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FROM THE INDO-
BY ADAM WAJNBERG
April 16, 2003
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I recently quit my job. This is not the first time this
has happened, but it is the first time I've given pause to think about
why I hate working so much. In my self-centered analysis, I came across
some conclusions that I found interesting, and you will also find
them interesting, being as they are conclusions about something of
I graduated from high school in 1997, which didn't seem
right at the time. Not only did I put no effort into my studies that
year, I actually managed to forget things that I had already learned.
Basic things, like forming coherent sentences and fishing from why
some glue. I also paid no attention to university applications, figuring
that I would work for 6 months and then move to the States to become
a famous actor and writer. Writing that last sentence and realizing
that I actually believed that is making me cringe so hard right now
that my brow has furrowed past the point of no return and caused my
face to cave in on itself.
My first job out of high school was working in a ladies'
accessories warehouse, packing boxes. I learned valuable things, like
how certain "blue" things are sometimes called "azure"
things, and that I have a really bad back. I started looking for other
jobs, and for a few weeks I even did door to door sales in Melbourne's
One time, out in Lilydale on a ridiculously hot summer's
day, I was wheeling my box full of crap along a dirt road leading
to a business park and got beset by flies. Not just a few annoying
flies mind you -- this was like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock
movie. I was literally black with flies until I got into a building,
where I sat and waited until the sun went down so I could make my
way back to the train station for the 2 hour train ride back home.
The company had called my parents, and they were frantic until I trudged
in at 11 pm, sun burnt and covered in horsefly bites. I quit that
Eventually, I landed a job in a call centre, calling
innocent people during sex or dinner and asking them if they wouldn't
mind buying something very much. I was surprisingly good at it, finding
that people reacted well to my verbal agility and still strong American
accent. I made some decent money, and for a while I was a "gun".
Unfortunately, I spent that money surprisingly fast for a guy with
no expensive drug habits or rent to pay. Soon, I decided to look at
other options. I quit. It was becoming a habit.
Over the next few years, I worked at various versions
of the same jobs. I worked retail and warehousing, but for the most
part I worked in call centers. It got to the point where I could get
a call centre job without having to actually wake up in the morning:
apply for job, attend group interview, talk about long range career
goals to manage a team one day, perform skills test, repeat. I had
a little GOTO 10 line in my brain for dealing with the situation that
I could run at any time, while the rest of my brain worked on important
things like eating and masturbating (it's surprising how little pussy
a fat, antisocial 19 year old with a boring job and no car actually
gets, but then that's life for you).
3 years after I had finished high school, and I was
basically right where I started. The only thing I had really gained
was 3 years. I decided to try something drastic -- I packed my bags,
cleared my credit card, and headed to the States, where I had not
lived since I was 6 years old. I had no fixed destination and very
little cash. I had put as much thought into the whole affair as I
put into just about everything else I had ever done.
After 100 hours of traveling via plane then Greyhound,
I found myself in a hostel room in downtown Seattle. A few days after
that and I was paying rent for a broom closet with ambitions of being
a room in a drafty, dirty boarding house in the University District.
Not too shabby for someone with no discernable skills or ambitions.
For a week or two I easily forgot that I would have
to get a job, until one day I went to the supermarket and realized,
in horror, that I was going to have to forsake Deluxe Macaroni and
Cheese for regular, Stalinist Macaroni and Cheese. By the next morning
I was posting resumés.
At this juncture I would like to point out the differences
in work cultures between the two countries I call home. In Australia,
I had always seen employment as a means to an end, something you do
to pay for the weekend. In the states, and especially in an upwardly
mobile city like Seattle, you cannot escape the lust for money and
material goods. Here in Oz, it's kinda low key, in the states it borders
on the pathological. Everyone is working 3 jobs and trying their hardest
to invest, while at the same time bankrupting themselves with credit
The same thing happens here in Australia, but it doesn't
have the same animus -- it feels like nothing more than a reflection
of what's happening in America. I felt extremely uncomfortable in
this environment: everyone was jaded, but not in the same jocular
way that Australians are jaded. In America, you're so close to the
bullshit that you get used to the smell. Let's see if I can expand
upon that in the next part of my stirring narrative.
I soon got a job with a mobile phone company in their
call centre. It was regrettably the only work I was cut out for. I
managed to hold the job for the entire four weeks of training. The
day before we were set to start taking calls I was fired for being
too much of a smartass (these were the words the lady used, honest
injun'). Mind you, I had more experience and did better on the tests
than anyone else in the training group -- what did me in was my Australian
attitude. I joked, I cajoled, I raised uncomfortable questions and
took nothing seriously, which made me quite hugely popular with my
future teammates (honestly, I had never been so popular in my life)
but a definite bad fit for an American company.
Ever been to "Employee Sensitivity Training"?
It's hilarious. You sit around and read ISO9000 directives from the
"head office" about what subjects you can and can't joke
about for fear of offending the delicate sensibilities of anybody
with the cognitive capacity to search for the word "lawyers"
in the Yellow Pages. In Australia, these meetings are met with a general
cynicism from all involved, even the company bitch holding the clipboard
(I use the word "bitch" to mean a person of either sex who
bends to the will of another, like black people use it in prison.
I mean, like African Americans use in State Sponsored Correctional
In America, these meetings are deadly serious. No irony,
no eye-rolling, no paraphrasing. Completely deadpan. Americans are
so afraid of getting sued that they're even afraid to make fun of
the Swedish, those lousy cocksuckers who think they're so big with
their delicious meatballs and pragmatic furniture.
In the end, it was for the best. I had enough money
to get by another month. Eventually, I swung an arrangement with my
boarders: I would clean the entire establishment daily in return for
rent + $300 a month. I could now add "janitor" to my resume.
I soon got another job, working the counter at a bakery/deli for $7
an hour. All in all, if you factor in my $100 a week rent, I was making
about $425 a week, but I was working in excess of 60 hours. Pretty
soon, I added a 3rd job on top of that, as a youth counselor for an
after-school program, which paid about $300 a month.
Best fucking time of my life.
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Part Two of
this story will be online on Friday April 18.