You think you’re safe now, living in your grandma’s basement and only having to mow her lawn and water her azaleas for rent. You’ve been able to devote your life to video games, sleep in past 2 p.m., and since the old bird is deaf and almost senseless, nothing stands in the way of your friends coming over to blast music and smoke substances throughout the day and night. But the warning signs are all around you — you’ve seen them on your trips outdoors: “Help Wanted,” “Apply Now,” “Asst Mgr Needed,” and perhaps the most ominous of all: “Start Today.” They give you a feeling in the pit of your stomach comparable to eating an extra-large bean burrito with sour cream. Yes, these not-so-subtle listings, these unwelcome solicitations, these signboard postings in garish block letters, are taunting you. Perhaps someone you know and thought reliable has succumbed to an “entry-level position” or attended an “interview” or “job fair,” and you think: could I be next?
The short answer is yes. The next victim of employment could well be you. Still you wonder, despite the signs, how can this be? With the economy flat or expanding with infinite slowness, with record numbers laid off or disabled and receiving aid to recover from work, with throngs in your age bracket still living at home, and many of those lacking marketable skills to start with, how do so many continue to fall prey to employment? What motivates them? How can they simply turn their backs on a life of leisure? And how vanishingly small are the odds that, once gainfully employed, they can find their way back to a rewarding, nonproductive life of earning nothing at all?
The first thing to know is that employment afflicts all ethnicities and all genders. It can strike the healthy and unhealthy, the old and the young. It usually doesn’t affect those in nursing homes or preschool, but even here there are exceptions. The rich and poor both work, the well-educated and the illiterate find jobs, the sane and the insane punch a time clock, those with two blue eyes and those with one blue eye and one green eye cash a paycheck. People work with their hands, their brains, and virtually any other body part. In brief, anyone may find himself or herself at the mercy of a blood-sucking vampire of an employer, just as Marx wrote.
To avoid the scourge of work, and a life spent in endless toil for starvation wages or an annual salary of up to six figures plus benefits and bonuses, it is above all important to know the right sort of people. Let’s say an invitation to your fifth high school reunion comes in the mail at Grandma’s house. That puts you, if you do the math, in your early 20s. You’ll have a chance to meet again those guys you almost flunked out with in eleventh grade, and finally did drop out of college with, many of whom, if they’re lucky, haven’t worked a day in their lives and still live in their childhood rooms, though sometimes they redecorate. Those are the lucky ones, the ones who have made it to full adulthood while avoiding both the shameful stigma and the physical and emotional trauma of work. You wouldn’t mind meeting them again, to gain their moral support, and to achieve insight in how to live off the largesse of caring family members, using guilt and pathetic pleas to secure major “loans.” In fact, you probably see them every day already, and it’s as if time has stood still for all of you. You’re all still chasing that perfect high, that peak of relaxation, and every man jack of them is due to arrive at Grandma’s house tonight at seven for video games and beer and more.
Not so lucky are your other high school pals, those who got fooled by the curveball the economy hurled their way. They succumbed to part- or even full-time employment, and will tell you all about it at the reunion dinner while you try to scarf the roast beef au jus and green salad without listening. At first they’ll appear normal to you, but after talking to them for a few minutes, you’ll pick up hints that their time is not always their own, that they have fallen into degrading and ruinous careers because, unlike fortunate freeloaders like you, they must now buy things and pay bills, and as a result are destitute. If they’re really far gone, they might even be married and have dependents who use food and clothing on a daily basis. You’ll shake your head in pity to hear it, as well you should.
But be wary. At first their comments will sound seductive. Bill, whom you’ve known since the fifth grade, will talk of reading the stock reports at night, and celebrating his capital gains with a fine cigar in his den while his wife polishes the Waterford crystal in the kitchen. Jeff, in your graduating class and like you a former member of marching band and chess club, now accumulates static electricity in an office and, when you mention that you’re between work projects, suggests that you come in and apply at his firm, where he can put in a word for you. Then before you know it you’ve taken a shower and shaved, purchased work boots, and signed on to drive a forklift for $15.00 an hour. A good steady job with benefits, and you rolled right into it like a sinkhole.
Sure, maybe you start part-time and think you can stop there. Maybe a Good Samaritan will intervene and give you a heads-up on the treacherous path before you. But before you know it you’re hooked on a 35-hour workweek like it was heroin and lolling in the gutter with a new title and a raise. After that you donate your video games to the Neediest Kids of All and even say goodbye to Granny. Worst of all, there’s no turning back, particularly if you land a gold-digging girlfriend, and is there any other kind?
Let this be a warning to you.