If like me, you had a series of mind-numbing jobs in your teens and twenties, you might like Salvatore Scibona’s piece in the current New Yorker (June 13 & 20 2011).
Before I was 22, I had been a bus boy, waiter, bartender, doorman, janitor, Christmas tree salesman, delivery boy, movie theatre usher, bellman, messenger, dishwasher, elevator man, and cashier. Like Scibona, I had no clear career path but I daydreamed about a lot of careers: actor, politician, radio personality, writer, singer, baseball player. I’d fantasize about hitting a grand slam out of Yankee Stadium, as Mickey Mantle, near retirement, stood at home plate waiting to congratulate me. Other times, I pictured myself striding toward the podium at the Americana Hotel in midtown Manhattan to declare victory in my race for mayor. I’d graciously thank my opponent who I said, had fought a “spirited campaign.” Leaving the ballroom, I’d wave, enjoying the grudging respect of hardened street reporters and the adoration of volunteers. Finally, I’d turn and kiss my….that’s where the daydream ended. I didn’t have a wife and the chances were not good that I’d ever have one. All of this danced in my mind as I scraped crust off dishes or wrapped prickly Douglas Firs for delivery on Christmas Eve.
Scibona writes of his journey from KFC worker to student of the Great Books at St. John’s University, but his story is not so much that he was saved from menial jobs. Education, especially a classical one, offered him a chance at a romantic life, lived for ideas, not for a wage. Intellectual curiosity and menial jobs are more compatible than some people think. While you are allowing muscle memory to pay the rent, your thoughts are as free as summer mustangs.