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May 5, 2008 | Comments ()


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You Want Fries With That: A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage by Prioleau Alexander / Sarah Larson

Book Reviews | May 5, 2008 | Comments ()


Sometimes, when I’m in my office reconciling reports or some other dull financial thing and quietly going mildly insane from boredom, I reminisce fondly about some of the “fun” jobs I had when I was younger; jobs with more activity where I got to talk to people under the age of 50 on a regular basis. This reminiscing usually lasts about a minute and a half, until I remember how much I hated dealing with every single customer who ever came within 12 feet of me and how pathetic the paycheck was, because like any normal person who has ever worked at or even heard of a minimum wage job, I know perfectly well that it’s a thankless endeavour and I’m lucky I work in my dull, peaceful office. Then I go back to wasting time online until I get an email about the next boring financial project I get to do.

You Want Fries With That? chronicles the year following Prioleau Alexander’s decision to quit his job as a successful advertising executive in order to work a series of minimum wage jobs, including pizza delivery guy, ice cream scooper, construction worker, ER tech, fast food cashier, and dude ranch cowboy. He seems to be under the impression that this idea to consort with the unwashed masses was prompted by some sort of epiphany about the grind of the rat race, but he just comes off sounding bored with his office job and delusional about the ease and inherent insight to be found in “blue collar” life.

While Alexander appears to find himself uproariously funny and deeply meaningful, his humour is pretty tepid and he manages only to skim the surface of the drudgery of minimum wage employment. He doesn’t bother to delve much into the real issues faced by the many people with full time jobs who are living below the poverty line in modern America, and the only solution he offers is the pursuit of higher education and a better job. That’s noble and all, but there is no discussion of the fact that somebody will always have to cook and serve the fast food or clean up the ER when people bleed all over the place, and those somebodies deserve a better quality of life. A good portion of each chapter is dedicated to the history of the product or service involved, but seriously, the question of who actually invented ice cream has nothing to do with the plight of the employee doing the scooping. There’s really no deeper meaning to be found in this book, because it’s a series of mildly amusing anecdotes and totally unfunny fat jokes cobbled together with Googled facts under the guise of wisdom. It’s like if Ted Nugent learned how to write and kept a journal detailing all the things he didn’t understand about real life.

According to his author bio, Alexander graduated from Auburn University and served as a Marine officer before he became an advertising exec, but I would guess Donald Trump has a better understanding of regular working man jobs than this guy. At one point in the prologue he actually says, “Do you realize how far you’ve got to dumb things down for stoners, nerds, burnouts, knuckleheads, teenagers and English majors to do them correctly?” Of course, he is then confused by pizza delivery and the sequence of keys you hit on a computer to clock in, and is a little surprised when working fast food turns out not to be fun. This guy was a Marine? For serious? What was his MOS? Land Mine Tester? How does someone reach adulthood with literally no idea of what minimum wage jobs entail? Did he never work in high school or college? As a teenager, did none of his friends have normal jobs, or did he just not have any friends? I think maybe he learned about life from television, like an alien or a shut-in who grew up in a fallout shelter. I’m gonna guess he didn’t watch “Roseanne,” though.

At the end of his year long journey, Alexander has managed to grasp that mountains of credit card debt and not being able to afford insurance is no way to live, but he still concludes with some poetic nonsense about wanting to try big-box retail to find freedom outside of conformity. This is such a remedial view of philosophy that I want the first person who sees this guy to punch him in the face. Being bored and overpaid is a privilege, not a condition. Very few people have the luxury of loving what they do for a living, but to presume that your job is harder or worse simply because it pays more is both incredibly egotistical and borderline retarded.

You Want Fries With That? could have been hilarious and insightful. Instead it’s pretty sanctimonious and kind of boring, basically amounting to little more than a Stay in School pamphlet written by a volunteer guidance counselor who’s trying way too hard to be funny . Matt Foley taught this lesson much better when he was panting and shouting about his van down by the river.

Sarah Larson never ate a scorpion on television and is not dating George Clooney. She lives in Minnesota, where she is usually up to no good and occasionally records her miscreant shenanigans at Unscheduled.


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