Jobs In Books

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

I wanted to move to New York from the time I first learned what New York was. I grew up on a farm and dreamed about moving to the city the way some kids dream about becoming marine biologists. Reading books like E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and watching movies like Big Business starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin only cemented my resolve. I wanted to be part of the city that never sleeps.

The not sleeping part can be glamorous and fun, but that lack of sleep can also be attributed to all of the wild jobs you have to take to live here. New York City is special, but it is also expensive. And, while there are lots of wonderful things you can do for free, there are plenty of things that require cash in hand. 

Over my 22 years here, I’ve met people who’ve taken on some wild gigs. I mean, where else can you go to a party and meet someone who artfully applies plaster to interiors to make them look like ancient Rome, a boutique dog walker (someone who walks only one dog at a time,) and someone who is David Byrne’s assistant? I myself have done a lot of jobs. Outside of my work in hospitality, I have been a receptionist at a temp agency, an ESL teacher, an assistant to a renowned psychotherapist, a nanny, and a person who trained exit pollers for the 2000 presidential election!

Luckily, I was able to transmit some of my work experience to Jean, the protagonist in my latest book, The Night Shift. Jean’s work as an assistant to a therapist and as a bartender are drawn directly from my professional past. My inconsistent and unfocused work experience would raise any resume writer’s blood pressure, but I didn’t take the jobs that made sense; I took the jobs that would pay the most for the limited qualifications I had.

The books below explore that kind of job—the kinds that would make anyone examining a resume scratch their head. These are the jobs you hear about at the party or at the bar or on a date. They are the things people do to get by, when sometimes you need to take the work that makes the least sense because it’s something you can do and something that will put money in your pocket.

Personal Days by Ed Park

This book really took me back to my receptionist desk; it captures the ambition graveyard tone of office life better than just about anything. The funny thing is that this book is structured particularly ambitiously. It’s smart, sharp, funny, and terrifying. Personal Days does a lot of work, but for me the most authentic aspect is its illumination of one of the most horrifying slippery slopes, a phenomenon that still makes my blood run cold: the early 2000s NYC-grad-student to data entry pipeline.

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Olga Dies Dreaming holds a magnifying glass over all of the different jobs people do in New York City to survive—from cater waiters to realtors to NYC DOE administrators to members of congress. Olga herself is the epitome of self-engineered professional success. Her work life is built around organizing high end parties and events, a job for which there is no manual, only intuition. There is a lot to love in this book, but I especially admire the way Xochitl Gonzalez captures every side of what it means to take ruthless hold of your professional narrative. 

The Bartender’s Cure by Wesley Stratton

This is a satisfying tale of a young person taking a bartending job and a sabbatical from her predictable life. Wesley Stratton does a beautiful job of examining the way odd jobs begin as a placeholder in times of uncertainty, but can bloom into meaningful, permanent solutions. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

PG enjoyed a lot of great experiences in New York when he was the age of the author of the OP, but he never was attracted to the city the way he was to Chicago.

Carl Sandburg summed up the attraction better than PG could:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.