Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Job-seeking then and now

Not long after I turned fifteen, I ironed my least-faded pair of blue jeans, wiped the mud off my Nikes, tucked my button-down Oxford into my pants, ran a comb through my hair and - after I figured out how to tie something that vaguely resembled a Windsor knot - cinched a tie around my young neck and went out into the world looking for my first real job. Or at least as real a job as a 15-year-old could hope to get.

I ended up in the Wright’s IGA grocery store in Norman, Oklahoma. My grandparents shopped here, they knew the manager and I planned to not only drop their names, but also impress the store manager with my earnestness, my positive attitude and professional appearance (again, as professional as a 15-year-old mullethead could look) and my obvious maturity.

When I introduced myself to the manager I shook his hand, looked him square in the eye and did what any 15-year-old looking for a job in 1986 was expected to do: I begged.

“Sir, I am inquiring about the possibility of part-time employment. I would very much like to work here and I believe I would be an asset to your team. I assure you I am of the highest moral character. I am unfailingly honest, punctual to a fault, meticulous in my attention to detail, a hard and cheerful worker and if you hire me I promise you it’ll be a decision you won’t regret.”

Or something equally Eddie Haskell-like along those lines, but with more stammering and feet shuffling. The point is, even though I knew and the manager knew that sacking groceries for minimum wage was - despite my florid sales pitch - just that, a minimum-wage job, I didn’t take it for granted and I didn’t approach the process with any attitude or sense of entitlement. I needed a job and $3.35 an hour would keep me in a lot of spinnerbaits and shotgun shells. And more importantly, it would keep me from working the register at some fast-food joint.

Truth be told, I’d be happy and thankful to have that menial little job, and I was. I worked at that store for the next three years, and despite attending an inordinate number of “family funerals” during fishing season, I was a pretty good employee.

Fast forward to the present. I’m standing in line at a local book and video store, waiting to purchase the latest issue of The Drake and Wildfowl magazine. There’s a kid in line in front of me. He looks to be around 17 and I’m pretty sure he’s wearing the same t-shirt and wrinkled plaid shorts he woke up in that morning. Flip-flops - those fucking ghastly, ubiquitous flip-flops - adorn his hairy feet. He shuffles up to the counter, exuding boredom and disdain. He looks at the clerk (who happens to be the store’s assistant manager) and says (verbatim, not making this up) “Hey man, you hiring?”

The manager, looking equally bored and disinterested in pretty much everything - including his customers - looks at the kid and replies “We only accept applications on-line now. We don’t do anything face-to-face. Go online and fill it out and we’ll get back to you.”

“Cool. Thanks, dude.”

“No problem.”

Thus is captured the entire arc of the modern service-industry economy in a single one-act play. It was hilarious, brilliant and a bit scary.

I will refrain from making any sweeping allegorical statements about how this is a perfect microcosm of the impersonal and disinterested nature of modern life. I won’t try to make any profound observations about how the hiring practices of the typical modern retail establishment insure it gets only the quality of employee it deserves*.

Nope, I’m not feeling particularly philosophical today, so I will merely sound like the burgeoning coot I someday hope to be by observing that, damn, things sure are different from when I was a kid…

* That is a poor bastardization of one of my favorite George Bernard Shaw quotes, which goes something like “Democracy is an institution that insures we are governed no better than we deserve."


  1. Nice, and funny. I do have one question: How many of your friends were as forthright and service-oriented and hard-working as you were at fifteen? Also, is the recent experience in a bigger city than the first one? Because it sounds pretty citified an example to me.

  2. Dude, why you knockin' flip flops?

  3. Josh, actually I (or my friends) wasn't any of those things. But the need for a job overpowered my natural laziness and sloth. This incident was in a larger city but I've seen some pretty good examples of same right here in my small town.

    Scampwalker, I subscribe to the "A man's feet should always be shod" school of thought, mainly because mine look like they came straight off a hobbit. Now if I could pull off the "The Dude" look without people shrieking at the sight of my feet, I'd probably be more flip-flop friendly. But I can't. So I guess (were I being honest) my dislike is based on podiatric jealousy...