Y Marks the Spot: Ungainfully Employed


There’s a billboard next to the Barnes & Noble in my new base in Washington.  Both store and sign are fairly close to my house, and as such I tend to pass them on my wanderings through town.  Each time I see the billboard, I snicker as my thoughts turn to the unrealistic possibilities of vandalism.

The sign reads “Optimism is contagious.”  Someday, I’d like to spraypaint “Get vaccinated” underneath.

The joke was in my head long before I resigned myself to the growing undercaste of the unemployed, long before my faith in my skills and talents gave way to the realities of the New Depression.  The joke has since become harder, more resentful – but it’s still a joke, and still, oddly enough, optimistic.

The story of my attempts to find a job in my new environment has a theme of sudden fuckovers following sure things.  It began even before I left Wisconsin, as I was plotting a transfer between my old bookstore and the one I now pass on a regular basis.  As an employee of long tenure and high standing, transferring should have been an easy maneuver.

Apparently it wasn’t.  I’d later find out, both personally and through quite a few other people here, that the boss of my intended new store was a pretty big dick – the type who objects to Halloween on moral grounds and uses divine intervention to justify moving to a Jesusy community.  I’m certain that this lame moral fiber played into the picture in some small way, but at the time I took the message that there was nothing available at face value.  Frankly, I didn’t mind.  I’d been doing the same work for the entire four years I’d spent back in Wisconsin, and I was looking forward to doing something else.

On the very first day of my new job hunt, I thought I had that matter taken care of.  Beyond many of its bars’ draconian policies against serving liquor, my new town’s downtown is so much better than the boozy one I left behind.  Within its array of neat shops and attractions nestled a little local record store, and as luck would have it, they were hiring as I was searching.

Being that I have years of record store experience – to say nothing of my years of music journalism – I figured that it would be a slam dunk.  In fact, following the interview, the boss and I scheduled a trial shift in which I would be given the chance to prove my mettle.  Furthermore, another employee would afterward tell me that I was only the second person he had known, in all the years he had worked there, who had been given a formal interview.  Sure thing, right?

Well, there was an issue which became a deal breaker.  As well as selling music, the record store also made its money in head shop paraphernalia, which I’m not all that familiar with.  On the morning I was to go in for my first shift, the boss called me up and called it off, stating that he really needed someone who knew the product in time for the holidays.

Reading between the lines, I’m one of the few people who can say that they didn’t get a job because they weren’t a pothead.  It was actually really funny when it happened, though less so now.

A few false starts later, I was ready to retry the bookstore transfer.  I called my old store manager and resumed the process, then called the store manager and discussed the prospects.  The Washington boss shot it down in the most dickish manner possible.  “I already have transfers coming in,” he sniped, “and you’re not them, are you?”


The appropriateness of this exchange would come into play later when I almost got a job at a Blockbuster down the street from my house.  The store boss was a really cool guy with whom I hit it off with immediately.  Another hopeful interview came and went, with the promise of future contact implied.

Yet when I called the boss a week later to follow up, he had bad news.  Apparently a transfer had decided to ship in and take the available position, which took priority.  “We take care of our people,” he explained.  I understood, but considering my own failed attempts at transferring I saw the result as somewhat morbid.

Beyond that, there’s been a lot of trying, and even more silence.  Not even Christmas jobs have been available – though not dealing with tantrum throwing holiday shoppers and never ending Christmas music has probably saved my end of year sanity, for once.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is the future.  All the fun pissant work selling books and music and movies and video games are ending due to physical products becoming electronic files.  No matter how wonderfully the economy may recover, I don’t really see the job market coming back.  My old prediction of overpopulation and technology making labor obsolete feels like it is coming true, and now we get to live with it.

And I don’t really mind.  I still don’t have it worse than at least half of the world’s population, and even if I don’t have a steady income, I have a job.  Despite a general state of cabin fever resignation, I’m pretty proud of what I do.  I get to write all these rants and reviews and interviews, and I’ve done some of my best journalism while being broke.  I’ve also used the free time on my hands to plot out some amazing stories for the future.  Since moving out here I’ve also taken up improv classes, which has blasted open a great new avenue for me to dive into.  And last week, I put on my first real stand-up performance, which I don’t mind describing as awesome.

I’ve come to the point where I have nothing in the conventional sense, yet though the situation is far from perfect I’m actually pretty happy about how things have turned out.  If this is hitting bottom, sign me up.

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