Diary of an Unemployed Class of '10 Philosophy Major in New York City, Part 1

by Sam Biddle

The Met

At what point do I stop checking Craigslist? Why is there an ad for “MYSTERY SHOPPING” in the “writing/editing jobs” category? How much is their purported “nominal compensation”? A ten dollar per diem? A bag of buttons? A punch in the throat? “THIS IS NOT A FREE MEAL!,” the ad warns. Well, then. Forget it! Why does this company leave the ‘i’ in ‘iNC’ uncapitalized? Perhaps this is some sort of test-for a prospective mystery shopper-slash-editor? What other horrors can I spot? I wonder if the person who wrote “boutique mystery shopping company seeks strong writers” felt as sad writing that as I do reading it.

When I think boutique, I think of lots of little hanging crystal beads, baskets with pearls in them, stacks of folded crimson scarves, a dour woman with cropped hair staring into a cold vacuum. I imagine myself saying “No thanks, I’m just browsing,” which is my anxiety response at any store, boutique or otherwise. I know it will probably be a long, long while from now, but the first thing I’m going to do when I get a writing job here in New York City is march into the first J. Crew I see and, beaming, reply to the robot working there, “Why yes, I do need help. Bring me some moon-proof socks-I’m covering the Space Election for the Observer!”

But for now I’m just going to stick with looking at my feet and saying “No thanks” before the clerk says “Hey! You! You idiot! You moved to New York to be a writer! Have you even looked at Craigslist?! Ten thousand people just applied to fill out forms at a boutique mystery shopping company!”

I’m pretty sure “boutique” has become a business-world euphemism for “insignificant and unsuccessful”-the quivering in my friends’ voices when they describe the boutique hedge fund or boutique consulting firms they work for indicate as much. Would that make me a boutique recent college graduate? I just realized I’ve been in New York for a full week!

* * *

I’m getting dinner with A____ tonight. I like meeting up with my high school friends because around them I needn’t feel so bad about being unemployed. This is probably because they all knew me when I was 14 and had the haircut of a lesbian and the physique of an anorexic straight girl. They’ve seen me at some rather low points, so what’s one more, I suppose. A____ works in some sort of PR consulting thing-nobody is really quite sure. I’m beginning to doubt whether my newly employed peers know what they or anyone else are now doing for a living. Inquiries of this kind are usually met with a “ah well ah some sort of, well it’s a media consultancy, ah…” met with an “Ah, okay, oh, cool, oh so that’s like-…,” at which point both parties trail off and take out their iPhones to compulsively check for app updates.

* * *

I went to the Met yesterday. I’m not sure how I convinced myself that going to a museum at 2 p.m. on a weekday would distract myself from the fact that I’m unemployed, but I usually find Attic vases affirming in some primal way. And besides, reading the “writing/editing” jobs was getting bad to the point of being, frankly, a bit shocking. “$1 LASER TEETH WHITENING — WRITERS ONLY!” What? Come on. WHAT CAN THAT POSSIBLY MEAN?

“Ten dollars is the recommended entrance fee,” they said. “Is that okay?”

If this had been phrased in any other manner I would have paid less, but there was really no way for me to look that woman in the eye and tell her that it wasn’t okay. It was okay. Only days before I had paid $17 for a sandwich and a lemonade at Bryant Park. The cashier did not ask me if $17 was okay. I just told him, “Okay, here, here is seventeen dollars. Take my money. Take all… of my money,” and then blood started pouring out of my eyeballs.

Ten dollars is an okay price to pay. Paying zero would make me a dick, paying one dollar would make me more of a dick, and paying nine dollars would out me as a cheapskate at best, and most likely some sort of a dick. After studying moral philosophy for the past four years, guilt remains the most formidable practical principle of them all. It’s okay. Ten dollars is okay. I know you don’t like guilting people into paying ten dollars. If I can be candid here, I’m not even a student. I should be paying more than ten. This student ID is expired. I graduated last month. I’m defrauding your employer. Do you need an intern?

The Dead Germans have some things right though, and if life is as horrific as Schopenhauer suggests-and how can Craigslist lead us to any other conclusion?-escaping into art could have saved this afternoon. But the usual red-figure scenes-discuses hurled upward into a clay sky, a young boy being seduced by his gym trainer, Zeus raping a giant fish-didn’t rouse me as I had hoped. Here were gathered men and women of virtue, immortalized through their activity. My most laudable activity of the day up to this point was putting on pants before 11 a.m. S____ texted me with good news about his job interview, and wanted to meet me at the museum. We had a drink on the roof of the Met. So far, I resent New York’s tendency to stick cash bars where they shouldn’t be.

Sam Biddle is a recent college graduate in New York City.

Photo by doobybrain from Flickr.