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Happiness in Minimum Wage

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Anyone who can do that with a spatula clearly loves the work that gave him the tool.

Mrs. Chen: Shaun, did my daughter apply to any new jobs this week?
Shang-Chi: She really likes her job. We both do.
Mrs. Chen: Mhmm, Waigong didn't move here from Hunan so you can park cars for a living.
Katy: Well, on that note, I think we're gonna miss our bus. I'm sorry for my unacceptable job. And for staying out late last night, trying to enjoy my life.

There are certain boring, low-paying jobs most people fear being stuck with when they grow up: burger flipper, garbage man, janitor, retail store greeter, etc. This character has one of these jobs... and wouldn't have it any other way.

This trope can reveal many things about the character. Maybe they're just that unflappably cheerful. Maybe they enjoy contributing to society by doing simple and/or unpleasant jobs necessary for a functioning society that few others are willing to do. Maybe it doesn't matter how miserable the work is, as long as they get to work with (or for) their friends. Maybe they came from a background of poverty and are simply glad to be getting any kind of wage. Or maybe they just genuinely enjoy the work. A more cynical variation is when one employee is a Lazy Bum who enjoys their job because they can push their work off on more responsible co-workers.

Sometimes used as An Aesop to teach people that finding enjoyment in your work is more important than your salary.

Of course, such a character may be hiding his true capabilities or intentions — and might even secretly work with others who do likewise.

Often a character like this will be contrast to a "conventionally" miserable co-worker of similar rank.

A happy Working-Class Hero tends to fit this. A more extreme version of this is Happiness in Slavery. If a character's dream is to obtain one of these jobs, it's Humble Goal. Sometimes overlaps with Mundane Luxury. Compare Call to Agriculture, where a powerful character wants to retire to work on a farm. Contrast Soul-Crushing Desk Job, a job that leaves people miserable despite generally having better pay.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, several characters in the series came from humble working lives before becoming Demon Slayers and they loved every aspect of it, no matter how poor they were since they had such loving families before tragedy came knocking. Tanjiro in particular reflects upon himself that living as a charcoal seller wasn't bad at all, supporting his big family just to see the smiles of his younger siblings and mother was all that he needed to honor his late father, who was the family's charcoal seller prior his death one year before the story began; the tragedy of losing almost his entire family in a demon attack steered Tanjiro towards becoming a demon slayer, said job is actually revealed to be extremely well paying even amongst the lowest ranked slayers, with the salary only increasing the more promotions are to be had, but Tanjiro not once comments on how much more money he makes now, it just isn't better than working for pennies while still having a living family around.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert's garbageman is the Smartest Man in the World, and is quite happy being a garbageman, the joke being that we aren't qualified to question the Smartest Man in the World's decisions.
  • Frazz, the custodian at an elementary school, reveals in one strip that he has a degree in biochemistry; he's also known to be a successful songwriter. He appears to be a Brilliant, but Lazy man who sticks with his low-paying job because he enjoys interacting with the kids that much. (Presumably royalties from his songs offset the low-paying part.) Queried in that strip why a janitor needs a biochemistry degree:
    Frazz: You want to be a janitor who isn't afraid of losing his job.

    Fan Works 
  • A Year To Fill An Empty Home: Sachiko's Red Ribbon bakery doesn't pull in enough customers for her to afford paying Chou even a part-time wage. Despite this, Chou starts working for her because she desperately wants to spend her days doing something other than fretting about her son after he was shipped off to Tokyo for the year. Over time, she grows into a truly skilled baker, developing a true friendship with Sachiko and enjoying the community that crops up around the bakery.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Monsters University, after Mike and Sulley are expelled from Monsters University and lose any chance of achieving their dream of being Scarers at Monsters Inc., Mike reminds Sulley that they're always hiring in the mail room. They wholeheartedly enjoy their jobs sorting mail at the mail room and even earn a "most mail delivered" award, and perform various other jobs such as "can wrangling" and serving food at the cafeteria. Eventually, they fulfill their dream of becoming Scarers when the company hosts scare tryouts.
  • Soul:
    • Dez reveals he originally wanted to become a veterinarian because he loves animals and wanted to help them. However, when his daughter got sick, he instead opted to become a barber, since the training is much cheaper and much faster, and he needed money quickly. 22 thinks it's sad that he had to give up his original dream, but he says that he found he actually loves being a barber; he gets to talk to all sorts of interesting people, and he's extremely good at what he does. It's not where he expected to end up, but he's happy.
    • Moonwind works as a sign-spinner in Manhattan, but is quite accustomed to it, finding it meditative and being able to get into "the zone" while he spins. Since going to the zone allows his soul to enter the Great Before (sort of an out-of-body experience) and help others there, that's all he could really ask for in a job.
  • In Toy Story 3, it's revealed that Sid became a garbage man in between the events of Toy Story 1 and 3. He takes on his job with newfound enthusiasm, listening to music, scatting to himself and drumming on the garbage cans while dumping the garbage. It just goes to show how much Character Development he's gone through after being scared straight by Woody (and, if one interprets the Monsters, Inc. comics as canon, Mike and Sulley).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In American Beauty, middle-aged Lester Burnham quits his corporate job and goes back to flipping burgers, a job he finds far more satisfying than his previous one, as he gets to screw with customers and spend a lot of time at home smoking pot.
  • In Brazil Sam Lowry is perfectly content with working on Information Adjustment as a lowly drone (that his boss Mr. Kurtzman is friendly and trusty to), daydreaming away. His mother insists on trying to use her influences to place him in a higher position to his constant protesting. The only reason he accepts a transfer to a higher office is because it's the only way he will get the security clearance to read Jill's file.
  • In Bruce Almighty, God brings up that there's a purpose and freedom to manual labour, saying the happiest people on Earth go home "smelling to high heaven". In fact, God often presents himself in positions as "lowly" as a janitor or technician in addition to high ranking roles like a corporate leader, showing how He understands the importance between both levels of employ, and how His role as the Almighty can fit into either one.
  • A running theme in Clerks and Clerks II with the character Randal, who thinks his cashier job at the video store is perfect "if it weren't for the fucking customers", unlike his friend Dante who feels like he should be doing more with his life. Though he seems less happy with his fry cook job in II, especially when he finds out Dante is going to move to Florida. It reaches a head at the climax of II when Randal admits he'd want to buy the video store he used to work at so he could go back to that job.
  • Flaming Brothers revolves around a pair of blood brothers who join the mob and becomes highly-ranked killers, but the younger of the two (played by Chow Yun-fat) decides to bail, where he went from a wealthy triad mobster to a simple convenience store attendant. Nevertheless, he's actually happy to leave his killing days behind.
  • Ed from Good Burger is a Kindhearted Simpleton who loves working at the eponymous restaurant. He's acts as a foil to Dexter, who hates his job and only has it to pay back his teacher for damaging his car in a joyride.
  • Deconstructed in Good Will Hunting, with Will insisting that he is applying this trope when in reality it is more like thinking he is telling the world to go to Hell. One of the moments that finally make him change his mind is one of his friends, who is working in construction because he has no other options unlike Will with his genius, tearing Will a new one over this delusion.
  • In The Menu Margot comes across a picture of Chef Slowik smiling while working as a fry cook at a burger joint and realizes this was the last time Slowik was genuinely happy in his life. She manages to temporarily reignite his love of cooking by asking him for a simple cheeseburger instead of the haute cuisine Slowik came to despise. After taking a single bite and asking to take the rest "to go", Slowik lets her leave in gratitude, making her the only survivor of the night's massive Murder-Suicide pact.
  • At the end of Office Space, Peter quits his Soul-Crushing Desk Job so he can spend his days as a construction worker just like his neighbor Lawrence. He appreciates the physical exercise and being outdoors all day. A Deleted Scene that expands the epilogue subverts this, though, by showcasing that Peter's boss at the construction company is a perfect clone of Peter's previous and highly annoying boss Bill Lumbergh, down to the exact same way of talking. Meaning Peter traded his old white-collar hell for a similar blue-collar hell. The scene cuts just as Peter starts to feel depressed again as he processes this revelation. Granted, construction jobs generally do pay a fair bit more than minimum wage (Lawrence, after all, rents at the same kind of apartment as Peter).
  • In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi and Katy live modest lives as hotel valets in small living conditions. Katy gets chastised by her mother for her seeming lack of ambition despite being a Berkeley valedictorian who can speak many languages, though she seems perfectly content coasting through the days driving fancy cars and singing karaoke at night. As for Shang-Chi, he's revealed to have abandoned his past life as a trained assassin as part of his father's crime syndicate, voluntarily choosing a quiet, comfortable, "normal" life away from his baggage.
  • Stan, the janitor in UHF, loves his job so much that after he gets the chance to be a TV star, he accepts only on the condition that he can continue his normal janitorial duties.

  • Keiko of Convenience Store Woman loves working at a convenience store to the point where she considers it her life's purpose.
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg's mom tells him to study hard to become a doctor when he grows up, or he'll end up with a low-paying job, such as being a garbage man. This warning doesn't seem to stick with Greg, who writes that the teens who take out the garbage on his block seem to enjoy their jobs, playing loud music and smoothly passing the garbage cans to each other, while doctors are stuck "suctioning mucus out of childrens' noses".
  • Discworld:
    • Thief of Time: Lu-Tze the Sweeper is a supremely powerful History Monk who once beats down Time itself. Despite being a textbook Almighty Janitor, he also remains a sweeper (the lowest level in the hierarchy short of novices) with only the Abbot and some higher-ups knowing just how strong he is, and once describes his salary as "two pence and all the kicks I can't dodge".
    • Unseen Academicals: Mr. Nutt is a brilliant Polymath who's quite happy to work in the Unseen University candle vats for modest room and board. It's still a huge step up from a childhood spent chained to an anvil in a dark forge. Internalized Categorism due to being a Token Heroic Orc might also have something to do with it.
    • A ... meta-example of sorts. Rincewind used to be a main character, and constantly the target of all The End of the World as We Know It plots. However, he's managed to figure out a way that he's not attached to them anyway. Seeing as the Discworld runs on Narrativum, ie, the plot makes the world goes round, he's happier just being an attending wizard at the unseen university.
  • Isaac Asimov's Forward the Foundation: Mandel Gruber, one of the royal gardeners, loves his job on the palace grounds. When Emperor Cleon promotes him to Chief Gardener in "Cleon I", he tries to decline it, not wanting to be indoors, and out of the weather/work. When this doesn't work, he takes advantage of an Assassination Attempt and kills Emperor Cleon. Gruber has a moment of shock once he sees the dead body, and freezes.
  • A brief scene in Good Omens mentions a cook in one of Famine's fast food restaurants. (Famine sells food that have been scientifically stripped of all real nutrients, to the point that eating too much of it could cause someone to die from malnutrition while gaining weight, an irony that Famine finds delightful.) Said cook happily whistles and sings while he works, blissfully unaware that simply taking pleasure in doing his job is annoying Famine enough to plan on firing him. Between the physical description of the cook and some other tidbits in the book, it's strongly hinted that the man is Elvis Presley.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: While the Proles are materially worse off than Outer Party members like Winston, they enjoy far more freedom since the government doesn't believe they are smart enough to rebel against their power and doesn't devote time and resources to spying on them.
  • In Rubbernecker, Patrick gets a job washing dishes at a pub. He loves the work and is so fast and efficient that the chef cooks him a free meal once a shift to thank him for reducing the number of customer complaints. He likes his job so much that when Professor Madoc and Mick Jarvis offer him a job as a trainee lab technician, he turns them down.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • The side character Mem takes great pride in her job as a washerwoman and her ability to restore almost any garment to perfect condition. She even gets high praise from her boss, a ranking member of the Ghostblood Ancient Conspiracy who gets some very weird stains on his clothes.
    • Szeth-son-son-Vallano is a One-Man Army with a Soul-Cutting Blade, magical powers that haven't been seen in centuries, and the skills to use both to their fullest extent. He is also a strict pacifist, yet bound by his culture's mores to follow any order given by the holder of his Oathstone. He therefore is practically gleeful to be used as a pot-scrubber and garbage-carrier, since it means he is not being sent to slaughter innocents or assassinate royalty.
  • The narrator of the Maya Angelou poem Weekend Glory compares herself proudly to pretentious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses types who don't even appreciate the luxurious status items they bankrupt themselves to buy.
    My job at the plant ain't the biggest bet, but I pay my bills and stay out of debt. I get my hair done for my own self's sake, so I don't have to pick and I don't have to rake.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha: Despite being a talented engineering graduate from one of South Korea's top universities, Du-sik is content working menial minimum wage jobs around the village. Whenever the notion of getting paid more comes up he always rejects it.
  • NCIS:
    • Invoked at the end of Season Eight's "Worst Nightmare", when a preppy college intern admits that he's impressed by the Major Crime Team's skills, but feels compelled to point out that "you guys could make a killing in the private sector."
      Tony: Then who would catch the bad guys?
    • In Season Ten's "You Better Watch Out", Special Agent McGee is surprised to encounter an old classmate from M.I.T., who gave up a career teaching computational evolutionary biology to be the foreman at a landfill, and he's happy as a clam:
      Stewie: Burned out, man. But I found my calling: trash! Crazy, huh? Hey, you know you can learn more about mankind by what it throws away than you can in any classroom?
    • The Teaser of Season Twelve's "The Artful Dodger" features a janitor in a U.S. Navy building who is very proud of what he does, and encourages his son to do good work, no matter what type of work it is:
      Janitor: People call this kind of work "blue collar." I don't care what color your shirt is; you bring pride to the job, people notice. And even if they don't, you'll notice.
  • The Queen's Gambit: Harry Beltik (a local chess champion whom Beth defeats early in the series) works managing a grocery store. When Beth comments that it sounds like a Soul-Sucking Retail Job, he responds that he likes it—it's not hard work, and he gets to help people.
  • Saturday Night Live has Kristen Wiig's recurring Target Lady character, who works as a cashier at Target and is constantly thrilled about it. Sometimes when customers buy things, she's so excited, she rushes away from her register to get them herself. She also hopes that Heaven has a Target.
  • Scrubs:
    • One episode featured one of the hospital's cantina staff who loved his job because he felt that supporting the doctors was quite a meaningful vocation. He has to be fired because of budget cuts.
    • Another example is the character of "Cabbage" who flunked out of medical school and later turned up as a barista where he admitted he was much happier because it was less pressure and more enjoyable doing that than being a doctor.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): "Once Upon a Time" centers around Woodrow Mulligan, who constantly complains about everything in his life, including his job as a janitor in a laboratory. After taking a jaunt to the future and nearly getting stranded there, he's more than happy to return to his work, having gained a greater appreciation for how much simpler everything is.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "But Can She Type?", Karen truly enjoys her job as a secretary, despite how Burt constantly mistreats her. Then she stumbles across a parallel reality where secretaries are treated like celebrities, and eventually decides to move there.

  • The classic disco song "Car Wash" is basically an ode to this trope, with the narrator singing about how much they love their job... not least because the boss doesn't usually care if the workers are goofing off.
  • Lana Del Rey has a song called "White Dress", in which the singer looks back fondly on the days when she and her friends were waitresses at a restaurant. She even muses that that life might be better than being famous.

    Music Videos 
  • In the video to Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out", the band appear very fond of their jobs in a greasy spoon hamburger joint and laugh off a record executive's offer of a recording contract... until he brings out the obligatory Briefcase Full of Money. They wind up back in the greasy spoon at the end of the video.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Exalted setting book for Autochthonia describes Ruvonia, a factory worker who became famous for her rousing work songs. Because of that, the more prestigious lector caste offered to make her one of them. She refused because it would've gone against her artistic spirit; she was proud of her place and her crew's usefulness.
  • A Pyramid article about 0-point GURPS characters included a waiter named Herman "Jiffy" Ross:
    Herman (please, call him Jiffy!) is a waiter at a medium-quality restaurant, and this is the single defining fact of his existence. Ever since "Jiffy" was a small child, he knew what he wanted to do in life, and now he does it. He loves his work, which may make him unique among the waiters of the world. With a song in his heart and a dance in his step he serves his customers, and no one is happier than he.
  • Mage: The Awakening: According to Legacies: The Sublime, one of the most powerful mages in Britain, Thaïs, lives a quiet life as a sweetshop clerk, occasionally giving life-changing advice but mostly preferring to be left alone. She also might be a literal saint from Heaven.
  • Not quite 'happiness' considering the setting, but one short story in Warhammer 40,000 is about a munitions factory worker who takes pride in his work in making landmines. One of said mines end up blowing up Lucius the Eternal, and that little pride in his work is enough for the curse to sets in, despite him not knowing of what happened and nowhere near the battlefield. When Lucius is resurrected out of the worker's body, he grumbles that someone would take pride in such mundane work.

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Cross: One of the myriad differences between the two worlds is the attitude that the leonine dockworker in Guldove takes towards his job. In one reality, he's constantly exhausted and overheated, spurring his coworkers to label him as lazy. In the other reality, the roles are reversed; all of his human companions are the ones worn out from the heat while he's happily handling all of their workloads without a single complaint, taking pride in his strength.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • Blake seems to enjoy waiting tables, and tells the protagonist (when the latter takes Heidi on a date to his new workplace) that it was "an honor" to have worked for him, if only for a short time.
    • When the protagonist trains Saul as his temporary replacement in the kitchen, Saul seems to take to cooking surprisingly well. Even though he’s still looking for a new job in law, he welcomes the change of pace that cooking brings.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Rocky likes his job as the school janitor/bus driver/cafeteria worker because he's a congenial kind of guy who's One of the Kids. He only tries to get another job when he thought he had to impress his dad.
  • Bojack Horseman: Out of the many jobs that fall into his lap in season 2, Mr. Peanutbutter takes the one with the lowest payment in his career: working at Lady Footwear as a clerk. Surprisingly, Mr. Peanutbutter's content there doing his own thing and attracting people by juggling shoe boxes and dishing out compliments. This only reinforces what he likes the most: attention. It also shows what he lacks: foresight. If Princess Carolyn hadn't seen him, it's unlikely he and Diane would have been able to maintain their lifestyle, something that hadn't quite dawned on him.
  • DuckTales: Scrooge McDuck's employees never get paid very much (Mrs. Beakley is explicitly stated to work for room and board, at least at first), but none of them seem to mind a lot. Part of this is probably because of their Undying Loyalty to Scrooge and his family; they just want to stay near them.
  • In Futurama, working on Planet Express's interstellar delivery crew is a bottom-of-the-rung situation not far up from Fry's previous job of delivering pizzas. Fry being a Fish out of Temporal Water though is thrilled to have a job that affords him everyday access to space travel beyond the wildest dreams of his 21st-century self, as well as allowing him to spend his days with his True Companions. When he briefly has ownership in the company and its stock rises enormously, his fellow employees, who all own shares, urge him to sell so that they can all be rich, but he's actually relieved when the stock plunges again, since he prefers to live simply if it means he can work with them. This eventually creates conflict in his relationship with Leela, since she dreams of moving forward while he doesn't want to change a thing, though she eventually comes back to work because she misses him. By the end of "Zapp Gets Cancelled", it seems Leela has likewise (albeit begrudgingly) accepted her place at Planet Express, because the more high-power careers (i.e. captain of DOOP) don't line up with her moral standards and she prefers working with people who support her.
    Fry: Yeah, but in the year 3000 I had it all: several friends, a low-paying job, a bed in a robot's closet. I envied no man!
  • Gravity Falls: Despite Stan being a Mean Boss who never listens to his ideas, Soos loves working at the Mystery Shack, as he's a perpetually cheerful Manchild with an overly worshipful view of his boss. And in the Grand Finale, he's Stan's first pick to become the new boss of the Mystery Shack when Stan retires to go on adventures with his brother.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In "Collusion", Mayor André has a Heel Realization about how he's abused his power as the Mayor of Paris, in no small part out of desperately trying to keep his family together, to little avail. He muses that he was much happier back before his political career began, when he was still chasing his dreams of becoming a filmmaker.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes:
    • K.O. loves working at Gar's Bodega, mostly because he's a Cheerful Child who loves being helpful. Enid and Rad are a more downplayed version; they can find the work tedious (Enid especially, since she deals with Unsatisfiable Customers constantly), but still like each other and find Mr. Gar enough of a Benevolent Boss to look up to. It helps that part of the job is fighting the robots that periodically attack the store.
    • Brandon loves his retail job at the frame store, seeing it as a very easy job where he gets to hang out with his co-worker and best friend, A Real Magic Skeleton. For his part, A.R.M.S. enjoys hanging out with Brandon, but is clearly taking the lion's share of the workload, and has considered looking for a better-paying job.
  • The main cast of Regular Show are generally satisfied with their jobs as park groundskeepers, in part because they're close friends with each other. Even though Mordecai and Rigby constantly avoid doing work, which Benson berates them for, they appreciate that he never actually fires them. Skips in particular enjoys his job, and regularly goes out of his way to help people. It probably helps that he has the occasional supernatural incident caused by Mordecai and Rigby to resolve.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "I Married Marge" shows that, when Homer and Marge were still dating, Homer had a job at a mini-golf course. He enjoyed his work, mostly because his boss didn't mind/notice his incompetence, and thought the incredibly small chances for advancement made it "a job with a future". Only after Bart is born does Homer go for a better paying but more grueling job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant—which he specifically gets by promising Mr. Burns he'll be a huge doormat.
    • Similarly, "And Maggie Makes Three" shows Homer cleared his debt from his house and first two kids, quit the power plant in a grandiose fashion, and happily moved to a much lower paying job as a pinsetter at a bowling alley. Shortly afterward, he found out Marge was pregnant with Maggie, which forced him to beg for his old job back.
    • In "Lisa's Wedding", while it's implied that Bart will go on to a Ridiculously Successful Future Self in line with the Distant Finale of "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", he's getting a huge kick out of being a wrecking ball operator who crushes cars on the side.
      Bart: They're finally paying me for this!
    • In "Bart The Fink", Krusty the Clown gets busted for tax evasion and has his salary heavily garnished by the IRS. This leads him to fake his death and adopt the alias "Rory B. Bellows", working as a salvager at the Springfield Docks. Krusty as "Rory B. Bellows" insists he is a lot happier as a salvager. It isn't until Bart and Lisa bring up his (fake) friends and the amount of respect he used to get as a clown that he finally agrees to go back to being Krusty.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob enjoys his job making Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab despite the rude customers, his surly coworker, and his greedy boss, even willingly taking on all the extra jobs Mr. Krabs gives him without expecting extra pay. Whenever he faces the prospect of being fired, his consequent distress isn't due to him potentially losing his income, but rather due to him not being able to work for work's sake; he even dislikes taking vacations because they keep him from his job as a fry cook. In one episode, it's even implied that SpongeBob pays Mr. Krabs to work there.*
  • Steven Universe:
    • Sadie and Lars fit the "friendship" version, despite their constant arguments. They started working at the Big Donut for the summer, but stayed on for years because they enjoyed each other's company—though Lars also enjoys that Sadie's willing to pick up his slack. Once Lars can't come to work anymore, Sadie's job becomes harder and very lonely, so she quits entirely to join a band.
    • Eventually, after Bill Dewey loses his job as mayor to Nanefua Pizza and does a lot of aimless wandering around Beach City, he becomes the employee taking Sadie's place in the Big Donut under Steven's suggestion, and he actually feels fulfilled.
  • In Total Drama World Tour, the kids are (seemingly) on the verge of death, and describe all the things they wanted to accomplish. Tyler wants to be a gym equipment repairman, though it's never explained why.

    Real Life 
  • One story in Reddit tells how a retail store gets a new worker who's older, well-groomed, well-educated, and drives a Jaguar. When asked how he could afford a Jaguar, he explains how he used to be a SVP of a major company and recently went through a divorce. His ex-wife demands 75% of his wages as part of the settlement, and he agrees... Only to immediately quit his original job and find a low-paying one. As he puts it, payday is always a joyful day because he knows how little his ex is getting.