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Bad Jobs: My Last Shift at Albert Wong’s Pagoda and Other Ugly Tales of the Workplace

by Carellin Brooks, ed.

Bad Jobs is not another sojourn into the minds of disenfranchised Gen Xers. Quite the opposite. It is a collection of short stories gathered by Carellin Brooks, who sent out a call-for-submissions for stories by people who have, due to economic conditions rather than lack of education or desire, stepped into the arena of menial labour. Although none of the writers included here stayed permanently at their soul-destroying jobs, they performed their duties long enough to find out that intelligence and ambition do not guarantee a career, let alone a job that pays the rent.

Most of the stories are written by people with university educations, like Rhodes Scholar Camilla Gibb who worked as a career placement officer after a fruitless search for an academic position. Gibb describes the horrors of coaching the well educated, like herself, on the realities of the job market. Her job included explaining to doctoral grads that they are less than ideal employees because they are seen as having “expectations.”

For the most part, Bad Jobs is a sobering, sometimes comical read, as when S. Reddick describes sorting good beets from bad ones while on speed. Others relate tales of sexist bosses, perverted co-workers, horrid work conditions. Many experience a disheartening blow to their self-esteem. Only Hal Niedzviecki’s story on being an usher and Grant Buday’s about being a pamphlet distributor outline the benefits of no-brainer work – Buday describes taking Zen-like solace in being able to digest the beauty and hypocrisies of the world without distraction.

A whole book on people in the wrong jobs does start to wane, however, since the disillusionments described by one author are similar to the next. But Brooks has compiled an entertaining collection with zine cartoons and the occasional you’re-fired letter. There is nothing outwardly preached. No stats on how amalgamations, technology, recessions, and downsizing have led to a glut of menial jobs. The reason why there is a growing population of overeducated and underemployed workers is self-evident.