Trying to Become a Productive Member of My Own Life

by Jim Knipfel

The job thing always sneaks up on me, blindsides me, usually knocks me silly. Going all the way back to my first job--I was hired to work undercover security in a candle shop on the weekends when I was eight--I don't think I've ever gotten a job I've actually applied for cold. My resume has never done me a damn bit of good. Oh, maybe I'll be called in for the occasional interview, but it inevitably turns into a train wreck of epic proportions.

No, most of the jobs I've had--from bill collector and repo man to security guard to whatever--have all fallen into my lap out of the clear grey sky. The phone rings, someone offers me a job. For a while, I think they're joking, then I remember my desperation and take it, no matter how stupid and demeaning it is. Desperation can turn a man into the stupidest animal on earth.

It's been ten months now since my silly sense of personal honor forced me to leave my last job. I think that's a new record. A few possibilities popped up along the way. I applied to be a box boy at my favorite liquor store for five bucks an hour. The job would've been mine, too, had I not written two stories (I couldn't've stopped at one?) about the evil crone who ran the place. Was called in for an interview at Spring Street Books, but it turns out I wasn't hip enough to work there. Probably the oddest offer of the lot was the guy who left me a message, asking me to be an assistant at his independent trucking firm.

For over a week I frantically tried to call his beeper and his house before we finally got in touch. I was way up for this job, though nobody quite understood why. But by the time we hooked up, he had found someone for the job and--this was the kicker--he had decided to quit the independent trucking business altogether.

After that, there was silence. On average, I sent half a dozen resumes and funny cover letters a week out into the darkness, out into that big resume graveyard, without hearing a word.

I drank, I moped, I wandered around and smoked and slept and then couldn't sleep. I watched a lot of Animaniacs and Geraldo. I talked to my other unemployed cronies and leeched meals out of friends and took too much money from my ex. Then I drank some more. Before too long I was looking like I was rode hard and put away wet. One night I got a phone call from an old acquaintance of mine, who'd been a bigwig at Entertainment Weekly since day one. I hadn't heard from him in awhile, and since he was saying some awfully nice things about my silly little stories, I figured this might be my big break.

"So, uuhhh, if I'm so fuckin' great, uuhhh, why don't you give me, y'know, a job or something?"

"Oh, well, because I left the magazine last, uhh, let's see, last..."


We decided to go bowling instead.

Then finally, one day, it happened. I knew it would--it was just a matter of time. "The day of employment will come as a thief in the night," you might say. Or not. Anyway, I was sitting at my table, sharing some breakfast cereal with the Big Guy and drinking a mug of cold coffee, when the phone rang. I went on eating until I heard who it was.

"Knipfel, I know you're there, pick up the goddamn phone."

I picked up the goddamn phone.

"Uhhhyeah?" I mumbled, while trying to light a smoke with my free hand.

He talked at me for a little bit, while I said things like, "sure, uh-huh," "you betcha," and "oh, don't be stupid--of course I can." When he was done, he asked me to come in for a meeting the next day, just to confirm everything. It looked like I might have something. I've thought that before, though, and I've always been mistaken. Of course, I'm mistaken about most everything, like "my life has meaning," or "happiness is attainable," or "maybe I'm not a complete fuck-up."

I went in the next day anyway and sat across from the Big Boss Man and the Little Boss Man. Little Boss Man was the one who had called me. Both of them were smoking--that was a very good sign.

"You can have the job on one condition," Big Boss Man told me. "You have to be nice to people."

I thought about it for a minute. I'm not a monster. I don't like people much, but if it meant no longer living on flour and tahini paste, I'd be willing to be nice. I guess that just goes to prove what I said earlier about desperation. We're all cowards, deep down--we'll kiss any ass that comes along if it means the removal of just a little bit of pain.

"I can be nice."

So the job was mine. Beginning in a few weeks, I start work as a Receptionist. I won't say where because I don't want to fuck it up before I start. Besides, I get enough prank calls and death threats at home; I don't need anymore when I go to work.

Maybe it makes sense, ending up as a receptionist, something I'd never really done before. I'd been spending nearly the past year going about trying to get a job in some sort of logical fashion. I was applying for jobs I figured I was qualified for, jobs I figured I might be somewhat skilled in.

That has never, ever worked before. Worse still, I spent a good deal of time, energy and postage trying to get some kind of editorial or publishing job. I figured, "Shit, I write funny stories. I've edited a weekly. How fuckin' hard can it be?" Even though I've received a few kind words here and there from folks at publishing houses and magazines, it seems that none of them like me enough to actually want to give me a job to make my life a bit easier. They probably prefer to have me suffer--that way they can suffer vicariously as they deposit their checks.

Anyway, the job thing finally out of the way (for a little while at least), I waited for something else to start ripping at me. It didn't take long. Two days after I got word about employment, a mere two days after that ten-month search came to an end, everything else around me began to fall into utter ruin.

The innards of my toilet tore themselves apart. A couple light switches stopped working, leaving the lights in the apartment burning perpetually. Stereo went on the fritz, refusing to play any CD except Journey and Julio Iglesias. The lock on the front door of my building went kablooey, leaving my own door vulnerable to any new stalker who might come along. The beasts had taken to smashing glasses. The Dream People started working overtime.

There's some sort of serious metaphorical action working here, but I'll be goddamned if I know what it means. On second or third thought, maybe it's not so tough. Maybe it just means that, no matter what I do, where I go, how I think, I will always be a mess. Oh, well. Better to know that now before I start taking anything seriously.

"Trying to Become a Productive Member of My Own Life" copyright 1995 by Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the NYPress.
Artwork copyright 1995 by Bob Hires. All rights reserved.

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