While I’m currently gainfully employed, I’ve lost many jobs along the way. I’m unsure what I’ve learned exactly, but this is how I started from the bottom and got to here.
This month marks four years with the same employer, which is the longest I’ve ever held a job by a long shot. The greatest skill I’ve acquired over my career is getting fired from jobs. I’ve lost almost as many jobs as I’ve actually had. Employers seem to either want to get rid of me or (less often) promote me. I never know which way it’s going to go and both are a surprise, given that my interest in a job is pretty much always neutral.
The reason my current arrangement works so well is that my boss is in another state. We only see each other once a year at Christmas when he pays for my cocktails and good-naturedly endures my slightly-drunken rants about capitalism. He sometimes calls me at 11 a.m. and asks if I’m awake. I usually am but I’m invariably still in my pajamas.
When I was 14, I got my first job at a video store called “That’s Entertainment!” I didn’t mind the work at all and, at $100 a week with no living expenses, I was about the richest I’ve ever been. What I did mind was that my colleague played The Runaway Bride on repeat for eight hours every shift.
Five months later, I was fired for having a bad attitude. You do the maths: 4 viewings of Richard Gere X 3 shifts a week X 20 weeks = enough Richard Gere to sour your outlook on life. My attitude has never recovered. I cried a little, though not at the prospect of never having to look at ol’ Gerbils Gere again.
“Don’t Take Burgers Seriously”
I was three firings down and over a decade older when I arrived in New York, but in that city of dreams I claimed the dubious honor of being fired twice in a month – a record even by own sorry standards. The first was a burger joint where I was given a jumpsuit with an elastic waistband and a salary of $7 an hour. The three-hour shifts barely covered my train fare to and from the posh area of Manhattan, where I most certainly did not live. We didn’t even get free burgers.
We were working 20 minutes overtime at the end of each shift, which was an additional $2 per shift I absolutely intended to fight for. It was a short-lived fight that culminated in my boss telling me I didn’t take burgers seriously. A serious burger-taker would be happy to relinquish their $2, I guess. He demanded that I return my jumpsuit, as if I might try to take it as a keepsake of New York and their favorable labor laws.
“The Worst Waitress”
My next stint in an Australian bar in New York dubiously nicknamed “The Cow” did not end well. The establishment was famed for dishing out all-you-can-drink booze for twenty bucks. We spent a lot of time cleaning up said booze when it was ejected from the customers’ digestive system sometime towards the messy end of the evening.
We received no base wage, and on weeknights all I earned was around twenty dollars in tips – so I helped myself to generous amounts of alcohol because I figured I should at least be getting paid in kind. Sadly, the owner of the bar didn’t feel the same way. After a customer loudly called me “the worst waitress I’ve ever had” and refused to give a tip, my name disappeared from the roster and I hastily quit by text message to leave with my dignity. Such as it was.
“Insulting the Boss”
Which brings me to my job as an English teacher in Paris. The owner of the school was a tiny French woman with a chip on her shoulder the size of the Eiffel Tower, a voice croaked from a lifetime of chain-smoking in her office, and a penchant for reducing her employees to tears. Madame’s favorite pastime was eavesdropping outside the door of the classroom and then bursting in unexpectedly to holler at students and teachers alike. The only thing I had in common with the business people I taught was the collective fear we lived in during lessons.
After Madame followed me to the bathroom one afternoon shouting, “You think you’re so special! You think you’re better than everyone else!”
I opened the door and asked if she had ever been treated for mental illness. I knew a bit about mental health services, because I’d already been fired from that industry.
Her face mottled with rage. “I’m going to call up the Australian embassy! I’ll have you deported!”
“What for?” I asked.
“Insulting ze boss!” she shouted.
Unfortunately for me, the French do not consider boss-insulting a crime and I did not get the luxury of a free plane trip back to Australia.
You’ll be able to read more about my turbulent work history in my memoir, “What Are You Running From?”
I told my boss about this list and he said, “Luckily, we set a high bar for your work and a low bar for your recalcitrance.”
BOSS OF THE YEAR!