Monday, July 12, 2010

A musing on work.

On Sunday, I spent the morning doing chores before it got hot. (Another blog post ahead.) I showered and was sitting in the home office in my underwear, posting those three posts you can check out below. Perhaps that is too much information for you but it's vital to this post. The curtains are drawn on the office windows. Actually, the "curtain" consists of a rather large beach towel. I have vertical blinds I have always been meaning to install, but that requires the windows be scraped and repainted which means the adjacent wall should be redone which means I should pull down the wallpaper that is nearly 20 years old but that means I need to move things out of this room and into Carole's old bedroom but that room needs to be redone before I do I keep a beach towel over the office window immediately adjacent to the computer.

I see boots and jeans on the deck and my neighbor raps smartly on the back door. Oh lord! I quickly grabbed a polo shirt and shorts from a drawer, pulled them on and answered it. "I hate to bother you, but could you give me a ride to the Harley dealer so I can pick up my bike. It needed a tune up and my family's not home to give me a ride. I'll give you $10 to give me a ride."

It was 12:25 p.m. Why is that time important? Well, I have developed a minor ritual on Saturdays and Sundays. I log onto my World of Warcraft account and defend the "honor" of my Alliance faction leaders from an assault by a group of Horde, the other faction.

That I am lousy at this part of the game, there is no doubt, but I have grown to very much enjoy my futility. And, people from the other side recognize me. Yes, this doubles my chances of dying spectacularly, but I don't care. It's fun. All this excitement and mayhem gets started at 1:15-1:30 p.m.

I hesitated for just a second. Would I be back in time? It's a neighbor. I'm home. I'm really not doing anything of a life or death matter. I'll drive him. I can offer my resistance when I get back. I know the route the Horde takes. I'll catch up to them and maybe pick off the low levels I know travel toward the back.

It was an excellent decision. Carole babysat for his girls. His oldest is a sophomore in college, studying journalism although she's leaning now toward Human Resources. His youngest will be a senior in high school and wants to join her sister at DePaul University in Chicago. "It's so expensive," he said. "I kind of wish they'd have picked some place cheaper to go or that they'd have worked a couple of years before getting into college."

I caught him up on what Carole is doing now; still with JC Penney and back to managing a department after a couple of years as the assistant manager. He worried that his girls won't be able to get a job when they are done with college. "Look at me," he said. "I'm a laborer. I've dug ditches, mowed lawns, worked construction. I've been at the same warehouse job for 32 years. I've seen 15 upper managers, 8 middle managers and 5 supervisors come and go in those years. I got no degree, but I got a job and I'm willing to work. Too many people want it handed to them; big house, big car, big salary."

When I meet people for the first time and mention I have a daughter who works retail, often the comment is, "Oh my gosh. I could never do that. Retail is awful." I used to manage a wan smile and then would change the subject. Now, I look at them and say, "Well, if people like my daughter didn't work retail, who would sell you your underwear?" There's a pause as this sinks in and then there are some attempts at back pedaling, but I'm not afraid to press on with this line of thinking. "Retail may appear to be an awful job, but without those cashiers working check-outs, you won't be able to buy your underwear, your food, your cat food. Think about it."

The culturally running joke is, "My [insert child's gender] has an MBA from Harvard." "Oh really. Is he [or she] in management?" "Yeah, they are the front line in customer service. 'Would you like fries with that?'" We all laugh at the thought of someone actually working fast food. But if they didn't, who would? When you drive across the country, you expect the fast food restaurants along the Interstate to be staffed just waiting to sell you food and beverage so you can continue along your way. Yet, we make fun of those people asking if you want fries with that.

The company that picks up the garbage and the truck drivers who haul garbage to transfer stations don't get a lot of good press. Yet, what if you had to take your own garbage to a dump? Some people do, but what if everyone in the City of Chicago had to figure out how to take their garbage to a dump because there were no people to work garbage collection?

There was a student, a saxophone player a year older than Carole at her high school. He was a very introspective young man, extremely gifted and very bright. I chaperoned a jazz festival where he was the soloist. There were three of us moms and, at dinner, we saw this young man sitting alone. We decided we'd sit with him. Talk turned to what he was going to do after high school. He said he wasn't certain. "I don't know, but what I do know is that whatever I do, I will do it with pride. Every job has merit."

Every job has merit. I find myself thinking more kindly of other workers, even, gasp, telemarketers. I don't agree with some decisions which have impacted me directly and there are decisions made by people with jobs which I feel are flat out wrong. But I try to remember that every job has merit. You can be deliriously happy making $500 a month as well as making $5,000 a month.

My ultimate point in all of this is to ask you to stop putting down that teenager behind the counter who asks if you want fries with your meal. Stop complaining about the garbage truck in the way on your morning commute. Quit belly aching when you get to the office about the frazzled gal behind the counter at your coffee shop, trying to juggle four orders and the woman in front of you who is fishing in the suitcase she carries for a purse for 29¢. If there weren't people willing to do those jobs, you wouldn't get your morning coffee, fries with your meal or the detritus from your life hauled away.

Think about it.

Beverage: English Breakfast tea


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