No one has asked me, but here’s my advice for the graduating class of 2012: NEVER work at a job you hate in hopes that somewhere down the line you will accumulate the wherewithal to do something that you like. Because the cumulative mental trauma that comes from doing something you hate will completely eliminate the possibility of a pleasant future, if not the future itself.
By hateful work I don’t mean menial labor, with which I’m well acquainted, having landed my first job at the tender age of nine—as assistant to a school janitor by the name of Morley. This was back at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, or perhaps it was during depths of the Great Depression. Over the course of sixty years my memory has become a bit foggy; however, I do distinctly remember my salary at the time was a mere two dollars and fifty cents a week. Did I complain? No. I didn’t mind pushing a broom; it was good exercise and made no demands whatever on my higher cognitive functions.
Fast forward to the summer of 1966. I had just earned my bachelor’s degree and had been accepted into the graduate writing program at the University of the Americas in Mexico City. Which sounded fun—but where was I going to get the money to go?
A former roommate suggested I apply for work as a Jewel Tea Man. Seems there’s always an opening for a route salesman, and all I had to do to get the job was answer each and every question on the application untruthfully. For example, if the question was “How do you like to spend your evenings? (a) At home with a good book, or (b) At a regional sales conference talking sports with simple-minded colleagues?” I checked (b) because, honestly, I’d rather spend my evenings at home with a good book.
Next thing I knew, I found myself surrounded by sports-obsessed, simple-minded colleagues. It was a Jewel Tea regional sales conference, where a nubile brunette was pinning a carnation to the lapel of each attendee. Her name was Snooki, daughter of my new boss. Pretty soon Snooki and I were going steady and her father was sizing me up as a possible future son-in-law.
“Daddy’s also a writer,” Snooki gushed. “He once wrote a letter to the editor, and it was published!”
And here I was, looking forward to writing the Great American Novel in Mexico City. But in the meantime, there were customers to collar and merchandise to be moved. The Jewel Tea Company was a home shopping service that got started back in the day before housewives had cars and were thus dependent upon delivery men for supplies such as groceries, pots and pans, and blankets. In its heyday, Snooki’s father had been one of the company’s top salesmen, and hardly a day went by that I didn’t hear about how successful he’d been. And here’s the rub: I was envious!
More than anything, I wanted to move a lot of merchandise, but the problem is, I’m just no good at selling. By midsummer, I was barely making my minimum quotas. I was earning zero commissions and my customer base was rapidly eroding. It didn’t help that I hated knocking on doors, hated demonstrating nonstick cookware, hated explaining the difference between “Tuffram” and “Teflon.”
The only thing that kept me going was the persistent hope that come September, I’d be living the good life in Mexico City. But as it turned out, that never came to pass—because at the end of the summer I’d only managed to save up about four hundred dollars. In the meantime, Snooki had dumped me and gone back to her previous boyfriend Tony, who had acquired “a new set of wheels.” It was nice to know Tony had finally gotten his life together, even as mine was falling apart. And by falling apart I don’t mean losing Snooki—which to be perfectly honest was the only good thing that happened that summer—but rather, it was the tragedy of losing my will to live, the result of having wasted three months of my young life working at a job that I absolutely hated.