Wednesday, July 29, 2009

335. my real job?

I had mentioned in the [preface] portion of my previous post that "because of an experience a couple weeks ago (which I'll also write about soon), I should be back on the writing bandwagon now."

Well, what happened was, I got a temp job at a company that sells and leases copiers to businesses. They had a particularly big order come in and they needed someone to help un-box new copiers and help get them ready to ship out. Sounded like a simple job and so I took it.

And then I got there and learned that these weren't just any copiers. They were these huge, heavy (over 400lbs), Konica Minolta bizhub c650 machines. I asked the guy showing me how to un-box them how much one of them cost and he laughed and said, "probably more than I make in a year." A quick Google search shows that they probably go for around $27,000.

During the course of my two day temp job, I helped offload and un-box about thirty of those along with their associated finishers (the bit that sorts and staples print jobs). And let me tell you, it was HARD work.

First off, just getting these monsters off the delivery truck. Did I mention they weigh over 400 back-breaking pounds each? Well the box they come in is probably about four feet high and there aren't any holes cut out of them so there's really nothing to grab onto. They come strapped to a custom-sized wooden pallet but the drivers advised against pulling on the straps because they break. They're designed to be off-loaded with a pallet jack, but they didn't have one that would fit the copier's odd size so they had to be moved by hand. The only way to move them was to grab under the lip of the cardboard lid that topped the box and even then, they're so heavy that the only way to move them was to shimmy them back and forth - get the left end out a bit then pull the right side around then go back to pulling the left end, etc.

The delivery drivers were expert at moving them around. I watched the driver maneuver one of the boxes to the end of his truck, where the forklift off-loaded them, then I turned to grab the next one. The driver had made it look easy so I grabbed hold of the lid and yanked. Nothing happened. I yanked again, as hard as I could this time, and still nothing. So I grabbed one side of the lid with both my hands and pulled again and it moved. An inch. I was soon relegated to pushing from the back once the driver pulled the box out enough for me to get behind. I think the driver appreciated that, but not as much as he would have if I had been able to actually drag one of those boxes by myself.

Then came the un-boxing which sounds like it should be easier than the offloading. And it sort of was, but it sort of wasn't.

Those boxes were made of the thickest, heaviest cardboard I'd ever seen. Luckily, it was only the outer shell that was big and heavy. The bits inside were smaller, lighter pieces of cardboard and bits of styrofoam. Everything got recycled and so after un-boxing one of these beasts, I had to throw the styrofoam in the styrofoam recycle corner and take the (heavy) cardboard to another area and throw it into the big roll-off recycling bin they had parked outside one of their warehouse doors. So while it wasn't quite as hard as moving the copiers off the truck, there were lots more steps involved - process steps as well as physical steps.

And there were about thirty of these damn things that needed to be un-boxed.

It took me most of two days to get them ready to go upstairs to the techs who finished the assembly and got them ready for the customer.

This is probably one of the hardest jobs I've done since I left my Iron Mountain job almost two years ago. I blogged a lot about that job - a bit about the job itself but more about an ornery co-worker I code named Harold. And it reminded me about another work experience I had many, many years ago.

Back in Hawaii, I was trying to start up my own music recording business. Whenever business was slow (which was just about all the time) I would do temp work to pay the bills. One of the first jobs I got was working for a large insurance company. The first time I was there I was working on the second floor where the all paper-pushers are. My job was almost literally to push paper from one bin to another. Of course there was some form checking and sorting and stamping along the way, but the job was basically to shuttle the paper from one tray to the next tray. And that first tray never got empty. I'd work my way down but after lunch and in the morning the next day, it would be stacked high yet again.

A few months later I got assigned to temp again at that same insurance company, only this time I was on the third floor where the executives worked. Even though it was the same company and I was only one floor up, the differences were dramatic. On the second floor, all aspects of productivity were tracked meticulously - keep track of how many sheets you process per hour (and make sure this number is always going up), ask questions if you need something clarified but keep chatter to a minimum, track the time (to the minute) you leave for lunch and the time you get back, you're allowed two breaks per day neither of which can be more than ten minutes (a bathroom break counts as a break), if you need a day off or need to leave early, be sure to put in a request at least one week in advance. And that didn't just apply to the temps. Even the regular workers were under those pressures.

On the third floor? Sure everyone had a job to do but as long as it was done before deadline, no one cared how much or how little time you spent on it. There were lots of people walking into one another's offices, chatting - sometimes about business matters, more often not. People regularly took long lunches and long breaks. If someone had to leave early to pick up a sick child or for a doctor's appointment or to play a last minute round of golf, they just sent an email and took off. As a temp, I didn't have all of those freedoms but still, it was far less stressful than when I had worked on the second floor.

Oh, and food. On the second floor there was a vending machine and everyone had to pay if they wanted snacks. On the third floor there was usually a box of fresh doughnuts lying around somewhere and pizza deliveries were not uncommon.

I worked on the third floor in the middle of 1999. I remember this because my job was to move their HR database from an old system to a new one. The Y2K bug was in the air and this company wanted to make sure it was safe. I guess they didn't have time to come up with an automated solution to port the data from one system to the other so they brought in a temp (me) to do it instead. So my job was to copy information like name, address, phone number, emergency contact, salary, 401k info, tax exemption info, etc. into the new system.

It was a big company so the job took a few weeks to finish. I remember one day I came across the entry for one of the top execs (not the top top, but the top that was handled by this level of HR). She was making a six figure income and that blew me away. I mean, prior to that I knew people made that kind of money but something about seeing the actual figure and a name attached to it drove the point home for me. Some people make LOTS of money - a yearly salary of $100,000 comes out to $8333 per month which is over two grand per week.

That afternoon while eating my lunch, I saw a grounds maintenance worker emptying out a trash bin. It struck me that the exec made more in one week than that guy did in an entire month. And the question that was planted in my head back then (which puzzles me to this day) was, "how can one person's work be worth so much more than another's?"

And I know there's a lot to that question, but sometimes we get lost in the complexities of an issue and maybe it's good to get back to basics. Why is brain labor worth exponentially more than muscle labor? That's a tough question especially when one considers that the body of the person who earns money with physical labor will suffer because of that as they age - they'll basically be used until they're used up. In comparison, the body of the person who earns money with brain power will (with proper care - which they can afford) be nowhere near as broken as the laborer.

And the comparison doesn't have to end with physical versus mental work. What about the differences between the work environments of the second and third floor? Why are those on the second floor driven and treated like cattle by the managers and execs just one floor up whose luxuries are paid for by those they (literally) stand over? Again, why is the work of the mind worth so much more than the work of fingers?

Those questions are far too big for this little blog (and my little mind) but I think it's worth asking.

Anyway, the reason I mention all of that is because my little temp job at the copier company reminded me of something.

I can write.

The grounds maintenance worker? The paper pushers on the second floor? The workers at the copier company? Most of them are doing that because they don't see any other viable options. And while I have met and talked to a few people who actually like physical labor and would choose to do nothing else, most of them hate their work but they do it because it's all they can do.

Me? Well, while my blog doesn't have a wide readership and my stories haven't had any large-scale publication, I can write. And while I would never equate writing with back-breaking labor, writing IS hard work. It's just a different kind of work and I need to be grateful that I have this option. Most importantly, I need to USE this gift that God has given me.

Like I said, I haven't had any huge successes with my writing (yet), but I do enjoy writing. Well, actually, that's not entirely true. I often hate writing. It's a torturous, arduous task, and I bump into my insecurities quite a bit. But that's the work and if I had to choose a life of that versus a life of heavy lifting? I'll choose writing and I need to remind myself that I'm blessed to have that choice.

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