Resume of a Wage Slave, Conclusion
1997 was the year of change. I graduated from college in 1996, and then slowly moved out of the weird jobs into the real working world. I left the paranoid pesticide boss behind, gave up my aspiration to publish penis poetry, and embraced this brave new world.
The pesticide job may count as the strangest year of my life. There were never more than three people employed by the boss, who sat at a computer that hadn’t been updated since 1989 and peered at us through coke bottle glasses. Beholden to an octogenarian board, and a drug-addled accountant who snorted anything you handed him, the boss would constantly whisper about plots against her life and career. She’d draw me into the closet and we’d talk nose to nose like some outtake from Get Smart and she’d give me assignments to spy on everyone from her landlord to my co-workers. And not just keep an eye on the guy at the work station next to me… She’d have me out and driving around. I followed people on foot and on the roads. I’d record daily routines and deliver reports to her. Some of these assignments would take me down into the city, or far into the suburbs, and once to Richmond, VA. I drew the line when she attempted to put me on a flight to Singapore to keep an eye on a board member. Perhaps foolish, as I could have scored a free vacation, but it would have been a vacation spent stuck to an 80 year old like glue and phoning in hourly reports.
I was thrilled to leave. I was hired on as the wire editor for the Associated Press. A real and exciting (sounding) job. I wore a tie to work, and raced wildly around to meet two deadlines a day – 10am and 3pm. Every fucking day. I had to drive in on Christmas morning and send out the wires… The news never stops! The main task for the wire job was to edit all the shit that came in like those guys blacking stuff out in Good Morning, Vietnam. I’d pick the best articles from a vast ocean of reports, clean them up, then batch them up and send them off down the pipe to be disseminated to the world.
If it was a slow day, I’d have to write some content myself. Ripped from the headlines stuff and all very basic. A normal, functional person wouldn’t have a problem… But I’ve never been normal or functional. With my corrupt, black heart I saw an extraordinary opportunity to create fake news stories. I’d sneak one a day onto the wires, and keep them as plain and ordinary as I could. The most famous (that is, the one that got me in trouble), was when I wrote a brief history of Scotland Yard, claiming that it was originally founded to keep an eye on the Scots and attempt to stop them from taking over the government of the United Kingdom. “Up to the modern day, Scotland Yard has labored against the Scottish Menace.”
Whew… That was a bad meeting the next day.
In 1999, after two years without a single day off, my uncle decided to intervene before I started murdering co-workers and he basically faked his death on a small scale that only impacted my boss and a few other people. I had to take a week off and fly out to Santa Fe and deal with it.
He met me at the airport, coffee cup of gin and tonic in hand at 9am, and whisked me off on a week-long drunkfest that ended in a high-end bar, next to a fireplace, where he told me to follow my heart and, between us, we envisioned the revitalization of Purple Publications. After all, he noted, if I was able to convince 500 people to buy chapbooks for a couple of dollars… Why not go all the way and start an indie press? So I did it, and I returned home cocky and smarmy and got laid off a couple months later.
From 1999 to 2000, I figured I’d live off of freelance work, and Purple Publications mark 2.0 (it has a much more distinguished name). I started working for economic and business magazines, writing profiles of CEOs and expanding companies. My primary focus was writing profiles of companies that were opening up European offices. For a little while, it was pretty good money. But freelance money can be unpredictable. An invoice may take months to get paid. But that was no problem, because I was also doing the weekend rentals, and running literary contests, and picking up editorial and ghost writing jobs here and there. And I was quietly going insane trying to keep everything in order. Taxes finally drove me over the deep end, and I re-entered the job market with a new focus – find a laid back idiot job that’ll allow me to pursue all the writing, editing, and publishing on the side. I ended up with a phone service job for a youth hostel organization. Membership, bookings, and general travel questions. Seemingly right up my alley. Nine to five on the phones, with one half hour lunch and one 15 minute break. At the same time, I was calling high powered executives and interviewing them, and forging my name in Washington’s literary scene as a publisher, and then racing back to the burbs every Friday night to work an average of 40 hours at the rentals each weekend.
In 2001, a mass exodus from the hostel job led me, and most of my co-workers, to the service center at a major membership-based NPO, where I’ve been since. And the customer service transcripts pretty much sum up this job.
I’m still at the rentals job on the weekends, though my average workload has declined from four 8-10 hour shifts a weekend to four 8-10 hour shifts a month. The publishing company has grown to be the world’s biggest rollercoaster with no safety features. I work a couple of odd jobs doing editorial stuff, though I’m not very serious about them. I round everything off with another job consulting a local up and coming publisher.
21 years in the working world. Working days and nights, seven days a week, at multiple jobs the whole time. Putting myself through college, covering the costs of life, and funding vices and dreams.
There is a sense, looking back at two exhausting decades, that I can do whatever I want. A sort of proud defiance. Though, at the same time, I’m haunted by the seeming unattainability of the light at the end of the tunnel. As I rush towards my 40th year on this Earth, there’s nothing I want more than a massive change. To get away from it all and lead a simpler, cheaper life.
One thing’s for sure… When you work in the same town – or the same place – for 20 years, you start to find yourself haunted by very personal ghosts. The mansion at my weekend job is allegedly teeming with ghosts. Co-workers report hair pulling, shouting voices, shoving hands, glaring faces, gusts of wind, slamming doors, and threateningly violent presences. Experiences bad enough to cause some people to quit, or move offices, or, once, tearfully stand out in the parking lot and wait for the police to come sweep the house.
I don’t consider myself a believer, but I’ve still had several experiences, and chatter mindlessly to the house when closing up late at night. And I no longer spend the night in the house as I used to in the early 90’s during double, triple, quadruple shifts.
But no ghosts are more frightening than my own memories. Running into damaged teenagers ten years later on the train, seeing former roommates pass by, watching the Alleged Predator pet a 15 year old employee’s head, and supervising the weddings of the children of people whose weddings I supervised 20 years ago.
All for a buck. All to make ends meet. If it’s not to struggle through college, then it’s to struggle with the rent. If it’s not the rent, then it’s a foolish pursuit of my dreams at publishing good books. If not the books, then it’s to fund my equally costly dream to travel the world. It’s not that I feel like there’s nothing to show for the last 21 years, it’s just that I’m starting to get tired. It took a while, but I’m starting to think, wow, wouldn’t it be nice to have a month of free Sundays? Because I haven’t had a free weekend since early in 1990. And it’s not like I’m a doctor or a lawyer or changing the world in any way. I’m just a wage slave. And, if you ask my bank, then the answer may just be that I’ve got nothing to show for it. How important are the no income dreams? The demented sort of defiance against the status quo? What really defines me? Publishing those books through hell and high water? Walking the streets of Brasov, Prague, Ljubljana, London, Seville? Or am I defined by 80 hour work weeks? And by the diseased people I meet down here at the bottom of the food chain?
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