Welcome back to another installment of ‘Jobs that I have had’.
This next batch of jobs showcase the imbalance of power in the workplace. Sometimes it lies with management, some times it lies with the workers. I have isolated 2 prior jobs to highlight what I mean;
The Library Jobs. I was poor, so my University gave me ‘work study’ jobs. Think of it like modern day Indentured Servitude. The posts did not include things like; ‘Washer Woman’ anymore but the concept remains consistent. I needed money and my betters needed cheap labor.
The University has a complex system of various libraries all involving different levels of desirability.
Main Library jobs, normal hours, lots of co employees, maybe even some good looking ones, for me? Nope. I had a plan.
Math Library. Score. Average daily patrons, maybe like 4.
The most numbing job available to any human is a special little torture called ‘shelf reading‘ The Spanish Inquisition invented it supposedly at the height of their ‘let’s think outside the box’ sessions (Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition, Granada, 1526). It involves turning your head 90 degrees until your cheek touches your shoulder and then walking sideways all the while reading numbers on the spines of books to make sure they are in numerical order. If you find one that is not (1 in about 75 on average), you simply move that book to the left or the right until it is back in proper order. Do this for entire library.
Was it boring, yes. But I also got to sleep in the stacks, literally. Who was going to find me, or need me?
Best yet was the Engineering Library. Busier sure, but I worked alone, the night shift 5-9 PM. They gave me a key and I was supposed to lock up. Periodically some foreign student would actually need to check out a book and we would pantomime until we understood what the other person wanted. But most times, I was alone. Left to my own devices, I invented the Internet, it was 1994-1995.
I sat at a computer desk all night pirating HTML from better websites creating my own masterpiece. I might have succeeded in taking over the world if the rest of the population was aware of the internet, but alas I peaked too early.
My ‘organization’ also needed logistical supplies. Copies on the zerox machine were $0.10 apiece back then. I pilfered copy cards left and right making radical Zine after radical Zine right under the Man’s nose. It warms the heart of an ex teenage rebel to get one over on the system. My fledgling terrorist group (before it was cool) was funded by your tax money.
These kinds of jobs, it’s all like Bob Seger‘s ‘Night Moves‘;
We were just young and restless and bored
Living by the sword
And we’d steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, the alley, the trusty woods
I used her she used me
But neither one cared
We were getting our share
Workin’ on our night moves
Then Sometimes You are the one getting got.
My third year of law school, I got my first lawyer type job. Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago. This job consisted of prosecuting traffic tickets for the city in the old historic Traffic Court.
What a scam.
The law says I can practice law as a third year student provided I am acting under the supervision of an actual lawyer. So some Chicago guy gets the very Chicagoey idea that for the price of one well paid supervisor, we can hire a bunch of kids to staff the office. One lawyer to run them all and in the traffic courts bind them.
Thirteen of us law students got paid $10/hour to try traffic tickets in front of the traffic courts. Hundreds of cases a day. Court Calls(dockets) at 9, 10, 11, 1:30, and 2:30 PM. I would make thousands of dollars a day for the city, they paid me $80. What a deal for the Man.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great practice. I had to learn to ‘try a case’ in about 3 minutes. That’s how fast the call was moving. On my resume, I put ‘tried over 500 contested bench trials’.
Some interesting tidbits;
There were attorneys called ‘Hall Rats‘ whose whole practice was to lurk around the Traffic courts and charge people $25-$100 to represent them. Why would you do this you ask? Because people who had an attorney went first, so cabbies would pay to cut to the front of the line because their time was money.
There was an actual crackhead lawyer who did the whole ‘Hall Rat‘ thing. He would work just enough to leave and go score and then come back. Some Judges would not let him practice in front of them because he only had sandals (even in winter).
My trusty Spanish Interpreter, Jose, told me one day over lunch how actual freaking Che Guevara came down out of the mountains and stole his cow during the revolution in Cuba. What a story…
Prior to the whole Operation Greylord thing, there were lots of great corruption stories.
Clip five or ten bucks to your ticket for the clerk or wait around all day for your case to get called.
If the guy in the white suit came in and sat down on one side of the courtroom, the Judge was supposed to dismiss all the cases from that side of the room.
As much fun as I might poke at Chicago and it’s Windy City ways, the city did work, just in its own special way.
Some days, I miss it so.
This post is part of a series about ‘Early Jobs’;
- First Jobs
- Early Jobs, Restaurant Subculture
- Early Jobs 2, The Customer Always Sucks
- Part 3, Who’s Using Who?
- Early Jobs 4, Jobs You Love
- Early Jobs 5, All The Rest