When I was done with college, which is to say when college was done with me, I spent about five months living with my parents, doing nothing. That this was not uncommon for someone in my position was of little comfort to my parents who were eager to see me make something of myself besides drunk. The deal was that as long as I was looking for a job, my parents (my mom, really) wouldn’t interfere in any way. After two months with no sign of me doing anything more productive than showing up at the dinner table, however, the subtle hints began popping up. It started with finding the Classifieds lying outside of my bedroom door, and ended with a statement designed to brook no argument: “You need to go find a job.”
The problem, of course, was that I had no idea what it was that I wanted to do. This is the problem with majoring in bouncing a quarter into a plastic cup of beer: Fun as it may be, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of vocational preparedness. “Just go and see what’s out there,” my mom pleaded. “Look, this job offers training for people such as yourself who are interested in going into management. Go interview for this job. You don’t have to take it, just go see what it’s like.” Although telling other people what to do had a certain appeal, I was fairly certain that the ranks of management were not so easily cracked, and that I would spend much of my time on the wrong end of that dynamic. Still, my mom promised me that she wouldn’t hassle me about getting a job for a full week if I complied, so I put on an ill-fitting suit and left bright and early the next morning.
As it turns out, training for a management position involves selling solar powered calculators door to door in some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. After a brief interview in which the most important question I was asked was, “Are you able to dress this nicely on a daily basis?” I was told that I would be paired up with Jimmy and Jesus who would “show me the ropes”. We piled into a beat up sedan and began driving through increasingly dilapidated neighborhoods while Jimmy and Jesus peppered me with inspirational sayings designed to Pump Me Up for what lay ahead. “Hey, Greg! You’re are in charge of your own destiny! Just you, my man! Isn’t that exciting?” That, actually, was kind of depressing. I had always been in charge of my destiny, and look where it got me: The inside of a rusted Ford Taurus with a couple of calculator salesmen. But I feigned a modicum of excitement and spent the rest of the ride wondering if this was really a sales position, or something a little more cult-oriented which would be a problem because I really hate hanging around airports.
When we got to our destination, Jesus asked me if I was in good shape. “Not great shape, but ok, I guess.” “Good! Because the more people you encounter, the more sales you make. That’s why we run. All day.” Looking at my surroundings, I was pretty sure that running like hell would come into play at some point or another, but all day long? Jimmy and Jesus took off at a moderate jog, and I trailed behind them. I didn’t really want to go through with this, but I didn’t have the money to leave even if you could catch a cab in this part of town (which you couldn’t), and asking Jimmy and Jesus to drive me back to my car over thirty minutes away would be asking them to forego earning money for an hour, which seemed unfair to them. So I gritted my teeth and stuck with it.
By the time the day was over, we’d knocked on doors of low-rent apartments, no-rent apartments, and flat-out crack houses, which were easy to pick out because they had no doors, only very large and violent looking guys standing out front. Why Jimmy and Jesus even attempted to sell calculators to these people was beyond me. I tried to explain that the crack trade had its very own math, and they needed guns, not calculators to apply it, but Jimmy and Jesus weren’t having it. “Everyone needs a calculator, Greg! Now let’s go take charge of our destiny!” That our destiny might involve our bodies being found in a dumpster never seemed to occur to them.
We also went into business establishments, which you would think would make for a nice change of pace, but the only business establishments in this area were bars, and the only patrons seemed to be those looking to take the edge off of the crack. Even if that weren’t true, I felt that the bar crowd in general was not exactly our target demographic. When was the last time you found yourself in a bar, wishing that you had a solar powered calculator? To be fair, though, although we didn’t sell many calculators that day, we did sell more than I expected, which was zero.
Returning back to the office late that afternoon, I was offered the job based on my qualifications of being human and happening to be in the office at that particular point in time. “Sure, I can be here at eight tomorrow morning!” I told them, knowing damn well that I’d never see that office again. I had a flat tire on the interstate on my way home. My day was so horrible that I renegotiated the terms of the original agreement and got my mom to leave me alone for two weeks while I pondered what I had learned.
What I had learned, it turns out, is that I should never take career advice from my mom. A couple of weeks later she practically begged me to go interview for a job in what she termed the “financial industry”. “Finance! Isn’t that exciting?” she asked, trying to pump me up with all of the skill of Jimmy and Jesus. “I can only hope it’s better than training for management. Maybe I’ll be offering high interest cash loans to junkies. That seems like fun!” As you can tell, I didn’t exactly have the best attitude going in.
And although my initial instinct was to ditch into a bar and pretend that I had gone to the interview, some perverse part of me actually made me go through with it. (But first I went into a bar and had three or four drinks.) Then I showed up and filled out a job application while playing a game I like to call “Spel Evrything Rong”. In less than thirty minutes, I was called into a middle aged man’s office for an interview.
Faced with an applicant with beer on his breath, a resume reflecting a complete lack of experience, and a job application which had apparently been filled out by some sub-species of Rhesus monkey, my potential boss struggled to conduct a traditional interview. After running down the position (Office Flunky, from what I could tell), he asked me to tell him a little bit about myself.
Me: Like what?
Boss-Man: You know, anything. Like, do you have any hobbies?
Me: Yeah, I collect guns.
Boss-Man: Oh. … Antique guns?
Boss-Man: Ok, Greg, I’d like to thank you for coming in. It was really nice to meet you and we will be in touch as soon as we have something, ok?
Needless to say, I’m still waiting for that call.
Finally, my parents had an idea: They had me go see a shrink. He wasn’t a traditional shrink, he specialized in helping people find a vocation to which they were well suited. As it was explained to me, this is how it worked: Surveys were given to people in every possible line of work across the country asking them all kinds of goofball questions. I then took the survey and my results were matched against the results of people who claimed to be “very fulfilled and happy” with their career, the idea being that if it made them happy, it would make me happy.
I was fairly impressed by the survey, to tell you the truth. It was very detailed and took me three days to complete. There were a fair amount of standard questions, a surprisingly large amount of questions regarding substance abuse such as whether or not I’d ever tried acid, and if so, how did I like it? And then a mind-numbing number of questions that were laughably obvious:
I find myself most happy when I…
a) Add rows of numbers together
b) Interview people on TV in the morning
c) Perform sexual favors, receiving money in return
A week after I had turned in the results, I had an appointment with the shrink who then revealed my top five dream jobs.
5) Advertising Executive
When I showed this list to my parents, they were more than a little disappointed. “Jesus, I know you like to drink, Greg, but… a poet?” I, on the other hand, found the list to be wildly hilarious. “Mom, Dad, I promise that I will go through the Classifieds every day and apply for every single job listing looking for a poet. And I will not rest ‘ere the eve draws nigh!“
The presence of advertising executive on the list came as a bit of a surprise to me, and my parents quickly latched onto it as a means of keeping me from falling in with philosophers and other undesirable riff-raff, but by that point I had realized that whatever it was that I was going to do in the future, I was going to have to figure it out on my own. So I found a low-paying job working in a warehouse for a company that sold supplies to schools across the country. When fall came, I took the $900 I had saved and used it to move to Tucson, Arizona with a friend of mine in college. My mom wasn’t quite sure what to make of this plan, but my dad was all for it. “I think you’re doing the right thing,” he said. “Go figure it out for yourself. That’s what life is.”
He might not have had that attitude if he knew what my first job in Tucson entailed. As you can imagine, $900 isn’t a lot of money when you have to drive half-way across the country, find a place to stay, be able to pay the bills and manage to eat until the first paycheck comes in. So I grabbed the first job that I could find: Selling tools over the phone to construction workers.
Nobody likes telemarketers. I understand that. But the type of telemarketer that you need to be in order to sell tools to run of the mill construction workers is a foul, reprehensible beast that not only won’t take no for an answer, but will counter it with extremely course language and descriptive suggestions of what the telemarketer would like to do to the construction worker’s wife. The first hour or two of my job, I sat and listened in on “sales calls”. This is how one of them went:
John: Acme Construction, John speaking.
Jim: Hey, John, how the fuck are you? You’re impossible to get a fucking hold of, you know that?
John: Who is this?
Jim: What the…? Ok, now you’re just hurting my feelings. Don’t you recognize my voice?
John: Oh shit, are you the fucking guy that tries to sell me tools? Stop calling here!
Jim: Hey, shut the fuck up, John. Listen, I’ve got a bunch of shit sitting in this warehouse, and I have to move it out of the fucking door. I’m a hard working guy just like you, asshole, so sit the fuck down and open your fucking ears. Ready?
John: No, I…
Jim: Shut that fucking cock-sheath you call a mouth, asshole! I’m talking here! Now, I know how those OSHA cunts are, always harping about fucking safety. I’ve got fucking first aid kits here to help keep those humps off of your back.
John: Look! I don’t want your fucking first aid kits!
Jim: You know what your wife said last night after I pulled my cock out of her mouth? “John’s a pussy,” she said. “Can’t ever take a chance on anything.” And then I nailed her in the ass. Listen, how many fucking first aid kits do you want?
Jim: (to me) We’ll just put him in the “Call Back Next Week” pile.
You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. The reason why the best telemarketers in the company spoke that way was because they’d bulldoze over the type of guy that can’t say no, and occasionally they’d run across someone who found it terrifically funny to deal with the most insulting salesman in the world, and they’d buy assloads of shitty, third world tools from him. I could never understand it.
I also couldn’t do it. I managed to keep that job for over a year, even though the pay sucked, the hours were horrendous (5:00 AM – 10:00 AM, 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM, six days a week), and I was fucking horrible at selling tools. I just got tired of hearing the word “No” a million times a day, and so at the first sign of negativity I’d simply hang up on the guy. I’d go weeks without making a single sale. The only thing that kept me in the job was the fact that you could get stoned all day, and the owner and I got along great, swapping hilarious stories and using the phone to make uproarious prank calls on the company dime.
Mr. Franklin: Hello?
Me: Hi, is this Richard Franklin?
Mr. Franklin: Yes, it is. Who is this?
Me: Hi, my name is Greg, and I’m with Southwest Contractor Supplies. I know you’re very busy, sir, but I have some really great deals on stuff I’m trying to move out of the warehouse, so if you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll run them by you and then get out of your hair. Ok, Richard? Oh, I’m sorry, is it ok if I call you Richard?
Richard: Yes, but…
Me: Thanks. Now the first thing I’ve got to offer is first aid kits, you know, to keep OSHA off of your back? I know you need first aid kits, right Rich? Oh, is it ok if I call you Rich?
Rich: Yes, but I don’t…
Me: Perfect! Ok Rich, these first aid kits are fully stocked, come in a solid steel case with a carrying handle, and each kit can serve the needs of up to twenty workers. Now, how much would you pay for one of these puppies, Dick? Oh, I can call you Dick, can’t I?
Me: Fantastic. Well, Dickie-Baby, normally I sell these for over $100, but since I wuv my Dickie-poo, I’ll let them go for the low, low price of $79.99. Now that’s a hell of a deal, right Dickie-kins?
Dickie-kins: Who the hell is this?
Me: (holding up the phone for the whole office to join in): Dick! Dick! Dick! Dick! Dick!
We were horrible. Worse yet were my sales numbers, and after a year of this, my boss’ accountant informed him that it was not sound business policy to keep people on the payroll merely because they did a good Charles Nelson Reilly impersonation on the phone, and so I was out. I was twenty-five years old, and I still hadn’t a fucking clue what to do with myself. Looking back on it now, I’m happy it worked out that way. I’m glad that I was lost.
Because I think that when you’re twenty-five it’s not only normal to be lost, but that’s the way it should be. I’m glad I didn’t make a binding decision on what I would do for a living when I was eighteen. When I was eighteen, I was a fucking moron. But by being lost through my twenties, I was able to look around without blinders on, without having the pressure of getting a job “in my field”. So what if I was perennially broke and drunk throughout my twenties? It was fun! I’d do my twenties over again in a heartbeat.
Now that I’m all grown up, of course, I’m not lost. I have a wife, and kids, a house, a car, and the usual laundry list of financial obligations that a member of the middle-class has to meet. I have a career, having been in IT for almost twenty years now. Is this better than the way it used to be? It isn’t better, it isn’t worse. It is what it is. As my dad put it, twenty-some odd years ago, “That’s what life is.”
And so now that I’ve learned this lesson, I have to continually remind myself not to forget it. Do not look backward with longing, and do not look forward with undue hope. Look around, because this is what you’ve got today and that’s all there is. Even if no one will buy your first aid kits or your solar powered calculator.