Barbara Ehrenreich

Bait and Switch

My face gets the full Prescott treatment: foundation, blush, eyeliner, lip-liner, mascara. I force myself to slow down and make small, fretful movements with the various pencils and brushes, since, for some unknown anthropological reason, bold, broad-stroked face paint has the undesirable effect of suggesting savagery or sports mania. Examining myself in the full-length mirror, I conclude that I rock, and that, with the addition of a gold necklace and lapel pin, I might, in Prescott's judgment, even pass for a Republican. "Clear mind, skillful driver," I recite to myself from Morton's little koan. "Sound spirit, strong horse."

At the PRSA web site, which I repair to almost daily for job listings, I comb through upcoming conferences and finally settle on a conveniently timed "professional development seminar" on the theme of "crisis communications management," which will include what to do when, for example, "the activists attack" or the CEO is indicted...Even if it doesn't pan out as a source of contacts, the session should be, at the very least, a rare glimpse into the corporate world at its most vulnerable, and a corporate vulnerability can always be translated into a potential job. You have activists storming your headquarters while the CEO is being led off in chains? I can help, or at least I will now find out how to.

All this casts an entirely new light on the CEO, who tends to be portrayed as an overpaid tyrant, but might be better described as one of the mythical kings in James Frazer's classic book The Golden Bough, who is sacrificed in the spring to fructify the soil. Or the Aztec sacrificial victims who are fattened and coddled for weeks before the ceremonial excision of their hearts.

I chat with Alexandra, who is wearing blue jeans and works for a California company that arranges overseas outsourcing for American firms. "Why should people be angry at you, when these firms are going to outsource anyway?" I ask. "That's what I'm always saying," she tells me, looking harried by invisible pursuers.

It occurs to me that much of my job search so far has involved sitting in windowless rooms while someone--most commonly a white male in his fifties or sixties—stands at the front testifying, preaching, exhorting, or coaching. Maybe it isn't the content of the presentation that matters, but the discipline required to maintain the sitting posture and vague look of attentiveness for hours on end. While blue-collar workers invite injury and exhaustion through physical exertion, white-collar workers endure the sometimes equally painful results of immobility. Maybe the whole point of a college education, which is the almost universal requirement for white-collar employment, is that it trains you to sit still and keep your eyes open. At the moment, I'd rather be waitressing.

But rejection puts too kind a face on it, because there is hardly ever any evidence that you have been rejected--that is, duly considered and found wanting. As the New York Times reported in June 2004: "The most common rejection letter nowadays seems to be silence. Job hunting is like dating, only worse, as you sit by the phone for the suitor who never calls." The feeling is one of complete invisibility and futility: you pound on the door, you yell and scream, but the door remains sealed shut in your face.

In preparation for my interview, I visit the AFLAC web site, where I learn that the product is "supplemental insurance" to round out the no-doubt inadequate health insurance your employer provides. Then I turn to Google and Nexis, where I hit pay dirt after less than thirty minutes: AFLAC has had problems with the training and management of its sales force. I will stun my interviewer with this information, followed by the unique management contribution I am prepared to make. Furthermore, there are suggestions that AFLAC has overplayed the duck. It's fine for attracting initial attention, but you need a more mature and serious approach if you're selling insurance. That's me--serious and mature--the antiduck.

Fear of Falling

p. 182 The New Right, however, was not about to blame permissiveness on capitalism, no matter how indirectly. In the New Right's scheme of things the businessman is not an enemy; he is a "producer," allied with the working class in his allegiance to the traditional values of hard work and self-denial. He cannot be criticized. His economic interests, after all, are at the core of the New Right's economic program. Hence the central dishonesty of the New Right: Its intellectual leaders pinpointed permissiveness as the source of America's ills. Yet they could not attack, or even mention, the one source of genuinely permissive ideology in American culture.