A zine publisher recounts the highs and lows of minimum wage work
Nothing ever changes. Looking for a job. Haven’t heard from anyone. Had three interviews. Didn’t want anything I applied for. Minimum wage. Work awhile. Quit.
Indian restaurant—dishwasher. Have to crawl around and pick nails out of the owner’s carpet before I even get to start washing the dishes. Then I’m in trouble for not being quick enough. Did you ever try to get curry off metal dishes? My first night is my last.
Warehouse downtown—unload furniture from trucks. It’s pretty hard work. Just a week into the job there’s a big meeting with managers, and a lot of new bullshit rules. Later that day a manager gets mad because we’re behind schedule. Does he not realize we have just spent two hours in a meeting with him? Then he sees a footprint on a white couch and tries to match it by checking the bottom of our shoes. I don’t return the next day.
I apply at a bookstore. The owner says he might hire me but he has to fire his night clerk first. I apply at a lot of hotels, a carpet warehouse, bowling alleys. Don’t hear a thing.
Sterile new corporate center by the outer belt, near a suburb called Wonderland. The guy at the desk won’t get off the phone—just hands me the application. In the back office, the boss shakes my hand like he wants to break it, or send me over on my back.
“Well Randy, what we have here is a very fast-paced warehouse position. It’ll be hard work. What we’re looking for, Randy, is someone who is willing to bust his ass. Do you think this person is you?”
“Sure, I think I can do it,” I say very meekly, like I always talk when I’m lying.
Job’s mine if I want it. Minimum wage. Temporary. Third shift. Lobster shift. Graveyard shift. Zombie shift. “Lunch break” at 3 a.m. There’s a guy with a black pirate headband, mirror sunglasses, and a big knife on his belt. I don’t figure he’ll make it through orientation. It turns out he’s a supervisor. The warehouse is huge and underlighted. Our job is to move around boxes they call gaylords. I never quite figure out what we’re doing. We all just kind of fake it in a lethargic haze.
Amazingly, they call me from the bookstore. I quit the warehouse job. I like the bookstore job and want to keep it. I get laid off. Just not enough work they say. Haven’t fired that night clerk yet.
Evening office cleaning job. I get hired instantly. Start work that night. I feel really good to be just cleaning the place, not working behind a desk there. Empty disgusting fast food trash and menthol ashtrays. One day I discover the liquor in the architect’s office. A half-gallon bottle of bad Canadian whiskey. I take a few drinks each night. It keeps me going.
When they call from the bookstore again I agree to go back. The whiskey level is getting low.
At the bookstore there are three bosses and two of them don’t like me. I walk in on one boss talking to another boss about me. “Get rid of him,” he says. I quit and we’re all happy.
I get a job washing dishes at the Holiday Inn, work till 3 or 4 a.m. each night. It lasts three nights.
I’m hired to deliver frozen pizzas, cookies, and trash bags for 65 cents per delivery. My first night I use half a tank of gas and make seven deliveries in five hours. You figure it out.
I stop for coffee, leaving the frozen pizzas out in the car. I’m in no hurry now. The waitress must be 16. Crazy Muzak plays; I actually like it. There’s a “Help Wanted” sign on the door. A guy asks the waitress why they’ve got the air conditioner on (it’s snowing outside)? “I don’t know . . . ’cause it’s 85 in Tampa,” she says. How is she so cool and only 16, with braces? Why can’t I deal with things like that?
The waitress says she can’t date anyone who sits at the misfit coffee counter all day. At my pizza delivery job they say we aren’t officially required—but still expected—to buy an insanely ugly red-hooded company sweatshirt for 15 bucks out of our first paycheck. Bullshit. It’s everywhere. That’s the way it is. Some people can take it and some people can’t. I return the pizzas undelivered and don’t go back.
Exerpted with permission from the zine American Job (#1). Published infrequently by T.B.S. Publications.