When Gen Xers ended up running an Orange Julius stand for a year or two, just because that’s the kind of thing that can happen when you get a job, they didn’t try to twist it into a fucking career.They didn’t enthuse about their passion for making the world a better place, one milkshake at a time. They didn’t worry about the career coherence of milkshake artistry to their goal of ruling the world by the age of thirty. They figured that they were just dumping pineapple chunks, crushed ice, and half and half into a blender and pouring slushy goop into a cup for six hours an afternoon or whatever. It was a fucking job. It wasn’t training to be the next Paul Prudhomme.
I don’t think I’m just extrapolating this from Agnostic’s reviews of Fast Times at Ridgemont High or some shit. I was alert enough as a young child in Palo Alto in the late eighties, and for that matter as a teenager and young adult in a somewhat backwards and insular part of Pennsylvania, to have had some awareness of any creepily grandiose thinking pervading local workplaces. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t really any. The conventional wisdom about work life in trendy circles today is unrecognizable from what it was in 2000, with the exception of incipient Peter Pan bullshit artistry in the early Bay Area dot-com business. There was a general understanding, so pervasive that there was rarely any need to comment on it, that it was okay for a job to be tedious, prosaic, dead-end, and sub-Deepak Chopra-level self-actualizing, because you got paid to dump the slush fixings into the fucking blender, and you could probably use the money. Maybe you’d get a more lucrative or self-actualizing job a year or five down the line. Whatever. At least Orange Julius gave you something to do for the time being, and some money for your trouble.
One of the nice things about Gen X is that it doesn’t usually have its head diaphragm-deep in its own ass. There are exceptions, including a cousin of mine who got eaten alive by the dot-com fart-sniffing machine circa 2008, but these are not exceptions that prove the rule. Unfortunately, Gen X has been sandwiched between the grandiose shysters and the nervous little bitches, and for let’s-not-have-babies-right-now reasons outnumbered by each of these generations alone and swamped to hell by the two put together. They managed to wander into the unexpectedly sweet spot of having negligent parents who allowed them to be latchkey kids, and as a consequence, they managed to be more mature by the age of sixteen than the Boomers were by the age of seventy. To be fair, a lot of this is a combination of what I remember from second grade and stuff I read on the internet, but I still feel comfortable vouching for it. I notice, for example, that middle-class forty- and fifty-somethings today tend to be pretty un-fucked up, and that has to be worth something.
The obnoxious talk and thought about the workplace is very much a Boomer-Millennial thing. Nobody who was on the fry line at Dairy Queen in 1985 has any use for that shit. The Baby Boomers swore to (well, probably not exactly) God that they would never, ever, ever become sellouts, and they they turned into abject sellouts. It’s a rather Judas Iscariot-looking evolution that the older yuppies have had on the matter of money and career. Then, circa 1988, when these self-consciously overeducated strivers were already getting into their forties, they had their first children, and all too often their only children. Now Precious Snowflake was badgered to master all the rote arcana, intellectual waste, and frank propaganda passing for education in the K-12 schools so that she’d be able to get into a good graduate school, only to leave her parents crestfallen when she ended up drifting in and out of a bachelor’s program in education, sometimes alongside her boyfriend, the sixth-year political science major, sometimes not. I’m taking only minor liberties with this story; I wish it were a bunch nonsense that I’d made up instead. It’s just sad how often this story has been repeated, with practically inconsequential variations in the particulars, in bougie families over the past couple of decades. Even worse, in some crucial respects, is how many hopeless believers in formal education, ever eager to please their authority figures, got themselves into crushing, legally inescapable debt and now have nothing of any use to show for it.
In the midst of this battery of crazymaking social controls, a funny thing happened on the way to white people not being able to get jobs at Wetzel’s Pretzels. It happened kind of in the way that I-9 perjury and document fraud “happen.” These things are just acts of God, you know. Eleven milion-odd illegal immigrants, mostly from the northern end of Latin America, just kind of ended up living in the shadows in the United States, but not in Canada, which doesn’t border the Sonora Desert. It was like a late winter low pressure system coming up out of the Gulf and cruelly baptizing us all, you, me, and Mr. Presley alike, in this cold Kentucky rain. If genuine labor shortages had developed in dead-end grunt jobs, wages and working conditions might have improved to attract some capable young people away from MBA programs and corporate asset-stripping. Bourgeois parents might have figured, as their predecessors had for a couple of generations, that the shitty jobs needed to be done and that there was some honor for their children to find in doing them. Conveniently, though, entire cities started getting swamped with desperate Mexican peasants. It was the damnedest thing, Luis here showing up with this unique skill set enabling him to do a hundred different kinds of manual labor that Whitey was suddenly indisposed to undertake. Sorry, Taylor, your grades and references aren’t quite good enough for you to chop vegetables in our prep kitchen, but we did find this illiterate guy from Michoacán who doesn’t speak a word of English and has the most legit-looking Orange County birth certificate we’ve ever seen. Good luck with your job search!
When the economy crashed in 2008, the bougies started eating their own in earnest. It’s some hideous, grotesque cannibalism by now. As a society, we’re trying to import more Latin American peasants, not fewer, to do the actual work of running the country while our own youth are consigned to two-dollar-an-hour gigs writing articles about how to clean an oven or properly seat a tampon for content farms. This is the synthesis of “immigration reform” and the “knowledge economy.” At the same time we have a parallel “sharing economy,” with Uber making itself out to be the second coming of Wavy Gravy encouraging all brothers and sisters to hop on board the freak bus, when it is in fact provably a borderline-totalitarian racket to get dispossessed members of the former middle class who are just moneyed enough for their car payments to serve as freelance chauffeurs for social climbers in the top two quintiles of household incomes, until they get too uppity and equal with their clients or just plain worn out and summarily fired by Travis Kalanick’s algorithms. We have these proliferating apps whose founders and spokesmen act like they are unilaterally able to repeal any law or regulation they dislike by chanting “new paradigm,” and a combination of dupes and bought media second them. It’s the equivalent of Stephanie Lazarus pleading not guilty by reason of that bitch needed killing for stealing my man. This is how openly lawless we’ve become.
We also assume that the dysfunction and poverty of nearby countries in Latin America just happened. It’s so fascinating how Smedley Butler being deployed as a United Fruit mercenary and then offered a position as a sort of proto-Pinochet regent for a cabal of industrialists who were angling to assassinate FDR just sort of blew across North America, in the indifferent fashion of a line of tornadoes. These benighted noble savages from points south are just on lower rungs of the ladder that inexorably lifts all peoples out of poverty and backwardness, so long as they harden not their hearts to the virtues of neoliberalism. None of this has anything to do with Carlos Slim’s lieutenants giving suitcases full of C notes to Mexican officials and these suitcases catching the next flight to Zurich. None of this has anything to do with the US government being in pseudo-codependent relationships with its Mexican, Honduran, and Salvadoran counterparts and pretending to have a problem with their practicing styles of administration ranging from chronic violent corruption to acute humanitarian emergency. None of this has anything to do with the curious failure of the US government to deploy Spanish-speaking police and military peacekeepers to Central America because it’s too entangled with the management of its non-Arabic and non-Pashto-speaking soldiers in the Middle East. These are mere coincidences. We don’t want these countries to be poor, chaotic, and deadly; it’s just that their peasants cut more bananas and stitch more sneakers for less money that way, and besides,we need the wetbacks because it’s impossible to find a good yard honky these days.
This is why we need to bring the most backwards, abjectly impoverished, unacculturated foreign peasantries into our country: because our own working class still has enough of a residual sense of yeomanry to expect a measure of the decency that peers show to peers; because the natives haven’t all turned into a bunch of Barbadian slavedrivers and Mormon scammers, but would in all too many cases prefer to actually work for a living and keep themselves vaguely reputable. Some of us all too vividly remember the days when a boiler room operation badgering its employees to use in-house neologisms like “delightion” and attend their own “graduation parties” to honor their being fired would have been regarded by the rest of the business community as unspeakably shameful and creepy, and maybe a good opportunity to mention that Safeway is hiring apprentice meat cutters, so you might as well send that building full of freaks your resignation letter tonight.
One nice thing about picking blueberries for a living, so to speak, is that nobody expects me to act like I’m Cesar Chavez just because I do some stoop labor. This is healthy. It would also be healthy if bougies would stop acting like I’m wasting my education just because I’m looking at Subway jobs. It pays minimum wage, fool, and I’ve earned less. I’m sick of people telling me to follow my passion. Jared followed his, didn’t he? We can’t all be Roman Polanski, white boy. We can’t all be Woody Allen. Someone needs to make the damn sandwiches. Someone needs to pick the damn fruit.