Recently, I had a dream about chemistry bachelor #4. I dreamed that we were having drinks at the place where we first met in person, except there was no one else there but us. Well, there was one other customer there: a clown who looked like one of those evil clowns from a scary movie who seem nice and unassuming at first, right before they snap and start chasing people around with knives. Geraldo Rivera was serving us drinks. (Side note: I wish I could say I was making this up. But I'm not. I just have really weird dreams.)
I'm not sure what the dream meant; obviously, I doubt that it meant that bachelor #4 and I are meant to be together. I also kind of have this phobia about clowns, which may explain why the evil clown in my dream kept grinning at me in a sinister way while making balloon animals. (Even in my sleep I'm neurotic.) But I thought that maybe I should face my fears of rejection and go ahead and contact chemistry bachelor #4 rather than wait for him to call me.
I left him a message saying that if he ever wanted to hang out again, he could call me. But he didn't.
It was disappointing, but to be honest, I was more disappointed when NBC cancelled Law and Order (I curse you, NBC! A plague on all your reality shows!). I didn't really feel that strongly about this guy, but I was willing to meet up with him again to see if anything more could develop. Obviously, he didn't feel the same way. But on the other hand, I'm trying to view rejection in dating in a similar way that I view rejection when it comes to writing: I'd rather be able to say that I put myself out there than to say that I was too afraid to try at all.
Anyway, my chemistry.com membership recently expired, and I'm actually kind of relieved. It's nice to be taking a break from online dating, though I think I'm only going to take a break for a few weeks. Once it gets to be fall, I'll be extra busy with teaching again, and I won't have as much time for dating. So I figure I'll try again in June or July. But next time, I'm going to rejoin okcupid (I was a member two years ago) because it's a free dating site, and I can't afford to renew my chemistry membership right now.
In the meantime, I'm going to focus on my work. This summer I'll be working on my dissertation as well as projects for my website job, and I'm going to be tutoring the daughter of one of my parents' friends, since she's taking summer classes. I'm also going to be working yet another retail job; this time it's at a place that I will refer to in this blog as the Tourist Trap.
I didn't really want to work in retail again. I had hoped to get a job as a barista at one of the coffeehouses that I frequent, because then I could get free coffee. I also thought it'd be nice to get a job in an office, because at least then I could sit down rather than stand for eight hours a day. I didn't want to work as a waitress, even though I've heard that the servers at upscale restaurants make a lot of money. I can hardly walk without tripping over myself (again, I wish I could say I was making this up), and so I'm pretty sure that most (if not all) of the customers would end up wearing their food rather than eating it by the end of my first shift.
But the retail employers were the ones who quickly responded with job offers, since I have years of retail experience as a bookseller and as a clothing store employee. And it's not like I could say to them, "I'm actually waiting to hear back from the employers that I'd rather work for. Could I call you back if they don't hire me?"
When you work in retail, you have to be willing to work nights and weekends, and you have to be willing to work on holidays. That means that if your family lives in a different state like mine does, you have to accept the fact that you can't celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas with them, at least not until January. You also have to stand for several hours at a time and smile at every single customer, even if on the inside you're thinking, I think my lips are going to fall off my face if I keep smiling.
Working in retail generally means working for low wages, even if the products that you're selling are worth more than what you would earn in a day. Some places offer "competitive wages", but I've steered clear of jobs that pay on commission; I'd still have to work eight or nine hour shifts with no guarantee of making a lot of money. As Barbara Ehrenreich did an excellent job of proving in her book Nickel and Dimed, it's not possible to support yourself on one minimum-wage job; you have to have at least two. The retail employers try to make up for the low wages with "benefits" like employee discounts and "gifts" like free water bottles and the occasional pizza or doughnuts at store meetings. I think it's because ultimately those things cost employers less money than it would to pay their employees higher wages. I'd rather just get paid more. But I digress.
When I first started working in retail, I was also working as an adjunct instructor. I always thought that once I started teaching, I wouldn't have to work minimum-wage jobs anymore. When I was an undergrad, I thought that all I had to do was earn good grades, work hard, and gain experience in my chosen field; I thought that that would be enough to enable me to succeed. But despite the fact that I was teaching at more than one school, I was barely earning enough to make ends meet. Also, I couldn't get health insurance or benefits as an untenured college instructor, but I could get those things as a part-time retail associate. So I started working in a bookstore; I'd usually teach in the mornings and sell books at night and on the weekends.
At first I was embarrassed to be working a minimum-wage job. I thought that I should only be doing work that my education had geared me for. I also thought it would be embarrassing to be several years older than most of my coworkers and even some of my supervisors.
I was also afraid of what my students would think if they saw me shelving books or operating a cash register. I thought that one of my former high school or college classmates, now rich and successful, would stride into the store in a business suit, take one look at me, and exclaim, "I can't believe you work here!" And then that classmate would laugh and tell all our other former classmates. When I did run into people I knew, I felt like I had to explain to them that this retail job wasn't my real job; I was also working as a teacher.
But as I got to know my coworkers, I started thinking a lot more about the lives and stories of low-wage workers and why they had these jobs. A lot of them were college students who were working their way through school. Others were retired high school teachers or laid-off corporate employees. There were also aspiring novelists, poets, musicians, and actors. Others were like me: people who had liberal arts degrees (and in some cases, advanced degrees) but couldn't find enough (or any) work in their fields that would pay the bills, so they had to moonlight in retail. What we all had in common was that even though we didn't like the long hours on our feet, the repetitive work, or the low wages, we were still willing to work hard and do what we had to do in order to survive. (Side note: I also learned that it is not unusual for adjunct instructors to work multiple jobs. Most of the adjuncts I knew worked at least two or three jobs.)
It's definitely humbling to be earning minimum wage at age thirty when other people my age or younger are making millions. But I know that deep down I shouldn't feel embarrassed about working in retail, because it's honest work and I'm doing what I can to support myself. So are all the other people working alongside me.
Side note: Check out this article on people who are "overqualified and underemployed"; it refers to part-time jobs as "survival jobs", which is a term that I really like and that is definitely accurate.
Working these types of jobs makes me appreciate teaching and my graduate work even more. It motivates me to do everything I can to succeed in my field, even though it is difficult to find time to balance multiple jobs and my graduate work. Although teachers don't earn a lot of money either, at least teaching is a job that I am truly passionate about and that I hope to do until I retire, which for me will probably be when I'm no longer physically able to work or when I'm 90, whichever comes first.
What about you? Have you ever been in a situation where you were underemployed and underpaid?
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