Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sweet and unsavoury

I'm in an abusive relationship. Maybe it's because she keeps give-give-giving and I keep take-take-taking and running off to other people, or it could be something else entirely, but her hatred for me is as well seasoned and pungent as her award-winning cooking. Whatever it is, I'm willing to put up with it for the money.

When I applied for the job, I thought I'd be bartending again. Same as before, but with more hours and mandatory tipping. The owner interviewed me himself before putting me forward for a busy trial shift where I ran through the hugely popular pub-restaurant collecting glasses and generally demonstrating that working hard and being told what to do won't make me cry. Of three that night, I was the only one to make it.

What I didn't realize is that I'd be going back on a promise I'd made myself ages ago – that I'd never be a waitress, because I've heard about temperamental chefs, and they have all the knives. But when the front bar's not as busy as the restaurant, I'm sent straight into hell's kitchen, to run gourmet versions of pub fare from the fire to the famine.

And it's hard. Really, really hard to serve food with a smile while the new asshole I've just been torn is still gaping. Certainly, there's a bright side. For, if these rectal wounds don't kill me, they're certainly make me stronger. 'Stronger' sounds a lot like 'strangle her', doesn't it?

Anyway, I know she's only mean to me because I'm new, and there are a few lessons I've got learn. Mostly, it's that my name is 'Missy' or 'Luv', said so saccharine it's meant to dissolve first my teeth, then all my bones, because my existence is the reason she's never found happiness. That, and I'm probably mentally compromised.

If this is anything like grade school, I'm thinking that if I keep ignoring her, she'll get bored and bully someone else. Gourmet or not, that woman's got some serious fish and chips on her shoulder. And if she's not careful, she's going to get some gum in her hair.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New year, new career and 40 virgins

I should have known something was up when I got an immediate call-back. Job hunting just hasn't been that easy in London.

Until now, call-backs only ever came for jobs typically set aside for immigrants like me, read: pubs, call-centres and fundraising schemes. Or there'd be some catch. Like the Z-list celebrity entrepreneur who hired me as a Marketing Assistant, and turned out to have a Jesus-complex, only a really scary sort of Jesus. The kind that intends to change the world based on a plan developed while taking LSD in Los Angeles. Come to think of it, it was more like a Koresh-complex. Anyway, I quit.

Or the Notting Hill club and All Star Bowling Lanes owner who interviewed me to be his personal assistant, but didn't hire me on account of my insistence on wearing clothes while at work.

But it's a new year, and after a nice six-week respite in Canada, I was determined to return to London with a fresh perspective. I'd no longer see it as a damp, soul-sucking metropolis with a relationship to nature limited to consuming free range organic meat and eggs, that banishes its population to at least 90 minutes in smoggy underground chambers per day. No, I'd see it as the city of endless opportunity and free galleries, steeped in rich tradition.

So I updated my CV, started applying for jobs, and got an immediate call-back. Maybe it was true. Maybe the credit crunch was on the wane. When I arrived for my interview with the marketing firm the next day, the waiting room was crawling with wired, young suited hopefuls. Fifty. I counted. It was what would be the beginning of two full days of interviewing – a veritable competition for the coveted title, Employed.

The firm handled direct marketing campaigns, and they were looking for managers to lead their teams of front-line workers – the immigrants and new graduates lucky to have pretty enough faces to land shitty promo jobs. That used to be me. I was looking forward to leaving it all behind, to making a fresh new step into the communications and marketing world in London.

The pitch was fantastic. I bought it. I ate it. I got up at 7 AM and paid £9 to follow a street team to a London suburb to see it in action. I completed four writing tasks and quizzes on marketing and strategy to prove what I know. And I thought because I passed them all with flying colours, at the end of the day, my Kiwi interviewer invited me to the final assessment.

But first, they needed to know I was ready to commit myself fully to the company. We want you to know the company inside and out, said my interviewer, so you see why it's important to start from the ground up.

I looked at the sales booth and began to shrink inside the corporate casual outfit I'd so carefully chosen the night before. You'll be learning about direct marketing by doing, she said. I'd be peddling make-up in shopping centres, she meant. But the harder you work, the faster you'll advance to the next level. I'd be a peddler, just a little higher in the pyramid. And then when you're ready you'll be a team leader, and when you reach the top you'll manage an entire division, earning £75,000. I wondered if there were also 40 virgins awaiting in this paradise. Then she said something about 12-hour days, 6-day weeks and endless training sessions. And of course your earnings are entirely commission-based.

Two hours by train away from home, two days of interviews.

But there is excellent earning potential.
She said it with a little less confidence. My pretty enough face isn't good at hiding emotions, and this variety was pretty obscene. I didn't lie to you. And she didn't. When I asked about salary, she'd said 'earnings'. She didn't lie, she tricked me. I fell for it, and I felt really, really stupid.

She looked nearly as sad as I did while I packed up my things to leave, but I won't fool myself into thinking it was because she liked me. I was part of her commission.

So I'm working in a pub again.