Friday, June 23, 2006

Time Flies When You're Having Life

Today was an anniversary for me, but I shared it with only a couple of people, because it's not that big a deal to anyone but me. Today was my 30th anniversary of working for the school district. I started there on June 23, 1976.

When I started working for the school district we had 69 schools, and one female principal. Now we have 100 schools (give or take a couple, since almost every year they shut down old schools or open new schools), and the last figure I heard was that 2/3 of the principals are female, and about half the administrators in our district offices.

Up until a few years ago, when my parent's generation started retiring or dying, the school system was still patriarchal. The principals were all men who sat in their offices doling out punishment. To get called to the principal's office meant you were in TROUBLE. Now it means you might get a certificate good for a little toy at the school store if you were good that week, so a kid might look forward to being called in to the principal's office. Back then the principal was a godlike figure who presided over a school like Moses over the Israelites. To be summoned was to feel fear and trembling.

As society has changed, so has our school system.

I was hired by Big Jim, who was Warehouse foreman, for whom I worked in one capacity or another for about 26 years. He went on to become Director of Purchasing, and an even bigger pain in the ass than he was as the Warehouse foreman, but that's another story.

One of the guys who worked there when I started knew me from when we were teenagers. He was then a warehouseman, but he went on to bigger and better things, and now he's a high school principal still working for our district. Since he's gained about 50 or 60 pounds in 30 years he tells me, "I should've stayed with that job; I'd still be lean and mean." Well, mean anyway.

On my first day of work in 1976 I was sent on a work detail to unload a boxcar load of toilet paper at a railroad siding. That was the first and only time I ever did that. As some sort of an initiation on my first day the guys working with me took me to a bar for lunch and wanted to buy me a beer but I refused. I'd been out of work for seven months when I was hired, and didn't want to be fired on my first day for drinking. That was the first and last time that ever happened, too. My first day working for the school district was a day of first-and-lasts for me.

A whole other story, worthy of more room than I have here, would be about those men I worked with when I started. As the district has gone kinder-gentler in its administrative ranks, so have the men working in the non-teaching jobs like mine gotten more modern and smarter, less the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals common in those days. I'm a remnant of that Neanderthal bunch, but I think I was a harbinger of what was to come. Maybe a cross between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon.

I worked with a guy nicknamed Grunt, who was such a character I've got to devote a whole blog posting just to him. I only worked with him for two years before he quit but he was one of a kind, and I haven't forgotten him. He was a deserter from the Marine Corps, working for an amnesty discharge by working a minimum of two years for a non-profit organization. He did his two years for us and hit the road.

There isn't anyone nowadays who would quit after two years. Men work for us for a long time. It's the benefits. Their stories are always similar to mine; they worked another job, they got laid off, or the benefits sucked, or they needed something more secure. The school district is a big security blanket for many of us.

Whatever my background, I didn't think like that in 1976. The last thing in the world I was thinking about was retirement. I didn't plan on staying there, as a warehouseman or anything else. I had other plans: be an artist, be a writer, get back into the creative business. The need to make a living has a tendency to crush plans like that.

When I started my job Gerald Ford was President. Now I consider him the biggest welfare recipient in the history of the U.S. because he's gotten a fat pension as a former President when he was never elected to anything but Congress. He was appointed to Vice President and became President by default. (One of my rants, if you haven't guessed.) Now we have another unelected President. Well, unelected in 2000, that is, and barely elected in 2004. (Another rant.)

For the whole 30 years I have been on a 243-day-a-year contract, commonly called a 12-month contract. People in school districts have varying lengths of contracts: teachers have 9-month, school secretaries have 10 ½ month, principals 11-month, etc. So in 30 years that means that I've had to wake up 7,290 times and either go to work, call in sick or take a vacation day. That's kind of awe-inspiring when you think about it.

I accrue about 22 days a year vacation, and 13 days sick leave. I rarely call in sick, but try to use my vacation to avoid total burnout by taking a week off here and there. My job is to stop at 32 schools a day, which adds up to 160 stops a week. I get to a point where I need a break to recover. The toll on my body has been considerable. My lower extremities, feet, knees, ankles, have taken a direct hit from walking, standing, stepping down from a truck. My beard has gone from dark brown to white. The sun, which in 1976 could not penetrate the thick dark hair on my head, can now sunburn the bald spot.

In total, 30 years adds up to 10,950 days, give or take a few leap year days here and there. But then, who's counting?

Ciao for now, El Postino

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