As Labor Day approaches, I think about work and all the jobs I’ve had in my life. It’s seems it’s been more jobs than Richard Kimble had in “The Fugitive” TV series.
I drove spikes on railroad tracks, I baked bread, I spooled wire for Wire Rope, I stacked pop bottles and I sold vacuum cleaners — well, tried to sell vacuum cleaners.
From each of these jobs I learned something and I learned something about myself.
Studs Turkel, the great American author and historian, wrote a book called “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day And How They Feel About What They Do.” It was an oral history of sorts where he interviewed ordinary people talking abut their jobs and dreams.
Terkel described his book as “being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliation. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.”
Terkel then adds: “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly-line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.”
I’ve always felt my calling was as a writer or an artist, but didn’t believe it. I came from working people. My grandmother worked all day at the snack bar at Katz Drugstore and fried chicken on weekend nights at the East Side Cafe. My dad’s basic uniform was work coveralls and work boots. Rarely did you see him in a suit or in casual clothes. No shorts or tennis shoes ever. I saw aunts and uncles work hard, too, so I grew up in a culture of work. Making a living writing or painting didn’t seem for me. Yet the jobs I worked didn’t seem right for me either. I either got fired, laid off or the place closed its doors.
I thought I was going to retire as a baker from Rainbo Bakery until it closed. Driving spikes on the railroad, spooling wire at Wire Rope or running a jackhammer for the state highway department did not seem to fit. Neither did my job as a stuttering vacuum-cleaner salesman (never sold a one). Being a janitor at Oak Ridge Apartments did not fit either, but I did them all because I had a family and I knew my life was supposed to be about hard, manual labor. It was our family crest, our blood, and besides, work disgraces no man.
Yet every time I walked past this newspaper building I dreamed of working here. I knew I belonged. It was my calling. But since I was working-class, I figured why should I try going to college for a journalism degree. Yet I knew this was my calling, and with that said this has never been a job. If you love what you do for a living, you never work a day in your life it’s been said.
I received a three-month internship at the News-Press in 1989, and I vowed to work hard and work here at the paper. At the time I started, I was working at Wire Rope, too. I still didn’t want to let go of my working-class umbilical cord, so I worked at Wire Rope full time and the News-Press part time for 11 years before making the paper my full-time job.
I credit all my work experiences with helping me become a better writer. My calling found me.