From the Bookshelf: “You Want Fries With That?”, Prioleau Alexander

When I completed my undergraduate studies in occupational therapy 25 years ago, one of our reading assignments was from Studs Terkel’s book “Working” (1974).  For a bunch of early 20’s, middle class, suburbanites, this was our introduction into what the labor and service works did for employment.  I recall Terkel’s approach of oral history being scholarly, journalistic, and generally sympathetic to the never ending demands of staying ahead of bills, family obligations, and occasionally enjoying one’s self when one had some money left over from those bills and family obligations.  Prioleau (pray-lowe) Alexander’s study of labor jobs comes at a different time and under different circumstances.  Terkel asked people about their work; “Lowe” jumped off the white-collar treadmill and voluntarily applied for the jobs.  Terkels wrote with seriously.  Lowe comes off as snarky.   “You Want Fries with That?” came to my bookshelf as a temporary lend.  Before our trip to the Southwest, I was talking with a recently retired neighbor about our education and economic systems.  He ran into his home & returned, “You’ve got to read this book.”  Two factors about this book set records for me, 1) I read it within 6 months of receiving it, & 2) I read it in less than a week.  If you have read my blogs, you can image that my reading style is about as tangential as my writing style.  But, “You Want Fries with That?” reads easily, as it is written in pithy comic vignettes, which eventually pull together to a surprisingly coherent and empathetic conclusion.

The basic premise and plot line is Lowe’s experience with professional burn-out at age 41 from his career in advertising.  He will give you the details.  This lead to initially a life of leisure, while his wife continued to work, until he came to the realization of the built in costs of living our middle class life.  Rather than jump back into Corporate America, he decided to experiment with various entry-level, minimum wage jobs.  His anecdotes from being the Pizza Guy to the Clean Up Guy on a remodeling job to the Horse Guide for a dude ranch trip are hilarious to read, until you realize that people actually do these jobs, not because the dig the gig, but because they do not see themselves as having other options.  Lowe makes many keen observations about how our capitalist economic system runs, and runs workers and managers and customers into the ground. He does come to a resolution, that fits his personality and ethics, but I will let you discover this.

On a speculative note, the books was published in 2008, so Lowe’s experiences and observations came at the height of our most recent boom cycle.  I can only image how many middle class, white color working folks have learned more harshly the cost of our lifestyle, and the culture of service and labor jobs.  Lowe had an out (i.e. wife working, good resume, professional job options that he could pursue), but for many pink-slipped employees and yet-to-be employed college graduates, our bursted bubble offers little for Plan B, C, D…


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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2 Responses to From the Bookshelf: “You Want Fries With That?”, Prioleau Alexander

  1. The Vicar says:

    As the United States Postal Service circles ever closer to bankruptcy, I read that there are over 600,000 postal employees at this time with what are considered good paying, good benefits jobs in an service sector of declining importance. This might be a required read for both the over employed and soon to be college graduates.

    Some of my favorite jobs have been in the service sector. They were great when I was young and single, but I wouldn’t have raised a family, or made a career out of scooping ice cream.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I suspect that the Postal Service will provide a generous buy-out, extra early retirement package to reduce their staffing surplus. Whether these pre-Social Security/Medicare folks will seek alternative work to supplement their retirement income or fill the hours of the day will be seen. While we are a society that claims to value leisure, we usually get too busy to know how to use time freely.

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