Wedged in between the Olympics, and the Democratic and Republican conventions, is a holiday we still call Labor Day, along with Labor Day Weekend, although don’t expect much media attention to it or its meaning.
In truth, as a young man I never thought much about unions, or even about labor protections — at least until my first job.
I told my friends I’d landed a job in the advertising business. But that was an exaggeration. It was what today we’d call a summer “internship” — a kind of foot-in-the-door that might someday lead to a real job.
In truth, it wasn’t even a foot in the door. More like a big toe. I was a “go-fer” — someone who’s told to “go-fer” coffee, “go-fer” sandwiches, “go-fer” this or that package. I go-ferred for weeks, running around New York City on errands.
But even though being a go-fer wasn’t glamorous, I was fired with enthusiasm. I basked in the glow of the firm’s worldly-wise creativity, its brand-name clients, and the important meetings I’d supply with coffee, sandwiches and packages.
After a time I got fewer go-fer assignments. I assumed this meant I was now primed for the big leagues, ready to join a full-fledged ad campaign. But the real reason was I didn’t know New York well enough and got lost when I went for a package more than a few blocks away. I was so late with one of them I didn’t deliver it in time for an important meeting. So they stopped asking me to go-fer.
At this point the head of the firm gave me a different assignment, but it wasn’t an ad campaign. It was to take care of his dog, which he brought into the office every day. A big Irish Wolfhound named Prince, who had a bowel problem. My job was, well, you can imagine. I told myself this was a kind of promotion. After all, I was now working for the boss.
But I was actually working for Prince. And one day I was scraping Prince’s bowel problem off the small terrace outside the boss’s office — for the third time that day — in the 95-degree heat and humidity of a New York August, and I finally realized something I should have known all along. This job wasn’t going anywhere.
So, I summoned the nerve to tell the boss I wouldn’t take care of Prince anymore, and he summoned the indignation to tell me I had a nerve, and that was that.
I ended my first job just as I had started it — fired … with enthusiasm.
Labor Day should remind us how many shitty jobs still exist.
Originally published at Robert Reich’s Blog and reproduced here with the author’s permission.