SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
June 28, 2015

Losing Out on Jobs That are Beneath You

 

Jobs and I have never really gotten along that well. I know they’re necessary and I’ve had my share out of desperation, but I try not to be a fool about it. On a few occasions, no matter how much I needed a job of any kind at the time, I’ve responded to ads, been granted interviews, then walked out in the middle upon realizing it was something (industrial snitch in one instance) I could never ever do and still live with myself. That may be a bad move on my part (at least my then-wife thought so), but it’s still not nearly the kick in the guts of seriously applying for a job for which I was clearly overqualified what with all my fancy degrees, and NOT GETTING IT. Isn’t that a funny thing? You apply for a job you know full well is beneath you, a job you never really wanted in the first place, and when you don’t get it you are really pissed off.

            In the early nineties I was in the middle of a two year-stretch of unemployment, bringing in thirty-five dollars a week for a column that ran in an alternative paper. The trick then was making that thirty-five dollars last until the following week. That meant I spent a lot of time comparison shopping at the discount liquor store a couple of blocks away from my apartment. There are priorities, after all. Amazing the kinds of things you can find if you just look hard enough. There are an awful lot of wines out there from countries you never heard of that could (back then anyway) be picked up for $2.99 a bottle. I came to know the stock of that particular discount liquor outlet quite well.

            I also knew the staff. Not by name, but over time I’d come to know all their backgrounds and stories and all the ongoing dramas that seemed to be swirling daily around the confines of the little store.

            The owner was slowly dying of liver cancer, so his wife had taken over the day-to-day operations. She was a squat, squash-faced, shrieking frog of a human being who always seemed to be screaming at someone for something. She screamed at the delivery men who were trying to rip her off. She screamed over the phone at the doctors who were trying to kill her husband. She screamed at the woman who was renting the upstairs apartment from her, the one who thought “heat” and “water” were so goddamned important. She mostly screamed at her seventeen-year-old perpetually stoned son, who was working as the store’s stock boy. He never said much, just stared dead-eyed as he made endless trips down to the basement to heave up another case of whiskey as his treacherous mother shrieked at him the whole while.

            She never shrieked at me, though. Just took my money as she shrieked at other people.

            Since it was clearly a family operation, I was a little surprised one morning to head up there and see the “Stock Boy Wanted” sign posted in their front window, What, had she fired her son? Had he quit? Maybe he was heading off to Harvard Medical School, who knows?

            Whatever the reason, I was just desperate enough at that moment to take it as a sign. I spent enough time scouring around that place I might as well get paid for it, right? I probably knew the stock and layout better than that pale, sickly, hop-headed son of hers.

            I paid for that day’s bottles, then scampered home. In a whirlwind driven by visions of a steady paycheck, I revamped my resume (that was my first mistake), cleaned myself up and put on a jacket (second mistake) and marched myself up there to make my interest known.

            Yes, I knew full well from the start the woman I would be working for was certifiable. That didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I was already half blind by that time, or that I was far too old to be applying for jobs with “boy” in the title. None of it mattered. I just needed to bring in something more than that thirty-five dollars a week. Enough, anyway, so I could afford something beyond plastic pints of gin from Slovenia.       I walked into the store all bright-eyed and confident and, as usual, the insane toad of an owner was shrieking at yet another hapless delivery man. I waited patiently by the counter until she was finished, then handed her my resume. Here’s how the interview went:

            “I see from the sign in your window you’re looking for a stock boy. Well, I’m interested.”

            “You?”

            “Yeah.”

            “You?”

            “Uh-huh?”

            “Well, I’ll make my decision in a couple weeks and I’ll let you know.”

            And that was pretty much it. I went home again, feeling delusionally confident about my prospects.

            So then I did the obvious thing. Instead of making a follow-up call the next day to let her know what a pleasure it had been, to thank her for her time and let her know of my sincere interest, I sat down at the computer and wrote the next week’s column. Since it was on my mind, I guess, it turned out to be a column about the discount liquor store. I not only described all the employees in garish Technicolor detail, but also sketched out all the ongoing soap opera story lines and transcribed from memory some of the one-sided telephone conversations the owner had with her upstairs tenant and her husband’s doctor.

            It was a pretty good column, I remember thinking at the time, and turned it in to my editor the next day. It ran before I’d heard anything about the stock boy job. In fact I never heard anything about the stock boy job.

            Still kept going up to the store almost daily for supplies, though, but the owner never said anything about the job. Never said anything at all to me ever again, in fact. From that point on, all she did whenever I entered the store was stare. She even stopped screaming at whoever she was screaming at to stare at me with more murderous hatred than I’d ever seen in a pair of human eyes before. But she still took my money for that day’s three dollar bottle of Uruguayan wine. Then as I was leaving she resumed screaming at the new stock boy she’d hired instead of me.

 

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