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Recalling Studs Terkel's 1972 classic best-seller, Working, the more than 120 roughly textured monologues that make up Gig beautifully capture the voices of our fast-paced and diverse economy. The selections demonstrate how much our world has changed -- and stayed the same -- in the last three decades. If you think things have speeded up, become more complicated and more technological, you're right.
But people's attitudes about their jobs, their hopes and goals and disappointments, endure. Gig's soul isn't sociological -- it's emotional. The wholehearted diligence that people bring to their work is deeply, inexplicably moving. People speak in these pages of the constant and complex stresses nearly all of them confront on the job, but, nearly universally, they throw themselves without reservation into coping with them. Instead of resisting work, we seem to adapt to it. Some of us love our jobs, some of us don't, but almost all of us are not quite sure what we would do without one.
With all the hallmarks of another classic on this subject, Gig is a fabulous read, filled with indelible voices from coast to coast. After hearing them, you'll never again feel quite the same about how we work.
|Workers and Managers|
|Telemarketing Group Supervisor||13|
|McDonald's Crew Member||21|
|Workfare Street Cleaner||24|
|Ford Auto Worker||36|
|Slaughterhouse Human Resources Director||40|
|Chief Executive Officer||45|
|Goods and Services|
|Automobile Parts Specialist||66|
|Corporate Identity Consultant||72|
|Crime Scene Cleaner||80|
|Computer Chip Layout Designer||86|
|Buyers and Sellers|
|Hallmark Gift Shop Saleswoman||106|
|Gun Store Owner||109|
|Adhesives Company Sales Representative||115|
|Long-Haul Truck Drivers||142|
|Gas Station Attendant||148|
|Plants and Animals|
|Campground Maintenance Worker||165|
|Lawn Maintenance Man||168|
|Poultry Factory Worker||187|
|Smokehouse Pit Cooks||195|
|Diet Center Owner||198|
|Produce Stand Owner||206|
|Film Development Assistant||217|
|Television Guest Coordinator||259|
|Television Station Receptionist||263|
|Artists and Entertainers|
|Advocate for Rappers||270|
|Heavy Metal Roadie||278|
|Web Content Producer||297|
|Video Game Designer||305|
|Elvis Presley Interpreter||313|
|Sports and Gambling|
|High School Basketball Coach||317|
|Professional Hockey Player||324|
|Professional Basketball Player||332|
|Casino Surveillance Officer||350|
|Children and Teachers|
|Toys "R" Us Marketing Executive||387|
|High School Math Teacher||395|
|Lawyers and the Law|
|Personal Injury Trial Lawyer||405|
|Corporate Securities Lawyer||412|
|Border Patrol Agent||426|
|Government and Military|
|Army Psychological Operations Specialist||458|
|Air Force General||462|
|Environmental Protection Agency Specialist||467|
|Public Utilities Specialist||475|
|Bodies and Souls|
|Pharmaceutical Company Sales Representative||518|
|Psychiatric Rehabilitation Therapist||523|
|Funeral Home Director||540|
July 14, 1999, 11 p.m. I'm in a motel room in Wichita, Kansas, calling the Betti Le Boop escort service:
Me: "Hello, umm, [nervous, exhausted] I've got a strange request."
Woman's Voice: "Yeah, well, we get lots of those. What's your deal?"
Me: "I'm a journalist -- I'm working on a book -- and I was wondering if I could interview one of your escorts."
Woman: "Is this, like, some weird fetish thing?"
Me: "No, no, this is for real."
Woman: "And this is for what? A book?
Woman: "You just wanna...talk?"
Woman: [pause] "All right. I'll come over myself. My name's Simone. Gimme about a half hour."
In April of 1999, we -- Sabin Streeter, my sister, Marisa Bowe, and I -- signed a deal with Crown Publishing to produce GIG, a book of interviews with people from all over the United States talking about their jobs. We'd already gathered a number of interesting interviews and printed them in my sister's webzine. All we needed were three or so dozen more. No big deal -- we thought. However, even with people emailing us from all over the country with ideas for subjects, we realized that if we were going to even attempt to do justice to the occupational, geographic, temperamental, racial, economic, etc., etc. diversity of this country, we needed to go out and get specific types of interviews we weren't getting.
So I spent the summer of 1999 logging what ended up being 30,000 miles, criss-crossing the country; working the Internet, the Yellow Pages, bars, restaurants, parking lots, and playgrounds; sleeping in Motel 6s, drive-thru dining at McDonald's, chatting up clerks, weirdos, aunts and majordomos, always looking for that next missing subject: the blackest, the whitest, the east-est, the west-est, the most funny, the most sad, the most normal. The operative question and impulse were always the same: Does it feel like life yet? What are we forgetting? Who are we forgetting? How can we take every sight, smell, voice, vibe, chuckle, memory, and reverie, and cram it all into one book that captures the spirit of our times in something less than 12 million pages?
The day after I interviewed Simone, the Wichita escort, I drank Pabsts in a Kansas City ghetto ballpark with two barbecue chefs. The day after that, I sped up to Minot, North Dakota, to interview a Jenny Craig Diet Center franchise owner I'd located online. The next morning, I walked into a Billings, Montana, television station, hoping to interview a newscaster. The receptionist charmed the pants off of me, and I begged her to let me interview her instead. She was a knockout.
A day later, driving through Yellowstone, I called home from a parkside pay phone. With a herd of elk on one side of me and a rainbow sprouting up what seemed like four feet away on the other, I heard my message machine inform me that after enduring immense pestering, Congressman Barney Frank and supermodel Heidi Klum had both agreed to let me interview them. Derek Jeter, however, was out, as were Susan Sarandon, Steve Case (then the mere CEO of AOL), the cell-phone tower installer from Lincoln, Nebraska, and a depressingly large host of others. The imam from the central mosque in Oklahoma City had not called back, nor had the Human Resources lady from the CD manufacturing plant in Huntsville, Alabama. And the PR guys from Microsoft, Citibank, Sun Microsystems, Smith & Wesson, R. J. Reynolds, Mattel, etc. weren't getting back to me either. Nor would they ever. (Evidently, PR stands for "Please Retry [me later, so I can continue to be overpaid while ignoring you yet again].")
The summer became a feverish, hyperbolic rush of successes and failures. On July 23rd in a Laramie, Wyoming, coffee shop at 1am, I met a husband-and-wife trucker couple, Mike and Darlene Yockey. The second they began talking, it was clear that they were perhaps the most in-love people I've ever had the privilege to meet. Then, half an hour into their story, we realized my tape recorder had been jammed the whole time. I imploded: I'm an idiot, I thought, a bush-league piece of shit -- I have lost A++ material, and worst of all, I have wasted these people's time. To my amazement, Mike and Darlene were unperturbed. "Just start the damn thing over again! We've got all night." The second go-around was even better than the first. I was saved.
The failures are as memorable as the successes. August 7th, 2am, at a juke joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi: I am in the middle of a cornfield, listening to the best DJ mix I've ever heard (modern-day electric blues guys fused with old-schoolish rap, like LL Cool J's "Goin Back to Cali"). Everyone is drunk, stoned, countrified, black, dancing; I am sober, urban, immobile, white, and feeling just a wee bit out of my element. I get the interview with the two brothers who run the juke joint. They're great talkers, but later, we realize that because I made the mistake of interviewing them both at the same time, they come off as too similar to the KC rib guys. We can't use them. Oops....
Then there's the moonshiner from Sneedville, Tennessee. Once I've assured him that I'm not part of the "Jewish-controlled media conspiracy," he takes me to his mom's basement, shares his top-shelf liquor with me, shows me his homegrown ginseng (explaining that it "keeps your dick hard all night long"), talks a bit about his love for his Klan brethren, and disappears on a three-day bender. The interview never happens.
Finally, there's the Human Resources woman in Huntsville who, despite 14 or so phone calls, never gets back to me. So I show up at her CD plant one day, hoping for some Southern hospitality. The beefy female security chief says it's no go without official permission. I troll the parking lot, trying to snag someone getting off the morning shift. Before anything happens, the security chief comes outside with two enormous male guards and kicks me off the lot. As I skulk away, she says, "I do hope you have a pleasant rest of the day."
And I do, because six time zones earlier, in Honolulu, the top general of the entire Pacific command of the U.S. Air Force is waiting for my call, and he gives a great interview. I fly home, and the next day I'm eating some nouvelle something-or-other with Heidi Klum, trying (transparently, no doubt) to act casual as we chat about her new calendar.
Gig, and the job of making it, was the kind of project I've always dreamed of. More than a journalistic, sociological, or anthropological document, it's been something akin to a religious experience. I mean this in a very specific, and, I hope, unpretentious way. It is sustenance for me to know that people and their thoughts are more interesting than the movies, advertising, technology, sexy airheads, drugs, and myriad other things we're bombarded with and urged to think about all the time.
Some of the people in the book are happier than others; some more altruistic, some more memorable. Very few are jerks, and very few are saints. Many of the people I spoke with seemed confused, almost saddened by the task of delving into their feelings about their occupations. After a while, it dawned on me why: As a group of people, we Americans have been given unprecedented free rein to do anything and everything our hearts desire. This is not to say our society doesn't have problems, limitations, or inequities. But to read through Gig is to see person after person confronting the central problem of our society: In a world where one can do almost anything, how does anyone ever know if they've done the right thing? There's no answer to the question, of course. But what emerges from the varied, contradictory voices of this book is a thoughtfulness we seem to normally do our best to hide.
Posted August 4, 2000
I particularly like this book because I can relate it to a musical I performed in for my high school. The musical was called 'Working' and in it, people told the story of their life. Gig also tells stories about peoples lives and I find it to be very interesting reading material. For a fun and interesting book, I suggest you read Gig. (I personally hate reading and this is actually a book I wanted to read!)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 24, 2000
I have been reading word for a year now and i think the interviews with workers are one of the best things about their site. I am going to buy two copies for me and a friend!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2000
Have you ever stared into an office building at night and wondered what those tiny figures under the fluorescent lights are thinking? Reading Gig, I felt like the angels in 'Wings of Desire',that I was hearing the thoughts of those strangers. Mercifully free of a politic agenda, Gig seems at the vanguard of an un-named, simmering zeitgeist. Better than fiction, and more compelling than the news. I can't wait to read the rest.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.