Friday, October 08, 2010

Wait! You want me to work?

I mentioned last week that I spent a couple of evenings sitting in the green room waiting for Jonathan, being apparently invisible, overhearing lots of conversations. I was trying to read my book, but there was one woman in particular who seemed to want to be sure that every single person in that very large room was listening to her. And I was about five feet away.

Her first topic was the job that her daughter had recently quit at a moderately high end accessory store because she felt like they were making unreasonable demands. My attention was caught because I am well-acquainted with the store and the employees. It has extremely low turnover; there are several people working there who have been there for six or seven years.

This daughter, who is 20 and "had a little trouble" and is "taking some time off" from college, quit what can only be described as a pretty cushy gig--as retail goes--because she was expected, on the nights she closed, to clean the bathroom. One toilet, one sink, one mirror. And her mother agreed with her that that was an unreasonable expectation. The mother went on to complain that many nights her daughter ended up spending half of the evening "dusting and straightening." And she didn't "raise her to grow up to be a cleaning lady." Plus, "she just wasn't having fun."

 Oh, where to start? How 'bout with the attitude that certain work is "beneath" a person? I have heard this quite a bit in the last year, mostly from young people or their parents, but also--more than once--from Boomers. I find it unfathomable and more than a little annoying. Unfathomable, at least in part, because it was ingrained in me that, if you need money, you work. And that all work, done well, has value. Work is good; not evil.

I probably react somewhat on a personal level, too, because I have done the jobs that so many spoiled teens and self-important Boomers seem to find distasteful. I've worked fast food (and cleaned the bathroom.) I've worked in large and small retail establishments (and cleaned the bathrooms.) I worked in the college food service, much of that time in the dishroom. I've worked in a movie theater (and cleaned the bathrooms.)  I bartended and waitressed and cleaned LOTS of things worse than a bathroom. I've cleaned houses.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot: I was a real estate agent for three years, and in our smallish office we all took turns cleaning the bathroom.

Most of those jobs weren't fun. Sure, I had fun while I was doing them, because that's who I am. But they weren't fun jobs.I worked hard and went home exhausted. But I did them because I needed money. When I was in high school I wanted to put gas in my car and buy clothes and pizza. When I was in college I wanted spending money, clothes, books, and gas for my car. After I was married there were bills to pay and later a family to help support while my husband earned a master's degree. And then there were piano lessons and soccer teams and books and....

Right now, I'm fortunate. I have a part time job as our church secretary that is mostly fun. I'd rather not have to work, but it is paying most of our oldest son's college tuition, so it's worth it. But, if our circumstances changed, I would do what I needed to do, including clean toilets.

I don't believe that there is never a good reason to quit a job. I quit a pretty cushy one once because my boss wanted me to lie to customers. I encouraged my daughter to quit one because she had an abusive boss and it was affecting her health. But bringing kids up to think that they are too good to do certain work isn't doing them any favors.

More from the green room next post.


Elephantschild said...

Oh, my word. How did you not smack the woman?

Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake said...

Great post, Jane.

One of the most deeply disappointing comments I've heard from a conservative politician was Karl Rove's remark that he didn't want his son to have to pick tomatoes. What's wrong with picking tomatoes, Mr Rove? It's not something I'd choose to make a lifelong career, but for a summer job in high school or college, it doesn't sound too shabby. I certainly would have rather picked tomatoes in the summer I worked the washroom at the cheese factory, melting encrusted "processed cheese product" goo off machine parts in a tank of boiling lye. But I did that job, too, because that's what you do when you need the money. It's really pretty straightforward.

I told myself long ago that I would consider myself as having "arrived" once I finally had a job where I didn't have to mop up at the end of a shift. I'm not quite there yet, and I'll be happy when I get there. But when I do get there, I will be proud of the time I spent mopping my way to the top, as it were. But what right would I ever have had to declare myself too good for mopping? I just genuinely cannot understand the mindset.

Incidentally, the best summer job I ever had was as a forklift driver in a chemical plant. Toward the end of that summer I realized that if worse came to worst in my career plans, I always had practical experience and a skill set that was marketable, paid a livable wage, and which I genuinely enjoyed. That was a hugely comforting realization in comparison with the prevailing presumption at college, that you'll just spend your life a miserable failure if you don't pick exactly the perfect career.

Katsuke said...

Thanks for the post. The most "respectable" "grown up" job I had was the worst I ever had. Cleaning toilets was so much easier.

It bugs me so much to hear people complaining about so-and-sos taking all the jobs, but then not being willing to do those same things and degrading those who do.

Doesn't everyone dream of the job where they can go home and never have to spend an extra minute thinking about their jobs?

Kim said...

Since I'm currently working 2 minimum wage jobs I see lots of people who don't want to actually work. At one I clean the bathroom, haul 50 lb. bags of feed to customers' cars, and run the forklift. I like the job most of the time but I do wish it wasn't a 1099 position.
My other job is cashiering at the local market. The management is rude, unhelpful, and just generally hard to deal with. They expect you to come in with an hours notice on your day off and they don't thank you for rearranging your plans to help out. I can honestly say that a lot of times I feel I'm not paid enough to deal with all the stuff they dish out. Ironically the work isn't as physically difficult as the feed store and I get paid more. I'd rather clean a hundred bathrooms for a nice employer than have an easy job with a rude one.

Jane said...

Hey, Kim! Nice to hear from you. I miss keeping up with you on your blog.
Working for bad managers just stinks. The waitressing job that I had while Colin was working on his masters was so much more difficult than it would have had to be because the owners and some of the managers were inept. They were also unappreciative. I agree with you totally about preferring to clean bathrooms for a nice employer.