Friday, February 15, 2013

Ayun Haliday on the Horror of Odd Jobs

The Denver Post

No more odd jobs for Ayun Halliday

July 10, 2005

By Dylan Foley

Special to The Denver Post Ayun Halliday proves that being a slacker doesn't end at 25. In her new memoir, "Job Hopper," the actor and writer details some of the dozens of jobs she had in a 10-year period in Chicago, from nude model to failed cocktail waitress and illegal massage therapist.

Halliday's tale is no sob story. Halliday makes merciless observations on her bosses and herself as a rebellious employee. As a waitress, she eats the forbidden tiramisu at an Italian restaurant and in her essay, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," she details her work at a costume shop and how she borrows the owner's pride and joy, the wedding dress from "Brigadoon." All the while, Halliday pursues her dream of becoming a big name in the small alternative theater scene in Chicago.

"I had made the grand decision at one point to drop out from being an actor to pursue a more lucrative career as a poet. I auditioned for the Neo-Futurists (an alternative theater company) one dark and stormy night in 1988, and that was why I continued acting."

Halliday, 40, is a columnist for Bust magazine and author of two previous comic memoirs.

After quitting a job, Halliday would take her dreams to the classifieds. "The thing that all my jobs had in common was I found them through the classified ads," she said. "I would open up the ads in The Chicago Reader and would think, 'I'm going to get something great this time.' Now at 40, I still read the classified ads and I think, 'These jobs are bad."'

Despite rarely making more than $6 an hour in 1990s Chicago, Halliday's dreams of becoming a big actress seemed ironclad. "I was clinging so hard to the Neo-Futurists," she said. "We had had a certain kind of success. We had packed houses. I didn't want to be a movie star, anyway. I wanted to be a famous downtown Chicago actress."

Despite being the eternal short-term employee, Halliday still yearned for community. In one moment of high comedy, she winds up with a bunch of office workers who are obsessed with the cartoon character Garfield.

"Temping was my attempt to go straight, to buckle down and to make serious money," she said. "It turned out that I don't fit in with people who get a big bang out of Garfield. There was nothing wrong with it, but I felt like a Martian dropped into their midst. Here I was, an actress and I couldn't even successfully fake it. When I left the office, one of the women said to me, 'I know I'll see your name in lights one day, Pam."'

Many of the bosses depicted by Halliday are absurd, but she often knocks the stuffing out of herself as a subversive employee, even feigning illness for personal gain.

"I wasn't so much motivated by the idea of sticking it to the man, but sometimes it was like, 'Gee, they have all these office supplies. I need these,"' Halliday explained somewhat sheepishly. "Often these jobs weren't stimulating enough. If something came along, like going to a Grateful Dead concert with a friend's boyfriend, I would suddenly dislocate my knee. Then I'd feel guilty afterwards, so I'd wear a knee brace for days."

In the end, Halliday is saved from a life of human bondage to low-paying jobs when her husband, Greg Kotis, wrote the unlikely smash-hit anti-musical "Urinetown."

"It felt like grabbing the brass ring when you didn't mean to," said Halliday. "Then it's like, 'You better lay another golden egg, my friend.' People ask, 'Aren't you going to buy an apartment?" I say, 'No, we spent it all buying take-out sushi."'

Dylan Foley is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY.


Job Hopper: The Checkered Career of a Down-Market Dilettante

By Ayun Halliday

Seal Press, 256 pages, $15

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