Speaking as a longtime shop girl/freelance writer, I was extremely annoyed by this New York Times essay by a shopgirl/freelance writer.
Sometimes I feel like Alice slipping through the looking glass, toggling between worlds. In one world, I interview C.E.O.'s, write articles for national publications and promote my nonfiction book. In the other, I clock in, sweep floors, endlessly fold sweaters and sort rows of jackets into size order. Toggling between the working class and the chattering class has taught me a lot about both: what we expect of ourselves, how others perceive us, ideas about our next professional step and how we'll make it...The contrasts between my former full-time job and my current part-time one have been striking. I slip from a life of shared intellectual references and friends with Ivy graduate degrees into a land of workers who are often invisible and deemed low-status.
The woman, it should be noted, works "six to eight hours a week" - i.e., one shift.
I'm extra-prickly about this sort of anthropological experiment approach in this case because I've done the freelance-writer -retail thing, if that's a "thing." I just thought of it as having a job, like many of the people I know. It's true, she's older than I - a woman who, presumably, has a career behind her which makes taking on something "demeaning" more noteworthy. But this is not novel: even before the current economic troubles, people worked these jobs. And now, I know numerous people, financially devastated, who are going back to work at whatever can be found without complaint or comment, and working far more than eight hours a week. To a degree, she acknowledges this - that she is lucky to have this job (although at minimum wage, one shift can't make a huge difference, surely?) , but her wish to distance herself from it is palpable and distasteful.
I love sharing my expertise and experiences. When customers tell me they're going to Fiji, Kenya, the Grand Canyon or Cuzco, Peru, I can offer first-hand advice from my own trips there. I know what they need to stay warm, dry and comfortable on the ski slope, boat deck, hiking or bike trail.
We get it: you're better than this. And then, of course, she Learns Lessons. She naturally gets to know salt of the Earth types, appreciates that ego isn't allowed and that people are judged on how hard they work. She learns that some customers are shockingly entitled, not realizing that "We, too, are intelligent and proud of our skills; many of us are college educated. Some of us travel often and widely, speaking foreign languages fluently."
No shit. It's called a job, and most of us have been working them since high school. It's not a degradation or a novelty, but a simple reality of pursuing a creative career. Look, whatever, more power to her. But if she wants a medal, she's not getting it. She doesn't need to sell me on retail: I worked it for years, really enjoyed it, and was grateful for the human contact, steady income and chance to flex totally different muscles, literal and otherwise; I still pick up a shift when I can. I somehow managed to survive the devastations of "scraping gum and food off the floor or standing for five straight hours...refolding clothing so many times the skin on my hands cracks from dehydration." I know, hard to believe.