Tim goes to work

Words by Tim McGuire

Pictures by Lucy O’Doherty

Published on August 3, 2012

It occurred to me recently that I have had eight employers in the last financial year. I was only prompted to this figure when my mother wrote ‘TAX’ on the whiteboard that we keep in the kitchen to communicate with one another. I thought that eight seemed like too many to fit into the space of one year, especially given that I was unemployed for at least two months of it, as well as overseas for some, and had glandular fever for a part of it as well, which in addition to making my neck look like it had cocks growing in it, meant I couldn’t work for weeks.

This got me thinking about my full employment history and I quickly ran out of fingers trying to add it all up. Since age fourteen I have had fourteen jobs. I have worked for a fast food restaurant, a video store, another video store, a convenience store, another video store, a doctor’s office, a bottle shop, a publishing house, a night club, a magazine, another bottle shop, another publishing house, a bank and a hospital. Given that my university degree is in creative writing, I feel privileged to have been in such hot demand by employers.

But do they all count? I only worked one shift at the doctor’s office, and two weeks each at the fast food restaurant and the nightclub. Some of my friends tell me that I can’t count these as actual jobs because I didn’t work in them “long enough”. But for tax purposes they do count. The conflicting opinions about the number of jobs I have worked have resulted in my not knowing what actually constitutes having one, the same way I expect I don’t know what constitutes having sex (third base throws me).

Many of the jobs have overlapped as well, and I have worked three at once before, in addition to tutoring and freelancing on the side. I have never been in a financial situation that required me to work this much, nor did I particularly enjoy doing it. I blame my fondness for filling out application forms and my addiction to seek.com, which invariably has led me to some of the worse jobs I’ve ever worked.

Certainly it led me to working at the nightclub in the Valley, where I worked as a glassy with a huge Samoan man called “Sreeks”, but whom I thought was called “Sweet”. Sreeks or Sweet taught me how to carry glass through a dance floor, how to mop up four different bodily fluids, but not how to operate the dumbwaiter, which became stuck between two floors with me and two bins full of broken glass inside it on my first shift. While Sreeks lumbered between the floors trying to determine how to get me out of the elevator shaft, I distracted myself from claustrophobia by planning out my letter of resignation.

I have been fired twice, had my contract expire three times and been forced to leave two jobs (once because of the closure of the business and once because my colleagues didn’t like me). This means that I have quit six jobs. It should be easy by now. I should be an expert at it. But I’m fucking not.

Informing my employers that I no longer wish to work for them is something that I’m never going to feel comfortable with. No matter how awful a job or an employer might be, I am always overcome with the same panic and illogical action when it comes to quitting. I think this holds true of anything I give up on — whether it’s a job or a relationship or a gym membership, but there haven’t been enough relationships or gym memberships for me to prove that conclusively.

Some years ago I worked at a convenience store right across the road from my house. I didn’t like it upon starting but I worked there for nine months before I told my employer that I wanted to
take two weeks off from work so I could go on a holiday with my friends. He told me he’d just leave me off the roster until I came back and asked him for more shifts. The escape artist in me seized this opportunity to quit; I convinced myself that simply never going back and asking for more shifts was a legitimate resignation.

This backfired when I realised I could no longer go to the convenience store to buy my groceries. I could never go in there again. You’d think I could have just run down to the second closest grocery store, but the next-closest one was too far for a boy who didn’t have a licence or a gym membership to walk to.

I decided I would make do with never buying groceries again. I lived with my mother, anyway, so it was only when she went out of town that I was really screwed. When this happened, and I ran out of essentials, I tried to substitute what I could. Tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels became interchangeable. Detergent became hand soap. Cruskits became bread. It was only after tasting expired cocoa powder during the height of one of my chocolate cravings that I realised I didn’t want this to be my life. I went and told my boss that I could no longer work for him. He said he’d assumed as much when he’d spotted me working at the video store.

I am resolute in addressing my complex about resignations. Trying to get my eight group certificates back from the last financial year has been a long and awkward process, mostly because more than one past employer believes me to be living interstate, which has become a favourite excuse of mine for resigning.

Tim McGuire is a Brisbane writer of features, essays, reviews, and fiction. His writing has been published in The Big Issue and The Lifted Brow, and performed at Men of Letters.