Excerpt of The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
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While it is true that my grasp of the situation in Macedonia and my familiarity with the Czech Republic's privatization program could, potentially, have led to a professional job, perhaps even a good professional job, I chose not to pursue employment in the field for which I had spent many years acquiring knowledge because . . . because, well, I didn't really have a good reason. It just didn't seem like the right thing to do, possibly because to obtain a professional job requires much letter writing and phone calling and boot licking, which comes suspiciously close to being a real job in itself and this I was in no mood for. Instead, beset by fiscal realities, I turned to Jenny and Debbie, kind yet firm managers of a temporary employment agency. They interviewed me, quickly discerned that I was not quite bereft of brains ("Put the following states in alphabetical order: Utah, Arkansas, Idaho, and Nebraska"), that my knowledge of software programs was scant ("But it says on your resume that you are proficient in Word, WordPerfect and Excel"), and that despite three typing tests I could never exceed twenty-nine words a minute, which was most unfortunate because the temp agency determined wages based on typing speed. And so after six years of exceedingly expensive, private school tertiary education combined with the amassment of some interesting and potentially job-relevant experiences elsewhere in the world, I became a minimum-wage temp, an experience that need not be recounted with much detail, though I will note that to be a temp is to have all the illusions and conceits of youth shattered, which was useful and necessary though disagreeable.
My temporary job assignments varied, taking me from law firm to trade association and around again, and always I would be led to the ominous file room and told with the patient civility reserved for the learning impaired that I was to make some order of the files. In the few assignments that lasted longer than a week I was offered the opportunity to enhance my skills and I would be taught how to answer the phone while others were on their lunch break, and even how to order office supplies, which I should note is usually very complicated indeed. Occasionally, I lamented my poor typing skills, but I refused Jenny and Debbie's well-meaning offers to take the typing tutorial offered by the agency, fearing that such a move would lead me inexorably toward a career that depended on my typing speed. Instead, I found myself quietly stagnating, slowly approaching the pathos of self-pity--pathos because I was twenty-six, in the full blossom of youth--until one morning I meandered away from the day's job, entered a cafe in Georgetown, ordered a large coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, a poppy seed bagel, toasted, with lox and cream cheese, and read a newspaper with the mirth of one who has time to linger over the Home and Garden section. Jenny and Debbie were not pleased. "Not showing up for an assignment makes us look bad," said Debbie. "I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."
It is an unfortunate reality for innate idlers that our modern world requires one to hold a job to maintain a sustainable existence. Idling, I find, is immensely underrated, even vilified by some who see inactivity as the gateway for the Evil One. Personally, I regard idling as a virtue, but civilized society holds otherwise and the fact remained that I still had to get a job. And so I soon found myself involved in the exciting world of publishing. I was an associate editor for a small publishing firm in Washington, where I worked on a reference book that detailed the work of lobbyists. The first half of the book, which was essentially a Yellow Pages for influence peddlers, was comprised of listings of companies and countries and who they retained to purchase favors from the guardians of democracy in the heart of the free world. The second half of the book listed all lobbying firms and lobbyists and their clients, as well as the "government relations" staff of corporations that saw the need to maintain offices in Washington. The job consisted of sending out questionnaires, following up with phone calls, confirming lobbying data at the Justice Department, and plugging in the results into a computer database that crashed twice daily. I amused myself by matching the names of the Washington representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, the Mobutu regime, various Somali warlords, and Nike with the guest list of state dinners at the White House. Remarkably, however, there were some who did not take kindly to having their lobbying activities made public, which led to some coarse language directed my way over the telephone, and I would like to say here that I wish the "government relations" staff of (Deleted by Legal Department) nothing but ill will, and that I have it on good authority that the ingredients of a (Deleted by Legal Department) include canine fecal matter.
Excerpted from The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost Copyright© 2004 by J. Maarten Troost. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.