Journey through space to the Planet Fabulous, where the Ruler of the Universe will see you shortly.

Monday, September 24, 2007

So What Do You Do?

We define ourselves by our professions, but as such, define ourselves to no degree. The first question, the absolute first thing you will be asked in any conversation with a stranger is that faux chummy “so, what do you do then?” It’s the first heel crushing on a toe in our 21st Century Conversation Tango. Take your partners please!

Apparently you cannot answer thus: “I stand at parties (or in pubs, as applicable) while someone with a stick of celery for a brainstem cannot even come up with a good opening question”. This is generally frowned upon. What you’re actually supposed to do is then tell some person what you do between the hours of nine to five. Which as you’re no longer there (or else they’d already know) has no relevance. None at all. If it does, then that’s not your job, it’s your life, and frankly you’ve got a bloody cheek going out meeting people. Will it be a better night if you confess to being a secretary, a fireman, a human-sized hot dog in Oxford Street? For as I say, it’s the thing we’re defined by, and yet it shouldn’t be the thing that defines us at all.

It’s long been my least favourite expression in the world (well, up there with “it’s not you, it’s me” and “I promise not to fart while you’re down there”), but in recent years it’s taken on a far darker significance for me, as I become aware that if you don’t have an answer to it, you become one of the Invisibles. Pinochet might as well have whisked you away in the night with a sack over your head because to your correspondent you will no longer exist. There then follows an awkward pause as they realise “they’ve got a difficult one here” and go off to find the onion dip. Which in most pubs is quite a trick.

I am an Invisible at present. Three years ago I just sat at my desk one sunny day and thought, “fuck it, this is just not worth the aggro”. I had some savings behind me. And okay, so I wasn’t going to be buying swimming pools and fast cars, but I simply didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to sit with people years younger who I didn’t get, and who certainly didn’t get me. I didn’t have to try and get excited or proud about my company selling five thousand units of a Z-list non-entity’s exercise video. I didn’t have to suck Woolworth’s cock, in a word. I had other things I’d rather do. Creative stuff I’d always thought, “ooooh I’d love to do that”. And when the money ran out, I’d just do something else. A CV packed with more surprises than Q’s lunchbox would get me back earning when I needed it.

And take it from me, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom when you do this. It’s like that dream where you’re out in the streets in your underpants except – and this is the crucial bit – instead of laughing at you, everyone’s cheering and taking their own trousers off too. It’s like a London parade if Brian Rix were the mayor.

Two weeks later after the Great Escape, I was with some friends, and I got into conversation with someone I was rather interested in. “So what do you do?” came the question (the first one, naturally). “Oh, well if you mean work, I don’t. Really. Work for myself, actually.” And that was the point I vanished. You get marked down as dangerous in the stupidest, laziest of ways. Had I said, “I temp in an office straightening paperclips for 10p an hour and can only drink coffee I’ve made from my own saliva” then I’m sure the conversations that ensued would have lasted the rest of the night. Though obviously I wouldn’t have been buying many rounds.

Dating sites – which as I’m shy and desperate I frequent from time to time – get very odd about not you working “properly”. I do not want to click on “unemployed” as they mean “I stay at home watching Richard and Judy” but similarly all the other categories are wrong too. You end up having to put an explanation in your profile. And as much as you use words like “liberated” and “freedom”, you just end up sounding like one of the more exotic tampon adverts. Incidentally, did you know that a Monsieur Giscard Tampon gave his name to this form of sanitary product? What is less known is that he died after getting his head stuck in a drainpipe. They tend to keep that quiet.

So you slowly become aware that if you can’t answer that opening question, the “what do you do?” then you don’t do anything. What was intended as freedom becomes a rather splendid trap. And then you have a nice empty slot in your CV that marks you down as “difficult customer” so that you can’t even get the simplest of jobs. It’s self-inflicted, which is why I’m posting about it here. A bit of a warning from someone who’s vanished. A two-fold warning actually. For a start, be careful to continually play the game and make sure you can always answer that most banal of questions. And secondly, never, ever ask it of me.

For anyone who these days at a party asks me, “so what do you do?” will get the answer, “I poke unimaginative little twats in the eyes with carrot sticks” followed by, “would you like some Optrex for that? Or possibly just some peas so you can make some soup?”

Though oddly that’s the other thing about the Invisibles.

Because your party invites disappear too.

1 comment:

brucie said...

This happened to Hugh Grant in 'About a boy' if I remember correctly??