Friday, July 13, 2007

estholes of the 21st Century

So, uh, yeah. The job search. The original purpose behind this blog.

When, months ago, my job search stalled, I turned my attention to a ready source of income: my job at the Spendorama Department Store. In order to pay off the mound of bills that piled up during my recovery from my shoulder injury, I—just like I said I wouldn’t do—devoted myself to the retail business. Again.

It wasn’t all bad. I did manage to pay off most of my bills. I even managed to save a few pennies. And, as much as I hate to admit it, even a McJob as low on the vocational totem pole as this one restored a structure and purpose to my days that had been missing for a long time.

The flipside: working days, nights, weekends and holidays. Clueless managers. Shiftless coworkers. Psychotic customers. Retail burnout—again.

I needed to kick-start the quest for my future. So once more, I headed back to the local Career Center and signed up for a (free, for taxpayers) three-part workshop designed to help lost souls, like Brother John, figure out what to do with their lives. The workshop was titled “Finding Tomorrow’s You Today”. Yes, really.

On the day of the first class, my bullshit detector was screaming like an air-raid siren. I mean, the whole thing seemed so. . .1970s. I started having nightmares, in which I found myself in that movie, “Semi-Tough”, attending an est session with Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh. I made an agreement with myself: if, upon entering the workshop, I saw one person who resembled Billy Clyde Puckett, I’d burn rubber like the Bandit leaving there.

Nobody, thankfully, at the workshop resembled Burt. In a spartan classroom, I found myself seated with four other students: two 50-something divorcees, who hadn’t worked since A Flock of Seagulls was a cutting-edge band; a former stripper/alcoholic, 30ish, who’d been fired two years ago for drunkenness and, in the meantime, had “found the Lord”; and a 50ish guy who reminded me of Michael Douglas’ character, “D-Fens”, in the movie “Falling Down”. He didn’t talk much and kept his stainless steel briefcase hugged to his chest.

The instructor for the workshop was a 40-something woman I can best describe as a cross between sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Susan “Stop the Insanity!” Powter—huge voice and amped-up personality housed in a tiny body. Oh, and she really, really liked overhead-projector transparencies; she had a stack of them, on which she drew all over with special markers in a rainbow of colors.

The first two-hour session was a basic “getting to know you” exercise. Dr. Westpowter gave us tent-cards on which she asked us to write our names. Then, one-by-one, she went around the room and asked us to introduce ourselves, briefly discuss our backgrounds and our hopes for the future. My stomach tightened; the next thing she’d do, I feared, was take away our bathroom privileges until we freed ourselves of our “hang-up’s”.

The exercise was as banal as it sounds. The divorcees each talked for 15 minutes, mostly about how they hated their ex-husbands. One even burst into tears. The ex-stripper delivered an equally lengthy sermon about how, after guzzling an entire bottle of Canadian Mist, she received a visitation from the archangel Gabriel, which “changed [her] life”. This didn’t surprise me. After 1.75 liters of straight whisky, Madalyn Murray O'Hair would’ve seen angels too.

Next up was D-Fens. He mumbled that he “wasn’t ready to talk”. On his tent-card, he’d written “Starship Commander”. Whoo-boy.

Last came yours truly. In situations like these, I generally opt for entertainment over candor. Name: Chachi Arcola. Previous Occupation(s): apprentice mechanic in Cousin Arthur’s garage; part-time bus boy at hamburger restaurant; sometime singer with local rock band. Future plans: to marry my high school sweetheart—wah, wah, wah! And no, none of them got it.

I won’t go into the brutal details of the other two sessions. Things didn’t improve much from session one, anyway. I took a standardized “interest inventory” test which told me everything I already knew about my job prospects. I learned that, no matter how screwed up Brother John is, there are many who are far worse off than me. Most importantly, I learned exactly what else, besides her huge voice, Dr. Westpowter’s tiny body held. This insight was revealed early on in workshop session three:

“Do you get it, folks? That’s the key to the future. Do what you love and success will follow,” said Westpowter, folding her spindly arms and grinning a self-satisfied grin.

I raised my hand. “Ma’am?”

“Yes, Chachi?”

“I beg to differ. That isn’t so.”


“Ever since high school, nearly 20 years ago, I’ve followed my passions. I’ve worked dirty drudge jobs specifically so I could do what I love. I’ve done exactly as you said, yet here I sit, a ship without a rudder. Why is that?”

Dr. Westpowter’s eyes glazed over and the color drained from her cheeks. Her mouth flapped noiselessly for a few moments. Finally, she found her voice. “Blah-blah-blah What Color Is Your Parachute? Yadda-yadda Is It Too Late to Run Away and Join the Circus? Blah-blah Job-Hunting for Dummies blah-blah,” she intoned, mechanically. “Yada-yada Oprah Winfrey blah-blah Leo Buscaglia prattle-prattle. M. Scott Peck doodle-doodle-doo Carlos Castanada, Og Mandino, Henri J. M. Nouwen. 60 Seconds and You’re Hired! wing-ding-fiddle-faddle. . .”

The good doctor became a life-size PEZ dispenser—spouting sugary pellets ranging from Dale Carnegie to Dr. Phil—if she wasn’t one already. Not that anybody noticed; the other estholes were too busy writing down her every word.

During a bathroom break (one up on ol’ Burt), I quietly slipped out and headed home. I didn’t need to stay any longer. When it came to finding ‘Tomorrow’s Me’, I was on my own. I got it.


Blogger Happy Villain said...

Oh, I hate the self-help gurus! Hate, hate, hate them! And don't you dare read The Secret!

You can't take a class on finding your future. What you do is not who you are.

Recently, I was sitting around with some friends, and I said I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. They laughed, reminded me that I've been working at the library for 15 years and that THIS is a career, not a job. It was a rude awakening. I've gone through my entire life thinking everything I do is just my current job, waiting for my career to reveal itself. It's not so fun anymore. I want it to go back to being a disposable job, but it's too late. Now, it's my future. When my future was uncertain, I felt better.

Different strokes for different folks, Brother John. You never really know what your future holds until it's your past. I hope you find a job that is fulfilling, but you're definitely right that you are much better off than many others.

9:01 AM  

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