Wednesday, August 24, 2005

for pay

Scribbled on the back of a bank deposit envelope, while waiting for the store’s deposit to be processed, a list of odd tasks from job descriptions in my life:

Unjam the bowling pin setter (wielding another pin like a bat).

Guide cave expeditions for large groups of small kids. Hide the bats from view.

Artfully rearrange a rotating display case for Parker Bros’ annual unveiling of new games, with a script timed to the second. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain with her hair on end!

Glaze and weatherproof old-fashioned pulley-weight windows.

Play victim for emergency cut-away rescue on a ropes course.

Give participants a helpful shove off a forty-foot high ropes course platform. Use a stepladder to remove participants from the forty-foot Tarzan swing.

Shake the”thunder sheet” to approximate a storm from backstage of a play.

Crush ten pounds of garlic with a French knife. “Smaller,” my student supervisors said. “Much smaller.”

Arrange a campus-wide discrimination of blue-eyed people for a racism simulation.

Write letters.

Pick apples on a high bluff, in the company of students from Namibia, Korea, Germany and Japan.

Sleep in the home of an elderly woman struggling to keep her independence.

Prevent children from sledding down the highly attractive lawn of a historic museum.

I have been a live-in tour guide for a historic home. I have nannied. I have sold books for a mail-order catalog, catered small-town events with my grandmother, served my favorite tabouli and pineapple-mint salsa to my supervisor’s dinner guests. I have temped. I have bussed tables and made milkshakes, and I have cleaned practically anything that needed to be cleaned. I have painted buildings. I have been guided to the top of the steeple of Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian, with an amazing view of downtown Pittsburgh, by a janitor whose graces I earned. I have dusted silverwork tooled by Paul Revere and paintings by John Singer Sargent. I worked as a telephone operator on one of those ancient plug-cord phone systems. I worked as a phone receptionist while recovering from dental surgery! I have played a lot of silly games and a few really good serious games. As a dorm director, I wandered the halls of my building, chatting with people. Library, post office, chapel, snack bar, yacht club, YMCA, bank, teacher of English as a Second Language, scrapbook design teacher, Sunday school educator, writing tutor.

And I am learning, now, how to use a cash register, how to use a pricing “gun,” how to straighten rows on shelves, how to multitask in public. Always, I am learning to listen with more sensitivity, to talk less. I’m learning not to start making birthday presents for childrens’ friends while running late for work. I’m learning how to “see for myself” what needs to be done to make the store just right. Secret: it’s pretty fun!

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