Wage Slavery

Sometimes, I like to look back at my life and laugh.  I usually get a good hoot out of recounting all the different jobs I’ve had.  The list got a really good boost in New York, as we signed our lease just a few days before 9/11 and had to forge our way in the big, scary City in the middle of a painful recession.  But even before that adventure, the list had some nice character to it.

My first real job came along back in my high school days.  I say “real” job because, for the first time, I had to fill out a W-2 and make nice with the government over it.  It was one of those “you’re poor, so the government wants to help you out” kind of jobs.  I’m sure the program had some kind of fancy name to make it sound like they were doing something more glorious than shoving dust mops into the hands of America’s underprivileged youth, but that’s what it really boiled down to.  Oh, I also had to empty trash cans.

In college I worked for the cafeteria.  This one really helped define my character at school.  I may not have been a big fish in that small pond of a private university, but I was definitely a colorful fish.  I spent most of my time there singing with the black ladies back in the dish room, or trying to make all the cool kids (read: frat boys) that sat on the certain side of the salad bar really uncomfortable.  One time, during pledge week, I even pretended to be a sorority pledge, and crashed the parade of pretty girls who had to walk around the cafeteria doing their elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist beauty pageant wave.  I still had on my dish room apron, covered in other people’s dinner, and I had a giant food service bucket tucked under the arm that wasn’t waving.    My mentally unstable friend (he had a doctor’s excuse for making people uncomfortable) joined in the fun, too.

Then I went to Kazakhstan and became a preacher and youth minister and teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL).  I didn’t really get paid for doing those things.  Even the few Tenge that my ESL students paid me probably only amounted to enough to buy a beer, and beer only cost 50 cents.

When I got back to the States, I decided to diversify my food service experience, and I swore my fealty to the King of Burgers.  Within a few weeks, I had moved from feeding the patented flame-broiler machine, to assembling burgers, to working the front register, to working drive-thru.  Then, finally, after 3 or 4 grueling weeks of slumming it, they made me a manager.  I got a dollar raise and the expectation of working 55 instead of 40 hours each week.

There were a lot of things I liked about working there: the hat for instance.  I really liked the hat.  They took it away from me when I became manager, though.  I never understood why they freak out about employees needing to wear hats for the sake of sanitation but force the managers to not wear them.  Do they think your hair magically stops falling out when you wear a button-up shirt instead of a pull-over?  I tried telling them to look at my hair line (at the back of my head) and notice that I had ample proof for the fact that my hair does, in fact, fall out — a lot.  But they still wouldn’t let me wear a hat.  So I stole one to keep for myself.

I wish I had stolen more at that job.  I still considered myself a good Christian boy at the time — even though I leaned to drink myself silly overseas and was obviously willing to steal a hat.  But I drew the line at stealing food.  Now I realized, of course, that stealing food — especially stealing food for your friends — is one of the main perks for working a fast food job, but at the time I had the Bible shoved too far up my ass to see that.  Don’t worry, though, I redeemed myself later by stealing from a few different fast food jobs.

When I wasn’t at school (on my summer and Christmas vacations), I worked at a cattle ranch.  This is the job that usually makes people laugh the most.  It works better as a punch line now that I have joined the upscale IT community.  Somehow the joke lands best when you wearing khakis and design databases.  I recently had a co-worker almost do a spit-take over that one.

I loved the cattle ranch job.  It was within walking distance from my folks’ house, and sometimes I even got to work on my parents’ property as they rented their land out to the cattle ranch across the road.  It was here that I learned to appreciate what I call “tractor time,” the way your mind and body can disconnect themselves from each other when you’re performing mundane physical tasks like bush hogging a field or tettering hay or mowing a lawn, or (of course) shoveling shit.

My foraging experience got a boost with all the outdoor time I spent on the cattle ranch.  I learned to identify sassafras, maypop, mayapple, sweet goldenrod, and persimmon at that job.  I also remember the guilt of having to mow down plants whose names I didn’t even know.  Sometimes I would mow around a persimmon tree and try to leave it standing (the beginnings of an ecoterrorist streak), but the next guy to bush hog the field would just mow it down.

I also worked with this cool, old-school slacker at the ranch who taught me how to hate the man and really stick it to him by never really accomplishing much.  He also taught me that sweet gum leaves have a pleasant orange fragrance when you crush them (which answered the question of why the air smelled like orange Kool-aid sometimes when I bush hogged at the edge of the woods,) and that if you slice a persimmon seed just right, it looks like there’s a little white piece of silverware inside — either a fork, knife or spoon. Supposedly you can tell the weather by your persimmon seed place setting.

After college, I moved to Austin, TX, with one of my best friends and had an amazing work experience.  We answered an add in the classifieds that read “SCARY PEOPLE WANTED.”  We knew it had to be an amazing job to advertise that way, so we went and applied to be spooks and ghouls at this haunted house.  When they gave us the tour of the warehouse that they had built their spooky maze in, several different jobs looked really cool to us: we could be ghosts in the graveyard, prisoners in a cage, zombies that pop out of doors, witchdoctors — the possibilities seemed endless.  But unfortunately, we were given the job of … okay, wait, I need to take a minute to fully explain this one:

In the middle of the maze-like course that they had built inside this warehouse, there was a hallway.  The plywood walls were painted in a way that we assume was meant to be psychedelic — only, they used a lot of primary colors, so it looked like a psychedelic nursery.  In the walls, they had cut square holes that were covered over with spandex material.  We were supposed to stand behind the wall and push mannequin heads against the spandex to make it look like the walls were coming to life with faces peering out at you as you walked down the psychedelic nursery hall.  The main problem with this, though, was that they had painted over the spandex with their swoopy red, blue and yellow designs, so the spandex barely flexed.  At best, it looked like the wall might be getting a boner — but more than likely, you wouldn’t notice anything at all.

Now, I thought it wouldn’t be too bad, hanging out behind this wall in my little cubby area and half-heartedly push a mannequin head against the non-flexing spandex whenever I saw someone walk by through my peephole.  But there was more.  Apparently, we were supposed to do this wearing paint-splattered white coveralls and pig masks.  (I guess we were supposed to be the psychotic pig painters who had designed this hallway as a place for babies to come and get high?)  And we were supposed to pop out of secret doors at the end of the hallway and chase the guests to the next amusement.

All in all, I figured I could handle it.  I had already started banking on how I could just bring a book and read in the corner where the strobe light’s flash was more overpowered by the blacklight (which did not illuminate the red, yellow and blue at all — in fact it mostly made them look dull).  But at our first break on the first night, the main boss — the guy who designed this whole warehouse full of fun — pulled us aside.

He was livid as he explained to us his expectations of how we were supposed to really work the mannequin heads.  I tried to interrupt to tell him that it didn’t work, but he didn’t notice me as he went on to explain the ferocity with which we were supposed to spring out of the secret doors in our pig masks and paint-splattered coveralls.  And then he took it to the next level by explaining to us that this hallway was his masterpiece.  The other amusements were meant simply to be scary, but this one — this was meant to blow your mind.

My friend (who had been working the pig mask on the opposite side of the hall) was as livid as the boss.  “Let’s quit,” he told me.  We walked out and never even got paid for our half night of work.  The next day we applied at Taco Bell and worked happily there through to Christmas.  We even went trick or treating in our apartment complex in our Taco Bell uniforms.  Nobody gave us any candy, though.

So, what’s the point of this post?  What the hell does it have to do with rewilding?  Well, I just got the zany idea to point out something you probably already know: work is stupid.  But mostly I got inspired by a post over at Hobo Stripper that made me start thinking about some of my crazy old jobs, and I decided to write about them.  So there.  It’s my blog, after all.

But don’t forget: work really is stupid.

Next: Wage Slavery 2: Will Work for (a Chance to Steal) Food
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14 responses to this post.

  1. what did people who didn’t have lots of jobs do?
    Sbw

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rix on 09/04/2007 at 4:13 pm

    I know, right?

    Reply

  3. Haha. I’ve had over 25 jobs… one for every year I’ve been alive. This was a great post Rix. I really enjoyed reading about your jobs. I really like the haunted house one. God… jobs are so fucking stupid.

    Reply

  4. Posted by TB White on 09/05/2007 at 5:23 pm

    wow im only up to 2 jobs

    Reply

  5. Posted by Rix on 09/05/2007 at 9:04 pm

    Hang in there, cuz. The fun has just started for you. :)

    Reply

  6. Posted by McGinn on 09/07/2007 at 5:33 am

    MY hair has done what seemed impossible and begun regrowing! I’ve been taking all these chinese chi cleansing herbs and rubbing my scalp with Saw Palmetto and my head keeps pushing up new stuff where the old stuff was. Ever see a bald indian? Maybe nowadays, with pesticides and air freshners and all that cold jazz.

    Also, I agree, and jobs are the suck.

    Reply

  7. […] last we left the WildeRix, he had taken a job at Taco Bell after trying to work for a half day as a “Scary […]

    Reply

  8. That was a great post Rix…always fun to read.

    Hope

    Reply

  9. Holy shit, I totally remember the EEE parade gag. O god, the looks on people’s faces. Those poor girls were sheep. SHEEP.

    Do you remember the name of the haunted house and the owner? I know some dudes, and I want to compare notes!

    When did you live in Austin?

    Reply

  10. Posted by Rix on 09/12/2007 at 7:52 am

    Hey, Shawn!

    I don’t remember the name of the haunted house, but when we told people about it later, they flipped out like it was a really big deal — like the biggest deal haunted house in Austin. Hope that helps. It was right after we moved to Austin, and I didn’t know the town very well yet, so I can’t even tell you where it was — except that it was near a bingo place.

    I lived there in 97 and 98. Just off Lake Austin Blvd on Hearn St. & 7th.

    Reply

  11. The Edge Dwellers

    Ten years ago I graduated from a small, Baptist university in a small town in southern Arkansas.  I went there thinking I would become a pastor or missionary.  I started the track that turned into a six-year odyssey of learning and living.  I respec…

    Reply

  12. […] story, John Brady’s story, Rix’s (not yet finished) story and how Urban Scout came into […]

    Reply

  13. Posted by cheeba on 09/23/2007 at 8:57 am

    <>

    OK, I’ll field this one…

    I think I worked in an office once. It mostly involved talking to other such straight-out-of-college and temping people on the interweb. Erm. Then I learnt how to write funding applications and went back to college for 6 years. That line of free money seems to have run out now, so I teach a bit and generally avoid working as much as possible.

    As a result there are loads of jobs I always thought I would have and am still curious to try – for, you know, half an hour or something. I always wanted to work behind a bar. And in a bookshop. And be a greengrocer.

    I used to have a bit of liberal guilt about this whole plate of privilege and/or luck I was served up with. Luckily anti-civilisation philosophy makes it really easy to justify being a lazy oaf on the grounds that you are secretly undermining industrial capitalism. yay!

    Reply

  14. Posted by Rix on 09/23/2007 at 9:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, cheeba.

    Luckily anti-civilisation philosophy makes it really easy to justify being a lazy oaf on the grounds that you are secretly undermining industrial capitalism.

    Plus, as a hunter-gatherer, you would have lots more leisure time. And remember, the less you move, the less you need to eat. I learned that lesson in Austin, too I discovered that if I laid around reading and sleeping when I didn’t have to go to work, that I didn’t need as much food. Conserve that energy.

    Reply

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