How I Got and Promptly Quit 6 Jobs in 6 Weeks
Let's hear from Racket's Special Employment Correspondent.
10:44 AM CDT on June 12, 2023
Welp folks, it’s that time of year again: My nine-month teaching contract with the university has officially finished. My students have all handed in their final TikTok research projects on Competitive Vaping and Why Video Games Should be an Olympic Sport, and I’ve given them all their obligatory B’s (everyone gets a B). And with Memorial Day Weekend officially over, the summer job season is upon us!
This June marks the 55th time I will get a new job since first joining the workforce at 14. And although I’ve been scouring the Twin Cities employment beat for about a month and a half now—just working the pavement looking for my perfect gig—it’s been a long and arduous process. I’ve actually secured almost six jobs over the past six weeks, but I’ve quit ‘em all. You see, jobs are different now: They’re weird, I’m more picky, and, at 37, I’m like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon—too old for this shit.
Let’s rewind to April, when I started my summer job search in earnest. Remember how dreary and fucking terrible April was? All month I watched Puss in Boots: The Last Wish over and over and grappled with my own mortality. Like so many Americans I’d forgotten to get rid of my Peacock subscription after the World Cup ended, so for a month I was just scrolling through Craigslist looking for jobs and watching whatever was on there because I couldn’t remember my password to cancel. My guy Puss in Boots was dealing with getting old, too. That’s essentially the plot of The Last Wish. We were kindred spirits, two Danny Glovers in a pod.
I wanted to get a really good job this time. One of those seasonal jobs that you’re excited to go to, where you get buff and tan and hot all summer. I’d make lots of money, swim in a pool, eat popsicles on Fridays, and play with goats. I could even bring my dog. Something simple and elegant.
Raking through the coals of Indeed and Craigslist, looking for job embers, I was initially hopeful. I was like, wow there are so many jobs! And all the jobs want to hire me! I felt like the prettiest boy at the ball. Then I realized that 90% of these jobs were Amazon and DoorDash, and the other 10% were… well, let’s just say there’s a reason why there are so many jobs available. It’s not that workers are bad. It’s that all jobs suck.
Still, I needed money for all the amazing products I wanted to buy. I got into this zone where I moved the furniture in my apartment around so that I could see the TV from my desk. I felt like this would motivate me. This way I could apply to different jobs while simultaneously watching Puss in Boots: The Last Wish a lot more. However, the shift in the feng shui of my apartment had an unexpected outcome: After a while, the 24/7 viewings of Puss in Boots began to mess up my job search. It got me thinking about mortality and legacy too much. Every time I’d find a new job, I’d be like, “Is this where Puss in Boots would work?” “What would my guy Puss in Boots do?” WWPIBD!
And it didn’t stop there. As April showers turned into May’s also shitty weather, it began to feel like, in a lot of ways, I was Puss in Boots! Having just lost my health insurance for three months, I, just like Puss in Boots, felt as though I’d lost eight of my nine lives, and I’d better be careful with this last one. That’s why I needed to choose my summer job carefully. Maybe this would be my last summer job ever? Maybe by next year my debut novel, Ninja Spaceman Cowboy Pirate (actual title), will be published and I’ll be able to sit back and glide on my ninth life—blissed out drinking futuristic mojitos and kissing some beautiful futuristic girlfriend on a beach somewhere. It could happen!
The other part of this, the part that everyone must be feeling and no one knows quite how to articulate, is that jobs are different now. Post-pandemic, everyone’s relationship with their own life/work balance has fundamentally shifted. Our priorities have changed. I no longer just want a summer job to make money. I want to work in a way that makes me happy… or content, or some pathetic shit like that. Or at least I want to work at a job that doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out everyday. Younger me didn’t even think that this was an option, but older me has the momentum of the past on his side.
However, I still HAVE to work for money because I need ducats to pay rent and to buy all those aforementioned amazing products I desperately want. And this tug o' war between two opposing forces—my need to make money and my repulsion at the idea of it—sort of defines the labor situation in America right now. It’s my theory as to why 90% of the post-Covid job market is a dystopian pie chart of Doordash, Prime Delivery, and OnlyFans. Problem is, my car is too shitty to make deliveries with and my banging butt isn’t for OnlyFans. Back to the drawing board.
Initially, my plan was to just get a bartending job because it’s fun and I have experience. Also, it’s the closest real-life profession there is to being a wizard who makes potions. But lately I’ve been thinking I should move away from bartending, and bars in general, because of, you know, alcoholism. And instead of just getting rich people drunk, and then secretly drinking throughout the shift to help come to terms with the fact that I’m just getting rich people drunk, maybe I should learn a cool trade. Build rocking chairs or some shit. Or I could be a yoked, Springsteen-ian construction worker, because then I could get tan and learn skills that’d allow me build my own house à la Noah in The Notebook.
My six-week job hunt culminated in me sketching out what we’ll call, “Ian’s Cool Hierarchy of Job Needs.” These are the four basic tenets of what I’m looking for in a summer gig. If a job hits at least three of these, then we should be good to go.
- Job needs to make me tan and buff.
- Job needs to make me lots of money.
- Job needs to not make me want to blow my brains out.
- Job needs to not use up my Puss in Boots: The Last Wish Ninth Life because, again, I won’t have health insurance until September.
With those guidelines in mind, here are the five and a half jobs that I got (and subsequently ungot) during my quest for the perfect summer job.
The first job I got, way back in April when snow was still on the ground, was as a maintenance groundskeeper for Bross Gational Mublic Jolf Bourse. (I’ve changed the names of this golf course and of all my employers to preserve anonymity and also because it’s fun.) In my head this job was going to make for a perfect bucolic pastoral summer. Also, this was when I was still listening to the annoying little part of my brain that said that I shouldn’t be a bartender anymore because it transforms me into Naughty Vampire Ian, a guy who makes poor choices, stays up all night, sleeps all day, and is miserable. So this seemed like a healthy and practical job that would put me on a righteous path away from all the wicked fun times. I didn’t drink for a few days and that part of my brain shut up; I figured out that I’m not an alcoholic, not really, I’m just fun and cool (self delusion).
Anyway, I decided that I was going to be a groundskeeper at this public golf course in northeast Minneapolis. Basking in the grassy tranquility, I’d mow the dew-covered fairway each morning. In my mind, being a groundskeeper would be solitary and ruminatory. I’d spend the summer trimming hedges and raking sand traps alone while listening to Best American Short Stories on Audible. And that raking would have a cathartic zen effect on me, like when you have a little desktop rock garden next to your bonsai tree. It was going to be wonderful. I was going to trim back the overgrown hedges of my neurosis, mow down my blades of stress, rake my mental health back into a uniform, sane little sand trap. My therapist and I are on hiatus because of my insurance snafu, so these manicured 18 holes would be my new therapist. Let’s call her Dr. Swing-Putt Greengrass. Later I could write a memoir about it, with some dumb vague title like Tending the Green.
A lot of my enthusiasm for this golf course job was born out of the fact that, two summers ago, I worked on a dairy farm in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, and I loved it more than I’ve ever loved anything in this world. I did the evening milk; it was just me alone for most of it, and then a rotating cast of redneck teens who were suspicious of my city ways and would come and help out and make fun of how bad I was at milking. In spite of their jabs, it was an incredible job. I loved those cows and I only almost got trampled to death once. I spent the whole summer getting the milk to make partial skim mozzarella for Hot Pockets and all of the cheese for America's Big Macs. I was really making a difference. It felt good. I’d come home from work at night and then I’d strip down to my skivvies while my mom hosed all the cow shit off of me in our backyard. Then I’d go up to my room and write this new genre of short story that I’d made up called Cow Noir. All my stories were about dairy farms and murder that summer. I even made up a detective named Cud Bovine: Dairy Inspector. It was a great job.
However, the golf course groundskeeper job was not to be. Two days after being hired, I was told that I only made $17 an hour, and that I’d have to wake up at 4 a.m. Then they told me that I would have to work every single weekend all summer because I was the newest employee and had no seniority. I mentally clocked my summer job hierarchy of needs and realized that I was NOT going to make money at this job. It also seemed like this job WAS going to make me want to blow my brains out. That’s two strikes. The job had to go.
Next, I backslid and decided that I WOULD be a bartender and make lots of money—I would just learn to be self-disciplined and not drink too much. I’d race home after work before anyone could try and get me to go get into trouble. I’d be a good boy. I wouldn’t be Naughty Vampire Ian. So I got a gig as a bartender at a fancy new French restaurant that was about to open. A place called Faison Jargaux. At first, this job seemed great. Sure, I would definitely just be getting rich people drunk, because the place is hella fancy, but whatever, I’d make lots of money maybe. The problem was that the restaurant wasn’t open yet. They had two weeks of intense training scheduled every day, and I was still teaching at the university at this time.
For those of you who haven’t worked in the service industry, restaurants do this dumb, weird, culty thing if you’re with them as they open, where they want you to drink the Kool-Aid and buy into a whole “culture.” It’s essentially like joining a religion; the faith of their ethos about service. Having joined several of these restaurant religions I can tell you that they’re all the same: work a lot and do whatever we want you to. The chef is like the Pope, and you do all these dumb trainings about how to make coffee just right, serving from the left, hands in-hands out, how to talk about wine, and “proper mise en place.” It’s a whole thing. I hate it. I’m not trying to find a new lifestyle or path, I just want to work a job for money. I am a private contractor. The restaurant wants you to care about the outcome of the restaurant deeply, but why should you? You don’t own it. It’s a trick of capitalism and wage slavery.
Anyway, everyone who worked here was nice, but on the second day the chef came out and told us cheerfully that he was going to “micromanage the shit out of us for the next two months,” and I did not love that. Then they kept wanting me to come in on days that cut into my teaching schedule. So I waved bye-bye. Hierarchy of needs check: Makes me want to blow my brains out and will not make me tan and buff! Adios.
At this point you’re probably starting to think, “Ian, maybe you’re just being a whiny bitch. Both of those jobs would have been fine. You’re just a huge flake.” And that might be true. But also, there can be no ethical consumption under capitalism, folks. I’m not beholden to these jobs; I don’t owe them anything. That’s a weird guilt trick that our brain plays on us to try and make us feel bad for not making money for other people. Your job needs you more than you need your job. That’s what we all figured out during pandemic times. I’m Cinderella now, I gotta find my perfect glass slipper fit. Maybe I’m a real job floozy, but shouldn’t we all be? Don’t we all deserve to be kind of happy and well compensated? And tan and buff and safe?
My next job, Job #3, was to be a mover for this small estate moving company. And babies, this job was AMAZING. I figured I was set. Three bears style—this porridge hit just right! The owner seemed cool, the pay was good, hours were solid, and I would get tan and buff! Lifting boxes checked all the boxes! Also I wouldn’t drink too much, it was healthy! My only real fear about this job? That I might accidentally get sucked into an oil painting or potentially touch some kind of cursed object that these rich people had lying around in their old spooky mansions. Then I’d get some kind of curse put on me. This was a real fear, especially if the curse was one of those ironic ones that ruins my summer, like if it makes me allergic to ice cream or it makes it so fireworks cause me to shit my pants or something. I don’t need that kinda heat ruining my summer.
In spite of those fears, I still would have kept this job big time… but my dumb integrity got in the way. This company was too nice! And the owner really needed a full-time person who was looking for year-round work. I didn’t want to screw them over; I didn't want to get hired and then turn around and leave three months later. I felt guilty. So, I reluctantly bowed out and wished them the best.
By this point I was feeling discouraged and thirsty, so I went back to the bartending route for Job #4. First I worked a stage at a very hip and popular restaurant called Shmung Pony. (Shmung Pony should be the name of this place because it’s a cool-ass name.) This job was fine, but they’re one of those no tip establishments where it’s geared towards people who are career restaurant workers. I get that the no tip thing is good for equity or whatever, but that model only works if you’re looking for a career and health insurance. I don’t want any of that stuff. I just wanna come in two to three times a week and make bank like a cool-ass cowboy for the summer. Also, I don’t wanna work late because I’ll miss my dog too much. Also, they had me do this weird thing called a “stage” that I always hate doing, where you kind of audition to work there. As if working at a restaurant is my big Hollywood shot to make it famous—finally my big break! Stages are always weird and awkward. Boo to that. Bye, Shmung Pony.
Then, for a hot second that constitutes Job #5, I was going to bartend at this hip Mexican bar/restaurant that rhymes with Pentro. But I only wanted to work at the one by my house in Northeast and they wanted me to work on Eat Street or—gasp—maybe in St. Paul. So I was like eew! Gross! Buh-bye! And I ran away.
And that pretty much takes us up to the present. Last week I finally found a bartending job, Job #5.5, that seemed perfect: bartending at Kabloney. And I worked there for a full week before realizing that it wasn’t a good fit because it transformed me into Naughty Vampire Ian, and also because the money was terrible. And it’s not that Kabloney was bad, or that any of these restaurants are bad, it’s just that I’ve changed and the industry has changed here too.
Full disclosure: Ol’ Ian just moved back to the Twin Cities last fall, and so I’m a bit behind on what’s cool for y'all these days. One thing I’ve noticed since moving back is that the Twin Cities seem to love fast-casual now, which is the restaurant equivalent of athleisure. It seems like every new eatery is located in the lobby of some luxury hotel or apartment complex. This gives everything a weird dystopian corporate patik, making each establishment feel like a fancy version of Panera. Also, there are all these cafeteria-style restaurants now too, or dumb ripoffs of Eataly, because everything is opened using corporate restaurant group hive-mind planning. Everything is catered to “high-worth individuals,” but rich people have bad taste, aesthetically and culturally, so the net result is hollow and soulless. Most restaurants are a pastiche of what an actually cool restaurant would be, like a photograph of a photograph, a copy of a copy. Also there are QR codes on everyone’s receipts now. You feel like you’re at the airport. All these disparate things rolled together leaves this vague odd apocalyptic taste in my mouth. It’s a bummer.
And another thing! How come all restaurants have one word names here now? Like Crouton or Stephanie or Gitmo? Gitmo in the lobby of The Triton. Barf. So yeah, ultimately I’m just too old and curmudgeonly to work in restaurants anymore. I’m Danny Glover. I’m Puss in Boots. I had to quit Kablooey because the money was bad, but also because all of my managers were like 22 and that felt weird. It was like, OK, you’re yelling at me but also you don’t remember 9/11?
And that’s where we’re at. I’ve started thinking that maybe I just won’t get a summer job at all. Instead I’ll just write all summer and be a poor dumb artist. Maybe I’ll go investigate that Lake Pepin “Pepie” monster and look for those lost treasures that are up in the Iron Range. Maybe I’ll become a metal detector guy. I’ll have a real Scooby Doo summer, driving around in my 1998 Mercedes station wagon, solving mysteries with my dog instead of making money, and that’s OK. Maybe the perfect summer job is this extinct, elusive idea that doesn’t even really exist. Maybe I don’t want a perfect summer job. Maybe I just want to be young again and that’s what all of this is about. It’s all about mortality, legacy, and Puss in Boots.
BUT WAIT! The story doesn’t end there! Twist! That estate moving company emailed me and said that I can work there just until August while they search for a replacement! So hooray! I found it. I’ve found the perfect summer job. I’m going to get buff and tan: check. I’m going to make a bunch of money: check. I’m not going to want to blow my brains out: check. And I’m not going to spend my Puss in Boots ninth life: check mate! Dreams do come true. As long as I don’t get sucked into an oil painting we should be good. And I hope all the mansions have bookcases, providing me the opportunity to pull on all of the books looking for secret doors, looking for fun summer adventures. Just like our guy Puss in Boots does. Just like we all do.
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