The tax-man cometh, and I receiveth multiple W-2s. Seven of them. I can hardly remember the beginning of this year, but these tangible reminders of my time spent working brings me back to the days I spent at the State Fair, the nights at Five Corners Saloon and the hellish minutes at Rainbow Foods.
This year I have worked as a night television news dispatcher, a bartender, a disc jockey, a grounds crewman, a checkout scanner, several Daily positions and an intern at a morning radio show.
Like many students, I find it necessary to find several part-time jobs, as one job doesn’t provide enough money to refill my pockets after my hands go to town on them. That and the variety of several jobs is more interesting. That’s part of the explanation for having so many jobs.
The other reason is that, until recently, most of the 30 jobs I have had were ended for me, rather than by me. And that is not altogether bad. Let me explain.
It is far too easy to become stagnant in a job, wandering in each day, putting lunch in the fridge, mindlessly stocking shelves or going to the cubicle and staring blankly at the screen. Your fingers might push some keys, and lunchtime comes, and then you’re staring, staring until its time to go home.
When one is in this mindset, he is not asking himself if it is time to move on. There are countless people who had just one job through high school and another one or two in college. Their whole lives have revolved around Mr. Putnik’s Grocery Store or Ms. Blobsky’s Restaurant.
And for those years, their brains were being warped, their world shrinking down to that level of focus, a place where the loss of a stapler is a major issue, burning pancakes is a catastrophe, where Old Man Putnik is king of all the eye can see.
Every business is a world of its own, with a hierarchy that is maintained only within the building, and a set of values that is dictated by the front office: Employees should try to look busy, call customers “guests” and fellow drones “sales associates.” These constructs do not hold up outside of the building. In the real world, Putnik shuffles past meekly, his power left at the automatic doors of his store.
Perhaps I seem cynical. Putnik defenders might say that he is providing students with work even though they have no experience, that he is doing them a favor. And there are people who worked through tough years in the past, thankful for every day their employer kept them working, owing their current success to their college job. To them, I sound ungrateful.
But, in the booming job market today, employers are having to bend to the needs of their employees. The contract is as bidirectional as it ever has been. Because of the surplus of jobs available, an employee may, when the money is no longer worth the hassle, simply pick up and move on to the next.
How liberating it is when surrounded by incompetence, negativity and mediocrity to break out entirely of the hierarchy, leaving Blobsky to yell at your empty apron, leaving Putnik complaining to his groceries as you shuck his hold on you. Or as you let him kick you out the door, as the case might be.
However one moves on, the ensuing variety of jobs can help educate, enlighten and train people before they get into a more serious career track, where they risk being blacklisted and can’t afford to alienate their employers. These “disposable” jobs allow people to test the limits and learn what they are looking for in a job.
Most of the times I was fired, I was tired of the job. Moreover, I didn’t really know how to quit. Rather than face the discomfort of explaining to the managers why I wanted to leave, I would take more and more license to relax, ignore the rules and goof around on the job.
By the end, the managers would want me gone, greasing the skids for my departure, which came usually after doing something over the top, like failing to show up for work or giving away free drinks to my friends.
This technique of forcing the other person to act is similar to a technique some use to rid themselves of dependent partners. They just continue to take and take until the other person gets fed up and leaves the relationship, thus solving the problem. Meanwhile, the situation is tolerable because their needs are met.
That’s the position I took regarding these disposable jobs — that I was tipping the scales to where I could tolerate the job. That my horseplay and lack of real work was my attempt to make my needs meet reality or, more accurately, to make reality meet my needs.
Regardless, looking back on the jobs I’ve had, I feel proud. Whereas others might feel proud of having years of faithful experience at one job, I have been trained in so many things that I could run a small post-apocalyptic city by myself, complete with mixed drinks, swim lessons, freshly mowed lawns and magic shows.
You’re welcome to come, as long as you don’t boss me around.
Brian Close’s column appears on alternate Mondays. He welcomes comments to [email protected]