Since moving to New York three years ago, I’ve worked in all five boroughs. This was for a few reasons, the first and foremost being the economic recession. I had moved here hoping to end a spat of unemployment with an internship, a fool’s move if ever there was one. The internship lasted shorter than promised and I moved on to The Strand. For a hallowed New York institution, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be and shortly thereafter I was out of a job. And after that, I was left in the lone in the city without a job.
At first, I was determined to stay within just two boroughs: Manhattan, where everyone works, and Brooklyn, where I lived. On that second one, preferably just North Brooklyn. I’d find a job somewhere in between those two very large places, and freelance to fill the gaps. This proved to be harder than I had thought. Seemingly low-status jobs, like those at restaurants and retail positions, proved fiercely competitive and almost impossible to grasp at, at least for very long. The freelancing came to take up more and more of time, spending anywhere from a day to a week working on a written pieces. These pieces would mostly pay, and as time went on I was able to demand more and more from them. However, even at their most ambitious level these quick jobs could barely rent. And on top of that, where I was paying was constantly changing. Apartments would open their doors and shut them quickly after, believing me when I told them that permanent employment was coming soon and kicking me out when they saw nothing.
During this interim period, I was determined not to take any short term employment. This was the worst of all possible worlds, I thought: all the hustle of a 9-5 with none of the chances for improvement, no time for freelancing, not paying very much, and when the kick to the curb came being right back where I started. There seemed to be no upside to these jobs. And on top of all this, I was paranoid about betrayal. Promising to make myself crucial to these short term jobs and getting a permanent job offer in the middle of them struck me as a nightmare situation. Who would want to shortchange an employer who took a chance on them?
A friend came to me with a just such a position one day. It was short term and woefully inconvenient, in a part of Queens that neither Jane Jacobs or Robert Moses could have ever imagined a Brooklyn resident would work. An hour-and-a-half commute each way, tiring work walking around Queens communities I had never seen before, little pay. I was hesitant, to say the least. My friend, over Gchat, gave me simple and direct advice: “Keep moving. take this thing and if you have to quit who cares”.
He was right! The job itself was bad, all the the annoying aspects of it stayed in place. But there was something I had discounted: the inherent value of day-in and day-out work. So I went to the job in Queens, and then I took the job in Staten Island, and then I took the job that travelled between Manhattan and the Bronx. All of these jobs were not great. They did, in fact, get in the way of my freelancing, sometimes frustratingly so. But the freelancing stayed throughout because it was a priority. The short term jobs came and went, but my priorities stayed the same. They gave me a little more cash and a stronger work ethic. Having a job was better than not having a job. It was vital that I keep moving. And when the time came and I finally had to leave one for a job without an end date? I just quit. Everyone understood.