Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Job Hopper (Ayun Halliday)

I have a really fabulous job. I think I appreciate how great it is because of my previous jobs: Once I was a temp at a dairy in El Paso and had to, using a typewriter, type price orders in Spanish on carbon paper for 12 hours straight in exchange for low pay and all the cottage cheese I could eat. I also taught kids with learning disabilities, which in theory was a noble enterprise, except when I learned that management had been Disney-fied, meaning that my time teaching a student was time I was "on stage" and the break room where I could grab a snack and a quick run to the bathroom was now the "green room." Oh, and then there was that little incident where a company I worked for went in major debt, got bought out by a new company that fired 60% of the staff, saying, "We're just asking you to step out of the boat. Once we earn more money, you can step back in." (No one bought the boat metaphor.)

So I could completely relate to Ayun Halliday's book Job Hopper: The Checkered Career of a Down-Market Dilettante. In her case, Halliday had a string of low-end day jobs to support herself while she was an actress for an experimental theatre group. While her jobs varied (nude model for an art class, security guard for a museum), her experience in the service industry provides some great stories:

The indecencies of Turman's service didn't rest entirely on my shoulders. Kyle could perform his duties with a somnabulist's grace, but all pretense of refinement hit the bricks the moment he opened his mouth.

CustomerContemplatingDessert: "Can you tell me a little more about this 'triple-layer Ghirardelli gateau with mocha-fudge ganache'?"

Kyle, after much consideration: "Wellll. . . it's a brown cake with brown icing."

As an example of some of her less-pedestrian jobs, she once spent a few hours being Bert from Sesame Street for a meet-and-greet event in a department store:

Without warning, she thrust the infant into my arms. To say I was ill prepared to receive this bundle grossly understates the situation. I hadn't held anyone that small since high school, when the neighbors, reassured by the presence of my mother right next door, had indulged my desire to earn a dollar an hour baby-sitting. The giant felt-and-papier-mache Bert head obscuring my vision did nothing to make me feel more confident that I would remember how. Equine in its ability to sense fear, the baby started to shriek and buck, twisting its muscular torso in its mad desire to get free of the monstrous creature who had taken it from its mother. It was like trying to haul a healthy young sea bass into a rowboat with my bare hands. Actually, bare hands would have come in handy right about then. The accuracy of my Muppet gloves put me at a distinct disadvantage for going the distance with that thrashing mass of fragile human tissue.

Reading this book I was reminded of how you can meet the strangest people in the workplace, people who you might never encounter otherwise, and how they can either make a bad situation bearable or much worse. I would say this book is like the movie Office Space. You'll laugh that much harder if the situations ring true.

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