Saturday, December 27, 2003

Why I'm a Hobopoet, Part 234
by Skald

My first job was at Arby's.... I got it one summer between my sophmore and junior year in High School. I wanted some spending money, plus my parents were on my back to get a job. They had the idea that work would make me more responsible!

From the very first day I knew something was amiss. Suddenly, the gloriously languid freedom of childhood summers came to an end. I was treated as a slave: bossed around, forced to wear a humiliating uniform, saddled with an oppresive schedule. I had to ask permission to eat or to use the bathroom. Customers treated me like a servant. They were rude and condescending. The bosses were worse. They were petty, stupid, and vulgar. They tried to compensate for their wasted and miserable lives by setting themselves up as petty dictators of the state of Arby's. They delighted in giving orders. They never said please. Every manager was trained in the same techniques: the sneer, the annoyed grumble, the squinty gaze. Perhaps they took classes.

Every day I returned home smelling of beef fat and vegetable oil. My hands were sticky with grease and milk shake syrup. My feet ached and my back hurt. My clothes were filthy. I was tired and pissed off.

Occaisionally I wanted a day off... to go to a concert with friends or to just relax. I had to fill out a "time off request", and no matter how far in advance I did this, the fat-ass managers always scheduled me for that day. I can remember the gnawing sense of desperation I felt whenever friends visited me at the restaurant. I felt like a caged animal... desperate to be free. If only I could have chewed my arm off and fled!

Eventually, I did escape. When school started back up I was frenzied.... I yearned for freedom. My parents were hyper sensitive about my grades-- always insistent that I make nothing but As and Bs. I told them I couldn't work and continue to study, that the strain was just too great....that I was afraid a job would lead me to bad grades, a black eye on my "permanent record" (whatever the fuck that is), and a long horrid life of unemployment and homelessness. My parents relented (never suspecting that someday I would choose a life of unemployment and nomadism- despite a damned fine permanent record!).

And so I escaped employment for a while. But that experience began a lifelong hate-affair with jobs that continues to this day. Right away I sensed the Enemy-- the horrible theft of my freedom and autonomy that employment represented. I felt the degradation and humiliation. I saw the petty power hunger of bosses, all bosses. I understood, viscerally, the whole slimy enterprise that is "work".

Since then, I've had many jobs... mcjobs, student jobs, part-time jobs, office jobs, labor jobs, full-time jobs, professional jobs, management jobs, corporate jobs, non-profit jobs..... and every one of them has confirmed the realizations of that first one. "Work", as Hakim Bey once wrote, "is the precise target of my rebellious wrath". It is the primary theif of our dignity, freedom, and autonomy. It is the corruptor of our ideals... the killer of our enthusiasm.... the yoke around our necks.

Jack Kerouac was right, 'the problem with "work" (jobs) is that you are always doing someone else's.' My work, my true vocation, has nothing to do with employment. My work is to travel, to learn, to grow, to write, to love, to explore, to play, to live.... My most important "job" is to experiment with my own life. I am a scientist, and my life is my lab.

In retrospect I am grateful to Arby's for helping me to realize that. The monotony and humiliation of that job stripped the enemy of all its propaganda. I suspected then, and know now, that there is no dignity in "a good day's work"... unless that work is solely and truly my own. Employment is not respectable, and there is nothing more pathetic than the working man.

And slavery is nothing to be proud of.

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