Trying Anything Else

The nineteen year old that I work with setting up the Hydration Stations on the Lakefront path told me that this was her second job ever and that she wanted to do really well because she saw a future with the company. I scoffed at her in exactly the same way I’ve scoffed at people in the past who told me that they wanted to marry the first person they had sex with.

It just doesn’t work like that in the real world I wanted to tell her, but didn’t because it was super-early in the morning and no one likes to have their life plans shattered until after at least 10 am.

I continued to laugh at her throughout the weekend and at a housewarming party I told the story of her wanting to create a future with her second job. I get Betty Davis garrulous when I drink. The naivite of it all, I cackle. The world, this delightful limited ironic world.

But my audience wasn’t laughing.

Together the three of them in their lives had held five different jobs. Total.

These were professionals, two lawyers and a person who does something called Re-insurance (which while I don’t understand what exactly it is, it lets her travel a lot so I instinctively envy it.)

They did their studies and then got a job and most of them were still in the job they got out of college.

Me? Like in the movie “Outrageous Fortune” when Shelley Long asks about the number of sexual partners Bette Midler has had, she says, “We’re talking way into the double digits here.” I spent a train ride into downtown scribbling down all of the different jobs I’ve had.

In terms of employment, I’m a bit slutty. And I think that’s why I am a writer—because in the end, I’ll do anything.

Human resources people have exclaimed at my ability to finish the forms correctly and entirely. I have had some practice. My social security card is soft from being overhandled by midmanagement officers, who believed me when I said I was a dependable self-starter.

I was a terrible high school student and took a year off before going to college. I worked three different jobs that fall alone. At the Paint department of Honda of America, an older guy named Odell pulled me aside and warned me against becoming Honda-poor, told me to get my ass to college.

It was working second shift at the Paint Department that I started reading all the books I was supposed to read in high school. I read The Jungle and stopped eating meat for six years and thought about what a writer could do when injected into lousy jobs—places where a person’s brain meant nothing—you could think whatever you wanted, as long as your body put the flanges in their place. Upton Sinclair made writing cool and having a terrible job a noble part of a greater project of social justice. It wasn’t really me doing the job, it was me investigating what it felt like to do the job. I should’ve been getting paid double-time.

But in all of these jobs, I was learning the distance I needed as a writer. I  was learning the flexibility my brain needed to learn and adapt to new skills.

I also met people I never would have met otherwise. At an Einstein’s Bagels in Austin I was the only person working there who wasn’t from the women’s halfway house up the hill. The women there taught me how hard it was to come off of drugs, especially when you could look up and down a street and see twenty different places you could cop.

Me? I saw nothing but BBQ joints, public parks, and frat bars. She showed me an overlay to the city I never knew existed.

Lorrie Moore writes in her story “How to Become a Writer,” “First, try to be something, anything else.”

Damned if it isn’t true.

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