I felt good when I felt I was really doing my job. Competence is a wonderful feeling. In a lot of these jobs, people talk about “getting into a rhythm,” meaning a sort of flow state. When you’re waitressing, for example, you have 500 things going in your head at once. You don’t have time to think through each task. You have to go into some mind-body fusion.
Once again supporting your thesis that there’s no such thing as unskilled labor. How did the book change you?
Mostly in that I see more pain. I don’t know if I’m happy about that. But now I look at the clerk in a discount retail store near where I live, and I think, “How long have you been on your feet today? And, my God, look at those thin flat shoes you’re wearing with no support. And what are you going home to? Is it a motel? A trailer park?” Whereas I might not have even seen that person — or, at the most, I might have dimly noticed her in the past. Now I see a lot more.
NICKEL AND DIMED: On (Not) Getting By in America | By BARBARA EHRENREICH | Henry Holt and Company | 221 pages | $23