Friday, December 12, 2008

Workin' For A Livin'

Before I was in charge of shaping young minds, I ran a book warehouse. More to the point, I supervised a crew of employees whose job it was to fill the orders that were sent to us via phone, mail, or by what was then a very sophisticated computer network. I was also in charge of hiring, which I found ironic at times, since I had risen through those same ranks just a few short months before. My extensive management experience in prior years apparently gave me the leg up on a number of other hopefuls who had wanted to rise to the top of the heap. That heap included a number of recovering addicts, Grateful Dead fans, and addicts in full delusional affect. The fact that I was promoted now seems like a no-brainer.
So there I was, interviewing potential book pullers and packers, all the while wondering if I wasn't talking to the next warehouse manager, or the next extremely short-term asterisk on a long list of short term asterisks. Nobody really wanted to make a career out of working in the warehouse. The ones that stayed ended up in the order department, or sales, or accounting, or anyplace else but the warehouse. Not one applicant ever told me that it was their life's ambition to move freight.
Of course, as a book wholesaler, an employee-owned book wholesaler, we weren't exactly attracting Teamsters. We got a lot of college students, Grateful Dead fans, and addicts of one sort or another. We generally hired four with the hope of keeping two. We didn't expect to keep more than half because we were hiring them to walk on concrete floors where it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. We wanted them to work hard for long hours for little pay. We weren't just hiring employees. We were hiring shareholders.
And so, in effect, while I was busy interviewing my future bosses. By some quirky bit of Berkeley free-love socialist experimentation, if you managed to hang on for six months, you were allowed to become an equal shareholder, alongside the folks who had been with the company since the mid-seventies. If they didn't end up in an office somewhere, that fresh face would be voting on all sorts of company matters. Matters such as the disposition of warehouse management.
I stayed there for almost six years, until I got tired of managing twenty-somethings who did things like work for us long enough that their medical coverage kicked in with their shareholder status and they could enter rehab on the company's dime. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about others. And I learned to have a healthy distaste for the Grateful Dead. On my worst day teaching school I don't have to listen to "Dark Star" nineteen times.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And when you have to deal with someone acting out like a fourth grader, it's likely to be a fourth grader now.