Friday, August 17, 2007

Summer Job

I've spent this week closing in on the completion of my bedroom renovation project. Apologies to my small cadre of DIY cineastes; no time to make videos, since I'm trying to actually finish the project.

The room I'm working in isn't air-conditioned, and temperatures have been in the high 90's every day, but I can't say the heat has bothered me much. I wear my favorite heavy canvas work pants (Carhartts) and a t-shirt, and I drink a lot of iced tea. I'm dirty and dusty and sweaty most of the day, and it feels good.

I've been thinking of this as my summer job, since my academic contract only runs 10 months, and it reminds me of summer jobs I had in college. My dad got me a job with a transportation company in Davenport, Iowa, and I spent two summers loading grain barges on the Mississippi, and two summers fixing tires for a truck fleet.

Both jobs were hot and dirty. The barge terminal I worked at was right next to a flour mill that had blown up spectacularly a few months before I started, from a dust explosion, something that I often thought about as I was awash in grain dust. I met a lot of truck drivers and farmers selling their grain, and did a lot of nasty, hard work that I'm proud of.

And at the truck terminal, the mechanics were always amused at the way I handled a tire hammer for breaking the tire bead, since I was such a skinny kid and the hammer weighed about 9 pounds ("look like ya need a counterweight on yer butt, Davie!"). But they liked me OK, and I liked them too.

I suppose it would be trite to say that I learned the value of a dollar at those jobs. I did learn how hard a lot of people have to work for their dollars. But most of them seemed to like their jobs, and took satisfaction from their work. And this summer, I've been taking satisfaction from mine.

So I've been enjoying pretending to be a working-class guy, wearing the costume and doing some of the same kinds of work. Doing different jobs does change the way you see yourself, and the way others see you, too.

I had to go to the grocery store yesterday, quite dusty from working on plaster, and I ran into a woman whom I've known from my kids' school for over a decade. She was dressed in classic southern style: blond hair pulled back simply, full makeup, summer blouse, expensive pants, good shoes. She was in the checkout line.

She looked straight at me. Not even a glimmer of recognition. I'm quite sure she wasn't snubbing me -- she's not a snob -- she just didn't see me. That is, she didn't see the me that she knew. She just saw a common worker, probably stopping in to pick up a six-pack of Bud.

Interesting experience.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Isn't it interesting how the clothes you wear influences the way people see you? Glad you've been enjoying your 'summer job'.