January 1999
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Gregory Alkaitis-Carafelli

Dream Jobs for Sale

I'll never forget the disturbing moment when I ran into a former high school teacher behind the sales counter of a discount chain bookstore I happened to wander into. Bang! Like having your mom, naked except for a few pieces of leather bondage gear, wake you up one morning; or discovering a nun in full black and white habit filling in for the regular bartender at your neighborhood watering hole. It's just not right: the worlds of education and retail don't belong together -- after all, this was a woman with a Ph.D. in literature cheerfully ringing up people's Steven King and Danielle Steel paperback purchases. Had she lost her mind?

It's not like there isn't historical precedent: people with high stress jobs often go crazy and have done so through a disturbingly wide range of history. French philosopher Charles Fourier believed the sea would eventually turn to lemonade and that people would live to be one hundred and forty-four years old, one hundred and twenty years of which would be spent in the unrestricted pursuit of sexual love. Nobel prize winning economist John Forbes Nash Jr labored under the impression aliens from outer space were recruiting him to save the world. Dr. William Minor, august contributor to the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, murdered a man believing in his delusional state militant Irish nationalists embroiled in a giant conspiracy were trying to execute him.

A teacher deserting the classroom for the storefront is hardly on the same level; I'll be the first to agree. But I was suspicious of a cracked mind anyway, especially since she was full of cheer, which I never once remember during English class, not even the barest hint. But now -- she liked her job! There must be something wrong. Apparently not; I found out later she had just had enough. Now she no longer has to deal with bratty, know-it-all kids, their bratty know-it-all parents, late slips, hall passes, grading insipid student papers -- all of it gone replaced by a cash register and a job that stays right where it belongs, firmly between working hours.

Unfortunately this was a few years ago, and now instead of being rare, workforce slumming has now become cool and mainstream -- Barbara Ehrenreich recently ditched her white middle-class life to be a welfare mom for Harper's, although it became a bit too much and she had to just sort of trail off mid-project, much like David Foster Wallace in the middle of a four hundred page novel. If you're thinking of casting your profession away to live stress free somewhere in the anonymous folds of the service economy, hopefully you'll have more success than her -- but there are a few obvious danger spots to avoid:

Bookstore "customer consultant,"
neé "clerk":

In these rarefied times, one must have glasses, black turtlenecks or both and able to be snotty on demand about for example people who don't read Kafka in the original German. Too high maintenance.

The movie "As Good As It Gets" is reason enough never to be a waitress, if only because of the remote possibility Jack Nicholson may move to your neighborhood. Also involves a lot of standing and false cheer (except if you live in New York City, in which case there is just the standing).

Sanitation Engineer:
Social stigma; the smell. Duh!

After careful consideration, however, I have found a few job jewels, which, if you're lucky enough to find employment, will leave you blissfully stress free and full of vivre for the party weekends. (Although no actual warranty or promise of happiness is made with this list):

Bicycle messenger:
brief spurts of aerobic exercise followed by long periods of free time. Also you get to walk around with one pant leg rolled up and a real version of the cool messenger bag, walkie talkie and rubber bands included, not a Calvin Klein knockoff. Major street cred; tattoos.

Got your copy of "Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening"? You're all set. Arrange flowers. Sell flowers. Repeat until five PM.

This is my personal favorite, because as everyone knows hairdressers have more fun than anyone. They're always partying, having wild fun with beautiful people, they get to say lines like "girlfriend, we have got to do something with your hair!" to said beautiful people, and they only seem to work three days a week. Also they get flown around to exotic locations like Rome and Australia on some glossy Condé Nast magazine's dime to say "girlfriend, we have got to do something with your hair!" and do a cut and color.

Oh if only I weren't color blind -- I'd be handing in my resignation in a flash, off pursuing my dream of shaping the hair of the stars. Thankfully the nun, her white head wings nodding sagely, counseled me otherwise at the bar last night, slipping me a double Jack on the house. Hey, she's OK; she can be my bartender any day.




and such
and such

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