The Job Factory
Cambridge, 1981

In the winter of 1981, from February 13th to March 6th , the narrator was enrolled in a course entitled "How To Find A Job". While attending this course he was paid $140 / week by CETA ( Comprehensive Employment Training Act ) . The program was administered by the Somerville-Cambridge Economic Opportunity Council ( SCEOC ) . Classes were held at the Job Factory, an office building on Massachusetts Ave in Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

1. Introduction

The classroom is surrounded on all sides by a moat of carpeted corridors. Screwed onto the door of principal access is a brass plaque, from the surface of which proudly beams the legend Conference Lounge. Ranks of fluorescent bulbs sputter a confused calcium glare. As the students enter the faculty is lowering the oily white paper shades ( rolled up over the interior windows) , concealing the educative process from the traffic in the surrounding corridors. All walls but one are coated with whitewash. The dissenter is painted a chalky-blue and forms the backdrop for the expostulations of our instructors.

Harmonious with the disposition of the room's contents , these walls chill. Few artifacts of warmth or imagination greet the eye, although there are some clues of past attempts to relieve the barren monotony. Notice for example the 3 dangling calendars, regimented in single file within the naked alcove at the front. Even here the effect of this odd procession is to intensify , rather than relieve, the over-riding desolation .

Other traces of previous attempts to render these walls more engaging are frankly ludicrous: the frayed magazine article for example secured on the side wall to our left by a strip of Scotch tape. I never did get around to discovering if it held any useful information.

A final review of this enclosure: three of the walls are egg-white, or bone-white, or tooth-white - it depends on the ratio of light to shadow produced by the angle of incoming sunlight at any given time of day. The wall at the back, ( back of the classroom , front of the class) painted chalk-blue, or gas-jet blue, or snake's-blood blue, is partially obscured by a pair of tall metal-frame bookcases in its right-hand corner.

Whitened light shed from blocks, or ranks, or columns of activated fluorescent tubes diffuses like a fine powder, like snowflakes drifting through the dreams of a cocaine addict. Paul Royale owns up to having been a drug addict for many years. He has, so he insists, recovered. Raking through the long years of suffering he recalls one job only that gave him a sense of accomplishment: senior counselor ( "guru" ) at a Synanon House in some anonymous city. He will disclose neither the location nor the name .

Paul likes to sit behind the table to the left at the back of the class ( front of the classroom - ( though not referred to as a classroom but as the conference lounge: b ehold the plaque on the door of principal access - through which Madelyn Philious, Job Factory Counseling Supervisor is this very minute , making her entry - unequivocally claiming this frankly equivocal claim ! )) . Paul's shanklike and sinuous arms extend over the table like pontoon stabilizers; the one on the right gets raised whenever he (a chain smoker) brings cigarettes to his lips. The florid display of many compulsive mannerisms and tics in conjunction with his body language signals ( to the perceptive and experienced ) the residue of psychiatric drugs forced upon him over years of asylum custody .

The hypothesis of a teachable craft of job-seeking has brought together a sizable number of professions, career histories and personalities. One can classify Paul as a drug counselor. Seated in his immediate surroundings one finds a printer; a house painter; an electrician; a janitor ; an international banker; several salesclerks; the editor of a radical newsletter; and a qualified professional mechanic, Everett Morrow, neither unemployed nor unemployable, who is seeking advice on how to transform an economy based on many short term commissions for more traditional corporate employee status.

Don Moseley at Paul's right, discovered on his last job that he enjoys working in a print shop. Now he's looking for a company that will take him on as an apprentice . By Paul's left sits 22-year old Gary Singleton, frail, sharp-witted , "totally unreliable" by his own admission. Atop a set expression of implacable disgust sprouts the beginnings of a mustache. The janitor is Haitian immigrant Pierre Dorivent , of softly spoken Creole accents.

Did I neglect to mention that carpeted long corridors surround the classroom on all sides like a moat? Furthermore my opinion has not altered: the enclosure is indeed far more a classroom than a conference lounge . Conferences may well be held here once in awhile : is this not the precincts not only of CETA, but also SCEOC ( Somerville-Cambridge Economic Opportunity Council) , COMA ( something like 'Cambridge Office of Manpower Administration ' ; also a state of mind and a novel by Robin Cook ) ; and EMHERDA ( Eastern Middlesex County Human Resources Development Administration. One wonders about Pierre's opinions of this slightly disfigured French obscenity. ) Yet it is in almost continuous daily use as a classroom.

The principal function of this room is clearly not to serve as a venue for conferences ! Nor is it what one might call a lounge . Show me a chair anywhere that anyone would want to use for lounging! Slouching? That's another matter. Nicolette reclines in her permanent endocrine slouch. Mary Ellen Hawko had long cultivated a slyly baleful gaze. Bundled in the bath-towel that passes for a sweater she hunches, as if agonizing over a tumor, on the arm of her chair. As for Bob Bartholomew: if the way he's cradled his head in his arms on the table doesn't indicate slumber , he's more skill as an actor than as a salesclerk.

The mere fact that some people have found ways of lounging in it does not make the room a lounge! Through the door cut into the left wall, ( between the slate greenboard (to its right ) and the sequence of drawn oily white window shades ( to its left ( for the prevention of the invasion of potential turmoil in the surrounding corridors onto the sanctity of the classroom experience )) steps the Chief Supporting Assistant Counseling Supervisor, Mike Gurnick.

Labeling a teacher a Counseling Supervisor is worse than naming a classroom a Conference Lounge. Mike enters; and exits; enters and exits again; then re-enters ( repeats sequence several times ) . With each circuit he brings in something new : ITEK, Video camera, TV monitor, a box of videotapes, and miscellaneous allied equipment: The Audio-Visual Aids !! Crutches for the braindeaf, another one of those modern conspiracies designed to Mass Educate . Although audio-visualizing is a bureaucratic process, its CETA acronym was not revealed to us; perhaps CRAM ( Cambridge Reductive Audio-Visual Mesmerizing ) - perhaps .

As I may have perhaps already observed, all walls save one are coated with the lime-white of emulsified egg-shells. In their austere blankness we sense the banality of the bureaucrat scraping the tabula rasa of the innocent student mind. Those three pathetic calendars, forlorn as wet laundry hung out on a line, dangling in that naked alcove !

Grigor, Armenian-Iranian banker, graduate of the University of Teheran, and recent immigrant to the United States, worked for 5 years at a bank in Tokyo before coming here. He is portly, disciplined, dapper, not a one of the eminent white hairs ( reclining ( in a mass smooth as shaving cream ) behind his ears ) out of place. Business suit, tie, shoes, cuff-links, all impeccable. One senses that the whole maquette is held in place by but a single pin, hidden somewhere at the back, for fear of dislodging which he dare not move .

Grigor's English is halting, his vocabulary limited. The situation is further complicated since, in the best of circumstances, he's fairly taciturn.We've learned this much: he has every hope that the Job Factory will teach him " how Americans find jobs". Anna,his wife sits beside him, timid, repressed, silent, bored. She works part-time as a filing clerk; later she'll try to land a job as a secretary.

Sounds do not carry out of this room. Perforated sound-proof flats cover the ceiling; a muffling tan carpet hides floor. Neither unorthodox doctrines, subversive manifestos, nor cries of rape and mayhem, nor the noise of the simultaneous collapse of all the components of the assemblage of Audio-Visual aids will ever escape the confines of the conference lounge/classroom to disturb the monotony a day in the life of SCEOC (COMA (CETA( EMHERDA))) , animating the web of offices dispersed throughout the buildings of the Job Factory.

II . Three Monologues

  1. (a) Mary-Ellen " So ye'see ... I GOT'disJOB ... becauSuhv'Iwuz go'inin 'uhthuh SAME church/ choir/ wid' sommin'atTOL'meUhBAUD 'it ! First I wuz workinin'Uh WaterTauN / Mall .... Things / liKe / cheCKi'naUD ' STUFF ! .... ; mostly.

    They gotta' yOUN !yon there. Whud I THinK iz ...... thuh STORE wuz tryinuh gEt' RID'Uhme beCAwz'uhv Iuse 'tuh'Go - comPLAYN' inatUh yOUN '!yun MEETingzeBauD / STUFF ! An'like doin'udder tings dey didint like me't' be doin ' .

    ....So ThIS DaY I'm wor'kininuh STOCK ! Room ; Eni EAT' ! Uh Li'-iL C'oo- Kie ! Juz Wunn h Li'-iL C'oo- Kie ! Juz Wuhhn LouZ - Y Li-iL C'-ooo- Kie !

    EnI wuZZn't-dOin'Nuthin ' at All UhdUh' Udd'er Girlz wuZZn'doin'/ Too !

    So ; thuh Maen 'edjer kawlZ me'INuh'HizOFf ice...En , Laik , Ther'z so mmun ElSe dere widDuM ! whut I nE'ver meT befoRe ... EnUh THey MaEk' meS ignUh PAeper ! Sayin' at'I stole' uh C'-ooo- Kie !

    Then they fired me !

    Iyind'JoY rE ' tAil WoRk , but I can't fiNd NO worK for mor'inuh'FEW MuhNz ! I'm sure this MaEneger At'uhWaterTaUN Mawl's GoTTit IN' ferme ! He's been cawLLin'em'ALL Up ! En TELLIN 'emALL'eBAuD ' Thuh C'-oo- Kie ! En tellin'emALL! NoT-tuh Hire me !

    En - Like'uhduh NeXT TIme .... I wuz workin' Two Muhnz ! Workin'at CALdor'z , ThuhWuhn'in Brait'- iN ... It wuz reaL GO!od there ... Ev'rybodywuz real NICE!tuhme ... but'Igot LAid OFF EN!ywaY ... En thuh YoooN '!Yon , backatthuh Wa'terTaUN MaW L ' , THey Sed they coudint' DoNothin ' ferME , Cause THey wouduhHad'teGeT' ALL! uHduhGirLz ' innuhSTorE! ' to conFes S they ALL atE things - NOT Juz mE ! , but they cuDin'uhGetNO!BODY , cause NObodyWuhn tz'UhLooz 'er JOB ! ! .........

    Enden I'worK'D at BRAD'leeez ... budDeY' Wuz HarRASS in'mE' dere ! Dey MUSTeh Heard eBAUD me FRom 'UhDeh Ma ENeGER Uh'vUhDeh' WaterTaUN MaWL ! I don't think I'm EVER Gaunnuh FIND EN! y WorK eh'gEN ! EnAWL beKauw'Zuhvuh SiNG'-l Li'-il C'-oooK-- ie !


    Iyind'JoY ' OFFis' work , that's real ly wHUt I AUd'-DUh -dOO ! Last year I tUkuh'teST ' ! Show in'IgOTT Good Maeth Skills . I wuz gOOditMaeth in 'hAIS -kooL , EvinTHo' I neh'ver FINish'd ! ... Later, I wuz doin'Offis'WorK'out-tatUh WaL'THam ... Bud'Uh prAh- Blim widDat job izhavinuh ' CROss The h'iGH way tuh GET there ! En also, theh Bus ' service wuzint' nO Good !

    So I quit .....

  2. (b) Bill Thomas

    " Now...hear me out! I ain't finished with what I been sayin' ! What I's tryin' to say is this: The last job I gets, you know where I got that raise , was the boringest job I ain't never had. nowhere !

    You ain't gonna tell me! that GROWN MAN .. Why, I'm a man! I'm grown up! At least I think I am...Please don't interrupt me! I'm gonna finish soon-just as soon as I get done sayin' what I's got to say. Then you can say what you gotta say ! First I says what's on my mind , then you says what's on your mind! Ain't that bein' fair? All right then...

    Hey now, lookie here! I AIN'T FINISHED ! Right?? You ain't gonna convince me none what that a grown man - I'm in my 50's by the way - s'got any business workin' in a candy factory ! That's right - just down the street aways, NECCO's candy factory . Proposition Two-And-A-Half or NO Proposition Two-And-A-Half! Ain't that right?

    An'... the Point is This! You was talkin' a minute ago - maybe it was you, or my friend Sirhan sitting right next to me here. That's right: Sirhan was talkin' about resumˇs . Don't get me wrong, I respects Sirhan...but what I means is ... I means , about them resumˇs ...

    It's all a gamble, see? That's all it is, really. I'm sellin' my time, and I's axing you to buy it! Shut up! You'll get your chance too. I's the one doin' the talkin' now. But like I mean, me and the service I'm providin' are like one and the same thing. What I means is like this: You ain't gonna get me to dress up in no Martin Luther King suit, like you's being making Lester over here wear, just so's I can apply for no electronics job, cause you and I know I ain't got no skills in electronics! You ax me what I is, and I'll tell you: I's a presser. That's me. That's Bill Thomas : "Pressing garments, able and ready to work, willin' to learn ." Damn! I wish people's would stop interruptin' me! I's sayin' something important!

    I hate to be contradictin' you, Miss Philious, 'cause you is the teacher, but what you just said awhile ago was the wrongest thing I ever done hear! Lookie here - I ain't callin' you no liar or nothin' , but you is just got done tellin' us that one of us can getta good job, one that gots security, with potential, good salary, benefits - like the man says , 'I don't see nothin' wrong with that!' But then you tells us we can get that job over the telephone ! Well, nobody ain't never goin' to get no job over no damn telephone! And, listen to me! Anybody what thinks he's gotta job over the telephone finds out whatta damn fool he is when he shows up the next mornin' and still ain't no workin' man !

    I knows you don't believe me. Lookie here, supposing I proves it to you. Come'on , let me use that there telephone... ( picks up receiver ). Don Moseley over here - he done just now passed me this ad in the newspapers ... ( reads) " Security Guard! Adult. Reliable. Good hours. Good salary " I's showin' you right now if I gets that job over'uh telephone! Hey, teacher, you're the boss! I'm just the hired hand! (Dials)

    " Hello? Hello? Hello? Yes! Why, hello sir! Yessir... I'm Bill Thomas. Who're you? Whazzat? Yes.Okay...Now, lookie here, sir: here's why I's callin' you. Do you or do you not have an ad in today's Boston Globe? Like you wants a Security Guard? You do? Good!

    "I'm your man! I'm a good worker. I'm the workingest person you'll ever hope to meet! And I'm a fast learner. I'm easy to train. What? Okay. Okay. Hey, have I got the job? Tomorrow? Sure I'll come in tomorrow! What time? 8 AM? I'll be there!

    "That's fine. It makes me happy to hear you's happy. You're satisfied and I'm satisfied. That's satisfaction for both of us.... Hey sir! Just one more little thing before you hangs up: I hates to say this, but I was in jail. Yes. Just a felony, that's all. That don't make no difference, do it? Hey, what do you mean, I ain't got no job?? Do you means to say you ain't even gonna' tell me why? I ain't never done nothin's far as you's concerned, isn't that right?

    "Wait a minute! You ain't even gonna explain me why you ain't hirin' me , without even seein' me, or credentializin' me, or nothin' ? So: what if it was a felony? That don't matter, do it? I ain't done nothin' wrong since! So I comes in tomorrow, right? ( Other end hangs up. Bill turns to class). You see? The man hung up on me!

    I rests my case. "

  3. (c) The Counseling Supervisor

    " What this is, here, I'm holding it up so you can all see it, is a sign-up sheet. You're expected to sign it when you show up in the morning, You also have to sign it before each class. How many of you have already signed it? ( Show of hands ) I'm going to pass it around for those of you who haven't. Just put down the time you came in.

    "Attention all smokers! You all have to sit on the right side of the room. It's all right to smoke during class. I smoke like a fish! You can go get coffee if you want; there's a Dunkin' Donuts across Mass Ave. But come right back because we're going to start in 15 minutes. We always start right on the dot at 9 AM. No exceptions. If you're late, you get marked down, just like you would at a real job. Smokers on the right! ( Lunges for a cigarette )

    "This is a networking system. Skills! It's all about skills! Each of you is a support base for all you others. You're going to be the ones to have to make the tough decisions, you're the ones who're going to get the mental hernias. Skills! Networking! There aren't any easy answers. Each of you is a support base for all the others. Don't forget that everyone in this room is a survivor. You're wouldn't be here if you weren't.

    "What's the most important thing you bring with you to a job interview? Work experience? No. Education? No. Easy-going personality, friendliness? No. Does anybody know? The most important thing you will bring with you at a job interview is confidence . Self-confidence, self-esteem. There aren't any easy answers. Each of you is a support base. Smokers on the right. Skills. ( Lights another cigarette )

    "Ask yourself: have you got a problem with focusing? You can't let people know that, you don't want them to start calling you a 'job hopper' . Never put down, "fired" on an application, write "changed jobs". Let them be the ones who do the asking, never volunteer any more information than you're asked to do. Don't look too eager, they need you more than you need them. Avoid giving the impression that you're a job hopper. No easy answers. You have to start thinking about yourself. Your number one concern is you! Ask yourself if you may have a problem with self-esteem. ( Another cigarette)

    "Dungarees are unacceptable. Half the time you're in a damned-if-you-do-damned if you don't situation. If you want CETA to pay you, you've got to come to class dressed as if you're all ready to go right from here to that job interview. Pant suits don't get jobs! No jeans! You're going to be the one to have to make the tough decisions, you're the one getting the mental hernias. Skills! Networking! There aren't any easy answers. Each of you is a support base for the others. Focusing!

    "Everyone in this room is a survivor! You must come dressed like you're ready to go to work. That goes for both men and women. No exceptions ! There are no easy answers. Lester, if you don't go home right now and change out of those paint-smeared blue jeans , you're going to be marked absent. Lester, I've asked you to go home and change your clothes. If you continue to refuse to cooperate you'll be getting a letter of reprimand. ( Another cigarette )

    "Let's start by getting rid of the negatives, shall we? You're all being paid tax-free money from the federal government. We enforce dress codes! When you came in here we asked you to sign a contract, just like you would for any other job. If you show up late you get marked down. No blue jeans! Ask yourself: what are my skills? You want to avoid getting the reputation of being a "job-hopper" . There aren't any easy answers. Never volunteer information, let them ask you. What does the class think of what Grigor just said : he sounds to me like he knows what he wants ! Never put the phrase " laid off" on a job application. Always write " Departmental lay-off" !

    "Remember this: the most important thing you can bring to a job interview is confidence! I once lost a job because I called the employer an incompetent twirp! Honest to goodness. ( Reaches for another cigarette) I've got emphysema . Find out what you goals are. Skills. When I left high school teaching I was too embarrassed to tell my friends I wasn't coming back. Every time you talk to a friend, don't forget to ask them if they know about a job. Every time! You can't just depend on the newspaper, you're the one getting the mental hernias!

    "Networking: this is a networking system. Repeat after me : Short-Term-Objectives-Towards-Long-Range-Goals! Skills! Networking! Focusing! No blue jeans! Jeans are not appropriate clothing. Pant suits don't get jobs! Don't forget, you know you can do the job, and you can do it better than anyone else! I used to be a high school teacher: I had all these skills! I couldn't bring them to the private sector, I couldn't find a job in business. That's how I ended up here ( Reaches for another cigarette) . No Blue Jeans! Lester I see you still haven't gone. You're going to be marked down "Absent" for today; that means you won't get paid. All my jobs have been people-related.

    "You're going to do the leg-work. You're going to make the tough decisions. You're the one that gets the mental hernias! This is a networking system. Each one of you is a support base for all the others. Skills! Remember: the most important thing you can bring to a job interview is self-confidence. Repeat after me: Short-Term-Objectives-Towards-Long-Range-Goals! Everyone in this room is an survivor. We don't have any easy answers. Skills! Focusing! Networking! No blue jeans! "

    Return to Cities