What you’ll need: a leash, a multitude of plastic bags

Songlist: Who Let the Dogs Out? by Baha Men, Salty Dog Rag by Red Foley

Further reading: The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Marley and Me by John Grogan

Dogs: the best thing ever created (not that I'm biased)

Last year, my doorbell rang. A thin man with oiled hair stood outside with a clipboard in his hand. Upon seeing me, he launched into a narrative of redemption. He was trying to sell me something—a magazine subscription or ecstasy or Jesus, I couldn’t tell which—but first he had to draw me in.

“Ma’am,” he said, “What’s your profession?”

“I’m a teacher,” I said. Minnesota Reading Corps-Americorps Literacy Tutor at Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary—my official title—was more information than he needed.

“And what was your first job?”

“Um, walking a dog.”

“So, think about it. You’ve gone from picking up shit to educating our young people, arguably the most important profession in the world.”

In fact, I had gone from making ten dollars for each half hour walk to a position where I calculated my earnings to be about four to five dollars an hour. And I went from picking up a small pile of literal shit to dealing with the metaphorical shit of ineffective bureaucracy, difficult coworkers, and the special needs of homeless, neglected, and mentally disabled children. Metaphor trumps literal.

Iberian ham in a handy ham-holder. Yum!

Since I graduated college in 2008, I have somehow managed to make successively less money every year. My first job was as a Language and Cultural Assistant at an elementary school in southern Spain. Compared to my fellow Dartmouth graduates’ starting salaries of 70Gs at consulting firms and financial institutions, my 700€ a month stipend didn’t seem like much. However, I was placed in a tiny town where the only items in the grocery store more expensive than about three euro were the cured pigs’ legs. Plus, I was only required to work twelve hours a week (thank you, siesta culture), and, after all, these were euros we were talking about.

Then came the AmeriCorps job. Service to our country cannot be underestimated, but it sure can be underpaid. Daily, I came home exhausted, unable to do much more than read my horoscope for the day already past and fall asleep. I was in awe of two of my co-tutors who held other part-time jobs in addition to our forty-five-hour weeks at the school. They soon quit their other jobs.

AmeriCorps ended last July, and I decided not to renew my contract for one more year. I now work as a receptionist at an oriental medicine health clinic. Besides the bonus of free acupuncture whenever I want—who needs health insurance when you’ve got needles!—I make ten dollars an hour. However, the clinic is small and my help is needed only four to eight hours a week. I now have plentiful time and energy to write.  So far, though, I haven’t found anyone to pay me for that, and my funds are running low for the trussed up coffee drinks I buy during my café writing sessions.

Maybe I should just go back to dog walking.