living wages

I count the jobs I’ve had, on my fingers–newsroom editor, mutual
funds newsletter reporter, webmaster and marketing associate, sales
and marketing associate, senior internal communications specialist, library paraprofessional–I’m counting back from the day I graduated college and proudly accepted
the $28,000 the newswire had offered in exchange
for my mortal soul and the brief, wafting wisps of happiness I once
knew as an undergraduate.

when I tell horror stories about my jobs, with googly eyes and scary
sound effects and "and then he tried to kill me with the staple
remover!" hand gestures, I’m still thinking post-college,
pre-workforce. The important jobs. The real jobs. The ones that I spent
four years working toward, the jobs that were supposed to be the
foundation of a long and successful career. The ones I’ve taken five
years to realize are going to kill me in my sleep. The ones which have
made me realize, again and again, in a series of bright and shining
moments of truth I somehow never pay much attention to, how very little
I want a successful career.

you know, you get addicted to the paycheck, which tends to increase
exponentially. And you get addicted to the sushi and the hardcover
books and the taxis home and the lipsticks, and though you think
longingly of chucking it all and getting some kind of throwaway job and
living in a tiny rented room with no heat and a single bare bulb in the
middle of the ceiling. You think, "That’s the life! Simplicity! Elegance! Living in poverty, tapping out a novel on a secondhand
typewriter and drinking pots of coffee to stay warm, tucking your
chilly fingers inside the long sleeves of the raggedy cast-off sweaters
you buy at the Salvation Army, drinking $2 beers in seedy bars.
That’s the life, where your job is nonsense and ignorable, easy and

Except when I say that, I am speaking through the mental shield that allows me to forget that I once, for minimum wage, had to wrap my hands in washcloths and kneel on the side of a hot
tub to pluck a slightly slimy green rubber dildo from the half-drained
oil-slicked water of a stranger. Working as a housekeeper at Cove Haven meant dildos, condom wrappers, condoms. Being
trained by the mother of my mortal high school enemy. Having to suffer
through being told how to vacuum properly. Flushing the unflushed.
Scrubbing the oil slicks. Changing sheets with wet spots.

And oh
god, the dildos. On the side of the bed. In the bed. Under the bed. The
condoms! The condoms everywhere, with their greasy little payloads. And
the smell! The smell when you walk into the dark, dark room. I imagine
housekeeping work is actually kind of lucrative. But please, if you go
into it, please don’t housekeep at a honeymoon resort. You will never
erase the stink of newlywed musk from your scent memory, not for as
long as you live, not ever.

wouldn’t you know it, I took that job, back in high school, because if
I had to work at another supermarket, and go home with that indefinable
funk clinging to my hair and my pants and that stupid little red smock
they made me wear, I would kill myself. To escape from supermarket
hell, I ran to Cove Haven, and pushing a laundry cart full of crusty
towels up and down a million little hills. I lasted a week before–in
the middle of the dildo-in-the-hot tub-shift–I dropped the keys into
the pile of the wet and sticky things I found all over these rooms,
left the cart outside the manager’s office, and stalked off to a
payphone by the side of the highway, to call my mother and make her
come pick me up.

I left
that job for a job at the convenience store deli place where my
enormous and scary coworkers stole hot dogs by the handful and made me
chop onions until I wept and mop the floor every 10 minutes. The place
was held up twice a month. Once I carved off the top of my knuckle
while I was cutting lettuce on the meat slicer. Another time I just
about lopped off the top of my finger while I was trying to open up a
package of hot dogs, to refill the ever-empty hot dog machine. Big
stinky motherfuckers carrying handguns asked me to marry them.

I ran away to New York to go to college so I wouldn’t have to ever touch a deli slicer ever again.

And discovered that I don’t like other collars of work, either. I gritted my teeth, when I moved to California, and assumed that going back to school meant going back to retail, but I lucked into the library, and then into advertising, and now, I feel those self-pitying rumbles again, and I am forgetting the dildos and the slicers, and woe is me.

basic truth of it is that subsistence sucks. Working sucks. Working
anywhere, and working anyhow, when you really think about it, means
wasting entire years of your life. When you’re on your death bed, will
you look back on your life and think, "Gee, I’m glad I spent all those
years leaking my life away under florescent lights, wearing business
casual/deli smocks/housekeeper uniforms, just so’s I can afford a
speedboat I could only use on weekends, but ended up only using twice
in the summer in 1998!"? You won’t! You’ll weep for those minutes,
those hours, those days, weeks, months, years, decades. You’ll look
back, and you will have realized–you will have realized that life
sucks. That was so dark.

solution: abolish capitalism! Close down the economy! Get rid of the
government! No more work for anyone, and everyone gets paid! Bread and
circuses for everyone!

So I
don’t have a solution. I will go ahead and keep working, I suppose.
Though all the while, I’ll keep wishing for money to fall out of the
sky. Or for a socialist utopia. Or wishing that wrapping myself in a
comforter and reading all day–interspersed with bouts of bubble bathing and wild, imaginative sex–was
a lucrative line of business.

6 Replies to “living wages”

  1. I dream of the lottery, which I guess is the American Dream now. Or else, without actually writing, I author a great novel and become rich and famous and spend all my days lounging about. Basically my dream is to be rich and to get to do what I want, though probably in reality there are drawbacks to that, too. Money doesn’t buy happiness, right? (Only this doesn’t work for me, because I am happy except for not having money, therefore wouldn’t that complete the picture?)

  2. Why not try to find a job with an organization that does work you find meaningful, or important, or, even better, essential?

    Not all jobs need kill the soul. To believe this seems to me evidence of a profound lack of imagination.

  3. ROTFLMAO!!!!!! Sweet god do I relate to this post.

    “…wishing that wrapping myself in a comforter and reading all day—interspersed with bouts of bubble bathing and wild, imaginative sex—was a lucrative line of business…”

    If you can figure out a way to get paid for that, let me know ’cause I’m ready. ;-)

    I’ve had some gnarly-ass jobs, but I never had to fish a dildo (in any color) out of a hot tub. Although I did once watch someone wash their clothes in the Jacuzzi at an apartment complex I lived at in ’01 and ’02. UCK.

    Your problem, and mine, (I think) is that we are super-sensitive, over-intelligent, easily bored, and want to fix the fucked up way the world runs–cause we know better.

    Thanks for this POV and the laugh…so, so true.


  4. I think back on all the jobs I’ve had, pre-college and post-college, some exciting and challenging, some soul-draining and painful, and I realize that although a great job of course beats a shitty job, it’s WORKING that I hate.

    It’s the mandatory 9-5, Monday through Friday, coupla-weeks-off-a-year grind. The daily drudge of alarm clocks and commutes. I am not unmotivated or lazy, and I actually have a job now in which I feel we are doing important things and making a difference, but to be honest, I find my TIME to be more precious to me than anything, and I resent not being able to spend my time my way.

    (I think, maybe, if I’m not mistaken, that’s what Weebitty–comment above–doesn’t understand. You can have a job that is meaningful, important, and essential, but for all the good that does the world and your conscience, at the end of the day sometimes it just seems like life is too short to be spending so many days and weeks and months and years on someone else’s clock.)

    If I didn’t have to work, some days I’d lounge around in my jammies and read all day long. But I know other days I’d go out and volunteer, or do something to try to contribute something toward making this world a slightly better place. The point is, I would not lack for things to do, and I would have the freedom to do them when I want, which I really feel is priceless.

    Alas, I need to work, as there are bills to pay. I keep my eyes and ears open for alternative work opportunities, something which might give me more of the freedom I seek while still providing a paycheck.

    I don’t write like you do, so that’s out. But here’s hoping you become a famous novelist and can at some point quit your 9-5 to stay home and pound out masterpieces (but NOT in a tiny one room apt with no heat and a naked dangling lightbulb).

    Maybe then I’ll live vicariously through your fabulous life, ok?

  5. When I got excited looking at the new elbow-length sleeve coats from Vera Wang at Kohls, I realized that part of their appeal was that the sleeve made me reminesce about my smock at Snyders that I wore at both my first two jobs. The coat is much cooler of course, but it was a lot like when I realized that I have loved wearing brown my whole adult life in spite of it being the base color in my uniform skirt from high school.

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