Bad Jobs: A Reflection

In the light of my recent ill-advised return to retail, I’ve decided to write a potted history of some of the lesser jobs I’ve had in my time here on this Earth. It is incumbent on me to leave names unnamed:

KFC: here my job was to powder the chicken in the secret seven herbs and spices (which came packaged in sachets the size of airplane pillows), toss the goose-pimply limbs, wings and chests around in a basin filled with the stuff, then stick this chicken in a big old cage, which sight wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery (“Birdcage”, perhaps, an activist’s piece), all this preparatory to the meat’s descent into the purgatory of the oil vat. Lifting the cage on the end of a metal reed did absolute wonders for my back at the time, and THESE DAYS I CAN HARDLY WALK. I spent two years in that sweltering hell-hole, but left behind me a reputation for the slowest clean-ups and the worst-looking chicken that KFC had ever seen.

A NOW-DEFUNCT BOOKSTORE: this was my first experience lugging boxes, but here most of my work was confined to an office the size and the pallor of a hospital corridor. I was presided over by the woman who, in the time between hiring and having me work there, had obviously had her regrets. (Potentially at the inductees’ Getting-to-Know-You Do. Somebody had had the excellent idea of flashing, I think, letters onto a screen and each time having a newbie stand and say he was *adjective* starting with that letter. My turn came, so I stood up and said, “Hi, I’m David, and I do get cramps.”) I never did quite get to the bottom of how I could be fucking up carrying and opening boxes, but whatever it was – was it my resting bitch-face? – was thoroughly souring my supervisor. I saved her the effort and fired myself.

AN INTERNSHIP ON A SINKING SHIP: this one’s weird. For a week I had applied for all number of internships in the realm of writing, but when I eventually did get an offer it came from somewhere with a name I had never seen before. Indeed, I was still entirely clueless as I sat answering questions in the interview. Why did I think I suited the role? “But please, this is my field of expertise, m’am.” Was I ready for the challenges the position posed? “Why, I couldn’t be readier.” The interrogation took place in a wood-panelled air hanger, which probably didn’t help. Unhelpful, too, was the fact that my interrogator was an imposing one, a woman with a kind of hatchet beauty, a slab-like brow but chiseled cheeks and, between these, a penetrating pair of peepers. I got the job, and over its course she matched this terror-inducing appearance with an equally formidable temperament. I remember on my first day, knowing no better, I took the elevator up to the same place my interview had been held, walked past the walls emblazoned with yet another mysterious name, and asked the timorous woman behind the desk, itself emblazoned, where to wait for my boss. A call came through the intercom and, after a secretive conference (all flaring eyes and cupped receiver), the secretary told me to leave the building. I was downstairs in a cafeteria, thumbs fumbling through a copy of ‘The Wasteland’, when my mobile lit up with a call. “Don’t ever do that again, do you hear me?” my boss shrieked disbelievingly. She told me to meet her at a separate floor – that, perhaps, with the initial name, that under hers in her minimalist emails – and it was here that I, a younger Asian woman (whose way-of-living and speaking she’d gleaned exclusively from gold-bordered business books like ‘AWAKEN THE GIANT WITHIN’) and our commandant all piled into what was, at first glance, a hastily converted shoe cupboard. “Get me that copy!” she’d scream needlessly – being practically already in our ear – and Lee Ming and I would fall over each other scrambling for the sheet just emerged from the printer. “Now, you two need to go home and write some copy for the company,” she ended our first day with.

This company, judging from our boss’ apoplexy, and the occasional comment let slip through the cracks, was obviously going under. Over the next two days we would be called back, post-haste, from lunch breaks, inescapably privy to tragedy-charged phone calls between our boss and her doctor, and, at the close of both these days, promised a boozy lunch in the future. “Goodbye,” she said on my final day, suddenly all sun and light, wrapping her arm around some swarthy business shirt standing idly in the slipstream of the sidewalk, “goodbye,” and with her disappearance in the crowd, she was gone, forever, from my life.

She is, however, imminently Googleable. Her latest contribution is a wedding video, backed, somehow, by Vogue of all things. It features footage of her crouching and corralling tuxed and crinoline-frocked boys and girls and – though one can only judge from her gestures; a trumpet reveille blots everything out – telling them that it’ll be their heads if they go and fuck this up.

A NOW-DEFUNCT APPAREL RETAILERS: this started well enough. My interview was with a statuesque European who seemed genuinely impressed by my prattle. Soon, though, it became impossible to ignore that I really just did not give a shit about the clothes it was my strenuous task to impress on our unconvinced clientele. “Great your-grandfather’s-fly fishing-shirt,” was always on the tip of my tongue whenever some unprepossessing, mid-thirties father sidled gingerly up to a full-length mirror. It was during one of those post-apocalyptic, unpopulated stretches in time that my boss turned to me and, with disappointed eyes, said, “You’re much less impressive than your interview.” I did nothing to contradict this.

WELL, THANKS. I HOPE THIS ARTICLE HELPED. WE’RE ALL HUMAN AFTER ALL.

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