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JOHANNESBURG — Jani Allan, a former high-profile South African columnist, over a decade ago started a new life in the US. She would find herself in a stable job where she’d be a hostess, server and as one of three managers. That job, she says, lasted 13 years until a few weeks ago. Now, she’s on the job hunt again. In this very personal blog post she reflects on some of her great work as a columnist and how her life is now a far cry from those turbulent times in mid-1980s South Africa. She also digs deeper and expresses the fears and challenges of suddenly finding herself out of work. A must read. – Gareth van Zyl
Someone once said that they could name an amusement park ride after my life. Perhaps that was true in the past. In the past there were the ‘wheeee’ moments when I would fling my hands in the air and shriek with joy.
These days there is a lot more horror and less hoorah.
What Old Testament aspect of God’s nature did I annoy to find myself job-hunting in America?
I’m not really good at looking for jobs. Probably because I haven’t really had many jobs in my life.
First, I was a schoolteacher at Bryanston High School. Despite wearing post-box red platform boots for the job interview, the Headmaster, Mr Viviers, hired me on the spot.
Pari passu once or twice a week I would go to a classical music concert at the Johannesburg City Hall. Straight afterwards, I would drive down to the Stygian offices of the Citizen newspaper in even more Stygiany Doornfontein and type the review on a Smith and Wesson typewriter.
A couple of months later I tapped on the door of Tertius Myburgh, then editor of the Sunday Times. The exchange which has passed into journalistic lore was that he asked me if I had any journalistic experience and I replied ‘No, but nobody is perfect.’ Again, I was hired on the spot. Madeleine van Biljon (van Biltong) was leaving and I stepped into her orthopaedic shoes.
I was the highest profile columnist on the biggest newspaper in Africa. I write that with disbelief, given my current circs.
After I decamped to Londres I wrote regularly for the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard, The London Sunday Times and the odd column for the Sunday Express … (I write that in disbelief too, given my current circs).
I could earn a thousand pounds for a thousand-word op Ed story in those days.
Then there was fun stint at MWeb – CyberJani – Online and Off the Cuff.
The website was cutting edge in design (try and find some squirreled away somewhere online) and then a brief spell at Cape Talk.
Fast-forward to America. After a brief and violent marriage, I had to find something that didn’t require a Green Card.
“Go and see Jim Hamilton. He will give you a job.”
I spent six months answering the telephone and taking reservations. I was paid $14.00 an hour. The job grew into me as Hostess, me as Server and finally, when I was axed 7 weeks ago, I was (in theory, it seems) me as one of three managers.
I had been there for 13 years. I was the Den Mother.
The reason I was fired was that I was too old. Thus spaketh Zaruthustra.
There was no warning and I certainly didn’t read the bloodlessness and vaulting ambition of the woman who uttered the words, those words that fell like clods on a coffin.
It is true that for thirteen years my life had shrunk alarmingly. My characterless flat (overlooking the parking lot) and the Grill Room, the Grill Room and my flat. Hither and yon. Hither and yon. The metronome of my life ticking away.
Still it enabled me to live alone with my beloved Pomeranians and after a long night I could drink a flute of champagne. Not faaaaabulous champagne like Billet-Cart Salmon Rose, but OK champagne like Moutard.
I had begged – I am not too proud to admit this – not to have my hours cut, my shifts confiscated and given to a twenty-year-old. Miss Minucci’s cruelty might be very human – I was told by a friend that servers were warned not to give me any shifts – It might even be cultural.
But it’s not acceptable.
She knew that were I to lose the job I would face financial and emotional perils as treacherous as those the Grand Canyon presents.
Why else would she have told my friend to start a GoFundMe campaign for me?
But she pushed me just the same.
‘Sfunny, isn’t it? Those who profess to be so very concerned with ‘women’s’ rights’ would jettison a female co-worker with no good reason.
Heartless power and the demand for ruthless control are emblematic of a primitive soul. They are also the most irresponsible, incompetent and destructive force on earth.
So is spinelessness.
So it has come to pass that every morning at eight a.m. I commence looking for work on my laptop. At my elbow is a giant tumbler of ice which I will crunch without ceasing and refill endlessly. I have given up chain-smoking for chain crunching.
When I first started looking for a job I was cautiously optimistic.
My BFF Gareth cleverly suggested that I work in a bookshop in Princeton. A bookshop! My natural habitat. Sheila Kohler, the author, recommended me in a glowing letter.
Sorry, too late. Job has been taken.
No worries. Let’s try a restaurant.
The Black Bass. Historic. Elegant. We’d love to have you but at the moment we have no openings.
The Pitts Town Inn. The Golden Pheasant. The Cock and Bull. The Seargeantsville Inn. The Inn at Phillips Mill.
When I drive to the Stockton Inn, my ‘competition’ for the server position is a good-looking millennial with a ring in his nose and ugly black studs in his ears. He has come straight from a construction site. He and Miss Manager start talking animatedly about the band that he is in.
At the Dubliner (an Irish sports bar that Todd (he likes to call himself ‘Sir Todd of the parking lot) has recommended because he is sure they will employ me, there is a vast television-set blaring. When it’s opening time, the TV remains on and in addition there is loud Irish fiddling in order to attract the hordes of obese tourists that descend on the river towns in the summer.
I have beetled – swarmed, more like – all over the jungles of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the sweltering heat.
I am currently subscribed to 48 job seeking sites.
Most of the sites require a monthly recurring fee for joining.
One extremely obnoxious site shrieks that you can make $500 an hour!!! Just pay, not $200, not $100, not $75, but for TODAY ONLY a mere ‘$45 will unlock the secret to this wealth that you can generate from the comfort of your Lazeyboy Recliner!!!!
A former teacher, Kate M, tells me I should go back to teaching, that I would be fab at Princeton, at Rider, at Rutgers or TCNJ – The College of New Jersey.
The problem with teaching jobs is that one has to be re-certified in the USA.
On Craigslist I spot a job that offers $450 a week to Stop Trump’s Campaign on the Environment. (Also on Craigslist is an opening for a ‘professional spanker.’) There are jobs for mimes, couch testers, present wrappers and Uber drivers.
I send ‘n’ resumes out into the ether and try to remember Mani Finger telling me to “Breathe, my little lotus blossom, Just remember to breathe.”
Doctor Patty meets me for coffee. She has an opening in her schedule and for an hour she is a steady hand on my tiller. Everyone should have a Dr Pat Gill Webber in their life. What she does by “supporting the performance improvement needs of individuals and organizations”, as her website will tell you, has made her practically the Deepak Chopra of life coaches.
By week three, panic has established a beach-head in my body. My ulcer is bleeding, my hands are shaking. I am wearing a helmet of fear. I have no money for the rent, never mind utilities, medical aid or food.
When I am not trying to get hold of unemployment insurance (“Due to the high-volume of callers we cannot take your call now. Please call back on Monday”), I am studying the website that tells me (Special Category the Bleeding Obvious) “unemployment often results in psychological challenges, including loss of work-related or professional identity, self-esteem, self-confidence, and/or a sense of self-worth. Daily routine, purposeful activity, and/or a sense of control. Work-based social networks. financial security …
Really? Fuuuuuuuuuck. You don’t say?
The strategies to neutralize stress include accepting and embracing your new role of jobseeker and focussing on your strengths. To be extra helpful there is a list of Symptoms of Stress, According to the American Heart Association, stress can affect us in different ways: headaches, backaches, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, anxiety etc etc.
It’s Janet and John psychology.
I have to remember that unemployment is one of the more difficult situations we can face. Persevering is, apparently, an achievement in itself. I have to spot self-defeating thoughts when they occur – and challenge them. Develop a productive routine etc etc etc
It’s all on the New Jersey Jobsite if you are remotely interested.
Of all the tragic events that I have endured, being fired by someone who thinks we have a “pull” house (not a pool house) and that banquette is spelled like blanket without the ‘l’ is the greatest.
I used to have a better quality enemy.
That one woman can visit this misery upon another – while declaring vehemently that she is a feminist and a liberal – is a nonsense.
Nothing I could ever have done war.rants this kind of punishment.
That the chef allowed her to do it shows my friend Patty is right.
Patty always says that men don’t need to grow balls. Balls are soft and tender. They need to grow a vagina. That is something that can take a pounding.
That the one-legged owner of the restaurant allowed it is perfectly understandable. Beloved Jim has a knack for picking the wrong managers. He must have. Otherwise why would we go through at least six managers in five years?
It is possible that I have never felt such isolation and fear.
But there is always some fresh hell.
At three a.m. this morning, Beverly, wife of Todd of the lot, sends me an ad.
“Manager needed at Oh Wow Cow, a local ice cream shop.”
However good the intention, the message is the last flutter of a butterfly’s wing when it has flown too close to a guttering candle flame.