Thursday, July 7, 2011

Take This Job and Shove It

By Kelli Stanley

Anybody remember Johnny Paycheck? Well, thanks to YouTube, you don't have to. Just take a gander at the video below.

The sentiments in that little anthem to work dissatisfaction still resonate. Along with Dolly Parton's liberating "9 to 5" and Peter Finch screaming "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore", rebellion against the evil Orwellian forces trying to dehumanize us was a hallmark of the '70s. I was a kid then, but I remember the Zeitgeist of the times. We'd been promised a Utopia twenty years before--the promise of space travel, the promise of GEORGE JETSON, for God's sake ... and where was it leading?


Little did we know that people would wind up working harder, for longer hours and for less compensation ... or that the long, hard decades-long battles (sometimes to the death) waged for union protection would be dismantled and eliminated.

I come from a line of working class laborers, immigrants all, from city and country, from Chicago and from the forgotten part of America called Appalachia. One grandfather worked for Pullman, the railroad company and infamous union breaker ... another was a coal miner in Kentucky, who eventually died of black lung disease. My grandmother was pulled out of elementary school to work in a factory.

I take labor--the dignity of labor, and the rights of the working person--very seriously.
Back in Miranda's era, of course, and during the Great Depression, you were lucky to get any job for any money. Nobody had the luxury of complaining ... it was a literally a matter of life and death.

Miranda's not forthcoming about her work experiences, though anyone who's read CITY OF DRAGONS knows that working as an escort for Dianne was a nadir in her life. So we'll focus on the jobs I've held. And compared to the challenges my ancestors faced, I don't have so much to complain about.

That doesn't stop me from complaining, but it makes me feel better about doing it.

Worst job? I've had a few. I cleaned motels for summer, picked kiwis, and sold telephone advertising to escort services. All true. But the very worst was an office job held at an employment agency.

I was supposed to be trained by a senior agent. I'd worked as an employment agent before--I liked helping people find jobs. I took it seriously. The senior agent, for whatever reason, treated me terribly ... on a personal and professional level that, had I been older, I would have either knocked her teeth out over or taken her to court.

She was an older woman, a middle aged anorexic who lusted after Tom Cruise. Maybe that explains something, I don't know. The result is that she set me up to be fired, and the spineless, smiling head of the firm--who, in my mind's eye, looks like a blond John Edwards--fired me. Oh, he cried over it ... but did it nevertheless.

I learned from it, of course. I grew more confident, learned not to be so trusting, so eager to please, so accepting without questioning. Learned that bullies thrive in an office culture as much as or perhaps even more than a chain gang.

In other words, it helped me grow up. And to this day, I'd rather pick a kiwi or make a bed than work in an atmosphere of poison ... because labor itself is always dignified. It's the power-craving, abusive bullies of the world that make it unbearable.

So what do we do when the job's causing more grief than good, or the money you make is eaten up by medical bills from stress, or you look at your life and find you're unhappy? What do you do with a poisonous job?

You take a lesson from Johnny Paycheck.

Dolly Parton - 9 To 5 by jpdc11


Meredith Cole said...

I'm glad you got out of there, Kelli--but I'm glad you can see it as a learning experience now, too. Inquiring minds want to know--did you kill off that ex-boss in any of your books?

Kelli Stanley said...

Hi, Meredith, and thank you!! :) I try to see just about everything as a learning or growth experience. I think I've already quoted my father's favorite maxim: "Character is built on the edge of despair". Not exactly as uplifting as "Let a smile be your umbrella" ... :)

I didn't kill off the skanky woman ... I've never actually based a character on anyone I know. I've got to feel like they're separate (and real) individuals in my head, though her personality probably influenced my subconscious in constructing certain characters. There are all kinds of bullies in life, and her type is one of the most invidious.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Scary, isn't it, that a job that's really just 9 to 5 seems like a luxury these days? With late hours, working from home, and always checking in, things have gone very much backward. Back then a lot of couples got by on a single paycheck too, now another thing of the past.

Good for you for getting away and triumphing over it in the end (as I knew you would!).

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, Becks!! :) Want I want us all to have is that utopia we were promised ... four day work weeks, a good standard of living and cool flying vehicles!!