Take this Job and Shove It! A Moment with Bill Reflection
Let Me Take You Back a Few Years
I was two hours into my new job when I turned to my best friend, Frank, and said, “You have gotta be kidding me.”
He was too tired to respond.
It was the summer after our sophomore year in college. I had a good warehouse job lined up for the summer months, but the job wouldn’t start for two weeks, and I need some cash. Frank always needed cash, and he had no job lined up, so there we stood in line at six a.m. one early June morning, hoping that our names would be called at the Longshoreman’s union office. We were hoping to hire on for some temp work, affectionately called “grunt labor” in those days. In other words, we were trying to get the jobs that no experienced longshoreman wanted.
Well, our wish came true. Our names were called, and we were sent to Terminal B, where a tanker was waiting for us. We were led down into the hold of the tanker, given shovels, and told to shovel coal into the furnace of the ship. The furnace was producing heat in the 1500 F range, and it needed to be constantly fed, and our job was to do the feeding.
Oh my God!
We lasted two weeks. We both made five-hundred bucks for the two weeks. I lost twenty-two pounds; Frank lost eighteen. We never returned.
I was thinking about that job the other day as I was frantically trying to meet a deadline for a couple articles that my customers had requested. I was stressing over it, and wondering why the hell I was doing this when all I wanted to do was write novels….and then it hit me….compared to shoveling coal into a blast furnace, I had it made.
My First Job
I had to do some serious remembering to come up with it, but I finally settled on the summer of my twelfth year. I decided it would be nice to have some cash that summer, so I spent a couple week walking around the neighborhood asking neighbors if I could mow their lawns. My little enterprise grew to six lawns that summer, five bucks per lawn per week, so I was making thirty bucks a week. Not bad for a twelve-year old in 1960.
I did one other lawn that summer, but I did that one for free. Our next-door neighbors were the Witherspoons, a lovely couple, both in their seventies, and my dad thought it would be nice if I did their lawn out of the goodness of my heart. I agreed, they were grateful, and my dad was right. I expanded my business over the winter, shoveling snow for those same neighbors, making enough spare cash to buy the latest records when they were released, and to pay for the movies.
My first paying job for an employer was at the Proctor Bowling Alley in Tacoma, Washington. I was fourteen at the time, and it was my job to fix the machines when a ball got stuck or a pin jammed things up. I was paid something like five bucks per hour, but I got free bowling as a bonus, and I thought that was the greatest job ever invented.
And the Years Passed
I’ve been working for a paycheck ever since the bowling alley days, and it would take several pages to fill out an all-inclusive resume, but let me give you an abridged version.
I was a teacher for eighteen years, first at the junior college level, then high school, and finally middle school. Great job no matter where I was teaching, and it was the most rewarding labor of my lifetime.
I’m currently a freelance writer with three years under my belt, and I love every minute of it, but that cannot be said of all my jobs. I was a truck driver, a wine and beer salesman, a warehouse worker, a real estate agent, and I have shoveled pig shit from farm pens.
I was an office worker, a bookkeeper, a lumberyard gofer and a retail clerk.
I’ve owned four businesses and I’ve handed out flyers for other businesses. I’ve worked on farms and I’ve worked in strawberry fields. One summer I cleared brush by hand from fifteen acres, and one summer I unloaded boxcars. I’ve driven forklifts and I’ve driven semi-trucks. I worked three part-time jobs one year just to break even, and I’ve made a six-figure income and not had a dime in savings.
And I’ve been homeless.
Fifty-two years of labor and counting.
I’m a writer, so naturally I have some reflections about those fifty-two years and countless jobs.
A Few Thoughts in No Particular Order
I learned a lesson early on in life. My dad worked in a sand & gravel pit for twenty years after he was discharged from the Army. It was hard, physical labor, and it wore him down so that, by the time he was nearly fifty, he looked twenty years older. I never heard him complain. In fact, quite often I heard him say he was lucky to have the job, and he was grateful for it. He told me it was honest labor, and he told me that there was no such thing as a bad job, that a man could learn something from every act of labor.
I have never forgotten that lesson.
Did I enjoy shoveling coal into that furnace? Are you kidding me? Did I enjoy shoveling pig shit? Did I enjoy working three part-time jobs to support my family?
In those situations, enjoyment is not really a consideration. We do what we have to do to get by. Nobody was forcing me to shovel pig shit. I took the job knowing what it entailed. I needed the money, they needed someone with a strong back, and I was paid for my discomfort. End of story, the perfect exchange of needs.
The worst job I ever had was better than being homeless. I speak from experience. I marvel at those people who speak poorly of the homeless, and turn a blind eye to their plight. I’m guessing they have never been homeless. On a similar note, if you’ve ever been homeless, chances are excellent that you will never complain about a job again. It’s called perspective, and today I have it in spades.
One does not impress others by complaining about their job. I spent a great deal of time complaining about my warehouse job that I worked during summer vacations from college. I complained right up to the day my dad died, and suddenly I needed that warehouse job to pay the family bills, and lo and behold, they wouldn’t hire me back because of my previous complaining. Lesson learned. If you have visions of advancement, or for that matter, visions of just holding onto your job, keep your mouth shut and do your job.
I try not to be too hard on kids these days. It would be easy for me to sit upon the throne of Solomon and judge them harshly. A subtle shift in attitudes toward work has happened over the years, and I’m not sure how or why it happened. I’ve heard teenagers say they would never work at a place like McDonald’s, that it is degrading and not worth their time.
I simply do not understand that thinking.
I don’t think I’m stuck in the past. The value of hard, honest work has not decreased with the decades. Still, today, I find great satisfaction in doing a job well. We are workers by nature. It is imprinted on our DNA, and I can’t see the value in sitting around doing nothing when accomplishments are waiting for us.
But I’m old, and I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)