Sunday, September 07, 2014

I Miss Sunshine!

Joseph didn't excel at networking, either.  Falsely accused of attempted sexual assault, he'd been stuck in prison for about fifteen years when he thought he'd found his golden ticket out--Pharoah's cupbearer. Just a word in the monarch's ear, and he'd be out on parole. But the guy forgot about him for a couple of years, and it wasn't until the monarch had troublesome dreams that demanded explanation did the wine-taster recall, "Oh gee, that's right, there was this guy in prison who had this amazing interpretation ability..."

I've been thinking a lot about Moses and Joseph lately (and Monty Python sketches and excerpts from the Princess Bride and what the French word for "fear" is, but that's neither here nor there). It's a whole lot easier to marvel at Almighty Providence when you are strolling the Georgetown campus on a sunny afternoon, being greeted by professors and fellow students, than when you are trudging from your workstation to the time-clock at the factory at 4 AM along with your fellow weary workmates.  I wonder what Moses thought, after growing up in wealth and getting the Ivy League plus education of his day, forced to run for his life into the wilderness and there to find only work herding sheep--for 40 years.  Joseph, too, had been the golden child on whom his father's favor rested.  He'd even landed on his feet in Egypt, or so he thought, when after he'd been sold as a slave by his jealous brothers, his new master had appointed him chief steward. But then the master's wife took a shine to him, and when he didn't reciprocate, she cried "rape" and young Joe was packed off to the pokey to wile away his youth--for 17 years.  Moses was my age when his life took its first abrupt turn.  Joseph was likely much younger. There were subsequent dramatic turns in store for them, in God's time, and with a much broader purpose than either could have dreamt.

Obviously, I haven't a capital crime hanging over my head, nor do I expect to be called forth from the assembly line to preserve a nation, so the Old Testament patriarch examples don't translate exactly, but it is true that I've got a lot of pride that needs breaking down.  I thought I glimpsed an old nemesis one night this week, and was quickly ashamed of how ashamed I was of what I was doing.  True, you really want to present an image of dazzling success to the demons of your past, and I was dirty, sore, and laboring in a factory, not a distinguished and successful author, nattily dressed, being chatted up by an interviewer about her latest bestseller.  My life heretofore conditioned me to be subconsciously embarrassed by menial labor--to be able to do it as an avocation was to one's credit, but to be forced to do it as a vocation was demeaning, particularly if one had the privilege of education and the possibilities for expertise in a purely intellectual field as I had. But there is nothing wrong with the job I do--it's making good things for worthy purposes. Some people would truly not be able to eat if I weren't to do my work well.

Yes, it is hard on my body (though by lugging parts my arms have toned so I no longer have the beginning of that bane of female middle age, the underarm skin sag!).  So much so that I asked for an occupational movement specialist to come observe me at my station, and she and the union shop leader determined that I needed to change stations regularly in order not to injure myself through repetitive motion. So from Monday I will be spending every other day at another station, which I hope will lessen the discomfort in my hands and back. The specialist gave me a pair of whittled-down cushioning gloves to wear over my regular pair, and they did help, though now suiting up for work involves enough layers that I feel like I am readying for a spacewalk.  And I understand why astronauts wear diapers--because peeling off all those gloves, and the wrist brace, on the way to the toilet is a pain!

I've met several interesting ladies the last week, two new to the shift. One is barely twenty, the mother of two little boys (ages 1 & 2), sired by a boyfriend with whom she has lived since taking her parents' car for an illegal joyride at age 17. She and the boyfriend are no longer "together", but they and his mother share the responsibility for the toddlers.  She said she took the job because she wanted to prove to them that she could support herself. Since the children wake her at 8 AM, and the other two adults are gone from the house all day, she is making do on less than 4 hours' sleep a night.  The other is a woman who announced proudly in the cafeteria on Friday that she was soon going to be a grandmother.  Like the waitress in the country song, she is missing a front tooth, but not unattractive for all that, and I couldn't believe that she was old enough to be a grandmother, and told her so.  She said, "I'm 38."  Younger than me.  And her anticipated grandmotherhood is a product of her own youthful marriage (at 18) and a middle daughter's more youthful indiscretion (at 17--the power was off for almost a week during February's ice storm, and she and her boyfriend "snuggled up," in her mother's words).  She was recently divorced, and the nighttime factory work is the best job she could find, after being a homemaker for a score of years.  She wants her two daughters and younger son to finish high school and get some college, which she never had.  Both of these women's worlds are much apart from mine--at least three of my friends didn't marry and consider having children until after age 40, and few even married before their late 20s.  Everyone in my DC social circle had a college degree, and many had further academic or professional training.

All I knew there had been abroad multiple times, and interstate jaunts are a matter of casual routine.  A third pretty woman I met this week was wearing a "Texas" t-shirt yesterday, so I asked her if she were from there.  "No, I've never been," she told me.  "It's nice--you ought to see San Antonio," I said, limply.  She's only been to states contiguous to Georgia, and North Carolina, I overheard her tell a coworker.

One thing I have found common cause with my coworkers was in opposition to the announcement that the staffing agency was going to have us pay for being fitted for, and then to rent, uniforms.  These are by and large poor people--shelling out three hours' wages per person for fitting, then another hour's a week to rent uniforms which we must wash, and for which the replacement costs are exorbitant (over $100 for the jacket alone) is a major hardship, one which the staffing agency employees do not seem to comprehend.  I had to sign that I agreed to this (signatures were being collected from everyone, I didn't see that I could refuse), but I immediately (during the next work break) sent off a letter of protest.  Turns out, essentially no one else protested, even though they were sorely aggrieved, because they didn't know to whom they should protest, or how to get in touch with them.  And many shared the attitude of the slightly embittered fellow I work with, when I urged him to write or call: "It won't do any good unless everybody does it."  So, he wouldn't do anything.  "No," I told him, "It only takes one. You shouldn't think cosmically, but individually." He looked at me with sad incomprehension.  I can appreciate the frustration of nineteenth-century reformers working with the Russian peasantry.

The early part of the week, I was quite depressed.  I'm only getting a few minutes of sunlight (in the car, on the way to work) a day, and though it always has made me sleepy, I miss it.  As I've mentioned, my hands, wrists, and now my back hurts, and I was standing at my station for hours, wondering, "Why am I here?!  All my education is going to waste!"  And I haven't gotten any gym exercise, which is a stress reliever.  Then, on Thursday, Claude the jolly forklift man insisted a share his large cheese-and-sausage pizza, and I swallowed fully two-thirds of it.  This massive onboarding of carb-calories improved my mood considerably, and I resolved to eat more of my healthy selections in future.  I want to be trim, but I also want to be healthy, and cheerful, as I learn to understand the characters with whom I am sharing this new cultural experience.


gnutron said...

Well, I'm proud of you for working your ass off, and although I don't expect you to be doing this kind of work in the long term, I think it's pretty cool. Gives you street cred. You should become a union boss. Make all those years studying commies pay off.

the elder kinswoman said...

It IS good to stand up for folks who cannot or will not stand up for themselves--although it will eventually get you in trouble, of course.