Mickey Hess will make you laugh. His book will ring very true for that segment of the population (statistically growing) that can't quite let go of school once college is over
and can't quite settle into the career path that leads to middle age and death, without having just a few existential yucks beforehand. However, even if you went straight from university to marriage and the nine-to-five, you can still enjoy this book as a look at how the other half struggles.
In the beginning of the book we meet Mickey, who works as a part-time college instructor. He has no contract, gets no benefits, and takes what comes up
- kind of glorified subbing. In the summers, he and his wife, Danielle, and their menagerie of cats and an iguana cast around for activities and temporary jobs.
However, Mickey has a creative view of work. He isn't afraid to try the most challenging, such as being a stand-up comedian, or the laxest, like working at the Action Fun Center, a large indoor amusement park where he mines the ball pit for change, as well as monitoring the behavior of the children who come to play: "A little girl lost her mom's wedding ring in the pit and Monica and I go pit-digging all over again." Mickey has to clean up whatever bodily fluids the kids leave behind. Though Mickey never officially quits that job, he finds himself drifting away, and no one seems to notice. He and Danielle spend a short stint together driving an ice cream truck, thereby delighting young people, then go to the opposite extreme, working as "scarers" at the Haunted Morgue: "I'm made up as a 'Dead Person' and instructed to lie on a shelf in a dark room. The shelf people, we're called."
House-sitting is a time-honored gig for people adrift in the sub-economy. Mickey says, "If you ever need someone to house-sit, don't ask Danielle and me." So they are amazed when they're asked back by an indulgent acquaintance whose possessions (computer, garage door) they have trashed on previous occasions. They decide to throw just one very small party at the kind lady's home. The results are disastrous, and too funny to spoil, so you'll have to read the book to find out how the toilet got cracked. As Mickey opines, "I know it's the end. Even a Buddhist holistic medicine specialist can only
show so much patience and tolerance for us inadvertently wrecking her house.
Danielle gets a job at the local zoo, a job that seems to have no structure, since all the employees are told is when to come in. They can be told to go home at any time by no apparent system. The lemurs give her odd looks. Mickey takes very temporary jobs, such as handing out pamphlets at a Billy Graham crusade. They go to a lot of concerts and even travel to Iceland where, on impulse, he books a couple of goofy Icelanders to come to his campus and deliver a lecture series. In the interstices between all this activity, much of which sounds romantic but may have been merely frantic, Mickey is trying to write and self-publish his own books. He has a quixotic notion that he should give his works away. In fact, the cover of Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory has an anti-profit message on the corner: "When you get tired of this book, please give it to someone else."
Apparently Mickey Hess finally succeeded in finding a real publisher. For the publisher's sake (and Mickey's), buy the book and tell your friends they'll have to buy their own. It's worth it.