Sunday, November 11, 2007

it's a living

"we've got to move these microwave ovens. Custom kitchen deliveries. We got move these refrigerators. we got to move these color TVs."
-dire straits

This week, I started my new job, a package handler for FedEx. Sunrise shift, 3 AM to 8 AM. Trucks back up into a giant cargo bay. Each handler is responsible for a couple trailers which are connected to chutes down which the packages slide. Our job is to check the labels, make sure they are going to the right zip code, and stack them as tightly as possible into the trailer. Lift with your knees, work fast, work carefully.

It's robotic and uncomplicated. It's a job whose goals are clearly defined and measurable: 100 packages per hour the first week and the productivity rate should increase by 100 packages every week until you're averaging 400/hr... roughly the equivalent of a full trailer per hour. It fills me with all sorts of ambivalence. It's a "for now" job, but I'm hesitant to quit it even if I do get better work. A couple reasons for this:
1. During orientation, the trainer, a chubby fella with a goatee who had the unpleasant habit of picking bean burrito out of his molars with his pinkie told us that "There's a hundred dollar bonus after a month because a lot of people quit the first week. They realize they're too lazy for this type of work." And so if I quit this job, the chubby, goateed, bean burrito tooth picker trainer will look at me like I couldn't hack it, college boy doesn't want to ruin his manicure loading boxes.

I think most people want to think there's something special about the work they do, that you need to possess special qualities, either through hard work or natural talent, to be in their field. Have you ever dared tell a teacher that her job must be so easy because she gets out at 3 PM and has summer's off? I swear she will jump on your ass with stats on how her "free time" is riddled with holes from lesson planning and calling parents. That's natural, right? The intrinsic desire to feel special, skilled, and valuable? To feel as if you suffer more than others and you are invariably tougher than the common ilk... you are woven hemp pants in a world of delicate lace blouses. You wouldn't last a day in my job.

Package handling is a proud industry, honest work completed each night by hard working folk, and they have a right to be proud because it's true that not everyone can hack it. The ones who stay at this job have a work ethic that you can't buy for $30,000 a year in college. I want to believe I do have the heart for this, and that self conscious side of me wants everyone at FedEx to realize that if I quit, it isn't from lack of inner strength.

2. Another reason I'm tentative to quit: this may very well be my dream job. I told a friend once how one of my favorite tasks of all time is envelope stuffing. The repetitive motion, the challenge of going faster and faster, the pure, unadulterated joy one can only attain from folding a piece of paper into perfect thirds without guidelines... it's freaking christmas day for me. She didn't agree and thought of me when she had to stick labels on a thousand pill bottles one day.

This work is similar, except replace the risk of paper cuts with hernia and horrible lower back pain. So therefore, I should probably love this job once I get into a rhythm. And I'm very excited to sing "Daylight come and I want to go home" as I work, but right now I am paired with a more experienced person and she may not like my singing.

3. Isn't there something delightful about working when no one else is? Like you are some fascinating nocturnal animal about which the boring, predictable diurnals have no understanding, lording over a mysterious, black night world, feeding in the dark with specialized eyes? Does no one else think going to happy hour at 8 am sounds kick ass?
Why then am I even thinking of quitting? A few reasons FedEx may not be throwing a retirement party for me in 40 years...

1. As much as I hate admitting it, I do care what other people think. I try to pretend I'm so trendkill, so self assured and unfazed by other's opinions of me, but that's bullshit. It's hard for me to meet new people, tell them what I do, and not throw in an explanation: "I just moved here and am looking for full time work," or "I used to be a teacher, but want to try something new," or "But really, I'm fucking brilliant and interesting and just took this job to show you, perfect stranger, how secure I am in myself." The worst part about this sort of shame in what I do is that no one has actually judged me, as far as I know. I only assume they'd judge me because I'd judge them if they said they were FedEx graveyard package handlers. Not that I'd say it to their faces, but I'd immediately create an impression of them: stupid, dull, unambitious. It's horrible; I hate to admit that's what I think, but probably, deep down, I'm sure part of me is judging.

Not to pass the blame, but part of that probably comes from my parents: the awe they have any time they talk about a friend of the family who's become a doctor or a lawyer, and the disgust they hardly hide when they mention those in the family who dropped out of college and decided to work instead. I guess you're supposed to feel like you're a better person if you work behind a desk instead of with your hands making $10/hr.

2. As much as I'd like to think I can maximize every hour and would be so productive during the day time--writing, exercising, volunteering--past experience has proven I may waste that entire time. It's very likely I will spend the day sleeping, checking email excessively, and making excuses of why I can't be more productive because I have a hard time getting things done before I have to go to work, and if you work at 3 AM, that's a lot of time not getting things done. That's very Un-AmeriCorps of me.
3. The fringe benefits suck. Maybe I get discounts if I want to send packages through FedEx; I haven't checked. But, after watching first-hand how packages are handled, I'm tentative to send anything through my company (note: though I only worked one shift so far, I did not observe anyone treating a package that said "Fragile," "Glass," or "This Side Up," any differently than packages without those labels, and I certainly do not mean that all packages, regardless of labeling, are treated with the utmost care and concern. Also, many employees do not speak English, and so they may not be able to read those warnings on the packages anyway).

I'm interviewing for NorthWest Airlines next Tuesday. Now that's a job with fringe benefits. Free flights. Perhaps free peanuts. If FedEx said I could stow away in an 18 wheeler to see my family for christmas, maybe I'd be more inclined to stay.
Regardless of how long I stay at FedEx, I always think working is better than not working. I'd much rather be a beast of burden, a mule or a camel, unglamorous and smelly, than a prissy house cat sleeping, eating, and stalking moths in the kitchen, dreaming of days when its kind were the fiercest hunters in the jungle.


Q & A

Q: Does the New Armin still sip rum drinks while wearing a straw hat?
A: Any incarnation of Armin will ALWAYS think rum drinks and straw hats go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

1 comment:

Joe Kickass said...

If you become a flight attendant, you have to find a cute passanger, and ask her to take your picture (tell her it's your first flight), and then keep having her take your picture until she says no, or you run out of film.