Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I hope you'll excuse the length of this post, but it's my first regular one (i.e., not a Selected Entries or Hair Update) in quite a while.
There is something about obligation that daunts me. Almost any job, no matter how much I enjoy it and no matter how pleasant, soon becomes a chore, and I find myself when at work counting the time to be home and when home dreading the time I have left until I must return to work.
The weirdest thing about this is that it applies even to occupations I should like.
I have been under the employ of Major University for the last two months, performing public relations work that both utilizes my unique skills as a reporter and further prepares me, through the conferral of additional media credentials, to enter the journalism field upon graduation. Despite this, and for no real reason, I soon found that the three-day work weeks dragged, with each Wednesday afternoon seeming to come later than the last.
So I moved to shorten my time in the office even further. Reasoning that three hours on the road for a four-hour work day was impractical, I requested and was granted permission from my supervisor to work from home on Wednesdays, thus shaving my actual work week down to two days.
Still, though, the five days of free time seemed to whiz by, often without my having accomplished anything meaningul, and before I knew it it was Monday morning again and I was headed back to the Godlands. Even though my work week had and weekend had reversed positions, I still felt I didn't have enough time off.
The solution, as it paradoxically turned out, was to find another job.
The Mountain Town Bookstore is a magical place filled with old and exotic tomes, a repository of the interesting and unusual that I've been visiting since I was a boy of seventeen in 2005 and to which a good chunck of my paycheck from Major University went.
One day several weeks ago, I noticed that the usual assistant was absent from her post.
"Is Lesbian Girl still working here?" I asked.
"Oh, no," said Book Woman, the female part to the husband-and-wife team who own the shop. "She went off to school in Tiny State."
"Well, are you hiring?" I inquired.
It seemed that she hadn't thought of this before.
"Yeah," she said. "I guess we are. Come back and talk to Book Man about it."
I returned several days later for an interview that was much briefer and informal than I'd expected.
"So, you'll be here until about...what, late August?" Book Man forwarded the most prying inquiry he would come up with.
"Yeah, late August or early September," I replied.
He smiled mischievously.
"Then you'll have to leave us to get back on the football team, right?"
He'd combined a punch at my stature with the assumption that I was in high school. I at least had to admire his audacity.
"You got it," I laughed. "I couldn't miss football practice."
He guffawed with me and then it was settled: I was hired.
"Now what do you think you're going to need in terms of money?" he asked, almost as an afterthought.
Was it a trick question? If I gave an amount too high they might not want to take me on, but if I guessed too low from what they were thinking I'd be underpaid. I quickly reviewed my state's minimum wage in my head. Maybe I could get them up from that, to $9.00 or $10.00 an hour.
I reached out a tentative hand.
"What were you thinking?" I asked.
"We were thinking like $12.00 an hour," he said. "I mean, if that's okay with you. Do you think that would be enough?"
I almost cracked up, thinking he was making another joke.
For one dangerous second I hovered on the edge of outright laughter before realizing just in time that Book Man was completely serious.
"Yes," I said, suppressing the exclamation of "Are you for real!?!" that was firing in my head. "That sounds fine."
"Alright then," he said. "You can start next week."
"Awesome," I said. "One more thing, though: do we get a discount on the books?"
His face broke into a grin.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's 35% off."
"Awesome," I replied. "I just don't know how I'm going to get through the day. There's so many books I know I'll want to read."
"Well, you could just sit down and read them," he said.
"On the clock?" I asked, not comprehending.
Just when I was thinking that the job couldn't get any better, I asked a question whose answer I'd need for budgeting purposes.
"Are you guys going to withhold my first paycheck for a week?"
Book Woman looked at me like I was crazy.
"We're paying you in cash," she said. "All of this is under the table."
In my mind, I was doing cartwheels.
All the same, it took me some time to adjust to the level of informality and relaxation at the store. After a few days I did become accustomed to Book Woman going out on coffee and cookie runs and grabbing me a free soda along the way. I also adapted to the couple's friends coming in and expecting me to join in their lengthy chats instead of doing the sorting and online databasing that I'm supposedly being paid for.
The other day when Book Woman, whom I told I'm trying out for American Idol, insisted I sing for her and a patron, I obliged them.
"That was beautiful," they both said, clapping as I finished an original song.
"Thanks," I answered.
The job at Mountain Town Bookstore is still a job, but in terms of pay, atmosphere, responsibilities, and perks, it's easily the best one I've ever had. In addition to taking home $120.00 cash a week for ten hours of very easy work, I've gotten plenty of complimentary drinks, a free book, and had my employee discount upped to 40% one day just because Book Woman felt like it.
My new schedule makes the weeks go pretty quickly.
On Mondays and Tuesdays I spend eight hours doing public relations at Major University, where, on Tuesday afternoons, I perform an act that some could construe as being slightly dishonest. I cherish my Wednesdays "working from home," but don't actually have any real desire to work from home. Once I leave Major University on Tuesday I want my weekend to be uninterrupted until the following Monday.
In that vein, I spend the last few hours of my Tuesday shift hammering out more stories than I usually would. Some of these go to my supervisor before I leave, but others get forwarded to my e-mail account, to be forwarded back to the school on Wednesday morning.
This means that all "working from home" really constitutes is logging into my e-mail for about five minutes to send off articles that my boss thinks I've been writing and editing all morning but that were actually completed the previous day.
I should probably feel guilty about this but don't. My view is that the same amount of work is being completed, just in a condensed amount of time.
Wednesdays I wake up at seven or eight (something that was difficult this morning) to start my five-day-a-week track routine, which consists of running 1,500 meters interspersed with calisthenics and 450 punishing crunches.
That probably sounds more impressive then it is; I only actually do 150 of those at the field. I then do another 150 immediately after getting home and another 150 after lunch. Today I may add 150 more after dinner, which would bring the total to 600 a day. I'll have to ask Black Boy, who has basically served as my coach, the pros and cons of doing them spaced out as opposed to all at once.
This is all very exerting and takes its toll on the scale; when I left the house this morning, I weighed 130lbs. When I returned about an hour later, even after having eaten breakfast, I weighed 128lbs.
This is not a bad thing according to Black Boy, who has noted my weakness in one core area of the regimen.
"You eat so damn much," he said, watching me munch through chips and sweets.
"I know," I said sheepishly, shifting my body so that the open bag of crisps at least wasn't facing him. "But at least--"
"Like, more than any one person could ever actually need to eat," he continued. "Spaghetti, popcorn, steak, chips. I mean, seriously."
Black Boy says that track members are supposed to eat six small meals a day, something I've just not been able to do.
"Look, you're going to lose weight," he said. "It just happens. I lost forty pounds when I started."
"Dude, I can't lose forty pounds," I objected.
"You're not going to lose forty pounds," he said. "I was overweight. You'll probably lose like ten or something, and then it will start to show in muscle. If I were small like you, I'd be cut up."
Our compromise is that I'm eating more normally-portioned breakfasts and lunches but not giving up my larger dinners and extravagantly unhealthy junk-food Fridays.
"Sorry," I said. "But life just wouldn't be worth living without that."
After track, I spend Wednesdays archiving journals, editing or adding to a short story I'm working on, surfing blogs, and reading the backlog of books I've acquired from Mountain Town Bookshop (one of these, Pirate Coast, about the Barbary Wars, is quaintly racist but enjoyably adventurous nonetheless).
Thursdays and Fridays I do track in the mornings before working from noon to five o'clock at Mountain Town Bookstore, and then Saturdays and Sundays, in between the usual literary activities, I try to make plans with friends.
On July 4th I went out with Laquesha, the Norwegian, and the Norwegian's friend to a local restaurant, where we toasted "the independence of the United States of America" and I climbed atop our table to open the umbrella.
My schedule is full enough to keep me busy without precluding spontaneous social plans.
I'm rather enjoying it.