Friday, September 4, 2015

Labor Daze

I (stupidly) remained in the Inland Empire after college in 1977 to stay with a (stupid) boyfriend who had another year of college (but dropped out.) My father gleefully presented me with a card upon graduation which contained a $50 bill and the words, “No more pencils. No more books. No more checks from home.” The only job I could get was handing out samples at a supermarket, of, what at the time, was a new product--turkey ham, After a brief training session and instructions to bring a folding table, tablecloth, knife, toothpicks and serving platter from home and then pick up the ersatz pork product and some parsley garnish from the market, I was assigned to a Stater Brothers in Riverside. The butcher directed me to the turkey ham but the produce man informed me that the parsley was the property of Mr. Stater and he had no liberty provide it to me gratis. I don't remember whether I sprang for the parsley or not but I do recall struggling to create, with my dull knife, the neat cubes that had been demonstrated. My platter was full of irregular shards of hot pink meat which I was literally unable to give away. This gig lasted less than a week.

There was a federal job subsidy program called CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) that I presume had not been created for white liberal arts majors like myself. Nevertheless, I landed a counseling job at a San Bernardino drug diversion counseling center by virtue of pure bullshit. I cringe to think about my twenty year old self who had never even taken a psychology class functioning in an ostensibly therapeutic modality. My memories are very faint. Most of the clientele had been busted for about the same amount of marijuana I would smoke when I returned home from a day's work. I hope I did no harm.

This job lead to another counseling job at an L.A. methadone clinic where the workday began at 5:30 a.m. After this I taught adult school part time while working full time for my dad. After the first kid I took over the business almost entirely and stopped teaching. I am enormously grateful to my pop and I've found a lot of satisfaction running a business. But I never really feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing unless I am writing. I have never worked as hard as my dad and feel guilty that I have accomplished less than I probably should have in running a business or being a writer. Yet, I have a distaste for the salesmanship and glad handing, likely apt to increase business. I am weary from decades of rejections and it is hard for me to focus on writing other than the satisfying work I do here. I am resigned that partially due to my own laziness and in fairness to myself, also by dint of luck, career fulfillment is likely not in the cards for me. Fortunately the downright abundance in other areas reminds me resoundingly that I haven't wasted my life. Except for about twenty pounds, there is really nothing I have that I would trade to be more widely acknowledged as a writer.

I have dinner on the table when Joe Workforce returns from his full time job. Again, my memories of post college work life have faded but I suspect my own experience was quite different than the boy's. To some extent I am still (disillusionally?) waiting to accomplish my life's work. The kid however studies film in college and secures a good entry level job in the industry less than three months after graduation. It is frequently more wistfully than optimistically that he muses about remaining with this same company until he retires. He alludes to missing what he now realizes was the relative freedom of a college student. I feel sort of guilty, as if he is silently accusing me of bringing him into this world to work eight hour days with one week a year of paid vacation.

My father was the hardest worker I have ever known but could only accomplish work by being physically present at the office which was open for business forty hours a week. He would check in by telephone every few days while he was on vacation but when he was not actually at work, all he could really do would stew about it. I have busy spates and idle periods but in order to be attentive to an international clientele, I need constantly monitor e-mail so while I might be drooling on the couch I have to be ready to shift into work mode for about 16 hours of each day, seven days a week. Certainly, because I work from anywhere, I have a lot more freedom than my old man did but the price of this is never being able to turn it completely off.

When I started at the film library there were over 20,000 films available for rental. Each film had its own calendar page in a huge book to indicate when it was scheduled to be shipped, shown and returned. Popular films required complicated booking plans to insure that each print was available for as many rentals as possible. Invoices for each unique order were five part carbons. Two x'ed out typos per invoice barely passed muster but if there were three errors you had to start all over again. Dad always reminded us to be grateful for our electric typewriters. He never mastered the Selectic and banged out everything on an ancient manual Smith Corona. In addition to an invoice, each individual film required a shipping label, which could be created three at a time, using squares of black carbon paper. When a film was booked, the customer would receive a yellow confirmation copy of the invoice by mail. Then the invoices were filed into huge bins by shipping date. The green copy of the invoice was used by the shipping department to ship the film and then check it back in when returned. UPS returned huge stacks of film every morning and then returned in the afternoon to pick up a dozen hand-trucks full of outgoing. When a film was shipped, the two top copies of the invoice were mailed to the customer. One was used to send back with remittance and the other was for the client's records. When a film was returned from a rental it needed to be inspected and then checked in by the shipping department and then checked in again by the film bookers. There was also a pink invoice that was the red flag used to signify either the late return of a print or past due payment.

Towards the end of the rental years, it was still possible to rent a short film for $7.50 plus shipping. Even this rental required a hand typed invoice, shipping labels, mailing confirmation and then invoices, shipping, check in, and inspection. We haven't rented prints for over twenty years. We keep our films in a vault now but deal mostly these days with digital files. All of our licensing, invoicing and communication is done via Internet. The office is pretty much paper free and the entire business exists nearly entirely in the cloud. Wherever that is.

Who knows what will transpire vocationally for any of us. The definition of work has changed radically in my forty years of working life. My father would never believe how the business has evolved in just the eight years since his death. I wonder about the nature of my kids' working lives. Joe Workforce, in his entry level position is required to be present at the office and attend to duties in the laboratory. If he advances in his current position will his physical presence be required less? Will my kids be able to work away from exotic beaches or chi chi coffee houses or in some other milieu I can't possibly imagine? How will the ever increasing leanness of the workplace play out for them? Will they be worked to death, like so many other Americans? With the help of my mom I was able, in my twenties, to buy a tiny cottage which in my thirties, I was able to parlay into a larger, family sized house. Will the only real estate my own children are able to acquire be inherited, mortgage and all?

Like all moms, I hope my kids find work that's satisfying and pray that they don't resent our having conceived them for a life of drudgery and student debt. I bitch and moan myself about having to monitor the business during all of my waking hours. But, I would not give this up for a life of typing invoices and scrubbing my hands with Lava Soap every few hours to get rid of black carbon paper stains. Maybe the sonic advancement of technology bodes well for my boys. Perhaps the world will grow so automated that the only labor for real poeple will be of the sort that requires a gentle or comforting human touch or creative imagination. I know that at least they won't be typing invoices and whatever it is they do end up doing is likely far beyond their mom and grandpa's wildest dreams.


Rosemary said...

I recall that working post-college was a bit of a shock! It just is. It is so....foreign and takes real getting used to -- but I bet he is excelling and impressing one and all. His pride about his work will grow. You work much, much harder than you think too, Missy!

My sister commented to me on Cape Cod this week that the next generations are probably going to create far more elderly care and elderly advocate jobs, as we are all living too well and many Americans are not aging too gracefully. X

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

My dad dealt with CETA students sent his way, reluctantly he assumed, reluctantly for him easy to presume, at that same time period as when you worked at the clinic. His recruited charges wound up in whatever "defense plant" or machine shop he was at. I think Nixon started CETA. These raw, streetwise, smartass, inductees to the rigors of QC and the finer points of caliper or calibration with tolerances measured by hand and tool and math in a pre-computer age to 1/10,000 of an inch were, let's say, not his first choice to impart the acquired wisdom of nearly half a century. Little reason, he'd soon say, that those jobs vanished overseas shortly after. So, regard Joe Workforce as liberated from the tyranny of such as we had to endure, coming of age among rotary phones, carbons and Selectrics, life with one area code and calls made before or after 5 or 7 p.m., paper forms in quadruplicate, to be typed and erased and retyped. My favorite shade was always canary yellow. Shabbat shalom xxx me

Anonymous said...

Layne, i am a grandmother of 10 who is still trying to figure out what to become when I grow up..Mostly, I have concluded I was meant to be a grandparent all along, it's easier than trying to figure out how many
other boats I may have missed. Running a successful business is a huge accomplishment and not an easy task, many have tried and failed to do just that.

When I was almost forty, and raising a large family, I convinced myself that in order to do 'good' in the world, I had to enroll in a Master's program. I thought this would be a walk in the park, compared to my career in an ad agency.
I completed my course, changed careers, and promptly had a heart attack at 41, all the while looking like the picture of health. The new career was challenging and stressful, and ultimately no more rewarding than the first career.It was also a lot less fun.
My problem was always wanting to be the hero of my own story, no matter what..I forgot that supporting roles get Academy Awards too.
As for the children, they all went to top tier schools, including one who dropped out to get married and move out of state..They all work in some professional capacity, guess who makes the most money ? Obviously, the drop out, who started what became a very successful online business, while raising three children. She also seems the happiest with her career choice..go figure.