At 8am, my friend dropped me off in front
of a nondescript yellowish strip-mall building
at the crumbled edge of Little Rock; the parking
lot mostly empty. People with personable voices
needed. No experience necessary. Apply today.
I was trying to go straight, attempting to abandon
an assortment of marginally legal employments.
Hoping to land a job with only a high school
degree, two weeks after a miscarriage, one week
after my boyfriend wrecked my car, hocked all
my furniture, spent the rent money, and ran off
with his ex-wife. I believed I could change
my life by changing jobs. Mr. My Blake,
just back from THE most motivational seminar EVER,
lurched around the room like a speed freak
in a baby blue leisure suit that went out
of style eight years before in 1975. We
would SELL LIKE SAMSON (whoever
the hell that was. Perhaps My Blake thought
he was the guy who invented Samsonite).
The Outbound Telemarketing Specialist
who had been there longest, My Williamson,
handed us our scripts. Hello, my name is Machine
Levine and I’m calling you today because you are
the lucky winner of a set of steak knives. You don’t
remember entering a drawing? You didn’t—
we’ve chosen you from a long list of deserving
men and women who rarely catch a break
much less win a prize. You only have to pay
for . . .I made it half a day before an old lady
answered with a voice that sounded just like
my granny’s and I couldn’t bear the shame of lying
to her, of asking her to send only $49.95 in shipping
and handling charges for a set of plastic-handled
steak knives with flimsy aluminum blades, despite
knowing that, according to My Blake who flashed
a sample like a switchblade, they came encased
in a red velvet bag with faux silk drawstrings. I
apologized for disturbing Mrs. Somebody’s Granny,
grabbed my coat and walked out. And kept walking
a mile to the nearest bus stop where I waited an hour
for the next bus. Three transfers and two hours after
embarking, I was back where I was staying with a friend
from AA. A new job had not changed my life, but it had
changed my mind about the value of employment
at all costs. The next week, I hitchhiked home
to Tulsa, couch-surfed, read Marx for the first time,
called myself proletarian, and never looked back.
Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is a poet, writer and literary scholar; Mish’s most recent book is Oklahomeland, a collection of essays published by Lamar University Press. What I Learned at the War, a poetry collection, is forthcoming in 2016 from West End Press. Her 2009 poetry collection, Work Is Love Made Visible (West End Press) won an Oklahoma Book Award, a Wrangler Award, and the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West.
Mish has published poetry in This Land, Naugatuck River Review, Concho River Review, LABOR: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, San Pedro River Review, Blast Furnace, and ProtestPoems.org, among others. Essays and short fiction have appeared recently in Sugar Mule, Crosstimbers, Red Dirt Chronicles, and Cybersoleil. Anthology publications include poems in Returning the Gift and The Colour of Resistance as well as the introductory essay for Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing.
Mish serves as contributing editor for Oklahoma Today and for Sugar Mule: A Literary Journal. She is also editor of Mongrel Empire Press which was recognized as 2012 Publisher of the Year by the Woodcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Dr. Mish is the Director of The Red Earth Creative Writing MFA program at Oklahoma City University where she also serves as a faculty mentor in writing pedagogy and the craft of poetry.