The pleasure of menial jobs

I’ve had many jobs in my life. Some paid $3 an hour and some paid $250 an hour. Some  had me scrubbing the toilets that were the bathroom of choice for the local homeless and some had me give talks in front of CEOs. If money was not an issue, if the only stipulation was that I had to do a job, I wouldn’t chose the fancy corporate job with the big title, the creativity, the self-expression and the creative environment with all the creative people.

I might go back to the job I had in 1989 where I cleaned out databases for a company that made telephone systems. You just go through really long lists and delete any doubles. The factory was right next to the soon-to-be-opened Berlin Wall, but I did not know that.

Or I’d go back to the clothes factory and sew waistbands on an endless procession of jeans. As soon you had finished a batch and dispatched it to the person who added the buttons, another one woulde along on the overhead delivery system

Or perhaps go back to the typing pool of the somewhat controversial real estate company in Hanover Square, London. Where you’d still type on electric typewriters, made carbon copies, and took dictation from your boss using shorthand.

I did also like filtering the fat at the fast food company at the end of the day. So satisfying to see the dark sludge that smelled of pies, of fish fillets, of fries come out slightly lighter and less chunky.

Or being the tea lady in a large financial services office, steering my little wagon from floor to floor, spreading cheer.

I enjoyed serving breakfast to celebrities I had never heard of in the canteen/cafeteria of a British television station. We had everything, from black pudding to fruit compote, to kidneys, to kippers, to kedgeree, to the usual beans, bacon and toast.

I loved all of those jobs.

I loved the cameraderie between all of us workers, united in our belief that without us the world would come to a standstill. Talking trash about your bosses. Taking contractually ensured full lunch hours. Leaving at the end of the day without a worry in the world. Never having to work late nights or weekends unless that’s the shift you picked. Pouring out your creativity on your private life not your work assignments.

The steady rhythm of every day. Knowing exactly when you had done a good job, quantifiably.

No hating yourself at the end of the day where you feel like a total fake, that you’re not creative and intelligent enough for your job.

Not worrying about your career ladder or your network or your resume. Knowing that even if you lost this job there’d be thousands more out there just the same.

Working with your hands taking pleasure in every repetition.

Wish I didn’t need the reassurance, the status, the money of what I do. Sometimes.


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