Excerpt from On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger , plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

On the Clock

What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane

by Emily Guendelsberger

On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger X
On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jul 2019, 352 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Introduction: In the Weeds

What does "in the weeds" mean to you?

I've been asking people that for a couple of years now — it's become a sort of hobby. There's two definitions, and you can often tell a lot by which one a person knows.

First, there's what I call the academic definition: "To be bogged down in the minute or unimportant details of a large project." I heard this a lot in the ten years I spent working in newspapers.
Then there's the waitress definition: "To be harried or frantic because there's more work on your plate than you can do at a reasonable pace." A key part of this definition is a feeling of desperation and hopelessness— being unable to catch up, even though you're working as fast as you possibly can.

I think of this as the waitress definition because that's who I learned it from, at my first real job, scooping ice cream as a sixteen-year-old for $5.15 an hour, the minimum wage in 2000. "Hurry up, kid, I'm in the weeds," snapped an older waitress, impatient to use the cash register I was fumbling with. Her meaning was obvious: she was hustling around at top speed, grim-faced, trying to get her customers taken care of before her tips went down the drain. And I was in her way.

I became very familiar with the weeds that summer. Counter kids spent hours in the weeds each evening, scooping as fast as we could and delaying our bathroom breaks until the line of hot, impatient customers at the window cleared, usually around 10:00 p.m. Afterward, it was bliss to lean my sticky forearms on the counter and relax a little as we waited on the trickle of late-night customers.
But the relief was always short-lived because of another new addition to my professional vocabulary: If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean.

I loathed this cheery little rhyme, coined by McDonald's founder* Ray Kroc and favored by passive-aggressive managers everywhere. It felt like I was being called lazy for taking five minutes to rest after a solid four hours in the weeds, which I found infuriating. In the weeds and time to lean, it seemed to me, were opposite sides of the same coin and should even each other out. "This is some bullshit," I thought, with the righteous indignation of a teenager at her first job. I legitimately worked as hard as I could when things were busy. Did they seriously expect me to ask for something to mop the instant I had a second of down time, like some overeager, kiss-ass robot?

After a few weeks, my dad asked how the job was going, and I vented about time to lean, time to clean. I'd just read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed — a new release at the time — and had become pretty passionate about labor organization. Dad was less than sympathetic to my new progressive ideals, probably because they came on the heels of what must have been a pretty intolerable Ayn Rand phase.

"They're not paying you to sit around," he told me. "If you're on their dime, you do what they tell you — that's how jobs work. Suck it up."

But I wasn't sitting, I protested. It wasn't like I was doing nothing. I was supposed to be ready at the window whenever a customer walked up to buy some ice cream — and I was! I never complained about working twice as hard when we were in the weeds; it seemed only fair that the pace would slow down when business was slow.

Dad sighed, and gave me some fatherly advice that stuck with me for a long time.

"Well, life isn't always fair, for one. But there's dignity in working hard and doing your job well," he said. Yes, even if that job was scooping ice cream. If you can take pride in doing your work well, that's the key to a happy life, no matter what your job is. Be the best at whatever you do, try harder than everyone else, make yourself indispensable, and you'll succeed. It's the American Dream.

Excerpted from On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger . Copyright © 2019 by Emily Guendelsberger . Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Everything Inside
    Everything Inside
    by Edwidge Danticat
    Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer, and Haiti looms large as a presence in this ...
  • Book Jacket: The Beekeeper of Aleppo
    The Beekeeper of Aleppo
    by Christy Lefteri
    In Christy Lefteri's sophomore novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the author introduces readers to ...
  • Book Jacket: Marilou Is Everywhere
    Marilou Is Everywhere
    by Sarah Elaine Smith
    "The point is that at that moment in my life," writes the narrator of Sarah Elaine Smith's debut ...
  • Book Jacket: Let's Call It a Doomsday
    Let's Call It a Doomsday
    by Katie Henry
    However the world will end, Ellis Kimball is ready for it. Her obsessive stash of survivalist ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Secrets We Kept
    by Lara Prescott

    Reese Witherspoon's Sept Book Club Pick!
    "This is the rare page-turner with prose that’s as wily as its plot."—EW
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Yale Needs Women
    by Anne Gardiner Perkins

    A tale of courage in the face of arrogance that remains eerily relevant on U.S. campuses today.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Today We Go Home
by Kelli Estes

Illuminating and deeply human, Today We Go Home shines a light on the brave military women of the past and present.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Chase Darkness with Me

How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders

Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?


Word Play

Solve this clue:

S S A C A Big S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.