“No man is so utterly dull and obtuse with head so bent on Earth, as never to lift himself up and rise with all his soul to the contemplation of the starry heavens, especially when some fresh wonder shows a beacon-light in the sky…So natural is it to admire what is strange rather than what is great.” – Seneca The Younger
I am a tourist.
The sun shown through my eyelids creating a pink hue as I rested my head on the metal siding of the large warehouse where I had just started working. I remember being exhausted from the job. I had never done factory work and the labor jobs I had had in previous weeks were hard but fun. This was different. This was a job of standing in a single place and repetitive movements. After a few days I could barely walk or stand. My back felt like two baseball bats were on either side of my spine and I took fistfuls of Ibuprofen just to get by.
It was break time and I sat by myself on the hot concrete as I was just a temporary employee. That’s the way it has been over the past few weeks. I jump from job to job and learn the new tasks. I am always having to tell my back story. Eventually it runs out in monotonous splendor. Yes, I am with a temp agency. Yes, I am from here. I do, in fact, know that I look Hawaiian. I am going back to school soon. This is not my career.
They ask me “What the hell am I doing here?”
It would bring me down because I was perpetually the new guy but in most instances it was an amazing bit of fun.
I worked in frame molding shop which was fun and hilarious. Although, they had me put the frames in shipping boxes. I have previously stated that I came from a single parent household where my mother raised me. She really had no inclination for using tools and things like that. To this day she calls me to help fix the TV when she hits the wrong button, which is usually the power button.
So, I put most of the molding in the bins and when I am done they ask me to help box. What I didn’t know was that they had a compressed air staple gun that had to be used. I stapled carefully and slowly as I was afraid to staple myself to…myself. It was at the height where you realized, “I should be careful here. I DO want kids some day.”
Later, I worked a day labor job for a cat fanciers competition. We set up tables and placed cages. I helped set up tables for vendors and they were all very great people. The one thing that scarred my frontal lobe was the cage I picked up that had skin and fur still attached to it. I mean, I am not a cat kinda guy but I felt bad for that poor feline.
I worked at a non-profit organization where we took donations.
PSST! Come closer to the screen. I don’t want anyone else to read this. Generally, the people who brought donations in brought TV’s, Computers, Laptops and all sorts of gently used electronics. We shook their hand and when they asked if people were going to get a use for it, we would say, “It’s going to help us out a lot. Thanks!”
The “help” came as they drove off and we picked up those TVs, Computers and the like and launched them into recycling bins. I would often pick up the biggest TV and heave it through the air into a bin with other TVs. It would crash and green circuit boards would go flying. This is how it was. We would toss these electronics that were treated with such care right up until we slammed them into a box. They would then be shipped off and taken to a recycling center where the money they get from recycling goes back into the agency…but you didn’t hear that from me.
Finally, I worked at this factory that shipped an unnamed product for sore muscles. I helped pack the materials but I had never worked in a factory before. I didn’t mind lifting more than a hundred pounds quite often in my other jobs but this was working at machines I had never used before in heat up to a bit over 100 degrees. We stood there and did the same action over and over. They kept asking me how my back was and I am a victim of pride so I would never admit that it hurt so bad I wanted to cry. They pushed me harder and harder and never spoke to me after I told them I was going to get my Master’s degree. They treated me like a pariah and even talked about how I wasn’t keeping up and it pissed them off.
It was my second day.
So, I was sitting on the side of the building with my head resting against it. They all sat laughing a few feet away, never acknowledging me. I looked down and saw this gas station cup that had tipped over and ants were walking up to the spillage of caramel colored liquid and then walking back to the crack in the concrete. I watched them for the entire 15 minute break. The pain in my back and knees faded as I thought about these ants. Doing this one job and following orders. I thought to myself, “I wish I just saw one ant go off by himself. Just see him thinking ‘F#$% The System’ and walk away.”
Those ants stuck with me as I returned to work. At lunch, they all talked around me. I was there in presence but never acknowledged. They all spoke of baby mama drama and how good the chilli and hooch was in the county jail. I couldn’t help but realize that I had nothing in common with them but I wanted to know them. They looked at me and just saw a guy passing through. A name and a person to do a job. Nothing more. A removable object.
I am a tourist.
My back hurt so bad I could barely move and after one of the men basically said he likes to go fast and didn’t want to work with someone who didn’t know what he was doing, I quit the week long assignment after 3 days. I came home and lay in the floor as Sofie came over to play. My breath was shortened by the sharp stings of pain along my vertebrae.
I slept that night in a daze of pain relief medication. The next day I went with my mother to pay bills and I was really bummed about the whole situation. I felt as if I had failed again.
We go into a thrift shop, as we always do this time of the month and I wander around. I look at the trinkets and gadgets. The old sterling silver table lighter and the porcelain choir singing. The not-so-gently used furniture and the questionable lamps. Then, at the back corner I find a bit of treasure. I found a telescope!
For anyone who has been reading a bit, you know I am a nerd about space. I memorized the constellations when I was a kid and am a regular subscriber to “Astronomy” magazine. If you were to look at me and talk to me you would never think that I was enamored with the way a Quasar is formed and fueled by a supermassive black hole.
This 1967 Jason Explorer 400 was mine. It was dusty and dirty but I took it home and cleaned it up. I took it outside and sat beneath th clear night sky. I tried to find stars but they only looked like blurry twinkling dots. The moon was just an obscurred light bulb. I took out the lenses and switched and then I saw it. I went outside and then then moon peaked out from behind the large oak tree out back. I caught a glimpse of it.
I had been frustrated that day, from pain and from feeling like I had failed, but I found triumph in that I saw the moon. It’s porous surface became clear. I looked at the craters and felt so close to its’ surface. I am not sure how long I sat there but it seemed like moments. In all actuality it was more than an hour.
I came back inside and thought about it. How great it was and then I thought back to those ants. Those ants still stuck with me. They did what they were compelled to do. I admired them.
I am a tourist but I got to meet people who were compelled to do these jobs. They were being paid much more than I but they were still doing these jobs that are incredibly hard. They go on behind the scenes. The people who do the small things that we never even know about to take for granted are some of the greatest people I have met. They are parents and husbands. They work hard and they play hard. They do what they have to do because they are compelled to do it. They may not like the job but it is about self efficacy and being able to use that money to do what needs to be done. I have met amazing people and objectionable people but I enjoyed meeting them all the same.
Even if I was just passing through.
These were foreign and strange jobs and people whom I was glad to get to know. I was in a place where just a few dollars helped but I gained a lot from these jobs. I gained knowledge of what was on the other side of the fence. The moon was my little win. It was that beacon that heralded the message of, “Keep your head up. Keep searching.”
I am a tourist now but it is not permanent. So, I enjoy the sights now and keep them for later.