I have a job. Here we go again.
In the last ten years, I’ve had forty-two jobs in six states. I’ve quit thirty of them, been fired from nine, and as for the other three, the line was a little blurry. Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what happened, you just know it wouldn’t be right for you to show up any more.
I have become, without realizing it, an itinerant worker, a modern-day Tom Joad. There are differences, though. If you asked Tom Joad what he did for a living, he would say, “I’m a farmworker.” Me, I have no idea. The other difference is that Tom Joad didn’t blow $40,000 getting an English degree.
And the more I travel and look around for work, the more I realize that I am not alone. There are thousands of itinerant workers out there, many of them wearing business suits, many doing construction, many waiting tables or cooking in your favorite restaurants. They are the people who were laid off from companies that promised them a lifetime of security and then changed their minds, the people who walked out of commencement with a $40,000 fly swatter in their hands and got rejected from twenty interviews in a row, then gave up. They’re the people who thought, I’ll just take
this temporary assignment/bartending job/parking lot attendant position/pizza delivery boy job until something better comes up, but something better never does, and life becomes a daily chore of dragging yourself into work and waiting for a paycheck, which you can barely use to survive. Then you listen in fear for the sound of a cracking in your knee, which means a $5,000 medical bill, or a grinding in your car’s engine, which means a $2,000 mechanic’s bill, and you know then that it’s all over, you lose. New car loans, health insurance, and mortgages are out of the question. Wives and children are unimaginable. It’s surviving, but surviving sounds dramatic, and this life lacks drama. It’s scraping by.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. There was a plan once, but over the years I’ve forgotten what it was. It involved a house and a beautiful wife and a serviceable car and a fenced-in yard, and later a kid or two. Then I’d sit back and write the Great American Novel. There was an unspoken agreement between me and the Fates that, as I lived in the richest country in the history of the world, and was a fairly hard worker, all these things would just come together eventually. The first dose of reality was the military. I remember a recruiter coming to my house, promising to train me in the marketable skill of my choice, which back then was electronics. I remember the recruiter nodding vigorously and describing all the electronics that the army was currently using. They would train me and train me, he said.