making circles around our living room coffee table.  I think, however, that it is more than simply a difference between men and women.  I think humans, in general, like to have something they are working towards.  And when we find ourselves at a beach with nothing to work on, we will create something to work on.

beach shovelEveryone enjoyed their time at the beach in their own way.  I happily jumped from one activity to the next, staying nowhere for more than a few minutes.  Kendall past the time by digging a hole, Emma divvying out mango, Micah playing in the sand, and Katie and Rachel chatting under the umbrellas.

Jimmy “The Greek”

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationI tried to will myself into caring about the women’s world cup final this year.  I turned on the TV one hour before the match because I knew they would be giving biographies, interviews and background information on the individual players of the US team.  It worked, sort of.  The television pieces were not that intriguing, but it was something.  I could now cheer on the team with slightly more conviction than before because I knew the stories of the US players.  Of course there were no individual stories of the opponent, Japan.  Why?  If we know too much about the enemy we may begin to like them.

I love sports documentaries.  One professor lent me his ESPN 30 for 30 collection on DVD and I watched them all within one week.  The Two Escobars, the U, I Hate Christian Laettner, Brothers in Exile, and Bad Boys are a few of my favorites.  I recently watched The Legend of Jimmy the Greek, a story about TV analyst Jimmy Snyder, who made a name for himself both literally and figuratively on “The NFL Today” show on CBS.  Born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos, Jimmy later changed his name to Jimmy Snyder and became affectionately known as “The Greek” to his fans.  The director of the film, Fritz Mitchell, was  clear that Jimmy did not leave a good first impression.

“I was appalled the first time I laid eyes on Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. The billowing aroma of his cologne, the chunky gold jewelry and his coarse street language would have been enough to shock any snotty young kid just out of college.” Fritz explained that he was scared the first time he met the celebrity, but admitted that his feelings changed.  “Twenty-five years later I have the good fortune to look back and try to figure out the man, whom I first found so jarring and later came to feel a genuine affection for.”

Jimmy Snyder

The interesting thing was that I, much like the director, began to like Jimmy more and more throughout the film.  This happens in almost every sports documentary.  No matter how crude, how arrogant, or how thoughtless the main characters seem to be, I typically like them more after I have learned their story.  Jimmy was addicted to gambling, was temperamental at work, and was caught sharing some incredibly racist thoughts on camera that eventually got him fired and shunned from the public eye.  Still, something about hearing his life story had me routing for him to make a comeback after he lost his job and reputation.

I learned about Jimmy’s upbringing, how his mother and aunt were shot and killed when he was ten years old, and how three of his five children died of cystic fibrosis.  This was only part of the story, but details like these allowed me to sympathize with Jimmy, and eventually to overlook his faults.

What is true in sports documentaries and pregame shows is true in real life.  For me, the people I am initially appalled with inevitably become more relatable and likable once I hear their stories.

The Slow Rise

I get distracted easily.  For me, focusing on a worship song while I’m in church is nearly impossible.  I’ve heard countless worship leaders tell me, with the soft acoustic guitar playing in the background, that now is the time to let go of all distractions, not to think about the people around me, and to focus on the lyrics of the song.  So the lyrics pop up on the projector screen and we haven’t finished the first line before I’m staring at the back of a guy’s head.  I will notice that the front of his hair has been meticulously gelled and slicked to one side, but the back has been neglected.  There is a crease, the hair flattened  from his pillow, and one unruly clump of hair jutting out to the left.  Then I think of the back of my head, and if I too have a crease.

Worship8There are countless distractions vying for my attention, but maybe none greater than the slow rise.  If you grew up attending church, you may know what I’m talking about.  Here is how is happens.  Everyone is sitting down at the beginning of song and then, as the chorus approaches and I’m just beginning to meditate on the words like the pastor instructed, one lady gets the urge to stand up and raise her hands.  Her husband, after receiving a swift kick to the shin, begrudgingly stands beside her.  And so it begins.  At this point I have no clue what song we are singing, all I’m doing is wondering who is going next.  Soon a cluster forms around the original couple and sometimes the spread is isolated to one section of the pews for the duration of the song.  Typically though, another brave forerunner springs up on the opposite side of the building and the same process takes place.  Sometimes the slow rise gains enough momentum to begin what looks like the wave in a baseball stadium, but people stay standing.

At a recent worship festival, the lyrics popped up on the screen and as usual, my attention was diverted to anything but the song.  However, something interesting happened this time.  Instead of listening to little voice in my head telling me not to get distracted by the people around me, I gave myself permission to be distracted.  My attention naturally swung back and forth from the song to the people surrounding me.  That night, while overzealous soprano improvised pitchy riffs during the most tender moments of the song, and a few members slunk back in the pews fast asleep while others danced with hands lifted towards the sky, I thanked God for this wonderful community of people.  I was more distracted than ever, but felt completely at home.  That night, instead of pretending I was the only one in the church, I became all the more aware of idiosyncrasies and differences of the people around me and I felt happy to be a part of the group.