The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘jobs’

Your Job Is Totally Meaningful, and Other News

February 26, 2015 | by


Keep working!

  • “A rare first edition of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds belonging to Frances Currer, the woman believed to have inspired Charlotte Brontë’s pseudonym of Currer Bell, has come to light.” That’s fine news. But it gets better: Currer’s edition includes “an engraving which depicts someone urinating out of a cowshed [which] was considered rather coarse by some contemporaries and was bowdlerized in some copies but is untouched in this.”
  • Since Hitler’s death in 1945, Germany has barred any and all reprinting of Mein Kampf. But that ban is soon to expire, and the first new German edition of the book in some seventy years is on its way. “The new edition is a heavily annotated volume in its original German that is stirring an impassioned debate over history, anti-Semitism and the latent power of the written word … Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2,000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.”
  • Galleries are great for displaying and selling your art—but they’re getting better at losing it, too. We live in a Golden Age of misplaced artworks. “As art prices rise, gallerists are less likely to keep all the art consigned to them on their own premises, because of safety and insurance costs … There’s also been a boom in mega-big-box galleries that have multiple locations in one city, or around the world, occasioning traveling exhibitions. Add to this the fact that many pieces, on inventory lists at least, look nearly identical, and you see the problem.”
  • Today in insidious, nihilistic capitalist ploys: “Faced with a cadre of young workers who say they want to make a difference in addition to a paycheck, employers are trying to inject meaning into the daily grind, connecting profit-driven endeavors to grand consequences for mankind.” KPMG, an accounting firm, launched a new video encouraging employees to see themselves as “bricklayers or cathedral builders.” One employee said “it got him thinking about the lack of meaning in his day job.”
  • Alice Munro on Dickens’s A Child’s History of England: “This was the first book I ever read … in the sense that I had a private vision of what I was reading about—unexpected, incommunicable, painfully exciting.”

House-sitting and Other Work

June 27, 2014 | by

Precarity and creativity in other people’s homes.


Charles Demuth, Modern Conveniences, 1921.

When I moved back to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, after four years away in New York and Arizona, no one would hire me. Not Whole Foods, not the local New Seasons market, not the upscale Zupan’s chains. “Thanks for your interest in the Deli Service Clerk/Courtesy Clerk/Cashier/Meat Cutter - Back up position,” an automated email said. “If your skills match up with the requirements of the job, we’ll be in touch to arrange an interview.” No one got in touch. Trader Joe’s wouldn’t even respond to my inquiries. If I, a thirty-six year old with college degrees and retail experience, couldn’t get hired to work a register, what hope could I feel in anything?

I subsisted on egg dishes and microwavable food. Whatever canned soups were on sale I bought by the armful. In lieu of a “real” job, I made it my job to spend very little money. Portland is a tough town for good employment. It has a glut of eager applicants and limited industry. Our main commercial offerings are arguably food, advertising, and stylishness. Combined with our large artist population, that means that countless musicians, writers, and painters are cooking and serving your meals.

Hope came from a local landmark, Powell’s Books, which hired me as a temp cashier in the summer of 2011. I’d worked at the flagship store full-time between 2000 and 2006, and the intervening years seem to have erased my employer’s memories of my often gruff customer service, my habit of sleeping on the lunchroom couch, and my tendency to use the company Xerox machine to photocopy material for whatever I was writing. That summer, by the large windows along Burnside Street, I stood at the cash register and pushed keys for four to nine hours a day. But when the season ended, the store created a few permanent part-time cashier positions, and I didn’t land one. “We’re sorry to say we’ve found somebody else,” my manager said weeks after my interview. He wasn’t as sorry as I was—he, with a job to cover his mortgage and health insurance.

I was back where I started. I struck out on my own and became a house sitter. Read More »



May 8, 2014 | by

Life in the linguistics lab.


Image via Giphy

In August 2009, I took a job as a “confederate” at the “MIXER” project, run by the linguistics lab of a university in the Philadelphia area. The goal of the MIXER project was to gather recorded interviews for a database of conversational American speech. Over the previous five years, the lab had recorded thousands of speakers; having secured a grant from an undisclosed sponsor, they were gearing up for another year. For three hundred dollars a week, my only responsibility was to receive the participants that came to the lab and to get them to speak.

The interviews were conducted in a recording booth known as the Mermaid Lounge, so named for the amphibian girl and paint-by-numbers fish characters painted on the far wall. Inside the Lounge was a single desk where two computer monitors sat head-to-head, surrounded by cameras and all kinds of microphones: clip-ons, standalones, condensers. At the other end of the hallway was the HIVE, a seminar room that served as base of operations for the MIXER-6 team—me, a secretary, and the lead confederate, who liaised with the sponsors. The lead confederate on MIXER-6 had participated in every study so far except MIXER-4, which she’d missed due to dental surgery. Now, after several complicated adjustments, she wore an elaborate dental fixture that rendered her effectively mute. She typically relayed messages through the secretary, Stabler, a burly little man with golden-blond hair and a bushy beard. Stabler was responsible for outreach; that meant flyering, Craigslist ads, and organizing participant data. Unfortunately, he was hamstrung by his terrible stammer, which was particularly pronounced whenever he spoke on the phone: “Hello, thank you for c-c-calling the l-l-ab … Are you r-r-responding to the a-a-ad?”

As a confederate, my responsibilities consisted of escorting the participants to the Mermaid Lounge, fitting them with a small, sensitive mic, and seeing them through three “sessions.” The first, the Prompt Session, was scripted. Participants read through a series of warm-up phrases as they scrolled across a monitor. These were mostly binomials like riff raff, hip-hop, flim flam, willy nilly, etc. Once the articulatory mechanisms were sufficiently exercised, I moved onto the Natural Session, during which I conversed with the participant on a topic of his or her choice. If necessary, we could discuss the algorithmically generated topic of the day, which might be Netflix, or terrorism, or gun control. Finally, after fifteen minutes, the participant put on a pair of headphones for the Noisy Session. An automated voiced counted down to zero, and then a steady stream of white noise came through the soft earpieces while I continued to converse with the participant. Read More »


Coming of Age

February 7, 2014 | by


Valenciennes lace of Ypres, 1875

The summer before I started college, I worked part-time in an antique linens shop in an East Coast vacation town. The owner, Theresa, was a warm, elegant woman who taught me not just how to do bookkeeping and how to tell the difference between point lace and Valenciennes, but a great deal about how to treat other people, too.

The rest of the time, I worked as a waitress at a nearby restaurant. My fellow employees included a shifty-eyed Hare Krishna named Heather, a bartender called Kenny who liked to try to shock me, and a thirtysomething bodyworker, Julia, who had the unfortunate habit of telling people on the slightest pretext that she had attended “a little school in New Haven.”

At the linens shop, I helped iron and fold the stock and assisted customers. Mostly, Theresa and I would talk: about her family leaving Havana after the revolution; about the history of the town; about her dashing husband and how they met when she was a receptionist at a clinic. (He’d had a dislocated shoulder and she let him jump the line.) “Always spend more on flowers than on food,” she once told me. “Good for the soul, better for the waistline.” Read More »

Life Is One Never-Ending Conference Call, and Other News

January 27, 2014 | by


From, a gif-art project by Zach Scott.




August 13, 2013 | by


I landed my first job in a bike shop at fifteen. My initial assignment was to bleach a deep sink in a bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned since the shop opened five years before. I gloved up and went at it with a brush for the first hour of my shift. The manager stood in the doorway for a few minutes and told me when I scrubbed the rest of the bathroom he would let me dust bikes and chase spiders out of helmets in the showroom. He looked like a fat Lance Armstrong, or how I imagine Armstrong would look if his steroid admission led to obesity and an addiction to slot machines at truck-stop casinos. He liked to wear cycling socks with martini glasses on them. He shaved his thick legs and sported tight khaki shorts year-round.

After a couple weeks on the job, it was pretty clear to me the manager had two serious goals for his day: consume two king-size Snickers and race the only other employee around the shop on Razor scooters at least a dozen times. The other employee held the title of head mechanic. A small Bible college in Florida had recently expelled him after he allegedly shared a motel room in Memphis with a female classmate. Of course, he flatly denied it, not that anyone cared. I got the sense he really didn’t want to go back down to the swamps to sweat and study international ministry. He was content at the shop. During the day, he would clamp a repair bike in the stand, ignore it, and just eat several Tupperware containers of Thai food. He used his shop apron as a napkin.

When they weren’t racing scooters or eating, they were dismantling the racks and fixtures and rearranging the showroom. The manager would pace around the showroom and pick caramel out of his molars and say, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” After they made me move all the fixtures and bikes back to the original setup a few times, I figured out they were just trying to construct new courses for their scooter races. The two of them had time for these types of projects. I scrubbed the bathroom, dusted accessories in the showroom, and fetched pizzas that dripped grease all over my jeans. The owner never stopped by the shop, and we rarely had to deal with customers. When customers did walk into the showroom, they just picked up their unfinished repair bikes to bring to a shop with a competent mechanic on duty.

In the three months I worked there, I made one big sale: an entry-level mountain bike to a guy with visible anxiety problems. Through his panic attack, he told me he’d never learned to ride a bike and was prepared to confront his fear. The transaction taught me working sales was the lousiest job in the shop because there was a moment in almost every sale where you had no choice but to make the customer keenly aware of their biggest physical or psychological insecurity—bike manufacturers do set weight limits, they don’t make adult bikes for the unusually short or tall. After flipping through the wholesaler’s catalog for half an hour, I had to tell the guy we couldn’t order adult training wheels. The manager listened to the entire transaction from his shitty little office, a dressing room he’d converted into his command center. Afterward, he berated me for the sale, claiming the guy was just going to return the thing. He was right. Two days later the guy wheeled the bike into the shop after taking a nasty spill, looking to return it. He had a big patch of road rash on his cheek. I had to clean up the bike and install new grips. The manager took the cost of the grips out of my last paycheck. Read More »