Tax season mail has begun rolling in. You get this stuff, too, right? Envelopes marked “Important Tax Document” with that very official looking return address and a for the love of god, don’t let Gracie eat this air about them. Well, yours might not have the dire Gracie warning but you get the gist. W2s. Gotta love ’em. Which leads me to paychecks.

One of my teenage jobs was at a camera shop/Hallmark store. Hallmark is Hallmark so you know what the deal was in that section; it was behind the camera counter where all the real action happened. Most of you won’t bat an eye at this, but as for the younguns? Buckle your seatbelts, kids, this will sound like the dark ages. Pull your chairs up close now and let me tell you all about it.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away (otherwise known as Massachusetts)…

I started working in a camera shop back when they used actual film canisters. Hang with me here, kids. A canister was this black tube-ish thing that held a long black strip of translucent film. You’d open the back of your camera, pop in the canister, and pull the film across until it caught on an empty spool. That way when you closed the back and cranked it the film would roll a bit then get wrapped up as it’s used.

So this magic black surface would capture and trap images every time you clicked your camera shutter. (Fine, fine, if you want a more science-y explanation you can check one out here.) And then – wait for it – you had to drop the film off somewhere to get it developed. Super fancy people took it to a one hour place but the rest of us had to wait days to see if our pictures were any good. Talk about an exercise in delayed gratification.

But anyway, back to the job.

I never really nailed down the difference between Kodak and Fuji brand film. There was a delightful primer on 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO that never actually stuck so right through my very last day I pretty much faked it when somebody asked “what kind of film do I need?” There were also those customers who blamed me for their crappy pictures but hey, man, I didn’t take the shot.

Then there was learning how to use a fax machine. Oh lawd, you kids have used a fax machine, right? This was what came before the you can just scan and e-mail that to me technology. Let’s say you needed to send someone a contract or sign loan papers from out of state – you could wait days and days for mail, or you could load them up in a magic machine that [cue Wayne’s World music] sends them over the airwaves. (Fine, fine, if you’re into all the learning and such then you can read how a fax machine really works here.)

Of course, there’s always the chance you might load the papers in backwards, thereby sending four blank pages to the destination machine, prompting a highly embarrassing call asking what moron doesn’t know how to fax stuff. Ahem.

Overall it was a good gig, though, and one that paid me for my OCD joy straightening Hallmark cards. To this day I credit that job with being able to spot an out-of-place greeting card at twenty paces.