Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lessons from Odd Jobs

L. L. Barkat, whose book Stone Crossings I'm about halfway through, and marveling at the soul of it, memed me with the following instructions.

1. Write about the Strangest Job I Ever Had and tell what I learned from it.

2. Link to other "Lessons from Odd Jobs" posts.

3. Tag my post "Lessons from Odd Jobs".

4. Tag other bloggers, in or out of the HC network.

5. Link back to the Lessons from Odd Jobs page and and email this month’s host at “Marcus AT highcallingblogs DOT com”.

This is one tough meme! I'm not sure which was harder, coming up with the job to write about or syncing up with the other stuff. But here goes.

My dream odd job would be the odd job prophesied by Cameron for Ferris Bueller: "Fry cook on Venus." That's a dream for two reasons: (1) I only want to do it so I can live out my fantasy of being Ferris Bueller and (b) there are no fry cooks on Venus--that we know of . . .

But my oddest job ever, in a long list of unremarkable jobs, I suppose is the summer I spent reviewing legal documents out of the archive files of a garbage dump. I was a contract employee for a special project involving a waste management's firm compliance with federal law or something like that. Every day there'd be a new roomful of dusty, smelly, bankers boxes full of backdated contracts and other legal documents. We would sift through each file looking for noteworthy documents.

Now, that's not a terribly odd job. The odd thing about it was the vibe established among the workers. We had a quirky assortment of folks there--the severely withdrawn buttoned-up mouse-eared lady; the middle-aged gay lapsed Catholic who followed me home and wanted to show me his translations of medieval masses; the shift supervisor who really wanted to be a montage artist and who had eloped to Peru a year earlier; the Jesus-freak (not me) who tried to get me to join his cult; the fish-out-of-water quiet religious nut (that's me) who wanted to talk to people about God but only occasionally managed to even talk; the lunchtime fishermen who were smarter than any of us but also fundamentally the most unlikely to succeed. We were managed not by The Office's Michael Scott but by Michael Scott's superior/dominatrix, Jan, a young MBA with ambition but perhaps poor judgment, who had somehow wound up in an isolated office building making sure a bunch of weirdos made their numbers for grimy documents reviewed. She was attentive the way a manager should be attentive, but I remember her rubbing her temples quite a lot.

I learned from that odd job that people--from the most to the least socially adept--are odd, and that while people's oddnesses often subvert their attempts at meaningful work and relationships, there's a sense in which people's oddnesses are what makes them interesting and even endearing. I also learned that oddness and competence are unrelated. I learned by observation that people management is a tough job and doesn't afford the people manager much downtime. I learned that some people are way too into their own belief system, and that some people are way too wary of belief in anything beyond themselves. I learned that even dirty work has dignity, and that even work that is ultimately futile should be given dignity. I learned more than I would ever expect to learn about waste management, and I learned that, all things considered, I'd rather be a writer.

OK. I'll tag Elaine and Allen, Rebecca and Al.


David A. Zimmerman said...

I forgot to mention that I wrote a song about this odd job while I was there, a subtle cry for help from my friends, to be perfectly honest. It's based on a line in the book of Proverbs: "The leech has two daughters; 'Give, give!' they cry." The "she" in the song is the odd job; the "you" in the song is me. Here's the first bridge and the third verse; my friend Lisa is going to publish the whole thing in an informal anthology she's collected.

And you know that you don't love her
But there's nowhere else to stay.
And your friends all think you're happy
As they watch you waste away.
She saps your strength
And she sucks the marrow dry.
And she'll cut you to the quick
As she looks you in the eye.
And you'll bleed and bleed and bleed and bleed and bleed and bleed and bleed,
And she'll drink and drink and laugh and ask for more.

A bit more misogynistic than I intended, I'm afraid, but I was young and artsy.

L.L. Barkat said...

Oh, that's all right to frame the leechy job as "woman". Proverbs itself frames woman in two drastically different ways (why, Lady Wisdom even appears to be Jesus in disguise!).

As for the rest of the meme, you have not disappointed. I loved your description of the work and the people. And anyone who can learn what you did from a waste management odd job surely deserves a good link (Oh, right, I linked to you already! My compliments shall have to serve as reward enough : )

heather said...

A lot of bleeding.

Mark Goodyear said...

Here's what I want to know: Did the files smell? I imagine they did, but you don't mention any odor.

An unrelated tangent: on the Me-Ville amazon page, I saw the RSS link back to this post. Wild! Do those RSS links go out to people's Kindles as well?