At current count, 43-year-old Brandon Christopher has talked his way into 82 jobs — from a five-hour stint as a mortuary driver to a four-year gig writing and producing documentaries. In between, he had to file for unemployment just twice. His 83rd job — author of the just-published nonfiction collection The Job Pirate — details his adventures job-hopping around the West Coast.
It is, he hopes, a survival guide to the state of perpetual economic insecurity we've all entered. "Some people might think it silly to burn through so many jobs during an economic period where so many have found it impossible to find work," he writes. "I don't consider it silly at all; I consider it good experience for the disappearing job market ahead. ... I was dealt the same cards as everybody else, and I'm surviving just fine."
The middle kid raised by a nice middle-class family in the nongentrified North Hollywood of three decades past, Christopher decided early he'd rather be a writer than a respectable member of society. He has authored two books (2007's self-published Dirty Little Altar Boy and Nightville in 2011) and numerous short stories when not working as a florist, limo driver or door-to-door hawker of water purifiers.
And those aren't even the odd jobs. "I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle," he tells L.A. Weekly. "He was a spy invading these companies, and then he'd go home and write about them. I thought that was awesome."
In his late 20s, Christopher landed a position with a low-rent production company, at the corner of Magnolia and Cahuenga boulevards in North Hollywood, which specialized in cobbling together celebrity biographies and history documentaries from footage stolen off TV. Ultimately, he says, the company succumbed to lawsuits but not before he penned scripts about The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and others at a rate of $10 an hour — and with no oversight. Other benefits included getting stoned at lunch and doing cocaine in the editing bay.
As the epicenter not just for the movie business but also the dirty-movie business, L.A. is a city particularly rife with strange jobs, says the man who has written porn — for movies and magazines — as well as dispensed greetings at the Sherman Oaks Galleria and manned the Wacky Wax cart at CityWalk in Universal City.
His spotty résumé — not quite able to withstand a good bout of fact-checking — may have initially resulted from a lack of enthusiasm for labor. His C.V. quickly became a vehicle for his inventive writing, such as the time he claimed to be the creative director of a company for which he had only freelanced. As Kirkus Review puts it, Christopher "figured out the secret to consistently landing a job on the quick: Brazenly, confidently lie about your credentials." The reviewer adds that it's not only funny but also, "in the midst of an ailing job market, this is an especially timely book."
After a few dozen jobs, he began to see his forays into the professional world as performance art. At first, whether driving a limo full of noted rappers to Las Vegas or impersonating an accountant in Mid-Wilshire, he would don the proper costume — mirrored sunglasses for chauffeuring, "calmly striped shirts" for the corporate life. Then, "I would take the craziest jobs just to be able to write about them. And I would try to top myself on how to leave them," he says.
Christopher once spray-painted I QUIT on the brick wall outside a Burbank thrift store. He deposited feces on the hood of another employer's car because he was so utterly over manning the copy machine.
Yet he says he felt bad only once — for walking out on a family-owned natural foods company in Reseda, whose employees promptly started calling around to his parents and neighbors, just to make sure he was OK.
Before long, Christopher began to think shitty jobs might just be his higher calling.
The only way to survive soul-crushing work, he became convinced, was to report back about it. "I discovered along the way that the idea that the job is your identity is the scariest thing to me," he says. "A lot of people I've met don't have a core identity — their job or their position is their life."
Right now he's between self-assignments and has landed in what seems like just the town for him, Portland, Oregon, where he is living off his Pirate book advance. But he's not looking around for meaningless jobs from which to bolt. Instead, he's undertaken work for which he is not only badly needed but also deeply valued: caring for his younger brother, who was left a quadriplegic after an auto accident last July.
"My brother is 38, and he'd just bought his own house. He'd just got a doctorate in psychology. And he gets hit by a car. Life is short and strange," Christopher says. "Shit happens."
Life has a way of blindsiding us. The book ends with a little philosophical reflection on Christopher's own trajectory, brought on by reaching early middle age. Prior to moving to Oregon, he'd relocated in 2009 to Seattle, where he got a contract job with Amazon.
He moved to the Pacific Northwest mainly for the opportunity to wear a coat and watch the seasons change, but says he also felt the desire for a do-over, and was struck by a deep feeling that L.A. had begun to chip away at the best part of him.
"I always admired people who didn't have aspirations to do something different," he says.
But he found himself unable to shake his affection for Southern California's particular brand of dreamers and schemers. "I miss the hell out of L.A.," Christopher says, before stipulating that he would only come back for a well-paying gig.
His days of courting bohemian poverty in one of the country's most expensive cities are over, thanks in part to what could be shaping up as yet another crazy Los Angeles housing bubble. As Christopher describes it, "In my dad's day, you could buy a house on one to two years' salary, and this was just back in the '70s. But now it's like 20 years' salary for us. The American Dream is obsolete."
On the other hand, the fight to make something of yourself, he says, remains a worthy dream. "There's something so healthy about that struggle to pay the bills — not if you're a single mother just trying to stay afloat, that's terrible. But in your 20s and 30s, the struggle to survive makes stronger people. It creates the person you're going to be.
"The only flaw in that picture is the money part," he says with a laugh. "I'd hate to read this interview when I'm 50 and still be broke."
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