From the porn magazine to the moving truck to the dark sewers of California, Brandon Christopher’s journey in the American job market is not only absurd, but also full of wit and profound observations. He steps out from behind the driver’s wheel, the cash register, and the office desk to record the lighter and darker sides of humanity in the workplace. The following is an excerpt from Brandon Christopher’s book ‘The Job Pirate: An Entertaining Tale of my Job-Hopping Journey in America’.
Spending two months in your apartment without a job is a lot like visiting another country without a camera: It’s great while you’re there but then some time later, when your back home, you start forgetting about all those good times you had and only vaguely begin to recall those magnificent sights you once saw when watching French films on TV.
My eight-week vacation had burned through all $2,100 that I had saved up. And since I had quit my previous job, or, to be more precise, just walked away from my previous job, I was again unable to get any money from the unemployment department.
I had to look for work yet again, and that next morning I was ready with a fresh pot of Starbuck’s coffee, the Daily Variety, the previous day’s L.A. Times and my laptop. By 10:20, I had already faxed and emailed eleven resumes to various positions that I thought might be of some interest, and called several other companies that I felt more than qualified for.
There were no callbacks by noon. No email replies by the third cup of coffee. Nothing.
By 2:45 I was beginning to worry. Had I lost my touch? Was twenty-nine jobs the limit for one person? Was I going to have to borrow money from my parents or, even worse, get a retail job? Too many questions, at least on three cups of coffee.
By 4:00 in the afternoon I was frantically emailing every job on four separate employment websites. There had never been this long of a lull before getting some type of reply from a prospective employer. I began adding even more variations to my resume, equipping myself with working knowledge of almost any position available. By 4:25 I was a qualified landscape technician, an executive assistant, a script supervisor, an office manager, and finally, a medical billing assistant.
Still no calls. Quitting time for the day grew nearer, as did the worry.
Six o’clock did finally arrive, and just before I turned off the computer to pour a glass of cabernet, I noticed the job posting. Glowing in thick black print at the bottom of the Times’ classifieds section-which I had stolen the day before from Starbucks- read:
MORTUARY DRIVER NEEDED. GOOD MONEY, GREAT HOURS.
What luck, I thought to myself. I promptly called the phone number, and the woman on the other side of the receiver set up an interview for me that night.
The way I figured it, I had two kinds of experience in the mortuary-driver field: I was once limo driver, and I was once arrested for breaking into a cemetery. Although I would omit the latter part of my experience, the limo driver bit would come in real handy. I just had to throw in a few past sales positions and maybe a summer job in a cemetery in, say, Colorado, maybe? No, Phoenix -a summer job grave digging in Phoenix. Perfect.
Traffic was light that evening, and I made it to the small Encino office in 20 minutes flat. I walked up the stairs to the second floor of a stucco building, and inside suite #11 sat Phil, the portly owner of the company, and Cheryl, the portly wife of the owner. They both swung heir leather office chairs towards the sofa and asked me to sit.
“Basically Brandon, we pick up expired bodies and take them to different morgues around Los Angeles,” Phil explained very casually.
“Now, sometimes these expired bodies and messed up, okay? Sometimes they’re decomposed, sometimes they’re infants or children, and sometimes they’re just parts of bodies, and that’s truly the worst! Hands or legs, but you have to remember, they’re just empty shells, vacant vessels.”
“Hmmm, “ I nodded, tapping my index finder against the cleft in my chin, taking in all in and yet having nothing to say.
“I’m not trying to scare you, all right?” Phil added. “I just want you to know what you’re in for. Sometimes when you pick the bodies up, the pressure pushes out the body juices from the nose and mouth, and you don’t want to get any of that on you.”
“Don’t want to get it on me,” I repeated to myself.
“Are you a religious man, Brandon?” Cheryl chimed in and asked.
“I was a Catholic when I was a kid, even and altar boy” I replied. “But now, you know, I read too much to be religious.”
They both looked at me with confused expressions. Phil finally nodded his head. “Well, good then. So you don’t believe in ghosts?”
“My Catholic upbringing battles my better judgment, but I’ve never seen a ghost, so both yes and no on that one,” I replied, ambivalence being my trump card in a baited question like that.
Phil and his wife chuckled to one another, and I knew I was in for a ghost story.
“I ain’t no religious man myself, but I’ve seen things that would freak even Geraldo Rivera out. This one time, when I was dropping off a body at a mortuary in the early, early a.m., I kept hearing laughter coming from this closed coffin, then something took my keys from my belt and threw them across the floor in front of me! I took a little shit in my pants that day, Brandon.”
I wondered if Phil drank heavily. I raised my eyebrows, implying I was shocked by his story, but I was really more shocked by the Geraldo Rivera reference.
“How does this job sound to you?” he asked me. “Would you like something like this?”
I didn’t like something like this, but I liked a roof over my head.
“What’s the position pay, Phil?”
“See, that’s the tricky part. You get paid per body, around $11. So, let’s say you pick ip nine or ten bodies a day you make yourself about a hundred bucks.”
The idea of handling ten different corpses a day, every day, just to make a decent living was repulsive to me. I could make cappuccinos for assholes for half a day and make more than this job paid. But there were no cash registers involved with corpses. No customers -no living customers- to have to deal with. And I was hungry.
“Sounds real good, Phil.”
“Great! Why don’t you come in tomorrow morning and we’ll get you started. We’ll send you out with Matt for the day, he’s about your age.”
“Terrific.” I left the stucco building and drove back home to North Hollywood only to fall asleep early, wake up, and return to the office the next morning at 8:55.
I parked my car in the parking lot just as Matt, my new coworker, pulled up in a confidential white mortuary van and idled behind me. He rolled the window down and pointed two fingers and a lit cigarette at me.
“You Brandon?” he asked.
Yeah. Matt, right?”
“Totally,” he said and opened the passenger door for me.
We shook hands as I crawled inside, and he flicked open his wrinkled cigarette pack at me. I pulled one out and lit it. “Thanks.” Matt was about 30, with a moustache and blond hair. A slight mullet crept down his neck. He was the type of guy in high school that would drive his old American car slowly through the parking lot blasting AC/DC.
“All right dude, the first one is a residential in Hollywood,” Matt explained while getting onto the freeway. He then clarified that “residentials” were people that died uneventfully and without criminal motive in their homes, not to mention a good bulk of the business. “You know, like old people and shit,” he added.
We pulled off the freeway and backed our van into the driveway of the late Mr. Richard Fowler’s house. Matt organized his clipboard and finger combed his moustache in the rearview mirror before we walked up to the front door.
Before we had a chance to knock, we were greeted by a young woman with red eyes and a cried-out voice. She opened the screen door and escorted us to the master bathroom, where her 70-year-old father, the late Richard Fowler, had collapsed in the middle of the night and died in a fetal position in front of the toilet.
“Why don’t you bring the gurney around to the back of the house while I take care of the paperwork,” Matt suggested.
After returning to the van, I pushed the gurney around to the back of the house and parked it by the back door. I then walked into the bathroom and pulled the blanket off of the corpse on the floor, and was quite surprised to see that his eyes were wide open. They seemed to follow me wherever I walked, like an expensive doll’s eyes. His mouth was agape, as if he was frightened – as if he had died of fright in the middle of the night.
Matt returned to the bathroom to find me in a trance staring at the deceased. He squatted beside me and pushed Mr. Fowler onto his back, his bent arms and crouched legs moving in one solid motion. I slid the white sheet underneath him-his eyes were still following me.
“Using the sheet, we’ll lift him and walk him to the gurney on one, two, THREE!” Matt said, and we lifted Mr. Fowler and carried him to the backyard.
The corpse had a serious case of rigor mortis, making in impossible to attach the gurney’s safety belts around his crimped arms and knees. The white sheet ballooned out above the gurney as if we were attempting to cover a large tree branch. I suspected what was about to come next but still wasn’t prepared.
“We’re going to have to straighten him out,” Matt explained. “You do the legs and I’ll do the arms. Just grab hold of his ankle and push down on the knee.”
Its cold ankle felt like a thawing turkey breast in my hand. But its knee felt somehow still human. I could feel its skin rubbing against the kneecap whenever I pushed down on it, making it nearly impossible to get a grip. I then pulled on its foot and pushed down on the knee in one powerful swoop, and the sound of old wood breaking erupted from under the sheet. I could actually hear the ligaments snapping in his leg and my stomach instantly began to churn. My mouth started to salivate, and I knew I was close to vomiting. Thankfully, Matt pushed me aside and straightened the other leg for me.
We easily fastened the safety belts around the body this time and wheeled Mr. Fowler to our van in the driveway. “Okay, I want you to slide the gurney into the van, so you know how to do it for next time,” Matt instructed. “Remember to pull up on that lever there by your hand when the head reaches the bumper. That’ll retract the wheels.”
“Sure,” I replied, “I can handle this.”
Mr. Fowler weighed about 150 pounds, so I was going to need to push the tray in with some muscle. As I pulled the gurney back then shoved it forward, the daughter of the deceased appeared beside us with two steaming sups of coffee. I was startled by her sudden presence and released the lever too soon. The sound was the most frightening part as Mr. Fowler’s bald head smashed into the van’s bumper and then fell to the cement with a hollow pumpkin thud. Upon impact with the ground, the white sheet had flown back, and Mr. Fowler’s wide-open eyes now watched us all from under the back of the van.
“Oh shit!” I gasped. Matt and I kneeled down and lifted the gurney back onto its wheels and finally into the van.
We both turned round to apologize to the daughter for what had just happened, but all that remained of her was the sound of a distant slamming screen door and two steaming splashes on the driveway where she had spilled both cups of coffee.
After Matt apologized repeatedly to the woman, we delivered Mr. Fowler to a mortuary in Encino and headed back to the main office, at my insistence. Back in front of those leather chairs, I explained to Phil and his wife that there was no way I could go on being a mortuary driver, not even for the rest of the day. That much reality just would not work for me. Phil and his wife chuckled then he pulled out a prewritten check for $11 from his wallet.
“We didn’t think you looked like the mortuary type.”
‘The Job Pirate’ is currently available for sale on Amazon