My 60 Job Resume:
How Quitting Sixty Jobs in Thirty Years Added Up to an Extraordinary Life
John J. Fulford
Astoria Press, 2016
My 60 Job Resume opens easily enough, fifteen-year-old John Fulford walks out of school in 1947, then his life begins as for thirty years he burns through a stunning variety of employment before finally settling down to do one job for the next thirty years.
What is most fascinating about Fulford’s labor memoir is the variety of work he has done over his life. He has experienced in one form or another nearly every aspect of labor we’re currently familiar with. If nothing else, Fulford’s recollection serves as a pristine historical document giving a human face to a generation that experienced some of the swiftest and most profound cultural changes. What exactly do I mean? For starters there’s the fac that at fifteen, Fulford just quite public school, a notion that today is laughable. But in the three years he worked full-time before serving in the RAF (Royal Airforce), we get glimpses into an already changing post-World War II world.
We see an adolescent Fulford working in antique repair shop, a workshop filled with genuine craftsmen each with their own particular specialization. This shouldn’t be so much of a shock to us except that these craftsman man worked exclusively with their hands:
There were no electric tools anywhere. In fact, there were no electric outlets in any of the walls and, except for the powerful electric lights overhead, it could have been the nineteenth or even eighteenth century. When I asked one of the men why there were no electric tools, he smiled, shook his head, and said, ‘We’re repairing antiques, not building garages.’ Then he picked up an ancient wooden plane and ran his hands lovingly over it and said, ‘My dad used this. We do it properly. Only hand tools here.’
Although Fulford displays an intense curiosity, he lacks the means to continue on to apprentice, “A craftsman has to have tools, and I had nothing.” Time spent in retail shops, in workshops, and as a clerk in white-collar offices are his primary and secondary schooling. It all leads him to his time in the military where for three years he roams Southern Rhodesia, a region that is the modern nation of Zimbabwe. Here, instead of college, he works dissembling ordinance. His was the grunt work of the military, disposable. Emerging unscathed was an ignorant miracle:
I shudder when I think of the nonchalant way in which we opened up old hand grenades or twisted the shell out of a cartridge to get at the powder, or the way we unscrewed the detonators from 500-pound bombs that had been lying for years, rusting in the weeds, or the casual way we treated the phosphorus that oozed out of decaying incendiary bombs.
So, upon surviving three years in Her Majesty’s air force, he eventually found himself in Rome, Italy working as production assistant for Helen of Troy.
Here is where Fulford experiences the first of a recurring theme, the day-to-day grind is always more grim, more hectic, and less romantic than ever hinted. Working in Rome on a big budget Hollywood film in the glory days of movie making should sound like a dream, but as we learn it was hardly so. But Fulford never creates a villain, throws blame, or shirks responsibility. A job is always more than he thought it was going to be, sometimes he is more than up to it and then sometimes he’s not.
The mutability of Fulford’s deployment of his own labor is stunning. Equally so is the speed at which he gets bored with the work he’s doing and feels the need to move on. I think it’s a genuinely interesting trait in many Baby Boomers that the have an extreme openness to doing all kinds of work but an extremely low threshold for tedium (trait that is squarely lodged in the collective psyche of their children, Generation X and Millennials). Time and again, Fulford explains that rarely after more than a year or so at a particular job, he feels bored and an overwhelming urge to move on.
To see a man go from a London workshop that is happily without electricity to maintenance on one of the first computers in Montreal, Canada (which took over most of a floor) over the span of a decade is miraculous:
Years later, after the invention of transistors and the wonders of micro=processing and miniaturization had reduced the monster to a gadget that could fit on my lap, I tried to describe that first computer to my class of high school students. Their faces went blank and their eyes glazed over. ‘What’s a punch card?’ one asked. ‘What’s a transistor? somebody else asked.
More importantly, it’s a vital cultural remembrance. The time separating these drastic and systemic changes is much slimmer than we realize and without testimony like Fulford’s we lack the necessary human connection with the change.
Variety, changing labor needs, a changing world and often literally landscape lead Fulford from England to Canada to the United States. Quality control at a chocolate factory, de-construction of a remote factory town in Canada, logging, the airline industry, fisheries, and finally teaching fill out the shockingly deep resume of the man. Although it takes up perhaps the smallest amount of the book, Fulford’s recollections of teaching in a one-room school house in the Canadian wild is fascinating in its own right. It is this last experience that sets him on the course that would be his life’s work–teaching, helping other learn more about their world. It’s in southern California where Fulford puts down ‘roots’ becoming an educator alongside his wife. Here is where he sits down and writes his books that are small windows into his working background.
Recently, a Princeton professor posted his CV of failures believing “We all have failures in our careers. But usually we keep quiet about it.” It was meant to be an aspirational prompt, a means to deal with one’s failures and have better understanding of one’s successes. However, such a gesture pales in comparison to Fulford’s project, an honest and detailed catalog of labor, warts and all. Yet at no point is Fulford seeking some faux redemption or psychological release. Nor does he self-aggrandize or attempt to talk down to readers.
The purpose of My 60 Job Resume is to show how the author was able to come to a point in his development where he could write the book. The book might it inspire, certainly. But more importantly, Fulford’s memoir stands as a fascinating historical document, showing how labor has changed since the postwar years in the western world.
John J. Fulford was born in Barcelona, educated in England, migrated to Canada after a stint in the RAF, and taught in a one room school in the far north. He earned his B.Ed in Vancouver, taught in Canada then then eventually arrived in Southern California where he now resides in Long Beach, California. Fulford’s other books include The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules, Hitchhiking to Serendip, Last Plane to Cochabamba, and To Reach the Sea.
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