Friday, April 9, 2010

Lowered Expectations: Part I

Greetings, Gentle Reader.

'Tis that magical season when a student's thoughts turn invariably to summer employment. Many make an effort to look for work vaguely related to their prospective fields of interest but more often than not they're forced to begin the painful process of LOWERED EXPECTATIONS. Some become so desperate as to resort to calling phone numbers on cryptic-looking signs stapled to telephone poles:

CALL: 555-2134

I'm telling you right now from first hand experience: if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Every time someone mentions a job posting in a newspaper ad I'm destined to wake up screaming in a cold sweat sometime the following night. Let me take you back a few years, to a time of fear and darkness...

Graduation is a bittersweet moment of limbo for a person. Invariably you've just invested anywhere between seventeen and nineteen years being educated and the last paper you turned in is the scholastic equivalent of a long distance runner loosing control of their bowels just steps across the finish line.

In 1994 I was a fresh-faced graduate of St. Mary's prestigious (?) Honors English program and ready to take on the world. Unwilling to incur any more soul-crushing debt at the time and armed with an incredibly expensive piece of paper proving I was "right some smart", I decided to dip my toe into the employment market and test the waters. To bad I decided to do this smack-dab in the middle of a recession.

During that same summer I was living in a house with my girlfriend, two other friends, their respective better halves, and one other single, considerably more bitter friend. By June all the ladies were working and all the guys were sitting on the back porch like a pack of unarmed rednecks. About that same time I remember one of my friend's dads dropping by just long enough to call all the males in the house "a bunch of pimps" and then leave again.

But I was looking, dammit! When you begin this embarrassing odyssey of trying to get a complete stranger to grant you some semblance of a future, your naive expectations are systemically crushed in order of importance and how removed they are from reality.

I started with publishers, editors and print houses. No dice. Then I tried libraries, archives and museums. Tough roccos. Finally I began to dredge the last semi-respectable strata: bookstores, restaurants and...shudder...malls.

Y'see, the city of Halifax is like a tiny pool with a million piranha. Several major universities are spitting out new, hyper-specialized, freshly-scrubbed go-getters ever January and April. Rather than crawl back to the tedium of the backwater burg that spawned them these people are gonna try and embrace the "Bright Lights, Big City" lifestyle they've all come to know and love through many semi-memorable years of consuming it's readily available vices.

This will get you the sort of social experiment that would have Charles Darwin drooling like a Pavlovian dog. But if you're actually amidst this brutal feeding frenzy, it sorta feels like being trapped in a boxcar during a slow-motion derailment.

So, like many others, going home for me just wasn't an option. I was just about to begin the difficult process of shedding the last vestiges of my self-respect ("Would you like to super-size your combo for only .44 more cents, sir?") when someone suggested some impossibly juicy-looking gigs that had just materialized in the local paper.

Undaunted by the vague nature of the postings and blindly following promises of boffo wages like a friggin' "Scooby Snack" I dressed to the nines to answer my first call to interview.

It was downtown. In a real office building. I thought this rather promising until I arrived to find that a small classroom filled with people would be sharing my "interview".

The instructor soon made his entrance, not unlike someone with a British accent hawking blenders at 3 am on television just after the seventh episode of COPS has concluded.
He was a dapper, Middle-Eastern gentleman, dressed impeccably and sporting more jewelry than Croesus himself could ever fathom. His hair was an unmarked sculpture of resinated gel, mousse and possibly model glue.

During the presentation he was a house on fire; moving in a continuous St. Vitus-like dance of aerobic greed. Eventually he passed out a sheet of voided checks representing the company's recent payroll. The amounts seemed very generous but oddly flat.

"People here are making anywhere from five-hundred to two-thousand dollars EVERY WEEK! And how are they doing this? Please, let me introduce you to the highly lucrative world of Home Educational Reference Sales!"

Okay, let me just boil this down for you, Gentle Reader. We're talking about ENCYCLOPEDIAS here, folks. Door-to-door ENCYCLOPEDIA sales. The most stereotypical foot-sales job you could possibly imagine. I mean, let be realistic here, if a stranger came to your door and announced themselves as a serial rapist, you'd be more likely to let them in than a door-to-door ENCYCLOPEDIA salesman! "Home Educational Reference Sales", my ass! If you spray-paint a German Shepperd turd gold and stick a daisy in it, it don't make it a Ming vase, people.

Anyhoo, the deal was, if you sold a set of 'cyclos at $2000.00 a set (!) you'd get a commission of $500.00. This obviously went leaps and bounds to explain why the minimum paycheck they let up see was EXACTLY $500.00. What it didn't address was what you might do in the unlikely event that these beautiful "Home Educational Reference" Aides didn't sell themselves every week like proverbial hotcakes

After the "interview" our host made sure to meet privately with each of us in turn. I still remember his sagely words to me:

"I've had a chance to study your resume and I can see during the interview that you are alert and motivated. I would like to offer you a job with our company."

Like some of the more naive idiots in the class who hadn't walked out in the first three minutes, I was still bewitched by the sugar-plum like visions of $8000.00 checks cavorting unhindered in my head.

I thanked him for his confidence in me and rushed back home to report the good news. But half-way on my bus ride back a creeping fear began to gnaw on my guts. This steadily evolved into the sort of nervous state in which it feels as if your testicles have been dipped in liquid nitrogen and you know the ride ahead is rife with potholes.

When I got home the rest of the cat-house denizens explained to my lame green ass just why I'd suffered this panic attack.

"Did you notice if the checks you were shown were for the same employee or cut over the space of say, six months?"


"Did you consider that in an economically depressed area like ours how often people will be willing to habitually shell out two-thousand dollars for a set of generic encyclopedias?"

"Ah, well, they are nice..."

"And can you visualize yourself walking door to door in some of our more dodgy neighborhoods trying to invade the homes of people who routinely kill mailmen?"

"Hey, I delivered ad-mail when I was in High School. It can't be any worse than that..."

"Oh, yeah? What about making a sales presentation in some mutant's living room during a domestic dispute with kids spitting on you and strange dogs sniffing at your crotch?"

"What are you talking about?" I wailed.

My parent even concurred. I called the nice Middle Eastern gentleman back and broke the news to him. He told be he was "Berry, berry disappointed" in my decision.

Undaunted I continued to pursue my conviction that not all jobs advertised in the paper were of the same caliber as "meth whore".

But I wish I could say this story was the worst of it...




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