Turkey Wrangling and Other Curiosities

On the way to the grocery store last week, a police van stopped in front of me at a busy intersection and put on its lights. I reflexively wondered what I had done. The officer got out and walked back towards my car. I panicked – did I put my current registration in the glove box? He stopped and with a comical, defeated expression on his face, gestured for me to go around his vehicle.

I passed by slowly, wondering what was going on. On the other side of the officer’s van, a wild turkey came running out. In almost cartoonish animation, the ungainly, but speedy bird lurched this way and that in traffic, with the officer in close pursuit. The chase was on. And that was how his day started.

canstockphoto6249825I once started my day at 5am, making donuts at a grocery store, wearing a horrific name tag that said, “I’m new, but I’m exceptional!” I was new, but the thought that this was me being exceptional depressed the hell out of me. Mostly I pulled frozen crullers and bear claws out of the freezer to defrost. I was also charged with mixing batter, feeding it like toothpaste into a doughnut press, and dropping the heart attack bombs into the fryer.

Starting out with paper routes and babysitting, I’ve had one job or another since I was 10 years old. Babysitting was where I got my first exposure to porn. After the little wretches were put to bed for the 400th time, I was looking through videos for something to watch and there were magazines. I was 11 years old and had no idea people did things like that with animals. I didn’t tell anybody, but I never babysat for the Creepensteins again. They had farm animals.

One of the toughest jobs I had was working as a security guard (sometimes a natural progression from the military) at a plant that made washers and dryers. It was a tough job, because I worked the graveyard shift (11pm-7am). This allowed me to attend college during the day. Apparently I didn’t need much sleep then. To save money, the company would use the non-union security guards to run and monitor their waste water treatment department. I spent the night watching chrome decanting monitors and opening barrels of treatment chemicals that burned holes in the front of my t-shirts. Those were the days of safety first third or fourth.

Over the last couple of decades, I’ve worked in nicer places – a library, a hospital, office cubes, eventually an office of my own. It’s a different kind of work from loading boxes on a trailer or digging trenches at a park reserve. I find office work to be more challenging than any other kind of work, as I am not adept at being in close contact with humans all day long. And you can spend a whole day being busy and get absolutely nothing of concrete worth done.

Working from home is a blessing and a curse. My human interaction is sometimes so limited that I frighten the UPS man with my perky greeting that says “I haven’t talked to another human today. Be my friend”. Now they’re like pranksters, they ring the door bell and run, in the hopes the crazy lady in yoga pants won’t try and talk to them.

I used to regard my consumer interactions as a nuisance, wishing cashiers and hair cutters and post office workers wouldn’t try to strike up a conversation with me. I was busy, dammit. Let’s get a move on. Now that my human interactions are not so forced, I find it enjoyable to do more than smile and be polite. I am becoming the nosy old lady who wants to know if you and Bob over at the car wash are related, since you both have the same shaped eyes. I am becoming Miss Marple.

As a writer, I should understand and embrace this curiosity. I’ve always been introverted and reserved, but these days, I’m getting bolder and giving in to my unfiltered questions. It’s no longer enough to just observe. I asked the lady cutting my hair yesterday if her hands hurt after doing this all day. She told me how she got carpal tunnel when she was pregnant and how a coworker of hers has no feeling in her pinky fingers anymore.

Being curious about the experiences of others, putting yourself in their shoes, asking impulsive questions and most importantly, making connections – this is something I’m finally embracing. I’ve started to pay closer attention to the people who I encounter throughout the day. Whether they like it or not. Although a nosy Nellie might be a step up from a wild turkey.

43 Comments on “Turkey Wrangling and Other Curiosities

  1. I like to believe that the variety of jobs I’ve had over the years has made me a better person, but sometimes I think it has only served to make my resume look like the chronicles of an indecisive knucklehead.

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    • I once spent a summer cleaning toilets at a hotel. I’m pretty sure that clinched my position at a big accounting firm. And they didn’t even make me clean the toilets.

      I was pretty indiscriminate about the jobs I took (mostly legal) – growing up poor, meant money was money and work was work. Hence the lack of a “career path”.

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      • Career path! I really don’t believe anyone of my generation had such a thing. For me living meant getting work, any kind of job when necessary, for money. Now I work for a company, that shuns an applicant for internal promotion, if the word money, as an incentive, is mentioned. How totally dishonest, but in today’s world, such a charade, it seems, is a must.

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        • That’s pretty much how I traveled through the working world – whatever got me better health insurance and pay, that’s where I was going. I think it’s a myth in the US that has followed us from the 1950s. You graduated from college and went to work for a company for 40 years, moving up the ranks. The reality is that prospects for long-term employment are slim, as is the connection between education and employment. Debt from college is practically guaranteed, though.

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    • Funnily enough, one of my jobs was rewriting resumes and it has always struck me as bizarre what some people thought was relevant to getting a job. I was so relieved when enough time had passed, that I could leave off some of my nuttier jobs and look like I had some sort of career going on.

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      • Same here, but the truth, for me, was a chaotic chase for more money.

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  2. Reading your post took me back to some of the less pleasant jobs I’ve had…I also once worked 3rd shift and 2nd shift factory jobs, and I think about how I’d never want to do that again. But nevertheless there’s a bittersweet feeling that I’m thankful for that experience, and having gone through it, wouldn’t trade it.

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    • I took a temp job doing a 3rd shift at a Procter and Gamble factory. All I did, literally, was stand empty shampoo bottles upright – for 8 hours. It really motivated me to find another job! But somebody is likely doing that job today still.
      I met such a wide range of people, from all walks of life and circumstances. As a writer, I have to believe that it was valuable. As I wrote this post, I began to think about the fact that as I’ve ostensibly become middle class, I’d forgotten how hard life was doing that kind of work. There was something to be said for doing your work and being done when your shift was over, though. Managerial jobs that bleed past business hours can be draining.

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      • My heart bleeds for them, not. If you need to take your work home with you then you are not cut out to be a manager.

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  3. OMG, the Creepensteins! Not at all funny when you think of what they might have been up to, or the look of utter shock on your poor, little 10-year old face, but I am ashamed and sorry to say I laughed ’til tears started to roll down my cheeks. i now have this picture that will forever be burned into my mind. All I can say is thank God you never found or watched the videos. Speaking of hairdressers, mine had to quit the business because of the damage it caused her upper back, because of how she constantly held her arms while cutting and blow drying hair.

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    • All I could hope was that it didn’t totally warp my ideas about human sexuality – I hadn’t even seen regular porn at that point!

      The question about the hair cutter’s hands popped in my head and I decided to ask her, but there are so many repetitive jobs out there that create lifelong injuries. I also learned a lot about ergonomic scissors and blow dryers in that conversation. There’s so much to learn when we stop and ask questions, giving into an almost childlike curiosity.

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      • In all seriousness, you are lucky it didn’t put you off sex (or animals) for life. And I agree about asking questions and learning. And I have found people love sharing the information, too. I think most people like knowing you’re interested in what they do or how they feel or why they do something, etc.

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        • That’s true – and if I did the same task over and over again, it would be nice to break it up with friendly conversation. Between my midwestern/Brit upbringing and introversion, asking questions seemed rude and invasive. I’m getting over it!

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        • Yes, it does sometimes feel like we’re being rude or intrusive, but I think we have good enough instincts not to over step. At least I hope so.

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        • More often, I’ll ask a simple question and invariably end up getting a full description of someone’s root canal. I have to do less filtering of questions than of answers!

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        • Yes, me too. There is the odd time I kick myself for asking in the first place 🙂

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  4. I always enjoy your posts! And you always get me thinking. I had to do a mental recap of all of my past jobs — including my first, as a babysitter at the age of 8! When I think of my own 8-year-olds babysitting, I am aghast! I would never leave them to care for themselves, let alone other kids — yikes, what were those parents thinking! 🙂
    Thanks for another great read!

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    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I remember being 10 and set out on paper routes on my bike after dark – I couldn’t imagine sending my daughter out like that. Of course, I grew up in small towns and we now live in a metro area. I know it’s the age of parents being constantly freaked out by the news, but I suspect many of us only survived our childhoods by sheer luck.

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  5. Wow, you hands down beat every bad babysitting story I ever had. Ick.

    I think the curiosity is an aging thing too – I’m much more interested in other people as I get older than I was in the past.

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    • I had forgotten the story until I remembered that family. The 3 year old had cavities on his front teeth, which were easily explained since he carried around a bottle of Pepsi with him constantly. I’m not sure how I ended up babysitting for them – I think they were friends with another family I babysat for, but if I had the parenting sensibilities I do now, it would have horrified me!

      I’m so much less self-conscious about talking to people than I used to be, so that helps a lot in starting up conversation. It’s funny in a society where you start to become invisible after a certain age, that we find ourselves more interested in others.

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  6. Now that I have retired, moved and started a new life in a small town, I too find myself craving human interaction. My trips to town stretch out and I bravely chat with strangers and store clerks. I’m in no hurry and feel part of the community when we exchange pleasantries. Thanks for sharing your similar experience.

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    • I think that’s a pretty important aspect about talking to people, connecting to a sense of community. It’s harder and harder to come by if you’re not a joiner (I’m not), so these little connections mean a lot more. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  7. An awesome post. I’ve had a great many jobs, but I think you’ve got me beat. Plus, you were in the military. Like you, I started delivering newspapers at about age 10. That job also involved going around and collecting money from the customers every month, after dark. Had to go back several times to get everyone to pay up, so it went on for a week. (My parents sent my little brother along to guard me!) I was never robbed, then. But in college, I had a six-shooter with bullets in the chambers pointed at my chest from about three feet away one time when I was working the night shift at a motel. Gunman got the money, I got away with my life.

    Most important thing about your post is you reminded us that even jobs that don’t look all that strenuous can cause serious injury, like carpal tunnel. Almost all supermarket checkout clerks end up with bad feet and wrenched muscles in their back. It all takes a toll.

    To the point: I just started reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain. I think it’s going to make me feel better about being an introvert.

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    • Wow – I feel very fortunate never to be held up at gunpoint! I would fear for my child if she ever got a convenience store, hotel, taxi driver or delivery job. It seems wrong that these minimum wage jobs could be so fraught with mortal danger. And regarding the point about injuries – again, so unfortunate that many jobs don’t even have basic health insurance associated with them, but the health impact can be considerable.

      I remember collecting for the newspaper subscriptions – it was always frustrating to repeatedly have to return to houses where the people refused to answer their door!

      I’ve been recommended the Susan Cain book repeatedly, but have a quite a few other books on the list to read. You’ll have to let me know what you think about it – or write a post on it!

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  8. I have done some odd jobs myself – I was a wardrobe attendant in college, I helped showgirls change clothes. I made pizza, bagged groceries, matched paint colors, babysat immigrant children (seriously it was a government program for migrant workers), managed a Circle K (worst job ever) – and lots more. I am glad those have all fallen off my resume 🙂

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    • Yes, I am often astonished at how many jobs have fallen off my resume. I consider myself to be a reliable, hardworking person, but I had an amazing number of jobs up until my late 20s. Writing that post made me remember so many more “odd” jobs that I took on. I’d love to hear more about you managing a Circle K – I’m thinking of doing a “Worst Job Ever Contest”….now you’ve reminded me to get on that.

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  9. Pingback: The Green Study “Worst Job I Ever Had” Contest | The Green Study

  10. Love this post — laughing at your description of home office life and interactions. I find myself incredibly chatty with the most random of people if it has been several days since I had an out-of-office meeting or conference! ~ Kat

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  11. All those jobs make for some stimulating dinner table tales. It’s taken me a distressing number of years to realize that I’m not meant to work one job day after day. I’ve pumped gas, dried cars, yelled “next in line!” at conventions (I really excelled at that), personal assistant to a private investigator/insurance adjuster. I realize now that I crave deadlines, interaction with strangers, watching people, and making a difference for someone while remaining anonymous or invisible. I do love your turkey story.

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    • I’d like to believe the different jobs make for some great writing material as well. I’m not a career person, but I have been “where do I have to go next to get benefits and a little more money?” I ended up doing administrative/managerial work for the last 15 or so years more through happenstance. I think I’m getting close to what fits as a work life – now I just need to connect some money to it so I can pay for my kid’s college and travel more.

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  12. There’s nothing wrong with being Miss Marple. It’s all about tact and boundaries. She is so often right in her observations, you can’t ever fault her.
    I especially liked this line in your post about office work: “…you can spend a whole day being busy and get absolutely nothing of concrete worth done.” So true, so true. You can also spend a lot of time talking to co-workers about the latest Downton Abbey episode and be just as productive.

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    • I think there might be something wrong with being Ms. Marple when you’re half her age and losing any potential for coolness at an alarming rate. I like her inquisitiveness, though, because it helps her make connections.

      Being in an office is like being a sitting target for bird crap. You just sit there waiting for the next load to drop – chatty coworkers who want to talk about their carbuncles, bosses that don’t understand which way an envelope goes in the printer, phone calls, emails, junk mail. I’m slightly biased and desperately hope that I can make some money writing so that I don’t ever have to go back there again.

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      • But imagine how cool Ms. Marple was when she was younger too?
        I like your image of the cubicle target for bird crap. It is nice to be able to have a balance between both worlds (home/office) — I’m working on that now.

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  13. My wife finds it embarassing when I open up a conversation with complete strangers. I have no problem with it at all, but it only started as I got older, more experienced, and confident in myself. Some people acquire these attributes early on, others not at all. Perhaps a genetic thing, or how an individual is brought up. It’s probably a very complicated process worthy of psycho-analysis. I’m sure the mumbo jumbo brigade will come up with an explanation.

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    • You’re right about it not necessarily being a part of one’s personality. On a lighter note, I think it makes the world seem like a friendlier place if you’re out and about and having conversation with people.

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