“Depression is the inability to construct a future” – Rollo May
I don’t know whatever happened to that San Francisco Giants hat, but it sure seemed to fit me well as I made my way to work at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Vancouver, Washington.
While many of my friends were finishing up college, here I was on the road to nowhere… and I knew it.
My job that day apparently was important. It was the beginning of summer and that meant one thing… shows were coming to the fairgrounds and therefore, we had to make sure it was looking good and ready for the throngs of people that would soon be there.
I was assigned a large field with three other guys who didn’t speak english. Our job was to pick up every rock we found and place them in a garbage can. If there ever was a time when I felt like Charlie Brown on Halloween, this was it.
Words cannot describe how I felt. Was this my path? Was there any hope for me beyond this?
Regardless of my thoughts, there I stood, picking up rocks. With time, I actually got pretty good at it as I adapted and began to pick up as many rocks as I could per hand. What else was I going to do but make a game of it? Sadly, if this was 15 years earlier, instead of rocks, they would have been Easter eggs and I wouldn’t have had a care in the world.
I think I was always good at adapting.
Being able to grab as many rocks as possible in each hand was nothing new for me. A few years before that, I picked up that skill while working the assembly line at Reser’s Fine Meats. I made no friends on that line as I figured out how to improve productivity by adding an additional pickled sausage per hand to stuff in the jar. It didn’t take rocket science to figure this out.
Those old-timers sure didn’t like that at all. They began to get real defensive. I think they thought I was out to get their job. Really? However, I will say, getting beef jerky samples was certainly a great perk. Well, at least until the day I was assigned to make the jerky. I will just say this… wrong.
Yet instead, here I was, picking up rocks. Time plays no favorites.
I felt isolated out there working with three guys who couldn’t understand a word I spoke. I was used to being around people and engaging in dialogue throughout the day. Instead, I found myself on the outside looking in. The dialogue was all theirs and all I could to was occasionally look over and smile or nod.
However, things began to change that day when truck drivers who were hauling rock to and from who knows where, started to go out of their way to mock my co-workers. I had no idea how or why it started. But, with each drive-by by another truck, the verbal abuse and gestures got worse.
At one point, I thought one of the drivers was actually going to get out of his truck and get physical with the “what seemed like stunned” co-workers of mine. From what I can see of these truck drivers, all I could do is shake my head in disgust. But, look at me… then look at them, then… back to me. Relief wasn’t going to be coming from my direction.
In retrospect, what a sad thought as I would later in life realize the meaning of my name was… warrior.
To this day, I don’t think I have ever witnessed such verbal abuse aimed at the ethnicity of another human being. It was degrading, embarrassing, and just plain wrong. It was a helpless feeling.
Looking over at me from across the field, one of the three men had a look that struggled to understand why they were the focus of such abuse. Sadly, I had no answer as I flashed him back a look as if to say I was so sorry and embarrassed of the truck drivers actions.
Fortunately, word had somehow got out to the main office to tell these drivers to stop their childish tirades as they made one more pass filled with choice words before they moved their work somewhere else on the grounds.
We never saw them again.
Though we faced a language barrier, the experience seemed to break the ice between myself and my fellow co-workers as we began to work in more closer proximity to each other. With some broken English here and my awful Spanish there, a bond was formed that day that came not as a result of spoken words, but of body language and eye contact.
I learned that day that effective communication was not always based on words. Too often, it is the word that causes the most trouble and it is the body language that brings the most peace.
After that day, my tenure there became more of an adventure of what lame job was I going to be assigned next. Is this what happens to class presidents who speak at their High School graduation? Weren’t they guaranteed a job for life without a care in the world?
But, it was a job and I sure needed one. I was grateful for the opportunity. But, of all opportunities… why this one?
To be honest, I was completely lost and saw nothing in myself to be proud of. I had no drive, no dreams, and no hope for a better future. I was just going through the motions.
My next several days on the job were everything I expected…
There was the one day with squeegee in hand with a few others inside a HUGE show arena where horses had been. We were to clean the surface with a hose and a squeegee. If only you were lucky enough to have seniority and therefore got to control the hose.
Once again, my competitive side kicked in as I began to make a game of it seeking only to squeegee more pavement then my co-workers. And for what? Was I going nuts?
It was the only way to make the time seem to go by faster.
Looking at my watch and surveying the scope of that days project, I could only slump my shoulders as it seemed like we had accomplished so little within what seemed to be a whole lot of time. My arms were sore, my back was aching, and I was getting a little ticked off at Mr. Seniority and his hose.
Why was he able to stand around and do nothing, while me and the other guys seemed to do everything? Surely, he was making more then we were.. all the while accomplishing a whole lot less. Is this how life works? It was discouraging.
That day couldn’t end soon enough. But, as one day of lame assignments came to an end, another was fast approaching.
The next day, I was handed a paint brush and a bucket of paint. I was to paint an entire building, inside and out, by myself. What a joke I remember thinking. By then, I figured out that the people in charge never checked in on us workers. Perhaps that explains Mr. Seniority and his lack of focus with hose in hand the day before. He figured out this was easy money while the rest of us newbies worked our tails off.
Regardless of how I felt, I again viewed my assignment as a game. But this time, I was alone. Talk about a boring job and day. I needed interaction to survive and this was killing me.
As I look back, I wonder why in the world did I care? What was I trying to prove by painting that whole building while under no supervision? Quite frankly, I really began to think they were making up jobs for us to do. I can see it now… all the employees with seniority stay late each night for a brainstorm session to create a list of the worst jobs in the world and then assign those jobs to whom they liked best or least.
Hey guys, I just need a job, nobody ever said anything about joining a fraternity.
After my satisfaction of painting an entire building, my job was to then return to the main office when I was done to receive a new assignment. But, instead, I knew there was only 30 minutes left in the day. So I decided to walk over to the restrooms under the outdoor amphitheater and grab a seat and hangout.
What a life I had. There I was passing time by sitting on a toilet for 30 minutes waiting for my workday to end. Nobody knew where I was and quite frankly, i’m not sure anybody even cared. It doesn’t get any better than this. I felt like a million dollars. Hardly.
The next day, I was thrilled to be reunited with my old friends from my picking up the rocks day, but first… my assignment was to place a liner in every garbage can within the entire fairgrounds.
WHAT? Are you kidding me?
However, I was rewarded later that day by hopping onto the back of a pickup truck with my old friends and several empty garbage cans. We then spent the next hour placing garbage cans out on the back fields, which served as parking lots during the fairs and events. The process was simple and a little reckless. We’d put cans in the back of the truck, hold on for dear life, and race back to the field to place them at apparently some strategic point before cycling through the process again and again.
I imagine some makeshift forest green tent at some undisclosed place on the fairgrounds where the field generals would plot their strategy over a table that looked more like a game of Risk than a map of the facilities. Let’s see, garbage cans 1, 2, 3, and 4 need to be precisely here. From that point, we will reverse flank and position cans, 5, 6, 7, and 8 over here. The fair attendees will never suspect a thing…
Maybe someday, I could have seniority, too?
Meanwhile, back in the truck, guess who was driving while the rest of us were “sluffing” the cans into position? Yep…. Mr. Seniority.
Dang! What gives with this guy? However, I seemed to let it slide that day in favor of just being with other people once again… even if I didn’t understand a word they were saying.
It actually kind of reminded me of the one experience I had at summer camp where a few of us were lucky enough to be chosen to go feed the pigs.
That was a beauty as they threw a couple of us campers in the back of a pickup with our garbage cans filled with trash and drove out to a middle of a random field to dump the garbage and wait.
To a 12 year old, I suppose that was pretty cool. Heck, I still remember it.
It didn’t take long. No sooner did that garbage leave the can did a cloud of dust erupt clear on the other side of the field. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears as that massive cloud, sounding like, well… a bunch of pigs, quickly made their way towards us. For a moment, I feared they were going to overtake and eat us, the garbage, and the truck.
Wide-eyed and unsure what to think, I am sure the counselors got a kick out of it. I don’t know if they picked us for a good laugh or they picked us because we had earned this rite of passage.
Either way, these pigs were hungry, disgusting, and epitomized the term… animal.
With the final garbage can placed, apparently, I had earned my keep and got to spend the rest of the day as some sort of administrative assistant to Mr. Seniority. This “promotion” was both good and bad. But hey, I was young and had worked hard that week.
The rest of the day was spent driving all over the massive facilities seemingly to just say hi to people. Maybe there was something more to this guy after all?
Looking back on those days, I had no idea how to construct a future. I didn’t know what the word future meant or even looked like. My life consisted of constructing only that which was just enough… to get by and on to the next day. Heck, I wasn’t even a Giants fan, either.