Saturday, March 28, 2009

That Person Behind the Job

What a busy week it has been. Chance to sit and gather up thoughts has been hard to come by. Reflection requires time that can pool quietly. The pilot light is burning, but I can't stand at my own stove long enough to cook up my recipes; I have a nameless stew, simmering on the back burner. Even now, I know, I could be called away before I strike another key, but I long to steal within, and so I grab these moments.

That's how work time often is, the inner life goes on, but not unhampered. Yet the inner being isn't really trapped in outward doings; it's always receiving and re-collating within the living tissue of memory that hungers for meaning. I know we aren't actually what we do. I know one's value isn't based on the outward rewards this culture gives, but sometimes that's harder to remember than others. Nothing required of me by my job has been onerous, I've just been busy in a variety of directions. But I know that isn't how it is for everyone.

This week a talented and dear to my heart young person, currently anticipating a return to the wait-person workforce, told me a story about a restaurant job experience in her college days.

The establishment in question we'll just call a 5 star luxury hoity-toity where folks of median means occasionally splurge for the most special of celebrations and lush luminaries drop your box office dollars to down enough alcohol to reveal threads common to all mankind.

Having gotten through the written application, extensive psychological and background checks, and a telephone interview, an in-person interview was finally obtained. Imagine this young woman's consternation at being told within moments of arrival, "Well, I'm not even going to waste your time, today. You're at the wrong interview." No explanation was given, she was just told she needed to reschedule with a different department on a different day. Two days later she was interviewed and hired for the upper echelon of dining. Asked if she had any questions, she inquired about the abrupt cancellation of the first interview. "Oh, let's just say that it's an unofficial policy that people of a ah...certain attractiveness get sent to the more prominent jobs than, well ah... you know, less attractive people." It must have been the Zoolander effect, that movie spoofing modeling..."you must be really, really, really, really, realllly good looking."

It was awkward amongst the employees, especially if groups of them spotted each other off site at the university or in town. Envy, pride, resentment were all afoot. The young women who worked in the cafe, knew they weren't as showy as the wait-persons in fine dining; lines had been drawn, barriers erected. The dehumanizing spell of the class caste system was doing its deed.

People aren't what they do, they are people. It's so simple I think it's easy for us to miss the person behind the role or the function that they're fulfilling.

Later that day, standing at a grocery store being ignored myself by the staff, I watched three employees, two women and one man, bantering amongst themselves as they checked and bagged my items.

The male bagger, a smooth faced young black man, of very average stature and above average girth, asked one of the buoyant tattooed clerks why she thought it was okay to call him "Big Ben." I wondered if she was up on the law and ethics of not harassing fellow workers.

"Well Big Ben is the name of a famous clock," she offered.

"Nothing to do with me," he said.

"Oh, but it's very famous," she insisted, "Big Ben is the nickname for the clock at the Palace in London. It's a good nickname for you, Big Ben."

"I don't know anything about it. My name is Ben," he said, "but I'm not famous."

As he checked my dozen eggs for cracks, rubber banded the box and set them in my sack, I caught his eye. "You don't need to be famous," I said, "You're a person."

His laughter rang out. "Cool, someone advanced enough to understand the simple things."

And that was it. Nothing more was said, as they finished up and I paid my bill. But somehow I felt Ben saw me as he loaded my sacks and that he meant it when he told me, "You have a good day now."

Well, it's back to work for me....


Gretchen Joanna said...

I'm glad you got past the dragon to share this small and hugely important story.

RR said...

thank yoU!