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Davis, California

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Column: Complimentary labor

The question from my childhood that still haunts me till this day is, “How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

I never found out because those cheap paper sticks would always get all soggy and nasty. I’d just bite the stupid thing five minutes in. Needless to say, I never found my answer.

The adult equivalent of this question for me is probably, “How many unpaid internships does it take to get a paid internship (i.e. job)?” Seriously. My undergraduate time is a-tickin’ and this has gone on long enough. I’m about five unpaid internships deep and the only result so far is a four-page resume and more unpaid internship offers. It’s getting a little ridiculous.

Yes, I’ve held quite the plethora of unpaid roles. All last year I worked at a youth development program in Woodland, where I tutored and mentored middle schoolers that were considered “at-risk.” However, there were a lot of times when I actually felt like the one at-risk.

When it comes to little kids, I get walked all over. “Sure you can text in class, you’re a 13-year-old with a cell phone.” … “No, I guess you don’t actually have to finish your science homework if you don’t want to.”

I’ll never forget the day one student said I looked old.

“Yeah, I can tell you’re 21. Look at those lines around your eyes,” said some brave seventh grader.

Thanks, kid. Enjoy your youthful looks while they last.

Another memorable position was when I worked as a voluntary grant writer for a non-profit last summer. It was an alternative program for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. This entailed that I become familiar with course literature and sit in on the program’s classes.

Coincidently, the course was being taught at a county prison.

I got to sit in on a class of 30 male inmates, all in orange jumpsuits and not handcuffed. In a not-so-smart move, my boss left the room for a minute – at which point a fight broke out and some cop ran in and dragged me into the conjugal visit room. I was locked in until it was straightened out.

I guess my conclusion is that any job that subjects you to insults and/or violence should be a paid one – or at least result in a paid one.

I’ll be graduating in a few weeks and an unpaid internship just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I can’t pay my gas with someone’s recommendation letter or convert the various internship units I’ve accumulated into cash. No more complimentary labor (because that’s basically what it is). I need a job.

I used to comfort myself by saying that all of these positions would eventually thrust me into some amazing, paid career. But now I’m starting to fear the opposite. What if I just look like a huge pushover to the people I’m applying to? I wouldn’t be too surprised if employers thought they could pay me with candy and their gratitude. (I guess I could be persuaded depending on the candy.)

In the hunt for a job that will pay me in an actual currency, I’ve encountered a few hurdles. Like two weeks ago, for example, when I applied for a big-girl, full-time job. One of their questions asked me to state my desired annual salary excluding benefits. Yes, BENEFITS!

It sounded so exciting! What could it mean? Will they high-five me every day on my way in and out? Do they have some kind of office foosball machine I’m allowed to use? Is there a coffee maker? There were so many possibilities!

I couldn’t even fathom having a job with benefits. Nor could I determine what to say for a starting salary, because I’ve never really had one. I said something super mature and mysterious like, “Negotiable.” I’m as good as in.

Basically, I just really hope I get a job in some shape or form. Being an alumnus for a month will be cool, but then I’ll just be really freaking bored. This past weekend I went home and ran out of things to do in one day. My boyfriend and I were driving with his dog in the truck bed (a labradoodle named Butters) when we realized how much he looked like Superman with his curly fur blowing in the wind. CJ kept shouting, “Excelsior!”

Naturally, this resulted in us tying a cape on him and driving him around town for an hour. Some people laughed, others appeared really confused and some appreciative people took pictures. If I don’t get a job, this will be what I’ll be doing for the next few months. I guess I can’t really complain. It was pretty awesome.

AMANDA HARDWICK wishes she could have inserted the picture of Butters in his cape somewhere in this column. She’ll send it to you if you e-mail her at aghardwick@ucdavis.edu. Seriously. Try her.


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