menu options
Added: 11 April 2005

Near Employment Experience

Man at Work

"I have always hated working. A job to me is...well, it's an invasion of privacy. Getting blasted out of bed by an alarm clock so you can go somewhere and do things you don't want to do, that's not my idea of living." --Danny McGoorty, Irish Pool Player

I haven't had a proper job -- one where you go to an office every day and pretend to work solidly for eight hours -- since 1998. At that point, I became a telecommuter, working from my home hundreds of miles from the office that still deposited my paychecks directly into my bank account every two weeks. That arrangement lasted five beautiful years, ending over a year ago, and since then, it's been a bit of ducking here, a bit of diving there, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants hodgepodge of unemployment checks, web design gigs, and miraculous tax refunds. I have tried to minimize my needs and I have experienced an inordinate amount of freedom.

It has been an agreeable existence, I must say, and little by little, it has changed me psychologically. I have lost all sense of time. I am highly protective of my outsized sense of personal rights, taking offense at any perceived infringement. I have become smugly condescending toward the sort of clock-watching, vacation-day-counting, half-hour lunchbreak-taking mentality of the daily grinding routine-deadened world. In short, I have become very nearly unemployable.

"I usually did all right until I saw the first paycheck, then I would tell everybody off. 'You mean this is all I get for hanging around here since Tuesday?'" --McGoorty

Unfortunately, a recent drying-up of lucrative web design jobs, unemployment checks, and tax refunds caused me momentarily to lose my nerve. Sooner or later, if a man has no trust fund and is not much of a hustler, he is going to find himself susceptible to the allure of steady wages and decent benefits. As dreadful a prospect as it was, it was time to face the music. I had had a nice run, but it was time to get a job.

I nearly got one, too. A nice, small, academic nonprofit institution was looking for someone to do editorial and web-related things for them at a minimally acceptable salary. The only problem was that it was located deep in New Jersey, and the commute would be a life-ruining two hours -- in each direction. Clearly untenable; perhaps that's why I applied. When they offered me the job, I had no choice but to turn it down.

I'm about to hang up the phone in relief when something unexpected happens. They offer to let me work from home, two days a week. I should have known then that they were evil, slippery bastards. That was just enough to make the prospect very nearly tolerable, and they knew it.

With the tattered remains of my sense of responsibility, I accept the position, instantly triggering a pervasive sense of doom that hangs over me like a malignant shroud, poisoning all my relationships. Within days, I am on the verge of divorce and thinking seriously about extreme pharmaceutical abuse.

"One thing has always puzzled me. Why do people feel so bad when they lose a job? It made me feel happy as hell, and I always celebrated with a few drinks. When you get a job, that's when you should have the long face. You need a few drinks then, too." --McGoorty

The days -- the precious days of fleeting freedom -- slip by as if to taunt me, drawing me ever nearer to my first day of stumbling out of the house at 6:30 in the morning and stumbing home some 12 hours later, fit only for a joyless meal and physical collapse. The noose is tightening. I am in a grim daze right up until the moment the official offer letter finally comes through.

It turns out the sneaky weasels have slipped a few extra little provisions into the letter, like the telecommuting can't start until after a 90 day probation period. I know what this is. It's the old Bait and Switch! Not a good sign, but still potentially negotiable. What really kills the deal is the nice lady's tone of voice when I call her to reassert the original terms of our agreement. She sounds weary. Exasperated.

"Is there anything ELSE, John?" That's what she says to me. She needs to check with the Board. We'll talk the next day.

"Is there anything ELSE, John?" It keeps going through my head, growing rapidly more offensive with each repetition. As if I am the one who is throwing unfair monkey wrenches into the machinery out of left field. This is some human resources method derived from Orwellian doublespeak. If you object to them screwing you, it's you who's causing trouble. Maybe it's because earlier I had asked about when the health coverage kicked in. Maybe that grated against the management sensibility, an employee worrying about health care. Next thing you know he'll want to know how much vacation time he gets.

By the next day, it isn't about the terms of the job anymore. I've been mortally offended, and must follow the dictates of wounded dignity. It's time to pick up and flee.

The phone call comes and I'm ready. My worst fear is that they'll have decided to honor our original agreement; I needn't have worried. I launch into my speech, which culminates with "I'm afraid I must respectfully withdraw." I was nearly moved to real tears by my own tragic eloquence as I stood once again at the summit of that coveted moral highground.

So it was over. I had looked employment right in its terrible eyes, and had somehow emerged unscathed. And unemployed. I remain before you today a free man. And, erm, if anyone needs any web stuff done, I'm not bad with PHP and back-end database stuff. Feel free to call, but please be mindful of your tone of voice. I've got one foot out the back door already.