Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Work, life

I've had a surprising array of jobs, none of which I would characterize as good in the sense of having high long term prospects, and most of which I didn't relish all that much. I never even got paid for the hardest work I ever did...for my parents, and my body bears the memories and pains of that work to this day. I've always tried to work hard, though...not because I was afraid not to, but because I needed to work hard in order to feel that I was earning my pay, for my own self esteem, and because I've had it with men telling me I couldn't work hard by virtue of my sex. Especially because of that, I frequently worked harder. And no matter how dirty the work was, how low paying, how bad the work conditions or the coworkers, I've always felt that dignity isn't defined by one's circumstances, you have to draw it from within, not depend upon other people to dictate your value to you. No.

Some people don't like that. They want a person to grovel, to act stupid even if they're not, to grin idiotically and enthusiastically when told the toilets need to be cleaned, even if they ultimately don't clean the toilet. I was the type to take the toilet cleaning orders stoically and then go do it, and do it well, but because I didn't grin all over myself in the process, the happy faced do-nothings tended to get preference. It's always been this way. It doesn't surprise me anymore, but it still makes me angry at times, the injustice of it. It isn't about work, it's about the person in authority wanting gratuitous ego stroking, needing to know that nothing is too much to ask, you'll do it gladly.... My loyalty is never of that sort. When I love someone, something, someplace (and places frequently rate high on my list of loves- I get very attached to place), I'm like a stone. If it rains on me, I'm wet. Snow, I'm covered and cold. Ice, sheeted and dripping with it. Sun, hot and dry. I might bitch and whine, but I'm *there* in my heart. It takes an awful lot of upheaval to change that, and once changed, I tend to stay changed, too. Can you see what I mean; the surface may change from day to day but the essence remains the same and fairly constant.

There was the chicken factory. Egads, what an awful job. The place reeked so badly that it could be smelled from a mile or two away. Most of the workers didn't speak English. Most of them got carpal tunnel eventually, it was just a matter of time, and they knew it. They knew, too, that they'd be fired if they got injured or if they so much as hinted at symptoms of carpal tunnel, so they had to keep quiet about it. All I did, for 8 hours a day straight, was to turn boneless, skinless chicken breasts over, shiny side up in little trays passing me on a conveyor belt. Any with bloody bruises or bad spots larger than a quarter had to be pulled. I was already a vegetarian, but that job caused me to lose my appetite for chicken for years.

The Southern Steel factory, home to the job I hated most. First they had me trim the ragged edges off of steel racks for freezers and refrigerators. That was OK and they were impressed with my productivity. I liked it. Then they had me lift much larger racks off hooks, after being galvanized, in groups, and pack them into huge crates. I was strong, and I tried my absolute best, but just was not physically large enough, didn't have the brawn, to do the task well. Next, the worst: standing next to a conveyor chain of enameled racks on their way to some other destination. My only duty, for 8 hours per day, was to ensure that all the racks were hanging correctly on the chain. 98% of them were. There were two people on this task, and we sometimes had to wait 15 or 20 minutes for a crooked hanging rack. We'd race to it, all excited over finally having something to *do*. I thought I would die of boredom or become hypnotized by the sight of endless racks going by....

Housekeeper and maid to wealthy, eldery cattle ranchers in west Texas who owned tens of thousands of acres. I lived in a little trailer near their house, cooked their breakfast, made their beds, cleaned their house, made their lunch and dinner, did the dishes, dusted and polished their furniture. I didn't mind the meniality of the work, or the low pay ($400.00 per month), but I did mind, quietly, privately, their bigotry and old fashioned ideas of what I should like or not like, do or not do, believe, eat, act, and so on. They found my vegetarianism very offensive. They knew when they hired me that I observed a 7th day sabbath, but then expected me to work on Saturday beyond cooking and serving their meals, which I considered necessary. They agreed, when they hired me, to allow me to keep a single goat in a pen on their vast acreage, but once I was hired, changed their minds, said that "Goats aren't worth two hoots in glory!", and so even as I helped care for their livestock, their pets, I couldn't have a single animal of my own. My husband was supposed to milk the cows, but he didn't know how, had no farm sense. I did, but they wouldn't let me at first, said women shouldn't milk animals. Their grandson persuaded them otherwise, said he preferred the fresh milk to storebought, so they decided to let me milk long enough to teach my husband (a truly unteachable man) how to milk the cows. Eventually they fired me, saying that we were "too different".

Then there was the job as a CSS, Community Support Specialist. This was a fancy name for a job working with developmentally disabled children and adults. I viewed them as my clients. We were told to refer to them as "consumers", a term which some of the clients found very offensive. One teen with cerebral palsy told me that it made him feel as though he were regarded as a parasite on society, consuming. I avoided the term whenever possible, but quickly found that the other workers spent most of their time babysitting the clients rather than trying to help them achieve the goals which had been set in the plans, which were enclosed in notebooks. The intelligent clients asked to read their notebook after each worker was finished with it for the day. This was wise, for the comments were frequently condescending and belittling, much like the worker's attitude toward the clients. I got into trouble for not adopting this attitude, for viewing all the clients, even the most disabled, as my equals. When I disclosed my diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, they gave my clients with autism spectrum disorders to other workers, and gave me the clients I was afraid of. These were probably harmless, but they were grown men and I was to sit alone with them in their apartments for an hour or two at a time, a situation I felt distinctly uncomfortable with. My hours were cut to a negligible amount. The message was clear; I quit.

I won't reiterate my gripes with my current job because you can read them in detail from the time I got hired. I've given up complaining about it. We're disposable, there's no reason to treat us well or even to follow the law in regard to employee rights, because there is always an endless supply of people desperate for a job, particularly in today's economy. Injustice is everywhere, but I never seem to reach a place where I can accept it. I'm not sure if that's a failing on my part or not.

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