By Natalie James
I worked at seven different jobs this summer.
Don’t worry, they weren’t all at the time same time.
Some were as short as a day. None were longer than a few weeks. So, at the age of 22, I have enough job experience to rank me above virtually unemployable, but unlike most of my peers, I am quite comfortable with this. I am actually proud of my summer vagrancy. I guess I’d rather practice my craft, which is writing, or my other craft, sleeping-in. But it’s not laziness, you see—I’m just not working-stiff material.
Seriously, though, I’m too scornful of urban sweatshops to last long at the Gap or Banana Republic . And I have no burning desire to land much-coveted air conditioned corporate job. I’m not saying I never intend to be gainfully employed, even if it is for someone else. I’m just not in a hurry to prostitute my days for $6.75 an hour.
Hopping from one short-lived job to the next was fun and a lucrative alternative to the tedium of uninterrupted exploitation called summer work. I even learned a few things along the way.
My first job of the summer was with a government-assisted cult. KidsNRG, a dubious non-profit organization, played upon the cause-du-jour of student unemployment to get $100,000 out of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). The hiring process took place in supervisor Richard Wright’s bedroom. He told us this was “going to change the world.” We thought we were supposed to create webpages. Three people took notes as we created an “edifice” out of construction paper and played with Playskool tinker-toys. They always seemed really happy with their organization despite having no contract to create websites.
It must have had something to do with the brand new Saab in the driveway of their brand new house.
They insisted we engage in group hugs, slap high fives and write about what KidsNRG meant to us. It’s unfortunate it had to end but they didn’t think they had to pay me for a week-and-a-half in Romper Room Hell. I called HRDC who quickly pulled the plug on their scam.
My next job was as Deputy Returning Officer for the Federal election. I love the opportunity to visit up-scale neighborhoods. I feel sheltered sometimes. I don’t feel I know enough racist, rich, white people. I can learn a lot from this group — and I do. Here’s the scenario: I’m a respectable looking black girl. I was wearing a pant-suit and my hair looked dreaded. My assistant is a neatly dressed Somali girl with a Muslim head wrap. We are both sitting behind a very official-looking table with a big ballot box marked poll 13. Off to the side is a scrutineer casually reading the paper. He’s a middle-aged white man with a suit and a tie. When the votes come in they are directed to us but after taking one glance at our smiling faces they walk towards the man. Maybe it’s because he’s older, I think. Age is a sign of authority, right?
But what do you call it when the well-dressed older man is replaced by someone’s teenage daughter in a T-shirt and jeans shorts. She soon became flustered with pointing people away from her and over to us. “Hi, over here!” I would wave to them, happily assisting in their disorientation. Most looked embarrassed as I handed them their ballot.
Welcome to “Racism 101.” Most blacks have learned this lesson well, but sometimes you get takea brush-up course.
I was paid $9.00 an hour to beg, I mean fundraise, for Women’s College Hospital (WCH). No one was safe from our scripted please. We don’t care if you’re a student on maternity leave with no food to eat and a husband who beats you. If we let you off without donating then we’d hear it from our supervisors.
“I understand that it must be a hard time for you,” I would reply, “but it’s also a hard time for Women College Hospital.” I take no pride in the fact that I’m actually damned good at begging — raising more money than anyone my first night. While WCH is a fine hospital, something seemed a bit unsavory, because they would leave the catering leftovers from their board meetings for us to eat. Unfortunately they took my unmistakable disinterest as a sign I wasn’t in it for the long haul. They me go after announcing the hospital was slated to close in a few months.
Being a journalist is probably going to suck
Of all my jobs, freelance writing for the Toronto Star City Search online directory paid the least money and required the most work. Freelance, I learned quickly, is just another word for minimum wage. Everyone else there learned this too. The turnover rate was brisk. What’s more disheartening is that many seasoned writers were in the trenches fighting for what equalled $5.75 an hour cobbling together some facts. I was burning-out in a hurry while trying to feel grateful. Isn’t writing what I wanted to do? Gratefully, school was to start in a few weeks and I could move on guilt free.