Pride in one’s work appears to be a fading quality. I see examples of it at the office. I see examples of it when I go out on the town. I see examples in my own neighborhood. I wonder what has happened to the dignity and the respect I recall from my youth.
Last night I stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up dinner for myself and leftovers for my kids to enjoy when they returned late night from their band competition. While waiting for my order, a customer walks up to the counter, “Hey, I wanted to let you know you’re out of napkins in the table area”. The girl at the counter just shrugs. “Sorry, we must be out”. She doesn’t look for more nor does she alert anyone else to look. She just shrugs, oh well. The man looks at his greasy fingers then back to the girl in dismay before heading for the bathroom. At the same location, I am watching the food preparers and baggers. The girl working the drive up window is eating while she is bagging. In fact, she is swiping nuggets and popping them into her mouth from the customer’s orders. She is not wearing gloves, her apron has greasy finger marks where she continually wipes her hands, and there is food in her mouth while she is talking.
I will probably not be returning. I am disappointed.
There are few simple pleasures in my life. One of them is Sunday morning quiet time with my paper and a coffee. In the summer, I’ll read it outside on the porch where there is peace before my inconsiderate neighbors across the street wake up. In the winter, I'll be at the table that faces the rising sun. I do not ask for much. I ask that the paper be tossed on the porch by my door. It is, to me, such a simple request. In fact I have been asking this every other week for the past few months since a new courier took over the route. Yes, I can tell when there is a change. I notice the little things.
Courier #1 I would have tipped more if I had the spare change. In fact, I probably would have crocheted him a hat this Christmas and baked him cookies. That is how important my simple pleasure is to me. My one day off. My one day of no stress. My one morning of peace, before my teenage kids wake up with their TV noises and computer tap-tapping and requests of “Mom, Can I?” and “Mom, I need…”
Courier #2 doesn’t appear to care about his/her punch list. I know he/she gets one, because I used to be a courier for the very same paper. Requests/complaints are next to the client addresses. Please double bag. Please leave by the side door instead of the front. Please deliver by 7:00 a.m. on Sundays.
I have the paper delivered two days a week, Thursdays and Sundays. Thursdays I don’t have time to sit and enjoy the paper. I rely on tripping over it, to remember I get it and toss it in the apartment to read on Saturday afternoon when I return from job #2. Most Thursdays, it is not there. Half of the Thursdays the paper is stolen from the sidewalk or the flowerbed where it is left instead. Sometimes I call, sometimes I don’t because I forget I was supposed to have it until Saturday when I am looking for it. Most Sundays I sigh as I go on the hunt for my paper.
Rainy Sundays, like today, I call the paper's customer service line to request another paper, preferably dry, to be left on the porch. I ask that the courier by called direct (again) to highlight his/her punch list. I have not renewed my subscription yet. It’s due to expire in two weeks. I haven’t decided if it is worth the aggravation. I let the smiling voice customer service rep know this. She is apologetic and understanding as any good customer service rep should be. She is in charge of damage control.
Omi used to tell me that anything worth doing was worth doing right. She used to tell me to take my time and do it the best of my ability.. No job was too little. No job was too unimportant to put the best effort into. If I left the smallest speck while washing the dishes, she would make me do it again. Take pride in your job! She would say. She used to say that how you accomplished a task was a reflection on yourself. Pride in your work is pride in yourself. My grandmother never worked for pay. She used to volunteer though. She was an artist. She used to create things to be sold at auctions. She would only put her best work forward. It was about pride and self respect. It was about giving her best effort.
The summer before I closed my daycare, I took on a paper route to fill in the financial gap lost due to daycare families leaving as they found alternate care. It wasn’t a lofty job, it wasn’t a glamorous job, but it was a job that I took on, and thus, important. There is no such thing as an unimportant job.
I woke up at 4:00 am every morning (5:00 on Sundays). I would brew my coffee, fill my travel mug, sling my canvas bag into the truck, grab my rubber bands, my plastic bags, and most important, I would grab my punch list. I would stop by my pick up stop, take a look at the sky to gauge the weather, and then load up my truck. I would prepare my papers before I even left the drop area. I would carefully roll them, front page out, then rubber band them to stay. Customers, who requested double bags no matter the weather, would have double bags. Those that didn’t mind would have bags on dewy mornings, on threatening-to-rain days as well as on rainy days. I would stack the first route on the seat next to me. I had three routes. Two were walking routes, one was a driving route.
I never met one of my customers, but I knew their personalities from their requests. I knew the ones who were aggravated because they felt uncared about. I knew the ones who were elderly; I knew the ones who were just looking for the simple pleasure of a quiet morning respite. Driving routes required tossing the paper out of the vehicle onto the driveway. I used to flip the papers with a back spin so they would land flat without scuttling down the pavement and possibly rip. I knew which clients preferred I get out of my truck, despite it being a driving route, and walk it up to the front door. I knew which ones wanted the paper left between the glass storm door and the inner main one. I knew which ones left for work early in the morning. I knew these people by heart, yet I took my punch list anyway in case a new request came through. I respected their wishes. It was a matter of pride. Do the best you can do no matter the job.
It was important. Do you understand what I mean? The customers were important. I was important. It was a matter of pride and respect flowing both ways.
As I sit here typing this, waiting for a new dry paper (again), I consider the drop in pride that appears to have occurred over the years. It was a subtle change. I see it in the neighborhood around me. People walk by and toss their garbage on the ground. They live here, yet do it anyway. I start my mornings the same way every day. I keep a garbage barrel outside with a bag in it and the lid off, hoping to encourage others to use it. I keep it by the sidewalk. Every morning, I walk my small outdoor space and pick up the cigarette butts tossed carelessly aside. I pick up the crushed beer cans, and the empty wrappers. I pick up the paper ads blown into the yard. I pick up the garbage kicked out of the cars parked by the side of the street. I debate getting one of those standing ashtrays I see outside of gas stations.
The girl that climbs the tree and screams most Sunday afternoons (at least this is when I notice her because I am home) stopped by one morning and asked me why I bothered. It’s just going to be crappy again tomorrow. What was the point? “It’s a matter of pride” I told her. I live here. Just because we are poor, does not mean we have to live in a dump.
Oh, she says. But she stoops to pick up an empty cigarette box and tosses it in the barrel before heading off to her tree to shriek.
Then I think of my own kids. And I think of their messy rooms that I don’t nag them about. And I think about the dishes that they leave in the living room that I don’t nag them about, but instead pick up and move to the kitchen to wash. And I think about the messy penmanship that I don’t harp on them about. I don’t have to think very far to realize where the pride has disappeared to. It’s us, the parents, who have shifted. My grandmother would call me on every little thing. She was very matter of fact about it. I don’t call my kids on every little thing. I let things slide. Perhaps I am trying to make up for the divorce. It’s possible. I don’t hold them to the same standards across the board that I hold them to for their school work. As I sit here considering where the shift has occurred, I realize I am doing them no favors. I have not instilled in them, the same pride over “trivial” things that was instilled in me. The same pride that I see slipping away year after year in the actions of the people around me.
How is it to remain if we don’t pass it on to our children? How is it to remain if we shrug our shoulders over the little things and say “oh well?”
Perhaps we have no further to look, then at ourselves. I think I will send a copy of this to both the newspaper and KFC. Things may not change, but I will have called them on it. And also, I will start respecting my children more by holding them to the same standards I hold myself. Maybe, this is how we can recapture that which has been fading almost imperceptibly away. Perhaps this is where it starts.
Thump. The paper slams into my door. Good. It’s on the porch. It’s the little things that bring simple pleasures, to both the doers and the receivers. It’s a matter of pride.