Yesterday, Gawker Media posted an article about how recent college grads can’t find entry-level gigs at “real” jobs, instead having to suffer through a gig at Starbucks, or the Gap or the like.
Since I posted this to FB, with a comment about how everyone—except those lucky bastards with Mom and Pop’s help—will probably have to work a shitastic job now and then to fill in the employment cracks that happen to all of us, it got a heap of responses from other hardworking folks, who I know have had shitty jobs.
Thanks for the love!
Now, I have had a ton of shitty jobs. And when I say shitty, I can literally say shit-tay, because I grew up on a working farm and shoveling literal shit—cow shit, pig shit, horse shit, you name it—was part of the regular protocol. Additionally, I “walked beans,” which in Ye Olden Days before soybeans were blasted with chemicals meant that we walked between the rows cutting out the weeds by hand. No shit.
Since then, I worked in the local diner, where I was subject to the verbal abuse of the chain-smoking, welfare mama owner and her baby daddy who somehow scrapped enough together to mortgage it—they didn’t like kids with the booksmarts, let’s put it that way. I also worked in the local bar and grill, grocery store, then took that shit to college where I worked all four years, slinging sandwiches, coffee and Chinese food to other privileged college students. I also worked a stint in a glass factory, which is the second most loathed job I’ve ever had: it was hot, dirty, dangerous, boring-as-fuck work that sure as hell ensured I was headed back to college.
But this is the absolute worst fucking job I have ever had. I know you’re not supposed to do this, burn bridges with former employers, blah, blah, blah, but fuck it. Truth be told, we all have these war stories, and they’re phenomenal to share—everyone’s got that horrible boss they love to hate.
This gig was post 9/11. I was unemployed for about six months, but what seemed like forever, walking around Chicago, looking at all the tasty treats I could not buy until I shuffled back to my apartment to watch the Style network until I could pass out. One day, I remember I was down to my last $5. I was on the corner by a deli and really hungry and I thought, “I can go in there and buy a turkey sandwich. Or I can buy a pack of cigarettes.”
I got hours and hours of satisfaction from that pack of Parliaments.
Anyway, I digress. The economy was so bad, I couldn’t even get a gig serving coffee or waiting tables—I showed up at one restaurant opening that was hiring 100 people for front of house—2,500 people showed up for that interview. I finally, finally got a fucking job offer at a PR/Marketing agency. As a journalist, going to the Dark Side was not something I necessarily wanted to do, but at this point any job was better than continued living off the House of Visa, which is much, much less forgiving than the House of Mom and Dad.
The PR agency was where I would be confronted with two immense forces of evil: my boss, the VP of the agency, who was dubbed “The Beast” and “Monster” by my coworkers (more on that later); and our biggest client—McDonald’s.
I’m a pretty coherent worker and have never had any major issues with any employer—I get shit done thoroughly; I listen to directions and I learn fast. And I remember everything. The first two months of this gig went pretty well, no hassles. My co-workers, who pretty much ricocheted between two emotions every day—trembling with fear and rage—warned me that my first attack was nigh.
Oh, and they were right.
I was out with a client, scouting spots for an installation. It was the last step in negotiating a major project that my boss had been working out with this guy for months. So you’d think that one of the biggest aspects—the budget—would’ve been worked out early. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone getting into any business prospect without discussing, “So, what kind of budget are we looking at?” from the get-go.
The guy turns to me and goes, “So how much is this going to cost anyway?”
I didn’t know. And being a journalist and not a PR smoke-screen blower of bullshit (I learned this is an absolutely crucial part of the gig later on…trust), I said, “ Let me give The Beast a call and get right on that.” (I did not call her The Beast to the client, but for the story’s sake, I will refer to The Beast as The Beast from here on out.)
When I called The Beast, all hell broke loose. She began screaming at me over the phone, introducing what would become one of her signature lines, “WE TALKED ABOUT THIS!” When I knew that we very clearly had not. She was so disorganized and delusional, that she would literally imagine conversations in her head that she had with us, that she never actually shared. I would be in meetings with my coworkers where she’d bust this out on all of us, and we’d be sitting there, shaking our heads, like “What the fu….???” How can three people not remember the same thing? Impossible.
So, she basically screamed at me for about 10 minutes about how I ruined this account and what a moron I was. I got off the phone, politely told the client that she would be in touch regarding the final contract, finished the gig, and rode the bus shaking all the way home.
It only increased with intensity and egregious behavior from there. I watched this 6-foot-tall, middle-aged monster stomp and yell and berate her way through our office every day—and everyone was a target, even the lowly interns who were getting paid next to nothing. I told people it felt like navigating a minefield that changed—daily. You would have everything done, think you had all your bases covered—and BLAMO—she would crazy-think up something and attack. It was like working with a feral animal—and she did smell bad, so there you have it.
She also worked all the time and expected you to do the same, being there at 9, 10 p.m. on a Friday night. “Oh, what? You want to be off by 7 to go to that concert you bought tickets for? God, well I guess I’m the only one who works here.”
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we were running a major holiday fund-raiser, and just concluded its launch event. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our offices closed at noon. We did all the post-event wrap-up, releases, etc., however she left a huge list of completely unnecessary tasks to be done before holiday. Then promptly left the office. I was left with one of our interns, who The Beast had already berated into tears earlier, and we were frantically working thru the list, when the intern turned to me and said, “I gotta leave, I am going to miss my flight!” It was 2 p.m. and I was like, “You gotta go. Just go.”
I think I left like three uncashed checks we had received in the mail that day for that charity in a folder, to be deposited Monday after Thanksgiving.
The Monday after Thanksgiving, I walked in at 9 a.m. and could not even sit down and take my hat off before The Beast came raging into my office, screaming at me about how I could leave three checks undeposited, probably worth about $100 total, over the weekend—this continued for probably about 15 minutes. Not only was this horrible, but also proof that she basically was rifling through our desks at night, looking for stuff to yell at us about.
The Beast’s abuse was so fast and furious and every day, that honestly I can’t remember every single detail, and quite frankly, it was all the same—WE TALKED ABOUT THIS… usually prefaced a tirade of gigantic proportions about some miniscule detail, that no, we did not talk about. She had no regard for others. Another career low occurred when she made me continually harass the PR person for a Chicago Bull who was supposed to appear at an event for us—but had JUST BROKEN HIS LEG SEVERELY and was facing the end of his career. I told her, “You know, the Tribune is reporting that his circumstances are pretty bad, that it’s going to be months before he can walk. We should probably take that as a sign that he won’t be participating in our event next week.”
“CALL HIS PUBLICIST! I DON’T CARE! He committed to this event!”
The Beast was notoriously cheap, too. The Worst Combo—she would buy used baby clothes for co-workers who had babies and give to them at baby showers, and ask us to chip in as the office gift. After the first time she pulled this, I refused to go in on office gifts, saying I would get my own gift, because it was so embarrassing.
After a year and half of such abuse, I was finally up for a raise. She took me to a nice lunch and proudly touted my “$1,500 raise!” like it was a huge deal. I’m sorry, but an extra $50 after taxes each month is not a big deal. Shortly after, via a coworker who was really great at e-mail snooping—The Beast left her e-mail open and often would ask us to rifle throught it if she was at meetings to find stuff for her (before BlackBerries, folks)—found an e-mail from our finance director that I was approved for a $3,000 raise. So, she was withholding the other $1,500, to pounce out a year later as my “second raise,” therefore pretty much fucking me out of my raise and my next raise to boot. I think she made close to $300K a year just to put stuff into prospective.
In addition to all the Ronald McDonald prepping (seriously demeaning shit, folks); McDonald’s product launches, charity events, corporate this or other she drug us out to—yelling at me why we didn’t get more coverage for a local McDonald’s charity drive with Chicago media on the DAY THE IRAQ WAR BROKE OUT—I was chain-smoking, teeth-grinding and binge-drinking my way to early menopause. Instead of hiring professional laborers to set up event sets and stages and such, she would make us physically haul heavy-ass shit in hot weather to save a few bucks while she would sit around in her clean clothes and kiss McDonald’s executive ass.
After a year and a half, I finally got to move on…which was great, but I was so beatdown I could barely rejoice. Shortly after, I ran into one of our former clients who hinted that they were looking for better representation. I started greasing the wheels at my new agency to steal The Beast’s most prized client. And I did it. The greatest satisfaction I got was one day discovering that that McDonald’s account did indeed move over to my new agency. I imagined The Beast throwing her hands in the air, cursing my name. It makes me smile to this day.
Back to now. Everyone’s moaning about the economy, but the truth is the economy and job market has been incredibly unstable since 9/11. Sorry, kids, but there it is. Every company on the planet—whether they were really affected economically by 9/11 or not—used it as an excuse to lay off employees, hang the threat of perpetual layoffs over the ones they kept, cut benefits and make them work more hours. How’s that for fucking patriotism?
These practices have pretty much been the status quo among American Companies since 9/11, no matter what anyone says, along with a lot of Bush Era legislation that continued to fuck over the working folk and cut benefits—and that’s been the better part of the past dozen years that have sucked for you, American Worker. The recent economic brou-ha-ha has just been the latest round of what will be a continued downslide of the American Economy. As Suze Orman says, companies won’t be creating jobs in the future—you will need to create your own job.
And I fucking love me some Suze Orman.
So recent college kids? Welcome to the show. You may have to serve some coffee, but here’s hoping you never have to deal with The Beast.