I spin the carousel and grab the easiest to reach miniature cup. I don’t think that my wife realizes that I can’t really tell the difference between French or Italian roasts, and I have no idea what makes “100% Colombian” any different than “Donut Shop Blend”. I simply grab, drop it in the coffeemaker and press the preset button. In what seems an eternity, I get a 12 ounce “extra strong” cup of what passes as coffee in the modern world. I pause to think about how my grandmother would have spent at least half an hour producing such sludge. I take a sip, wince at the awfulness, and set upon my newfound career. When I say “career”, I say it jokingly because the unpaid work that I’m endeavoring upon this morning is the same thing I’ve been doing for the last six months. I have unwittingly been thrown into the last semblances of what used to be a “high tech” job, the online job search.
There was a time, long before things like smart phones, dating apps, and application scrubbing tools, that applying for a job entailed printing out a stack of resumes and heading out the door. Back at the beginning of this current adventure, I knew that times had changed but now I find myself in what feels like the twilight zone of employment. I log into my computer, launch my email program and start weeding through the dozens of “alerts” of jobs that some other distant computer thinks matches my skill set. I chuckle as I read a few. “Master’s degree with 10 years of experience” reads one. Yet, when I check out their website, the responsibilities read like something that a teenager is doing in their spare time between swiping through pictures of girls, and playing Assassin’s Creed on his Samsung 27. It seems that hope is all I have left to qualify me for half of the positions that are out there.
Out of curiosity, I do an unfiltered search on several of the employment websites that I have signed up as a user. As an average, I find that there are over 47,000 jobs listed in my home state. Being on the east coast within driving distance of the nation’s capitol, combined with half a dozen nationally recognized hospitals nearby, the odds are very high that many of those thousands are tech related. So, I figure my odds should be pretty good. I dig further into my own electronic application stack. Not including the jobs that required some sort of secret application process, that I may have lost track of, I have applied for over 500 jobs. I take my fingers off my keyboard, and sit back for a moment. Can this be real? I couldn’t POSSIBLY have submitted that many job applications and resumes, to then hear NOTHING from any employer! Could I?
I recheck my numbers and review my resume once again. Yes, everything seems to be correct. I stop myself from an emotional response. I get up from the little desk that is sitting in my guest room that has been my temporary office. A few months back, I deemed this miniscule piece of wooden furniture more than enough for what I was sure would be only a few weeks of job searching. I was wrong, so terribly wrong. I’ve spent my entire life working at just about any job that I could get, always working hard and willing to do what others wouldn’t. I’ve done jobs that some would find revolting, and jobs that others have actually saluted. It never seemed to matter as long as I could provide for my family, or at least help provide.
I sit on the edge of the guest bed, take a deep breath, and dejectedly reminisce about some of those jobs. They started so long ago, that even I have a hard time recalling them all, but I remember the first job “real” job rather clearly. It was the summer that I had turned fourteen, and my family fell into the government statistical bracket that allowed it the largess of government spending. You see, I was the youngest of five kids, and my father had passed away at the age of 49. Even in those days, that was considered quite young. Since my father had always worked from one blue collar job to the next, without any type of insurance, my mother was left holding quite the proverbial bag with 3 young boys still at home to raise. So when in my freshman year I learned of a chance to get a real government job, with no work experience, I jumped at the chance. I went to the guidance counselor’s office and obtained the appropriate application and work permit, which I took it home and had Mom sign. I had it back to school the very next day. I can’t express how excited I was when I had learned that I had gotten the job! In just a few short weeks, school would be out, and I would be earning money!
I don’t remember the exact date, but do remember that I was told to report the local elementary school custodian on Monday morning in early June. I dressed in my best jeans and button down shirt. I had no idea what to expect when I got there, but I was full of enthusiasm that I was given the chance to help “bring in the bacon” at home. I was especially excited because just that year the minimum wage had increased to $2.65 an hour. I just knew that my new found career was going to make a difference at home. So when I got to the school, walked the eerily quiet hallways down to the custodians office, I felt a sense of gratitude and pride. I was finally going to be able to help Mom for a change.
The custodian was a middle aged black man, with a rough and grimacing face, and shards of white running through his wavy hair. This was the same man that I had watched many times over the years, bring in buckets of sawdust to clean up the latest mishap of my classmates. He was now my boss. I was the first, of what eventually ended up being three employees, in the office. Of the three, I was the youngest. Both of the other boys were 16, and seemed massive. I recognized one of them as a football player from the high school, his name was Gary. Once all of us were assembled, the “boss” (as Gary always called him) had us fill out timecards, demonstrated how to “punch” them, and escorted us down the hallway. Although it was still very early in the day, you could feel the heat that was building in the mid-century structure. In those days, air conditioning was still a luxury that was reserved for expensive homes, not working class schools that were devoid of pupils. He walked down to a kindergarten classroom that I once sat in years before. I must admit that the feeling is quite odd to see some of the same furniture that at one time seemed huge, now appear to be built for mice.
Boss instructed two of us to take all of the Lilliputian furniture from the classroom and move it outside into the hallway. He wanted it lined up in neat rows along the wall as to not interfere with any traffic up and down the empty hallway. I stood wondering what traffic would be going through these halls for months, but started on the task as instructed. Boss tapped Gary on the arm and said “You’re with me”, and the disappeared down the hallway. A few minutes later, they returned with mops, buckets, and a floor buffer. We spent the rest of the day mopping the floor, fanning it dry, waxing and then buffing. Since Gary was older, and considerably larger, he was the one assigned to use the floor buffer. I was assigned the mop. The mop was the kind with the removable cotton heads that once fully wet, weighed half as much as I did back then. I worked up a sweat in no time, but it was a fulfilling sweat, the kind that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something. And I was. I was starting a life of hard, honest and necessary work. The kind that all these years later, I hope that I can find again.
Because hope is my qualification.