A Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember

A Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember

by Iain Levison




All Iain Levison really wants is a steady paycheck, cable television, and the possibility of a date on Saturday night. But after blowing $40,000 on an English degree, he can’t find the first, can’t afford the second, and can’t even imagine what woman would consent to the third. So he embarks on a time-honored American tradition: scoring a few dead-end jobs until something better comes along. The problem is, it never does.

A Working Stiff's Manifesto is a laugh-out-loud memoir of one man’s quest to stay afloat. From the North Carolina piedmont to the Alaskan waters, Levison’s odyssey takes him on a cross-country tour of wage labor: gofer, oil deliveryman, mover, fish cutter, restaurant manager, cable thief, each job more mind-numbing than the last. A Working Stiff's Manifesto will resonate with anyone who has ever suffered a demeaning job, worn a name badge, or felt the tyranny of the time clock.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812967944
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/08/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.38(d)

Read an Excerpt

Becoming an Associate

It's Sunday morning and I am scanning the classifieds. There are two types of jobs in here–jobs I’m not qualified for and jobs I don't want. I'm considering both.

There are pages and pages of the first type–jobs I will never get. Must know this, must know that. Must be experienced in this and that, for at least six years, and be fluent in Chinese, and be able to fly a jet through antiaircraft fire, and have SIX YEAS experience in open-heart surgery. Starting salary $32,000. Fax your resume to Beverly.

Who is Beverly, I wonder, and what does she know that I don't? She knows she's getting a paycheck, for starters. She can't do any of the things required for the job, I’m sure, or she would be doing them, instead of fielding phone calls. If I knew Beverly on a personal level, could I get a job doing something at her company? Is that why they don't put Beverly's last name in there, to discourage would-be stalker like me from schmoozing up to her in a bar? From finding out details of her personal life and bumping into her on the subway, after waiting or four hours, then asking her out for a drink; then, after a night of passionate sex, offhandedly wonder if they were hiring for anything down at her firm? I continue on down the column, earning more and more about skills I don't have, about training I will never get, about jobs needed in fields I never even knew existed.

Sometimes the Jobs-I-Can't-Do sections contain a hidden morsel, thought. The words "WILL TRAIN" always trigger a Pavlovian slobbering in any qualified bullshit artist. If they're going to train you, what difference does it make what you used to do? "COMPUTER PROGRAMMER, WILL TRAIN." I know what a computer is. It's one of those TV things with a typewriter attached by a cord. If they want to train me to program it, fine. Then I keep reading. This is an ad for a computer school, where they teach you all about computers for $2,500, then get you a job data processing, also known as typing, for nine dollars an hour. I keep looking.

Today, all the WILL TRAINS are for jobs I don’t want. "MOVERS NEEDED, $8/hr. to start. WILL TRAIN. Guaranteed overtime." This ad is of the second type. Moving furniture isn't so bad. It's hard work but it has its perks, one of which is you never need to work out when you're doing it because your muscles are torn to shit at the end of everyday. Eight dollars an hour is low for New York. After taxes that'll leave about six. Still, I can deal with that. The problem is the guaranteed overtime. They are obviously understaffed and are trying to make it look like keeping me at work for fourteen hours a day will be doing me a favor. They'll think because I answered this ad that I’m going to be enthusiastic about showing up on Sundays and holidays. "You wanted overtime," they'll crow, "Isn't that why you answered the ad?" I move on down the page.

"FISH CUTTERS NEEDED, $12/hr. to start." This is a combination of both types of jobs–a job I don't want and a job I can't do-all wrapped up in one neat little package. I worked for two years as a fish processor in Alaska, so I know a thing or two about fish, but I can't cut them and I don't want to. But I can talk fish with anybody. I can bullshit my way through an interview no problem, and by the time they realize I can't cut, I'm already on the payroll. Then they'll either have to teach me or fire me, and firing me will involved admitting a mistake, so teaching me it will be. Twelve dollars an hour? I'm set. Rent will be paid.

There's a definite trick to applying for jobs for which you are not qualified. Knowing something is key, even if it is just one little fact that you can throw out. You can usually get these facts by listening to boring people. I once spent five hours on a train down to Florida listening to the guy in the next seat ramble on about the woes of house painting, and two days later I was painting houses in Miami after wowing the interviewer with a verbatim rendition of the speech I had just heard. So, with fish, I'm set. Just a few mentions of salmon fishing in Alaska, and I’m in.

Another fact about interviewers is that most interviewers just want to hear themselves talk. In the average job interview, I'm usually lucky if I can get a word in edgewise. Interviewers have a captive audience who want something from them, so they can babble away uninterrupted about their restaurant, their business, their life, their opinion of the president, or any subject on their mind. Who's going to disagree with them? It's the perfect dictator's forum. "No, sir, actually I think the President's doing a fine job," and my application is ripped to shreds the minute I'm gone. I've sat quietly while interviewers tell me facts about their wives, their careers, their golf handicaps, even their first sexual experiences. And they rarely ask anything about me.

I go down to the fish stores and we talk fish. This is a high-end fish store, catering to the eclectic needs of housewives from the best areas of New York, I am told. The manager, John, needs someone with a "good attitude," who is "presentable." An ass-kisser with a good haircut. It's the same thing everyone wants, every business from IBM to the local transmission shop. I happen to have a good haircut, and I am relentlessly polite, at least for the first five minutes I meet someone. He tells me to come back tomorrow for orientation, wearing khaki pants and a blue shirt. No questions about fish cutting ability are ever asked.

I have a job. Here we go again.

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A Working Stiff's Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too much profanity. I did not finish this book because there was too much profanity.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yes, Levison has had lots of yucky jobs, but at least part of his problem is himself. I wouldn't hire him.
MadAboutCymru on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favourite book ever : for all those who've been through rough years, workwise and financially, this book will make you feel better. It proves that having a stupid job doesn't mean you're stupid, and will make you laugh, highlighting the stupidity of some aspects of our society...
Jenners26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The subtitle to this book is "A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can't Remember." That pretty much sums it up. The author recounts his misadventures of a variety of jobs that are either low paying, extremely difficult or both. The author has a good sense of humor and sarcasm that make the book a good, fast read, but you also get the taste of what it is like to work some of these jobs -- including working a fishing boat in Alaska. I really enjoyed this book, and I know the author wrote a novel after this one so I hope he has finally broken out of his cycle of dead-end jobs and is making a living as a writer. One can only hope!
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are very few books that can make this claim, but I did laugh out loud. It's an honest look into the life of the poor working man/woman.
Guest More than 1 year ago