Professional Histories – Part Two

*image borrowed from http://quantumbiologist.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/tumbleweeds-on-mars/

It seems that “miserable jobs” is a hot topic these days. I had more than the usual number of visits to my blog after my last post (meaning, a number > 6) and I even received a few comments in addition to the daily spam count from a Missouri-based pharmaceutical distributer and the Siberian porn blogger who always manages to add, “very much thanks to the author” after several paragraphs written in the Russian alphabet. (I just wanna know – where the hell is Svetlana’s mother?)

I started thinking about my career trajectory several weeks ago (think tumbleweed in a wind storm) after a job interview that was so surreal, you almost had to be there to believe it. I started to reflect back on past jobs and it occurred to me that I’ve had more than what seems like a fair number of real dead end positions. These days I apply to almost everything just for the entertainment value alone. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a position for a public relations person to work with a local publisher. I responded immediately and enthusiastically despite the miserable pay. The “office” was located in a historic downtown building with a beautiful brick facade and I even knew one of the writers for the publication so I told myself that there might be other opportunities down the road that would compensate for slave wages. I have to be optimistic these days.

When I arrived for the interview, I opened the door that led from the street into a corridor so dark and musty, with a stained rust-colored carpet that looked like it hadn’t been vacuumed since the release of “Benji.” Then there was the creaky, heavily varnished staircase and the cracked plaster on the ceiling which, upon closing the front door, exhaled a powdery flurry of white dust particles. I half-expected to see red-eyed bats hanging from the rafters, or to hear the echoes of chain-bound feet dragging along the upper level.

I knew at that moment that with the pay and the setting that I wouldn’t last an hour. It was 100% morbid curiosity that drove me to the top of the stairs and I was not disappointed. At the end of the corridor was a little door with a number on it – the only formal identification of a business/tenant. Over the phone the man had warned me that the office was small. I thought “small” meant two desks, a few filing cabinets, a place to make coffee and a view of the street where I could at least witness daily evidence of the human realm lest I forget it. A tiny man – imagine a cross between Gollum and Nathan Lane – opened the door and graciously invited me into a closet about the size of my minivan; the single window was covered over with a tattered, faded poster for a 1940s-era movie musical. There was a small, fuax-granite plastic desk and a single computer. I wasn’t exactly sure where a second person would sit. As if anticipating my thoughts, he exclaimed, “It’s a small space for big ideas!”

For the next hour I sat and listened to this little man re-enact conversations with difficult clients, dramatizing for me (with exaggerated flourishes and a charade-like allusions to Edvard Munch’s The Scream) the extensive theatrical training necessary to his occupation as publisher of a single, annually-updated book about wineries. For some people, working alone for years has its price. When he had finished this strange little one-act play, he asked me very politely if I’d ever been convicted of a felony. This was his only interview question. I thanked him for his time and said I would get back to him with references. Later my husband, who has been comfortably employed just a mile from home for more than ten years chastised me for not taking the position: “No job is ever perfect!”

On the subject of shitty jobs, last night I went to the quarterly meeting of the Runaway Moms Club where a friend and fellow writer reflected on one of her less-desired positions – “fill-in, overnight caregiver.” She said she had once been called in to take care of an invalid, only to discover this “invalid” was a non-ambulatory 700-pound man who never left his bed. She had been told that her duties would be limited to cooking dinner and making sure the man kept breathing until morning but when he ordered her to fetch him his urinal to pee, she soon discovered this man was a hermaphrodite. Always open-minded, my friend confessed that it wasn’t the issue of an intimate hermaphroditic encounter – per se – that got to her, but rather the awkward confusion that arose from trying to figure out to which anatomical bit should she attach the urinal tube. This is a woman who isn’t phased by much. “I feel sorry for people who haven’t had crappy jobs. You haven’t really lived until you’ve helped a 700-pound hermaphrodite take a piss.”

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