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Bad Jobs (by Grace O'Connell)

By 49thShelf
2 ratings
Grace O'Connell holds an MFA in Creativing Writing. Her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, Quill & Quire and EYE Weekly. She has taught creative writing at George Brown College and now works as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto. She is Knopf's New Face of Fiction for 2012, and her first novel Magnified World is forthcoming in May.
Edible Woman

I know I was all right on Friday when I got up; if anything I was feeling more stolid than usual. When I went out to the kitchen to get breakfast Ainsley was there, moping: she said she had been to a bad party the night before. She swore there had been nothing but dentistry students, which depressed her so much she had consoled herself by getting drunk.
“You have no idea how soggy it is,” she said, “having to go through twenty conversations about the insides of peoples’ mouths. The most reaction I got out of them was when I described an abscess I once had. They positively drooled. And most men look at something besides your teeth, for god’s sake.”
She had a hangover, which put me in a cheerful mood – it made me feel so healthy – and I poured her a glass of tomato juice and briskly fixed her an Alka- Seltzer, listening and making sympathetic noises while she complained.
“As if I didn’t get enough of that at work,” she said. Ainsley has a job as a tester of defective electric toothbrushes for an electric toothbrush company: a temporary job. What she is waiting for is an opening in one of those little art galleries, even though they don’t pay well: she wants to meet the artists. Last year, she told me, it was actors, but then she actually met some. “It’s an absolute fixation. I expect they all carry those bent mirrors around in their coat pockets and peer into their own mouths every time they go to the john to make sure they’re still cavity- free.” She ran one hand reflectively through her hair, which is long and red, or rather auburn. “Could you imagine kissing one? He’d say ‘Open wide’ beforehand. They’re so bloody one- track.”
“It must have been awful,” I said, refilling her glass. “Couldn’t you have changed the topic?”
Ainsley raised her almost non- existent eyebrows, which hadn’t been coloured in yet that morning. “Of course not,” she said. “I pretended to be terribly interested. And naturally I didn’t let on what my job was: those professional men get so huffy if you know anything about their subject. You know, like Peter.”
Ainsley tends to make jabs at Peter, especially when she isn’t feeling well. I was magnanimous and didn’t respond. “You’d better eat something before you go to work,” I said, “it’s better when you’ve got something on your stomach.”
“Oh god,” said Ainsley, “I can’t face it. Another day of machines and mouths. I haven’t had an interesting one since last month, when that lady sent back her toothbrush because the bristles were falling off. We found out she’d been using Ajax.”
I got so caught up in being efficient for Ainsley’s benefit while complimenting myself on my moral superiority to her that I didn’t realize how late it was until she reminded me. At the electric toothbrush company they don’t care what time you breeze in, but my company thinks of itself as punctual. I had to skip the egg and wash down a glass of milk and a bowl of cold cereal which I knew would leave me hungry long before lunchtime. I chewed through a piece of bread while Ainsley watched me in nauseated silence and grabbed up my purse, leaving Ainsley to close the apartment door behind me.
We live on the top floor of a large house in one of the older and more genteel districts, in what I suppose used to be the servants’ quarters. This means there are two flights of stairs between us and the front door, the higher flight narrow and slippery, the lower one wide and carpeted but with stair rods that come loose. In the high heels expected by the office I have to go down sideways, clutching the bannister. That morning I made it safely past the line of pioneer brass warming- pans strung on the wall of our stairway, avoided catching myself on the many- pronged spinning wheel on the second-floor landing, and sidestepped quickly down past the ragged regimental flag behind glass and the row of oval- framed ancestors that guard the first stairway. I was relieved to see there was no one in the downstairs hall. On level ground I strode towards the door, swerving to avoid the rubber plant on one side and the hall table with the écru doily and the round brass tray on the other. Behind the velvet curtain to the right I could hear the child performing her morning penance at the piano. I thought I was safe.
But before I reached the door it swung silently inward upon its hinges, and I knew I was trapped. It was the lady down below. She was wearing a pair of spotless gardening gloves and carrying a trowel. I wondered who she’d been burying in the garden.
“Good morning, Miss MacAlpin,” she said.
“Good morning.” I nodded and smiled. I can never remember her name, and neither can Ainsley; I suppose we have what they call a mental block about it. I looked past her towards the street, but she didn’t move out of the doorway.
“I was out last night,” she said. “At a meeting.” She has an indirect way of going about things. I shifted from one foot to the other and smiled again, hoping she would realize I was in a hurry. “The child tells me there was another fire.”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a fire,” I said. The child had taken this mention of her name as an excuse to stop practising, and was standing now in the velvet doorway of the parlour, staring at me. She is a hulking creature of fifteen or so who is being sent to an exclusive private girls’ school, and she has to wear a green tunic with knee-socks to match. I’m sure she’s really quite normal, but there’s something cretinous about the hair- ribbon perched up on top of her gigantic body.
The lady down below took off one of her gloves and patted her chignon. “Ah,” she said sweetly. “The child says there was a lot of smoke.”
“Everything was under control,” I said, not smiling this time. “It was just the pork chops.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Well, I do wish you would tell Miss Tewce to try not to make quite so much smoke in future. I’m afraid it upsets the child.” She holds Ainsley alone responsible for the smoke, and seems to think she sends it out of her nostrils like a dragon. But she never stops Ainsley in the hall to talk about it: only me. I suspect she’s decided Ainsley isn’t respectable, whereas I am. It’s probably the way we dress: Ainsley says I choose clothes as though they’re a camouflage or a protective colouration, though I can’t see anything wrong with that. She herself goes in for neon pink.
Of course I missed the bus: as I crossed the lawn I could see it disappearing across the bridge in a cloud of air pollution. While I was standing under the tree – our street has many trees, all of them enormous – waiting for the next bus, Ainsley came out of the house and joined me. She’s a quick- change artist; I could never put myself together in such a short time. She was looking a lot healthier – possibly the effects of makeup, though you can never tell with Ainsley – and she had her red hair piled up on top of her head, as she always does when she goes to work. The rest of the time she wears it down in straggles. She had on her orange and pink sleeveless dress, which I judged was too tight across the hips. The day was going to be hot and humid; already I could feel a private atmosphere condensing around me like a plastic bag. Maybe I should have worn a sleeveless dress too.
“She got me in the hall,” I said. “About the smoke.”
“The old bitch,” said Ainsley. “Why can’t she mind her own business?” Ainsley doesn’t come from a small town as I do, so she’s not as used to people being snoopy; on the other hand she’s not as afraid of it either. She has no idea about the consequences.
“She’s not that old,” I said, glancing over at the curtained windows of the house; though I knew she couldn’t hear us. “Besides, it wasn’t her who noticed the smoke, it was the child. She was at a meeting.”
“Probably the W.C.T.U.,” Ainsley said. “Or the I.O.D.E. I’ll bet she wasn’t at a meeting at all; she was hiding behind that damn velvet curtain, wanting us to think she was at a meeting so we’d really do something. What she wants is an orgy.”
“Now Ainsley,” I said, “you’re being paranoid.” Ainsley is convinced that the lady down below comes upstairs when we aren’t there and looks round our apartment and is silently horrified, and even suspects her of ruminating over our mail, though not of going so far as to open it. It’s a fact that she sometimes answers the front door for our visitors before they ring the bell. She must think she’s within her rights to take precautions: when we first considered renting the apartment she made it clear to us, by discreet allusions to previous tenants, that whatever happened the child’s innocence must not be corrupted, and that two young ladies were surely more to be depended upon than two young men.
“I’m doing my best,” she had said, sighing and shaking her head. She had intimated that her husband, whose portrait in oils hung above the piano, had not left as much money as he should have. “Of course you realize your apartment has no private entrance?” She had been stressing the drawbacks rather than the advantages, almost as though she didn’t want us to rent. I said we did realize it; Ainsley said nothing. We had agreed I would do the talking and Ainsley would sit and look innocent, something she can do very well when she wants to – she has a pink- and- white blunt baby’s face, a bump for a nose, and large blue eyes she can make as round as ping- pong balls. On this occasion I had even got her to wear gloves.
The lady down below shook her head again. “If it weren’t for the child,” she said, “I would sell the house. But I want the child to grow up in a good district.”
I said I understood, and she said that of course the district wasn’t as good as it used to be: some of the larger houses were too expensive to keep up and the owners had been forced to sell them to immigrants (the corners of her mouth turned gently down) who had divided them up into rooming houses. “But that hasn’t reached our street yet,” she said. “And I tell the child exactly which streets she can walk on and which she can’t.” I said I thought that was wise. She had seemed much easier to deal with before we had signed the lease. And the rent was so low, and the house was so close to the bus stop. For this city it was a real find.
“Besides,” I added to Ainsley, “they have a right to be worried about the smoke. What if the house was on fire? And she’s never mentioned the other things.”
“What other things? We’ve never done any other things.”
“Well . . .” I said. I suspected the lady down below had taken note of all the bottle- shaped objects we had carried upstairs, though I tried my best to disguise them as groceries. It was true she had never specifically forbidden us to do anything – that would be too crude a violation of her law of nuance – but this only makes me feel I am actually forbidden to do everything.
“On still nights,” said Ainsley as the bus drew up, “I can hear her burrowing through the woodwork.”
We didn’t talk on the bus; I don’t like talking on buses, I would rather look at the advertisements. Besides, Ainsley and I don’t have much in common except the lady down below. I’ve only known her since just before we moved in: she was a friend of a friend, looking for a room mate at the same time I was, which is the way these things are usually done. Maybe I should have tried a computer; though on the whole it’s worked out fairly well. We get along by a symbiotic adjustment of habits and with a minimum of that pale- mauve hostility you often find among women. Our apartment is never exactly clean, but we keep it from gathering more than a fine plum- bloom of dust by an unspoken agreement: if I do the breakfast dishes, Ainsley does the supper ones; if I sweep the living- room floor, Ainsley wipes the kitchen table. It’s a see- saw arrangement and we both know that if one beat is missed the whole thing will collapse. Of course we each have our own bedroom and what goes on in there is strictly the owner’s concern. For instance Ainsley’s floor is covered by a treacherous muskeg of used clothes with ashtrays scattered here and there on it like stepping- stones, but though I consider it a fire hazard I never speak to her about it. By such mutual refrainings – I assume they are mutual since there must be things I do that she doesn’t like – we manage to preserve a reasonably frictionless equilibrium.
We reached the subway station, where I bought a package of peanuts. I was beginning to feel hungry already. I offered some to Ainsley, but she refused, so I ate them all on the way downtown.
We got off at the second- last stop south and walked a block together; our office buildings are in the same district.
“By the way,” said Ainsley as I was turning off at my street, “have you got three dollars? We’re out of scotch.” I rummaged in my purse and handed over, not without a sense of injustice: we split the cost but rarely the contents. At the age of ten I wrote a temperance essay for a United Church Sunday- school competition, illustrating it with pictures of car crashes, diagrams of diseased livers, and charts showing the effects of alcohol upon the circulatory system; I expect that’s why I can never take a second drink without a mental image of a warning sign printed in coloured crayons and connected with the taste of tepid communion grape juice. This puts me at a disadvantage with Peter; he likes me to try and keep up with him.
As I hurried towards my office building, I found myself envying Ainsley her job. Though mine was better- paying and more interesting, hers was more temporary: she had an idea of what she wanted to do next. She could work in a shiny new air- conditioned office building, whereas mine was dingy brick with small windows. Also, her job was unusual. When she meets people at parties they are always surprised when she tells them she’s a tester of defective electric toothbrushes, and she always says, “What else do you do with a B.A. these days?” Whereas my kind of job is only to be expected. I was thinking too that really I was better equipped to handle her job than she is. From what I see around the apartment, I’m sure I have much more mechanical ability than Ainsley.
By the time I finally reached the office I was three- quarters of an hour late. None commented but all took note.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Why it's on the list ...
Think your job is dull? Marian's job has to do with beer and food and is still somehow boring. She writes and edits surveys to measure consumer satisfaction in an office that makes Dunder Mifflin look cosmopolitan, and even has to go door to door asking creepy men how much beer they drink. Between her office happily ascribing to a virgin/whore dichotomy and weirdos pressing temperance brochures into her hands, it's pretty crappy.
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Why it's on the list ...
Sometimes a bad job is a matter of opinion. Some of the characters in Microserfs love their ninety-hour work weeks, some hate them. Desperate for approval from a God-like Bill Gates, one character locks himself in his office, eating only food that can be slipped under the door. Work-life balance is not a popular phrase in this office.
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also available: Paperback
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Mason Dubisee dodged a booze-propelled bullet on the day he was born.
His father came in to the hospital room smiling—a bottle of champagne cradled in his arms. He looked at his wife and newborn son, tore off the foil and cranked the wire. Angling the bottle heavenward, he pushed with his thumbs.
The cork shot out with incredible force. It ricocheted off the ceiling, a wall, then rocketed into the pillow an inch from Mason’s infant cranium.
His father told the story for years to come. Grinning with pride, he’d pass around the infamous cork: ”I swear to God, he dodged the fucking thing.“
It was a feat that would prove more difficult as Mason’s life went on.
On his thirtieth birthday, Mason opened his eyes—and saw water pipes. They were painted white, against a white ceiling. It took him a moment to realize he was somewhere comfortable and quiet. There was nobody kicking him, or trying to grab his stuff or banging on the door. He wasn’t too cold and he was barely hung over. There was a pillow beneath his head and when he rolled onto his side, it smelled like a new stuffed animal.
He looked at the far wall: exposed brick, power-washed clean. There were silver and bronze specks in the bricks and in the grouting, and they sparkled beneath a skylight. Against the wall was an ancient curlicued radiator, painted deep chestnut. The floor beneath it was hardwood, also dark, giving way to ceramic tiles—midnight blue and mottled—demarcating the kitchen area.
It was a thousand square-foot loft. According to Chaz it used to be a belly dance studio. If he kept turning around in bed like this he could see every corner of it.
After a while Mason was ready to get up. Or rather, down. The bed was fairly high—not so much that you’d injure yourself if you fell out, but enough that it would hurt to land. There was a three-step ladder, with storage space beneath. A captain’s bed, it was called. Mason kind of liked that. He kind of liked everything right now. It was his thirtieth birthday and here he was: waking up in a captain’s bed. He had an open concept, a skylight and hardwood floors darkened by the sweat of amateur belly dancers. The day was full of possibility.
He climbed down and pulled on a pair of boxers. They were green, with penguins on them. He stood in the middle of the room, light spilling in from all directions. There were two large windows at the front, looking down onto Spadina Avenue—and one at the back that opened onto a flat tarmac roof. He surveyed the apartment, flecks of gold dust in the air.
By one of the front windows stood a simple oak desk, by the other a seating area with a burgundy couch, two easy chairs and a TV, then a shelving unit, a cabinet and a dresser, all empty. Mason’s to fill.
Other than the duffle bag by the door, the only proof of habitation was on the table in the centre of the room. Mason pulled up a chair and studied it: Johnnie Walker Black—almost empty—two glasses, a rolled-up twenty, an ashtray surrounded by ashes, white residue, playing cards, poker chips . . .
How much did you lose?
He wasn’t sure, but he knew he hadn’t won—Chaz was better at poker than he used to be.
Mason picked up one of the glasses and walked into the kitchen area. The icy ceramic felt good on the soles of his feet. There was a coffee maker on the counter. He looked at it for a while, but there were too many buttons. He opened the fridge: beer and an open box of baking soda. He poured himself a glass of water, dug into his duffle bag for paper and a pen, then crossed the room and sat down on the sunlit couch. He wrote:
To-Do List—Monday
He wouldn’t usually have known the day of the week, but today was a day for cognizance, for new beginnings. He underlined To-Do List. Then Monday. Then he looked out the window.
He was sitting on the couch in his underwear staring out the window when Chaz came in. ”What’s the headline, pigeon?“
”So what? You don’t knock?“
”Not till you start paying rent.“ He walked over to the table in the centre of the room, slung his jacket over a chair, then started gathering up the cards. Chaz was sort of a neat freak.
”How much did I lose last night?“
”Two and a half.“
Mason’s heart rate doubled, his skin got cold. ”Thousand?“
”Don’t worry,“ said Chaz, stacking up the chips. ”I know where you live.“ He went into the kitchen area to get a dishcloth.
Until yesterday it had been five years since they’d seen each other, but Chaz looked much the same. He was wiry and there was a slickness to him, like shiny leather. Mason was well-worn suede—barrel-chested, beaten in, rough around the edges.
They’d been friends since they were kids. And now, as adults, they came on like men who’d gotten away with something, tough guys who liked to dance. Both were handsome in certain lights—dim ones mostly—which fit their lives just fine.
Chaz was wiping up the ashes. ”You got some rhino coming, right?“
Other than being better at poker, this was another way he’d changed. It used to be Chaz only talked like a whacked-out gangster when he was drunk, but now he was like Jimmy Cagney on Ritalin. ”I’m in a good mood,“ he’d said the day before, by way of explanation. But Chaz’s mood was often good. He was the least haunted smart guy Mason had ever met.
”Rhino?“ said Mason.
”You might have called it something else.“ Chaz threw the dishcloth into the sink. ”But if it’s a problem . . .“
”No. No. You’re right, I’ve got magazine money owing, from like three different stories. I just got to give them an address.“
”Well, you got one now.“ Chaz spread his arms, indicating opulence as he walked across the floor. Then he sat down in one of the easy chairs.
”Yeah. Thanks for this.“
”I was just going to say, if it’s ever a problem—I mean, I don’t know what it’s like in this town, as far as the writing biz goes and all . . . but if you’re short, I can set you up.“
”No thanks, Chaz.“
Chaz shot him a sharp glance, then rubbed his hands together and looked around at the apartment, surveying the reno job that he himself had done. ”I wasn’t talking about dealing—not a bindle-stiff like you.“
”Then what are you talking about?“
Hotdogs,“ he said, as if he’d burned himself happily—the emphasis on hot.
Mason waited.
”Uncle Fishy, he’s got this Dogfather thing.“
”Do me a favour.“ Mason stood up. ”A moratorium on the Chazspeak. I’ve got no clue what you’re trying to say.“ He went to find a shirt.
Chaz called after him. ”It’s just what I said: my Uncle Fishy has a Dogfather thing.“
”What’s a dogfather thing?“ Mason dug into his duffle bag. ”And since when do you have an uncle named Fishy?“
”That’s what they call him. He’s a bit simple, but he’s family. Got all sorts of family I never met out here. . .“
Mason tossed clothes in all directions.
”Anyway—Fishy’s got these ideas: one of them’s the Dogfather Hotdog Company. It’s a theme thing, right? And the cart would reflect that—the ‘Dogmobile.’ It’s like a state-of-the-art, pseudomafioso hotdog-stand kind of thing.“
”That’s a terrible idea.“
”Well, either way, I gave him money for a prototype.“
”You’re kidding me.“ Mason pulled on a T-shirt.
”What can I say? It’s his dream. All he needs now is a Dogfather.“
”You mean a hotdog salesman.“
”Think of it as research on the human condition.“
”There’s no way I’m selling hotdogs, Chaz.“
”Then I hope your game gets better.“
”Fuck you.“
Chaz held up his hands in surrender. Mason sat back down.
”What about that book you were writing?“
”Almost finished,“ said Mason.
”Hasn’t it been like six years now?“
Chaz looked at him. ”So what do you plan to do?
Mason reached for his to-do list. He turned it so Chaz could see. ”Any ideas?“
”Number one: shave.
Mason scraped his fingers down his bearded cheek. Chaz walked to the chair where he’d slung his jacket and took an envelope from the pocket. ”Here,“ he said, tossing it to Mason.
It was full of twenties. ”What’s this for?“ For a moment he thought Chaz had remembered his birthday.
”Basics, buddy: food, stuff for the apartment, razors . . . I’m strapping on jets to Montana. See a guy about a can-opener.“
”You’re cracking safes now?“
Chaz just grinned. ”I’ll be back on Wednesday. And by the way, the liquor store is . . . ,“ but Mason wasn’t really listening. He knew where the liquor store was. Chaz was under the impression he’d just arrived in Toronto. After all, why would your best friend come to your town then wait a month to look you up?
”Oh, here.“ Chaz reached into the other pocket, pulled out a cellphone and tossed it to Mason. ”I’ll get you a landline when I’m back.“
”Thanks,“ said Mason. He suddenly felt embarrassed. ”I’ll have the rent together soon.“
”Good to see you, kid,“ said Chaz.
Mason just nodded. That’s what Tenner used to say—he'd called them both ”kid.“
This side of Spadina was Chinatown, but on the other side of the road was Kensington Market—six square blocks of mom-and-pop shops from every culture you could think of (Portuguese butchers, Korean grocers, Jamaican candlestick-makers)—the smell of barbecued sardines, mangos and pig’s blood mixing in the air.
He picked up a dozen disposable razors, ten oranges, five T-shirts, four pairs of underwear, a coffee, an empañada, and when he got back to the apartment he still had almost $480 left over. He disrobed and took the razors into the bathroom. As the steam rose he looked in the mirror. When Chaz had opened the door, what would he have seen? A world traveller? A drifter? A vagrant with a thrice-broken nose?
One more and it’ll be back in place.
He plugged the sink, made a lather with the soap, and turned off the taps. ”Out of the cold just in time,“ he said. But a voice inside him muttered something else.
He soaked his beard then realized he had no scissors. With this kind of scruff, a dozen razors and you still couldn’t find your face. He went to get his knife.
An hour later he was sitting on the couch eating an orange and watching Judge Judy, the first item on his to-do list done, cheeks still stinging.
He hadn’t watched TV for a while and nothing made sense. Judy was cool but everyone else in the courtroom made him sad or angry. At a quarter to three he turned off the TV. The world was quiet. He was thirty now.
He began to shuffle cards, looking at the wall. It had all been mirrors, Chaz had said, floor to ceiling for the belly dancers. He’d agonized for days, then stripped it down to the brick. Mason could picture them—all those Toronto girls in sweatpants and sports bras, undulating towards him. He shuffled the deck for a long, long time. Eventually he got up, intending to eat another orange, but instead he left the apartment.
It was after five when he got back, and he’d acquired a few more of the basics: mid-range champagne, a ghetto blaster and a stack of used CDs, a steel sword—somewhere between a cutlass and a sabre—with a dog-faced dragon on the blade, a sharpening stone and scissors, toilet paper, a cheeseburger combo from the Harvey’s right there on the corner, a pack of Camel Lights. There was $280 left in his pocket.
He took a beer from the fridge, plugged the ghetto blaster in, put on The Best of the Animals and finished his fries. He opened one of the windows. The bottom pane slid up high enough that he could sit on the ledge drinking his beer, looking at Spadina.
His was the top of a three-storey red-brick. The apartment on the second floor was still being renovated. On the street level was an electronics store and a porno shop, then a narrow alley, Harvey’s and the Lucky Save Convenience on the corner.
The neighbourhood used to be Jewish, Chaz had told him, but they sold most of it to the Chinese—and soon thereafter the city decided to turn Spadina into an expressway, which only made it halfway down its planned route from the superhighway at the top of the city before it stopped, killed in its tracks by an enlightened group of urban activists, political academics, artists, hippies, Chinese businessmen and Jewish gangsters.
Across the street from his window were bars and Cantonese restaurants and then, on the corner, the new MHAD building: the Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Centre. It no doubt added a little something—not that the neighbourhood needed much. The original saviours of Spadina were still out there, showing their stuff: marching down the street with placards protesting shark fin soup—”Sharks are great! But not on your plate! Sharks are great! But not on your plate!“—past blankets on the sidewalk covered with DVDs, restaurant managers throwing fortune cookies, deals going down in the doorways.
On the median, conceptual art loomed: Corinthian columns rising from the concrete. Atop each column was a figure: a chicken made out of chicken wire, a steel horse, a plastic dog, and so on. Beneath the plastic dog stood a flesh-and-blood man—eyes focused on the sky, hands circling in the air, tugging—flying a kite that wasn’t there. A woman weaved out of the Palm Tree Tavern into the line of shark supporters. There was yelling and laughing. A cop car pulled onto the sidewalk. His siren gave a squawk—anyone’s guess as to who was in trouble.
Mason got another beer from the fridge. Through the back window he could see the green roof of the library. He poured himself a glass of Scotch. Sure, it was new-leaf-turning time and all that, but it was also his birthday. Just because Chaz wasn’t here didn’t mean he couldn’t celebrate. He’d never remembered Chaz’s birthday either. He walked from the back windows to the front ones. The Best of the Animals was over. He put on Billy Idol. The sun was going down. He lit a cigarette.
Soon everything glowed—the ember and the smoke, the violet exhaust rising from the street, twilight refracting off windowpanes. Through the music and the traffic he could hear his heartbeat. He picked up the cellphone and looked at it. He knew quite a few people in this city by now, but only one number.
It’s your birthday, bub. Go on—dial.

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Why it's on the list ...
Mason writes suicide notes for those who are checking out and lacking in literary skill. But don't worry – his alcoholism and drug addiction will probably cheer him up when he's bummed after work. Or his other terrible job, selling hot dogs on Spadina. At least until he and his girlfriend are pursued by a psychopathic maniac. Altogether, definitely a bad work week.
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Girl Crazy
Why it's on the list ...
At first glance, Justin's job doesn't seem that terrible, just kind of monotonous, lecturing at a local college in a subject only mildly adjacent to what he actually studied and enjoys. Could be worse, you say? How about a meathead boss who cheats disadvantaged students and threatens and intimidates employees? And a soul crushing administrator who can't ever seem to remember Justin's name?
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Modern Classics: World of Wonders
Why it's on the list ...
Davies overshot 'bad job' and went straight to 'traumatized and abused travelling circus slave'. But the years of mind numbing repetition and practice made Paul Dempster (aka Faustus Legrand aka Magnus Eisengrim) into the world's greatest magician. The final book of the Fifth Business trilogy, World of Wonders roundly refutes the idea that the CanLit canon isn't insane, funny, violent and bizarre.
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Modern Classics Butterfly Plague
Why it's on the list ...
I guess there isn't a worse job than the one listed above, but being forced to become a Nazi mouthpiece is pretty bad. Professional swimmer Ruth is basically tortured into robotic-level fitness by her insane coach/husband in order to serve as a living illustration of creepy Aryan perfection, and has a pretty understandable nervous breakdown. Nazis, it seems, aren't big on stress-based leave.
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Heaven is Small
Why it's on the list ...
Gordon actually has two bad jobs: one before he dies and one after. Before he dies, he works at Whoopsy's Gags and Gifts, where he stood behind the counter "soberly name-tagged, hair and patience thinning." After death, he secures a job at the Heaven Book Company, which promises an eternity of monotony.
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Pulpy and Midge

Pulpy and Midge

also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Sometimes a bad job is more of a case of bad boss. Pulpy and his wife Midge have a sweet, quiet life until Pulpy's boss retires and is replaced by synergy-obsessed, crushing-handshake-wielding, downright creeptastic Dan. Pulpy's promised promotion evaporates and Dan's quest for Pulpy's friendship lands somewhere between obsession and social cannibalism.
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