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It’s taken decades, but at this point I’m in a position of genuinely enjoying nearly all of the activity that comprises my various income streams.
My day job is freelance writing, and I find that immensely satisfying. It’s varied. One day I’m interviewing an agricultural economist, another a cancer survivor, and on yet another I’m talking to local chefs.
As I said in my last column, I find a nice amount of professional work playing jazz guitar in the area, which I’d do anyway. Teaching jazz history on the university level gives me the chance to widen students’ understanding of American culture, an important undertaking.
It hasn’t always been all occupational fulfillment, though, rest assured. I’ve toiled in many fields primarily because they allowed me to avoid the humiliation of the dole. Each such period, though, imparted insights that have been for the betterment of my character, and the perspective of my present situation allows me to experience the gratitude that ought to go with such tempering.
Here are some gems of understanding that I gained in these lines of work:
Metal stamping: I’ve held jobs ranging from press operator to stamping company CEO. The latter is less physically messy — you’re generally not covered with oil by the end of the day, and your feet aren’t sore — but the pressures of eking out a profit in the face of customers’ constant calls for cost reduction, and ensuring that those downstream on the supply chain conform to specifications, are relentless.
What my years in the stamping trenches taught me, however, is of inestimable value: None of the institutional niceties of our society — civic groups, arts councils, coalitions and centers for this, that and the other — is possible unless someone somewhere is putting capital at risk to take the Earth’s raw materials and increase their value by shaping them into objects of greater utility and selling them at a profit. It all comes to a screaming halt if it’s not possible for that to occur.
Landscaping: This is positively the most physically exhausting work I’ve ever performed. You arrive at the company in the morning, the crew selects its tools, hops in the truck and heads to the job site. Over the course of the day, you may lay edger, sling mulch, rake gravel, plant trees and build retaining walls. Weather is rarely ideal; it’s either sweltering or chilly, sometimes clammy.
There’s a moment, however, when you hop back in the truck to head back to the tool shed, when you survey the site and consider the difference in what you found in the morning and what you see now. It’s more lovely, and you did that.
Bartending: I’m an extremely linear person. I don’t do well with multiple claims on my attention, and bartending is all about that. You’re eyeball deep in spent glassware, the order-ticket machine spews its product incessantly, they’re three deep at the bar and some server has a question about which chardonnay by the glass is least oaky. In some establishments, there are kegs going empty in mid-pour to contend with.
One can expect nerves frayed to within a micro-inch of the breaking point on at least one out of three shifts. That’s perhaps the gem of understanding in and of itself. The shift winds down, the place closes, you use your final reserve of energy to clean up and run your report, and you still have the composure to bid colleagues good night and drive home.
Barney Quick is one of The Republic’s community columnists. All opinions expressed are those of the writer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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