Archive La Cuadra ‘Part Time, Part I’
John Rexer was the Founder and Co-Publisher of La Cuadra Magazine (2005-2015), which was produced in Antigua, Guatemala. The Part Time Stories were serialized in La Cuadra, and chronicled the adventures and misadventures of the years when he made a living by taking whatever job came his way. Here are some of those stories.
PART TIME, PART I - I’ve Had Some Jobs In My Day by John Rexer June 19, 2014
It always happened like this. I needed some money so I found some way to make it. The thought of a career never really was my thing. Being something – a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief just didn’t ring true. The sense of permanence, grown-up-dom, self-importance, and lack of adventure always had me taking whatever would have me. More often than not this strategy left me broke and desperate and wondering where I would lay my head for the night. Looking back it was not a strategy or a conscious decision at all. I think it just comes down to wiring. I was not wired for the other way. Maybe it was the books I read at an early age... who knows.
Here are the jobs I’ve held in more or less chronological order from the age of 7 on: I sold seeds from door to door in suburbia, then Christmas and Easter cards, I delivered newspapers, I mowed lawns, I raked leaves, I stuffed envelopes, I built lobster pots for fisherman, I picked peas on a farm, I taught tennis, I sold marijuana by the joint, ounce, ¼ pound and pound, I worked alongside a bee farmer, then helped train bird dogs, and by mistake almost poisoned horses...
I worked in an old folks home, I worked as a night guard in a library, I worked in a copy shop, I framed houses, I painted houses, I tore down houses, I’ve waited tables...
I’ve sold Christmas trees on the sidewalks of NY, I telemarketed shitty magazines from a warehouse in Jersey City, I drove an ice-cream truck in Michigan, I bounced for a brief spell in a bar in Birmingham, I drove a beer truck in Virginia, I worked as a shill in an auction house in Atlanta, Georgia, I taught Latin in a private high school in Mississippi, I opened an illegal bar on top of a convent in Rome...
I’ve worked construction on a high-rise, I’ve sniveled as a stockbroker, I gave blood whenever and wherever they were paying for it, I’ve tutored attention-deficit teenagers and written theses for lazy grad students. I’ve scribbled ad copy for Cinemax pseudo porn and styled an urban-rooftop-wet-dream for the Home and Garden Television Channel. I’ve dot-commend with dipshits, transported precious paintings from gallery to restorer to collector, I’ve sold antiques...
I’ve exported furniture from Mexico and overseen the making of handbags in a state prison...I’ve helped put together famous boy bands, I’ve done castings for movies, television, commercials and print, I’ve done location scouting and acting, I’ve opened a bar, a bookstore and a café in Guatemala. I’ve smuggled booze...
I could go on. But the beautiful part of all that, especially in the mid-later years, is that when I was not doing THAT, I was lazing about, reading, bopping into museums, catching a bus to another town, scribbling in a journal, strolling the streets of a city, looking in windows, going to movies, waking up in another country...
In the breaks between having some money and having none, I’d often go to a used bookstore and buy a handful of books by one author and go on a focused reading binge. Graham Greene I read this way, Bruce Chatwin, Balzac, Shaw, Faulkner,
Maugham, Bukowski, Dashiel Hammet, Mickey Spillane, James M. Caine, Celine, Chomsky, Paul Bowles, all filled these glorious and episodic sabbaticals. (When people would ask what I do, I’d say just that, I’m on a sabbatical, as though I had just taken a brief leave from a teaching position at a prestigious university.)
For some strange reason during these sabbaticals I’d often take to collecting broken chairs that had been discarded in the street. I felt a kinship to them. They were a bit rocky, interesting in an off kilter way and in need of ass. I’d take them home, and with a little glue and sandpaper and paint, I’d fix them up and give them as gifts. Where others would bring a bottle of wine to a party, I’d show up with a slightly cattywampus chair and get an odd look as I passed through the door. It got to the point that briefly I held the moniker, The Chairman.
During this time, basic nourishment was a constant and dicey proposition. If I was in NY or some other major city, to supplement my diet beyond espresso in the morning and beer in the evening, I would go to gallery openings and partake in the free cheese and wine. In certain galleries I became so ever-present that management believed I was either an up-and-coming artist or a critic. Most, however, just took no notice. I was just another body that would (or more likely would not) buy a piece of art now or ever in the future. I carried the monthly gallery schedule with me as though it were my bible. It got my daily calories over 1500, kept me out of the cold for several hours on a winter’s night, and sometimes would find me a female counterpart, either one sympathetic to the starving artist type – the kind of woman who was interested in the fixer-upper-yet-romantic lunatic kind of man – or one living the same sort of itchy itinerant life who wanted to share resources, a bed, and fleeting carnal companionship.
All was not pure boheme bliss, however. The early mornings and late nights of my sabbaticals were like dark parenthesis that hemmed in the otherwise beautiful hours in between. Rarely was there a night that was not filled with anxiety induced insomnia and the big question: When the small stash of cash I have runs out in a week or two, what am I going to do next to pay the piper? And rarely was there a morning that did not begin with a certain yellowish exhaustion, a painful glance at the classifieds, a counting of the cash balled up in a sock I kept between the sagging mattresses, and a sneer at the mounting bills coming due. There was the momentary self-doubt, the: Why the fuck, am I living this way? Why was my DNA not geared toward a profession, a mortgage, a family – or for that matter any false, predictable rhythm by which I could sustain myself in blissful delusion until the Grim Reaper tapped on my door? Why? Why? Why?
Back then, I moved in two very distinct social circles that were as bipolar as the rest of my life. The larger circle consisted of outsiders like me, the misfit toys, the water pistols that squirted grape jelly, the Dave-in-the-Boxes. It consisted of actors who were constantly on audition and waiting tables in the evening, painters who could not afford to stretch their canvasses, writers who were writing rancid Harlequin Romances to pay the bills while working on the real novel, performance artists who performed in the smallest and most obscure venues, production assistants on small films hoping to become real producers or directors someday, overqualified idealist with alphabets of degrees who had morphed into misanthropes and worked the temp circuit. Some of this larger circle would eventually become successful in the traditional sense, others never. But they were for the most part wonderful and charmingly cynical. Their world-weariness was not an affected pose; it was an artful pose on top of real weariness. We’d help each other find part time work, but rarely ask, “Hey, how’s that screen play coming?” There was an unspoken misfit code that said to tread lightly when it came to someone’s dream.
The smaller circle was the counterbalance. It consisted of the anointed, pedigreed and very successful. It housed, or so it seemed, those charmed with knowing what they were going to do in this world since they lulled in the warmth of their mothers’ wombs. These were the lawyers, investment bankers, diplomats, architects, venture capitalists, graphic designers, movie producers and fashion photographers. These were the ones who lived in spacious apartments they had purchased or inherited. These were the people who collected art by established artists, those being covered in the press for their latest and greatest achievement. These were the people whose Christmas bonuses were larger than all the money I had ever made in my life combined. These were the rising stars, or more likely, the stars that had long ago risen and were now shining brightly.
On a one-on-one basis I loved them and their company, but in that horrible collective of celebratory banality, the cocktail party, I found myself always feeling painfully out of place, with the desire to break something, an expensive vase or a fragile marriage. Their kind of cheer and camaraderie was as alien to me as ten years down the same path and partnership at the law firm. I envied their security, and at the same time knew it was kryptonite to my very existence.
Moreover, and I am sure this was projection on my part, I felt in off-moments as though my friends from this golden arena looked at me with the particular pity you reserve for that talented sibling who just never got his shit together. And this was far from the truth. I had my shit together, it just wasn’t the same as their shit. I am also sure there were moments where they did projections of their own, romanticizing my carefree existence and wondering what it would be like to slip from their prescribed routine into my vagabond existence, from their why into my why the hell not.
Then, as now, my world was haphazardly twined together by a quest for the glint of something passed over or discarded, and yet beautiful. Those forgotten somethings that are right there, and yet often missed in the blur of a supposedly forward momentum. They were tiny shards, fragments of the mundane that proved not mundane at all when countenanced by a pause and time. And this, too, I have come to believe is part of my wiring, my DNA, the receptiveness to embrace what other might find a distraction on the way to a goal. It is the reward for having no set course and the jagged moments when I wish I had one.