Resume of a Wage Slave, Part One
After whining about my weekend job yesterday, I had the stark realization that I’ve never had fewer than two jobs since I started working at 16. And, throughout, I kept up with high school and college… Which, I suppose, counts as another job. So I’ve never had just one job, if you go with that idea.
It all began in 1990 when I started working at a teeny tiny bookstore. It’s two rooms tacked onto the servant’s entrance at a big mansion built back in the 20’s. The bookstore deals in specialty shit — conservation, birding, and related nonsense. No mainstream books, no bookstore stress. In fact, through thick and thin, it’s a great example of how a niche bookstore can be successful even in this “death of print” era. The mainstream shit is everywhere… But if you want the weird shit, well, you gotta go to it.
Of course, that was before the rise of the “e-sellers” like Amazon. But, even then, our shop was first to make use of Amazon’s used bookstore and a sort of guerrilla Luddite movement that catered to people’s fear of technology, sense of loyalty, and need for instant, hands-on gratification.
I worked there till 1995. During high school, I ran wildly from my last class to the bookstore to clock in two or three hours behind the counter. At the time, they had a booming phone and mail order business so, after the closed sign was flipped, I’d pack up all the orders from the day and get them ready for shipping.
Thursday nights, which I waxed nostalgic about a while back, had me sitting there alone with my thoughts for hours. Rare islands of peace.
There were never more than five paid staff during the heyday. The store was mainly run by elderly volunteers. So you can guess what kind of environment it was. Sleeping behind bookcases, on the till without bathroom or lunch breaks for nine hour shifts and encouraged to pee in soda bottles because you couldn’t take a break from the register. Rules that have since changed under new management, but it was truly wage slave labor when I started.
What I really remember about the bookstore are the Saturday girls. Most of the staff were harvested from nearby high schools (as I was) and the manager had a penchant for hiring attractive girls to run the counter. Without fail, every single Saturday girl was a sexual deviant in a way that simply went well beyond the pale. When I was 17, I had one Saturday girl — a 15 year old — tell me that she “always wanted to do a gangbang” and asked me to organize it. Now, say that to a 17 year old sci-fi geek and the reaction is pretty much, “Duh…whutt?”
She was insistent, though, and I ended up double-teaming her with a friend. This little tiny 15 year old starving to fucking death for a gangbang was shocking in bed. Mainly because she appeared to have been starring in giant black cock pornos. Fucking her was like fucking a very large glass of water. At the time, I was alarmed. Thinking about it now just makes me want to cry.
The friend who joined me for that horrible event married her. Then I met her years later on the Metro and she asked me if I wanted to get off at the next stop and find a place to fuck. That was the first thing she said. We’re talking maybe nine or ten years later. She sees me, she sits down next to me, and those were her first words. And loud, too. So me and about ten other riders just turn, slowly, and stare blankly at her. She seemed oblivious to that and, when I continued to be noncommittal, lapsed into insulting me until she got off at the next stop.
My favorite was the tall, athletic Jewish girl who, at the end of one shift, turned to me and said “I’ve never done it with a goy before.” Down we went to the boiler room for (thankfully) very ordinary sex.
But that wasn’t the story for her replacement, a 16 year old neo-hippie who complained endlessly about how her 32 year old boyfriend hated condoms and, finally, she let him cum inside of her and it was “very messy because he was so small.” She eventually convinced me to “do it right.”
I regret all of this, by the way. I thank my lucky stars none of these girls infected me with anything, and continue to be confounded by their behavior. All of these girls were wealthy, privileged suburbanites. They went to good schools, had families that were in better shape than mine, lived in comfortable houses, and were free from want. Even with a rough upbringing, what 16 year old has the vaginal dexterity to remove a condom? What 15 year old begs for a gangbang? The shit I experienced was unreal.
The absolute worst was the 17 year old who told me that she “could take it all” and proved it by getting on the floor and sodomizing herself with the barcode scanner. While we were open and a customer was in the back room.
Needless to say, by 1995, when I turned 21, I no longer felt safe at the bookstore. I took a dull job at the county textbook depository, endlessly packing boxes in a featureless room. College was in West Virginia, but I’d drive back on all the breaks and pack those boxes. A year of that and I only uttered 17 words to my co-workers. Mainly my boss, who I’d call and say “comin’ back” or “leavin’” and she’d say “okay.”
Finally reaching a repetitive motion threshold, I took a job with a micro-NPO that ostensibly researched holistic alternatives to pesticides but, in reality, was a psychological playground for a paranoid boss.
That gets us to 1997 and, really, I’m almost getting ahead of myself. Because now I have to return to 1991 and my “weekend” job (which I still maintain after 20 years).
The mansion that housed the little bookshop turned itself over to weddings, receptions, bar mitzvah’s, and just about everything else on the weekends. So we’d sit there in the shop (or perform unnatural acts in the basement) and listen to a couple hundred rich fucks freak out all around us.
With my dad’s theft of the family fortune – from the millions we had in the bank down to the penny jar I had under my bed – money was always an issue. Mom spent everything she made on booze and drugs, so that left me in the cold… And not quite able to keep up with my well-to-do peers at my rich kid high school. The bookshop, at $7 an hour for 15-20 hours a week, was just not enough. I went to the rentals boss and asked her if she could sign me on. She said I was too young, but her cohort – a diminutive, elderly Burmese freedom fighter who proudly talked about slitting the necks of any prostitutes who slept with Japanese soldiers during the war – talked her into hiring me. She saw something, perhaps, that made her think of those freedom fighter days. Like – here’s a guy who’ll do what I tell him and cheerfully murder fruit sellers who say hello to invading soldiers.
She took me under her wing and taught me how to work the events. Her rules were simple: (1) The customer is a spoiled cunt who deserves to die…at all costs. (2) Steal at least $150 worth of alcohol at each event. Why? Because “it’s important to set a goal and stick with it.” And (3) Never get caught.
Since the job is unsupervised and, technically, I’m the overall manager of the house and property for the event, it’s surprisingly easy to follow the rules. The job also paid $20 an hour which, in 1991, was pretty fucking awesome. Especially to a high school kid. Nevermind that half the time I was plunging out toilets, wrestling with drunken guests, chasing homeless people through the woods, or standing ankle deep in sewage and fiddling with a fuse box that looked like it was wired by a nine year old.
So my schedule became a little weird. I’d get out of class, go and work the Friday night rental till 3am, sleep in the basement, wake up at 8am and open the bookshop and work a full shift, close up, do the Saturday evening rental until 3am, sleep in the basement again, then wake up and do the Sunday rentals. A schedule that sort of defeated the purpose of keeping up with the joneses because, at that point, all of my high school peers rarely saw me except between classes.
Briefly, in the summer of 1994, I held three separate jobs at the same place – the rentals, the bookshop, and assistant groundskeeper. But that was starting to get too crazy.
In college, the rentals job was a godsend. It was actually worthwhile to drive 200 miles each way on normal weekends and work a bunch of events. And, just to prove I was truly insane, I took a catering job with the college’s hospitality department. So, if I wasn’t yelling at caterers in Maryland, I was a caterer in West Virginia. Talk about living on both sides of the tracks. I’d come off a shift supervising the top rated caterers in DC, drive 200 miles, then put on a smock and serve Bud Light to rednecks.
The rentals job has kept me near the Bookshop of Porno Delight, though I’ve never betrayed the impulse I had in 1995 – to stay away. I watched a succession of managers move through, all with the same hiring practices. The current guy has been there since about 2003. He’s in his mid-40’s, I think, and he’s what we’ll politely call an “Alleged Predator.” Complaints about what he’s done to his underage employees travel gently and quietly along the grapevine. Most people dismiss them, because he’s one of those “nice guys” (he’s not, really), but I know the truth. There were things that happened in that shop that even I shunned…but he’s the type to go all in. The rentals job offers something of a catbird seat. I’m there at odd hours, and I have an enormous amount of free time to sit in a deck chair on the roof and watch everything that happens on the property Rear Window style. I’ve seen the Alleged Predator hang out at his office at all hours, rendezvous with girls who arrive on bicycles, sit in his idling car in the outer parking lot late into the night, and stalk the tree line with a night vision camera. On the rare occasions I interact with him, he always seems happier than a pig in chardonnay. And I know why. Which is on the list of things that drive me to drink.
In the midst of all of this, I was running my first publishing company – Purple Publications – from 1992-1996. Chapbooks, mainly, and a small mailing list of 500 people who actually bought whatever shit I put out. I guess you can consider that yet another job.
Part two on Thursday!