The Joys of Summer - Or Not

Back when I was a kid, summer vacation used to be what you looked forward to for nine months out of the year: free time to play, read, and do whatever you wanted without having to worry about school. It was three months of laziness and fun.

Twenty years later, I'm still in school, but summer vacation has turned into a different creature entirely. Now I have a mortgage to worry about, and "laziness and fun" has turned into "three months without a salary."

Three months without salary is a long, long, loooong time, even if you are paying for a trip to Korea with a credit card that's not due for six months. Unlike when I was seven and my biggest worry was being able to pay for candy at the nearby Hop-In, I now have bills and a mortgage to worry about. I didn't pre-register for fall semester because I don't have the cash.

I am lucky in the sense that my partner also makes money, and we split the bills. However, my partner's job does not pay nearly what it should; for a 40-hour week he gets just a little bit more than I, as a graduate student instructor, make - and that's not a lot. His paycheck just covers the mortgage. If we want to eat, I need to be pulling in some money.

My parents were generous with the financial birthday gifts this year. I have a little bit of money still coming to me from my grandma. And the accident we were just in, somewhat perversely, relieved our worries a little bit because, in addition to a totaled car and whiplash, it did result in some cash compensation. Still - realistically, it's not enough to get by on for a summer.

Gone are the days when summer meant spending whole weeks wearing the same outfit and showering only because you were going to go out with some friends. Now summer is all about that process of self-abasement called job hunting.

Years back, Meryn Cadell - of one-hit "The Sweater" fame - no, not Weezer, the other one: "Girls, I know you will understand this and feel the intrinsic, incredible emotion: you have just pulled over your head the warm, worn sweater belonging to a guy" - anyway, Meryn Cadell, on the album that only a few of us actually purchased, had a song called "Job Application." The song would have been funny if it hadn't been so damn apt. In it, a woman is applying for a job as a shoe salesperson, even though she's clearly trained for something completely different. (The implication, in fact, is that she's overqualified, but I don't really like the hierarchy that "overqualification" implies. Yes, I've had more years of schooling than your average carpenter or shoe sales person, but that doesn't mean I'm more qualified than they are - let alone overqualified - to do what they do. It's just not what I'm qualified for.)

Sure, there are jobs I'm actually qualified for. Editing. Translating. Proofreading. Basic layout and design. But those jobs do not seem to come available much, and when they do, employers don't tend to want someone who can work full-time only 3 months out of the year. Go figure. So it's vacation and I go looking for whatever it is I can do, whether or not it's something I'm interested in or even really qualified for.

So I put on the business drag, filled out interminable applications, and began to work my way through the temp agencies. At least with temping, you don't have to put on as much of a façade. It's part of the job description that you're doing this - duh - temporarily, and so there's not as much faking about your motivations for wanting employment. "Well, I want to do something else, but I do have three months right now" is actually a pretty decent admission in an interview. Not ideal, probably, but not disqualifying either.

Still, it was demoralizing. I type way fast and have great clerical skills - the research you have to do as a grad student pretty much ensures that - but there was no job for me, no matter how many times I wore the same damn suit and smiled politely. (I wore the same suit to one place two days in a row, figuring I really had nothing else appropriate and summer-y, and that only the receptionist who administered the typing test had seen it the first day - except that the interviewer apparently recognized me from the day before because I was wearing the same suit. Damn!) It always sucks to get out into what academics like to call "the real world" and have the real world spit in your face and say "Yo, dude, you're worthless here!"

And then I got lucky. My department gave out fellowships to a few people, and those people quit their summer jobs, and as a result there were late job openings at the university, and I managed to score one. Oh, the elation! I was - and am - so excited.

So it's not that I'm bad off. I have a job now. (Yay!!) And I get to take trips anyway. I'm not complaining, not by any means. But there is something challenging about going into the working world as an academic and coming running back to the ivory tower for a job. Yeah, plenty of academics get jobs outside of academia every year. And it might well have worked out if I'd waited a little longer.

But I'm still left wondering if what I do looks like "qualification" to anyone outside the university. Luckily, for the moment, it doesn't matter.


For now.


"Job Application," Meryn Cadell

[man's voice in background: Why do you want a job here with us?]
I'd like to apply for a job
Yes, the job you have available.
My manner is most salable
And I hope you'll find me suitable
for 5.15 an hour.

I really have the skills, you see,
I've been to university
And though I studied history,
I found my heart to truly be
in men's ties, socks and glass figurines, the discount shoe industry.
[man's voice: what experience have you had that you think you would bring to this company?]

What makes me think I'd be good for this job?
Well, I love working with people. [man's voice: Are you bonded?]
And I love riding the subway an hour and a half each day.
Let's see, add those hours to my day and
I'll be making a whopping 3.75 an hour.

No, sir, I do want the job -
Can't you tell by my suit?
No, I actually don't own a dress.
I don't feel comfortable, I confess.

But, hell for 5.15 an hour, I'll endeavor to wear some colors other than black.

I, umm, enjoy working with the public and 'm good with money.
Oh, yes, you're right, all us girls are good with money.
Yes, that's charming.
Yes, how funny.

I like a good work atmosphere,
where the boss says whatever he wants
and the rest of us just listen.

I'm a very fast learner and if you give me this job I will be the perfect subhuman and never let the contempt shine in my worshipping eyes.

[man's voice: what could you bring to this company?]
I love working with people and let's see,
what else was I going to tell you?
No, I don't expect vacation pay and yes, I'm available every day, and though I don't like the evil way you're looking at me,
I've got rent to pay.

And, yes, I can start on Saturday.
[man's voice: sorry, we were looking for someone with lots of experience, really good manners, and maybe a little younger]

May 22, 2002

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