Smart-arses need not apply

Having returned to college at the ripe old age of 29, I am once again burdened with the tiresome subject of student finance. Being too ineligible for state benefits, too jaded to approach the loans company and too goddamn unlucky to resort to crime, I am faced with the realisation that I will have to find a part-time job for which not only am I vastly over-qualified, but which fits around my busy college schedule and which requires me to perform the most basic of tasks for the most paltry of reward. In short, I need a bar job.

I feel like Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey’s slightly unhinged anti-hero in American Beauty, whole-heartedly launching himself into the ridiculous circus that passes for menial employment, where humans are stripped of all that makes them unique and paraded as examples of what can be achieved when the stupid are given just enough power to preside over the, well, slightly more stupid.

Lester Burnham: just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose

Except I am not stupid. Having been in gainful employment now for around seven years, I have fairly good idea of how I can expect to be treated, not necessarily as an employee, but as a human being. I have the luxury of experience and the wherewithal to spot some of the uglier elements of the workplace environment: a power trip, an unfair dismissal, discrimination, bigotry, harassment, slave labour.

I telephoned a bar about a job last week, intending to ask questions about the hours, the responsibilities and the pay. But could I get this information? Could I hell. Instead, the receptionist’s semi-automatic tongue fired off questions asking me for my name, full address, date of birth, previous experience and national insurance number, before I’d even managed a splutter of objection. Someone, I was told, would call me back. “Why?” I felt like asking “they won’t even know what I want.”

What is going on here!? Have we regressed as a nation to the point where nobody actually listens anymore, where basic communication skills have been smothered by a constant thirst for information?

I eventually managed to find a job, but lasted only two days after taking issue with pay conditions which were not explained to me from the outset. A blazing row with the bar owner was the longest and last conversation I had with her, my only regret being that I did not have the foresight to accidentally trip and fall through a glass table on my way out, severing my carotid artery just enough to make her shit money through my letterbox till Christmas 2013.

How many people on minimum wage simply put up with being treated badly by an employer, simply because it is the status quo? These are just two examples of how, during the past month, I have been exposed to some utterly shoddy treatment from prospective employers, treatment that I would not have received had I been applying for a job with a five-figure salary.

But of course, nobody likes a smart arse. Lester’s wife – and indeed everyone else in his sad little world – bloody hated him for finally standing up for himself. Oh, but we loved him for it. Who cared if he was throwing away his career and marriage for a fast car, a skunk habit, a body-building obsession and a bit of teenage skirt?

He showed us how to stick it to the man with style and that no matter how much of a fuck-up you are, the rest of humanity will always, always trump you.


2 Responses to “Smart-arses need not apply”

  1. December 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Very good post. Stumbled across your blog while google’ing for a Lester Burnham image for a blog entry of my own. I, too, noticed the difference in treatment when working minimum wage gigs while I was in college. Obnoxious bosses, rude customers, power tripping co-workers. It was a life I was all too ready to leave. But when I graduated and obtained my “five figured” salary job, things seemed eerily the same, yet in a different way. Instead of the overt barbarities of hourly wage employment, the corporate world seemed more deceptive, concealing some type of underlying evil. At least I could see the demon coming at me when I worked as a dishwasher at Red Lobster. But now, people will invite you to their kid’s birthday parties and play golf on Saturday. Then the following Friday, with a blank face of soulless apathy, they will fire you because of “downsizing” (which is just another world for the big wigs really screwed up).

    Same game, different name.

    Brought me to the realization that doing for self may be the closest that we ever get to actual freedom.

    Thanks for the article.

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