Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Studs Terkel's "Working: The Uncut Edition"

I figured out pretty quick that I didn't have the goods to be any kind of a proper accountant, despite pissing away God knows how much money on what some fools would call an education. Maybe, actually, I should have said 'real accountant.' I lacked the discipline and the attention (and, frankly, the intelligence or interest) to make it at any of the big firms --or, for that matter, any of the small firms, at least the legitimate ones. I couldn't handle the hours or the office bureaucracy, and the math just seemed to get more complicated all the time. Every couple months or so somebody was dumping some fat book full of new regulations on my desk, and I couldn't make head  nor tails of any of it. When you shove numbers around for a living, after a certain point they stop adding up. That's been my experience, at any rate.

I don't know what I was thinking, to be honest with you. If I think hard enough I guess I could blame it on a lazy high school guidance counselor, a guy who probably just pulled the suggestion out of his ass without any real consideration of aptitude. I can still picture the old troll, hair coming out of his ears and a can of Diet Shasta perched on his belly as he sat behind his desk peering over his spectacles at me like I was a chess move. He was clearly just waiting for somebody to tell him he could finally hang it up and go home to die in his La-Z-Boy.

After I got laid off --okay, fired-- from my first job out of college I was unemployed for a long time. I choose to blame it on the economy even though I know damn well that things were booming then. At one point during this period of extreme indolence I went to see a career counselor, who actually did go to the trouble of giving me some kind of aptitude test. The problem was --and I'm not shitting you-- the woman told me the results indicated that I'd probably be happiest in "some kind of itinerant trade." What does that mean? I asked her.

"Oh, you know," she said, "something like a truck driver or carnival worker."

Let me assure you: that's exactly the sort of encouraging thing you want to hear when you're twenty-six years old and absolutely clueless about what your next step in life is going to be.

Out of pure laziness I ended up taking a series of temporary accounting gigs, generally as a tax preparer for one of these joints that gives people an advance on their returns in exchange for some ridiculous piece of the action. The last several years I worked for this outfit that did your taxes while you wait. Our customers were almost all service sector employees, students, and poor people.

Two years ago they started making us wear Uncle Sam costumes while we did people's taxes. It was a brutal, ridiculous gig, but I was desperate, and I'd pretty much parted ways with my dignity years ago.

The guy who owned this racket had like fifty of these places, and he'd rake in the cash for three months of the year and then spend the rest of his time on a boat in Miami banging escorts.

The final straw came this year, when I showed up for work and discovered that everyday one of us --the fucking tax preparers, for God's sake-- would have to go out front in our Uncle Sam costumes with a sandwich board and wander up and down the sidewalk trying to drum up business. There was a rotating schedule and I got stuck out there skulking around like a jackass the very first day. It was cold and drizzly, and people --go figure-- would shout insults and throw shit like hamburgers at me.

When it came time for my lunch break I ditched the sandwich board in an alley behind the Super America and walked the three miles home in the Uncle Sam outfit. I've got the damn thing for sale on eBay this very moment. It's a pretty elaborate get-up, and with any luck I figure I might get a hundred bucks out of the deal.

Then I'm thinking I'll start looking around for something in the itinerant trades.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. Love the "When you shove numbers around for a living, after a certain point they stop adding up." and "... he sat behind his desk peering over his spectacles at me like I was a chess move."