Working Papers

Received a text from my baby brother last night: “Babysitting a pump til 11 o’clock ! 30 bucks an hour to sit in my truck woohoo!

I’m happy for him, but at the same time, I’m dying a little inside.

I have a master’s degree*; my brother has a GED. Guess which one of us consistently earns more? That’s right! The one without the extra 6 years of education!

I suspect it’s because a.) Jack Donaghy is right, and b.) what my brother does (i.e. construction work) is a tangible thing that most people can readily understand. Unlike my job, which seems to require a one-hour instructional session complete with powerpoint slides even when I’m describing it to my own relatives, who invariably look baffled but say charitably, “Hey, good for you, earning a paycheck by doing a thing!”

What I’d like to know is, what happened to all the Busytown jobs? Does anyone else remember those Richard Scarry books, with all the animals dressed up in people clothes and doing people things. It just occurred to me that the word I am looking for is anthropomorphic. O HAI i iz a writur. (Also, I still have a cold. Be kind.)

Did you ever just want to do an archetypal job — butcher, baker, candlestick maker — until you retire? One at which you’d make a decent, not extravagant living providing simple goods and services to members of your community? After all, who doesn’t need firemen, teachers, librarians, police officers, postal workers, etc.?**

I’ve always wanted one of those jobs, which is one of the reasons I decided I’d be a librarian. The other part of it was a combination of luck and pluck. During my first year of college, I walked into the local public library and asked, “Can I work here?” (And bear in mind that when I was a college freshman, I looked about 12 years old in my oversized duffle coat, what with my unruly curls, freckles, and the lopsided Looney Tunes glasses that perched on my nose with all the grace and poise of a diseased pigeon.) And, I think because it was freezing outside and they thought I might be a runaway, they set me to shelf reading…which I actually love doing. So I kept coming back, week after week, because I loved libraries and also because my roommate was mixing business and pleasure by dating her dealer, and I didn’t think I wanted to be there when it all went south. Gradually they gave me more things to do, because it turned out that I had a knack for threading microfilm, unjamming printers, and breaking up fights between the inebriated homeless. Also, a budding interest in readers’ advisory.

Eventually, one the librarians asked me if I wanted to get paid. I said something like “yes, a thousand times yes!” Actually, I probably said something more like “Um, ok?” — which, by the way, is a fabulous negotiation technique, at least for me, because people invariably misread my deer-in-headlights freeze frame as a silent demand for more money. I think I got an extra 75 cents out of what was really just a moment of confusion, because I thought my future boss was talking to someone standing directly behind me. Yes, it happens all the time, and I am SO done with making the embarrassing mistake of waving back/answering.

And so, at the tender age of 19, I became a a part-time library paraprofessional with my own retirement account. It was awesome: I met interesting people, who showed me blurry photographs they’d taken of ghosts, who shared their conspiracy theories with me and who occasionally hit on me in Middle English, or else informed me that apathy was the curse of my generation, which should dedicate itself to ensuring that “Capitol Hill is dyed red with the blood of the plutocrats”***; I learned the almost completely useless Cutter Expansive Classification system, which had been in use at the library ever since Charles Ammi Cutter himself had helped found the institution (a skill that later nearly made me fail cataloging); and I became familiar with the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library, the only one of its kind located in a public library, which — oddly enough — does not contain very many books. Not a big reader, was Silent Cal.

I went on to library school, where all of my previous practical library experience mattered not a whit, and I trained as a librarian. Then circumstance and market forces pushed me into a sort of library demi-monde, where all of my previous impractical library school experience mattered not a whit, and where I still dwell. Happily so, truth be told. I get to read, I get to write, and occasionally, I get to weigh in on weighty discussion topics such as “Genre: Friend or Foe?”

My answer to that, incidentally, is “Frenemy.”

Which is also maybe why I shall never earn that $30 an hour.

*Not much of one, admittedly, but it is accredited.
**Ok, apparently a lot of people, but I won’t get into that now.
***I politely declined that particular call to arms.

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