The author considers his next job opportunity.
The author considers his next job opportunity.

It always happened like this. I needed some money so I found some way to make it. The thought of a career never really was my thing. Being something – a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief just didn’t ring true. The sense of permanence, grown-up-dom, self-importance, and lack of adventure always had me taking whatever would have me. More often than not this strategy left me broke and desperate and wondering where I would lay my head for the night. Looking back it was not a strategy or a conscious decision at all. I think it just comes down to wiring. I was not wired for the other way. Maybe it was the books I read at an early age… who knows.

Here are the jobs I’ve held in more or less chronological order from  the age of 7 on: I sold seeds from door to door in suburbia, then Christmas and Easter cards, I delivered newspapers, I mowed lawns, I raked leaves, I stuffed envelopes, I built lobster pots for fisherman, I picked peas on a farm, I taught tennis, I sold marijuana by the joint, ounce, ¼ pound and pound, I worked alongside a bee farmer, then helped train birddogs, and by mistake almost poisoned horses…

I worked in an old folks home, I worked as a night guard in a library, I worked in a copy shop, I framed houses, I painted houses, I tore down houses, I’ve waited tables…

I’ve sold Christmas trees on the sidewalks of NY, I telemarketed shitty magazines from a warehouse in Jersey City, I drove an ice-cream truck in Michigan, I bounced for a brief spell in a bar in Birmingham, I drove a beer truck in Virginia, I worked as a shill in an auction house in Atlanta, Georgia, I taught Latin in a private high school in Mississippi, I opened an illegal bar on top of a convent in Rome….

I’ve  worked construction on a high-rise, I’ve sniveled as a stock broker, I gave blood whenever and wherever they were paying for it, I’ve tutored attention deficit teenagers and written theses for lazy grad students. I’ve scribbled ad copy for Cinemax pseudo porn and styled an urban-rooftop-wet-dream for the Home and Garden Television Channel. I’ve dot-commed with dipshits, transported precious paintings from gallery to restorer to collector, I’ve sold antiques . . .

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I’ve exported furniture from Mexico and overseen the making of hand bags in a state prison . . .

I’ve helped put together famous boy bands,  I’ve done castings for movies, television, commercials and print, I’ve done location scouting and acting, I’ve opened a bar, a bookstore and a café in Guatemala. I’ve smuggled booze . . .

I could go on. But the beautiful part of all that, especially in the mid-later years, is that when I was not doing THAT, I was lazing about, reading, bopping into museums, catching a bus to another town, scribbling in a journal, strolling the streets  of a city, looking in windows, going to movies, waking up in another country . . .

In the breaks between having some money and having none, I’d often go to a used bookstore and buy a handful of books by one author and go on a focused reading binge. Graham Greene I read this way, Bruce Chatwin, Balzac, Shaw, Faulkner, Maugham, Bukowski, Dashiel Hammet, Mickey Spillane, James M. Caine, Celine, Chomsky, Paul Bowles, all filled these glorious  and episodic sabbaticals. (When people would ask what I do, I’d say just that, I’m on a sabbatical, as though I had just taken a brief leave from a teaching position at a prestigious university.)

For some strange reason during these sabbaticals I’d often take to collecting broken chairs that had been discarded in the street. I felt a kinship to them. They were a bit rocky, interesting in an off kilter way and in need of ass. I’d take them home, and with a little glue and sandpaper and paint, I’d fix them up and give them as gifts. Where others would bring a bottle of wine to a party, I’d show up with a slightly cattywampus chair and get an odd look as I passed through the door. It got to the point that briefly I held the moniker, The Chairman.

During this time, basic nourishment was a constant and dicey proposition. If I was in NY or some other major city, to supplement my diet beyond espresso in the morning and beer in the evening, I would go to gallery openings and partake in the free cheese and wine. In certain galleries I became so ever-present that management believed I was either an up-and-coming artist or a critic. Most, however, just took no notice. I was just another body that would (or more likely would not) buy a piece of art now or ever in the future. I carried the monthly gallery schedule with me as though it were my bible. It got my daily calories over 1500, kept me out of the cold for several hours on a winter’s night, and sometimes would find me a female counterpart, either one sympathetic to the starving artist type – the kind of woman who was interested in the fixer-upper-yet-romantic lunatic kind of man – or one living the same sort of itchy itinerant life who wanted to share resources, a bed and fleeting carnal companionship.

All was not pure boheme bliss, however. The early mornings and late nights of my sabbaticals were like dark parenthesis that hemmed in the otherwise beautiful hours in between. Rarely was there a night that was not filled with anxiety induced insomnia and the big question: When the small stash of cash I have runs out in a week or two, what am I going to do next to pay the piper? And rarely was there a morning that did not begin with a certain yellowish exhaustion, a painful glance at the classifieds, a counting of the cash balled up in a sock I kept between the  sagging mattresses, and a sneer at the mounting bills coming due. There was the momentary self-doubt, the: Why the fuck, am I living this way? Why was my DNA not geared toward a profession, a mortgage, a family – or for that matter any false, predictable rhythm by which I could sustain myself in blissful delusion until the Grim Reaper tapped on my door? Why? Why? Why?

Back then, I moved in two very distinct social circles that were as bipolar as the rest of my life. The larger circle consisted of outsiders like me, the misfit toys, the water pistols that squirted grape jelly, the Dave-in-the-Boxes. It consisted of actors who were constantly on audition and waiting tables in the evening, painters who could not afford to stretch their canvasses, writers who were writing rancid Harlequin Romances to pay the bills while working on the real novel, performance artists who performed in the smallest and most obscure venues, production assistants on small films hoping to become real producers or directors someday, overqualified idealist with alphabets of degrees who had morphed into misanthropes and worked the temp circuit. Some of this larger circle would eventually become successful in the traditional sense, others never. But they were for the most part wonderful and charmingly cynical. Their world-weariness was not an affected pose; it was an artful pose on top of real weariness. We’d help each other find part time work, but rarely ask, “Hey, how’s that screen play coming?” There was an unspoken misfit code that said to tread lightly when it came to someone’s dream.

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The smaller circle was the counterbalance. It consisted of the anointed, pedigreed and very successful. It housed, or so it seemed, those charmed with knowing what they were going to do in this world since they lulled in the warmth of their mothers’ wombs. These were the lawyers, investment bankers, diplomats, architects, venture capitalists, graphic designers, movie producers and fashion photographers. These were the ones who lived in spacious apartments they had purchased or inherited. These were the people who collected art by established artists, those being covered in the press for their latest and greatest achievement. These were the people whose Christmas bonuses were larger than all the money I had ever made in my life combined. These were the rising stars, or more likely, the stars that had long ago risen and were now shining brightly.

On a one-on-one basis I loved them and their company, but in that horrible collective of celebratory banality, the cocktail party, I found myself always feeling painfully out of place, with the desire to break something, an expensive vase or a fragile marriage. Their kind of cheer and camaraderie was as alien to me as ten years down the same path and partnership at the law firm. I envied their security, and at the same time knew it was kryptonite to my very existence.

Moreover, and I am sure this was projection on my part, I felt in off-moments as though my friends from this golden arena looked at me with the particular pity you reserve for that talented sibling who just never got his shit together. And this was far from the truth. I had my shit together, it just wasn’t the same as their shit. I am also sure there were moments where they did projections of their own, romanticizing my carefree existence and wondering what it would be like to slip from their prescribed routine into my vagabond existence, from their why into my why the hell not.

Then, as now, my world was haphazardly twined together by a quest for the glint of something passed over or discarded, and yet beautiful. Those forgotten somethings that are right there, and yet often missed in the blur of a supposedly forward momentum. They were tiny shards, fragments of the mundane that proved not mundane at all when countenanced by a pause and time. And this, too, I have come to believe is part of my wiring, my DNA, the receptiveness to embrace what other might find a distraction on the way to a goal.  It is the reward for having no set course and the jagged moments when I wish I had one.

John Rexer is currently the owner and proprietor of Café No Sé and the brains behind Ilegal Mezcal. He is also the founder and co-publisher of this rag. Check back in the next few days for Part Time, Part II and Part Time, Part III. 

(Click here to buy a the latest issue of La Cuadra Magazine for your eBook reader, iPad, or other hand-held device.)

  1. This is a good article. Being of a totally itinerant nature myself, with several different careers and half careers, I appreciate the candor. Thanks!

  2. Indulge and divulge, bit by bit deconstruct the myth while adding to it. The mythos is classic but is refreshing nonetheless, and needed now more than ever. These samplings whet the appetite for the great Pan-American novel, which you are of course living. Please don’t neglect the last sabbatical to actually write it.

  3. This was the perfect read for me today, love you, was feeling like an alien again but now less so…

  4. was feeling disheartened for you today. read this, felt better. oregon is missing out.

  5. John you politely asked me what I was “doing” one time this winter as I passed you on the sidewalk in front of Cafe No Se. I said something to the effect that I was attempting to succeed at being “idle”. The moment I said this you perked up and kindly said this notion is a valid, perhaps noble state of being. I never knew exactly what your background consisted of, yet I always thought being idle was not something you had much experience with. This article reinforced my instinct that you’re a fellow who often has more than a few irons in the fire. Last winter I was pleased by your response to me, after reading of your life experiences I am further impressed by your open minded and open heart-ed encouragement. I’m a big fan of your’s and all that you do in Antigua. All the best and thanks for the memory.

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."