made more as a busboy than the jobs i needed my degree for

I went on a riff toward the end of the latest episode of the podcast about how I think I’m ready to walk away from my job at the tutoring center. It’s a very good job insofar as I like working with college students quite a bit, and I love my colleagues like family, and with the exception of a few annoying workshops (usually the introduction of some “organizational” software that’s gonna complicate everyone’s life) I’ve never had an episode in all of my six years on payroll where I felt I was being exploited or screwed.

Which is something.

But it also doesn’t pay much.

            The restaurant where I was working for three months leading up to the quarantine, the restaurant which is now out of business because of the crunch, paid me weird wages. Something like $5/hour, plus .8% of food sales, with the exception of alcohol, unless I was working in this other part of the restaurant, in which case I got .6% of food sales plus point-something percent of alcohol sales. It was bizarre.

            (Another strange thing: our restaurant, which was a notch below “fine dining”, didn’t serve shots of liquor. If you wanted a shot of whisky the bartender was supposed to tell you, “I can pour an ounce of whisky into a rocks glass, I can pour it neat, and you can drink that whisky as quickly or slowly as you like. But you have to ask me for a ‘whisky neat.’ If you order a ‘shot’ of whisky, I can’t give you that.”)

The Appearance of the Icon Before the People (The Sleeping Waiter, by Pavel Kolomiets

            But yeah, as concerns the pay: when I was at the restaurant I could work twenty hours a week for five consecutive weeks doing the same tasks at the same intensity and each paycheck would be different. Sometimes dramatically different. But that’s just how hospitality works. What was harrowing, though, is this: even my worst paycheck at the restaurant was better than what I was getting at the college.

            I made more money as a busboy, in other words, than I earned as a college tutor—a job that requires a four-year degree.

            One of my dreams is to someday live in Coral Gables, which is a cozy tree-smothered spot in south Miami with bookstores and restaurants and theaters, and it’s not unreasonable to think I can someday get a solid apartment there for about $1,300 a month. Maybe a little more. With my current situation, though, there’s no way I can swing that.

            If I get back into hospitality, though, if I become a bartender or a server…

            But in order to make enough money to live in one of those places, I’d have to probably give up my gig at the tutoring center so I could devote my hours to the more lucrative enterprise of table-wiping and plate-scraping. Being a wage-earner in hospitality obviously doesn’t accord a person anything like professional stability, but it might give me a chance to start saving. Another upside, sort of, is that it helps me to prioritize my tasks when I have so little time available to me.

            Back in February I was temporarily back together with an ex and on Sunday, following two consecutive double shifts, I was exhausted, and so I called out from the slow Sunday afternoon shift, and I went to the Gables. I was strapped for cash but I had a nice time working on the website for a couple hours and then my ex joined me at Starbucks, and we chatted for a while, and then we went and had lunch at a little bistro, and there was an added thrill to everything because I was playing hooky.

            Right now, for instance, I’m sitting at my desk, it’s Saturday afternoon, I’m looking out the window and I’m noticing that it’s an exceptionally beautiful day. Hardly a cloud in the sky. And I’m not normally a big fan of beautiful sunny days. I prefer overcast. As Fran Lebowitz said, “A good day for me is a night.” I know that I should appreciate it more but, given the fact that I can walk outside at any given moment and soak it up, I think I’m taking it for granted in a way that I wouldn’t have if I were working two jobs with just a few hours of spare time each week.

            Being a clock-bound wage earner can feel so much like prison sometimes that the outside world becomes this evermore vivid thing.

            Also, it gave me stories.

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