Monday, April 24, 2006

1 year, 10 months, 1 week

Friday’s meltdown flipped the switch on the big cartoon light bulb over my head. A few more years of choking down the frustration that leads to that kind of explosion and I figure they’re going to haul me away from work on a stretcher. Stroke. (We could see it coming, they’ll say, and of course, she smokes.)

And I keep asking myself when I crossed the line from confidence in my own ingenuity to paranoidly clinging to a job. At one time in my life, I never doubted my ability to earn my living. I took scary leaps into self-employment, I worked for every kind of outfit, in every kind of job you can imagine. I knew that I’d figure something out – and I didn’t care if it was washing floors and cleaning up other people’s crap. I’d do what it took to earn my living.

Today, at work, I cleaned up crap. No, seriously. Not paper crap or bureaucratic crap – actual crap. I helped pry a small cabinet off the floor, for instance – it had been plastic-waxed around its edges so often, with trickles of wax running underneath, that it had welded itself to the floor. It took forty minutes, hammers, paint scrapers and wooden edges to get it up. The cabinet, an extraordinarily well built item, started to rip apart from the strain. When we were done, pieces of the floor tile ripped right out of the floor and stayed on the bottom of the wood.

My student assistants and I trucked enough crap out of the tiny circulation area to cover two five foot by ten foot table tops. And then we removed a good six years worth of grime, scrubbing and disinfecting everything. We scraped scotch tape from the Paleolithic era off the walls. We hauled furniture.

Tomorrow, that small area will be painted and the floor, unwashed for at least three or four years, will be stripped, cleaned and waxed.

And I know that when I retire, in one year, ten months and one week, this will be the last time the area was cleaned.

When I talk about “understaffing” people don’t take me seriously. Everyone says it. Everyone is overworked. But I doubt that most library workers are crawling up on step-stools to get mouse turds off the shelves. Yellow rubber gloves are not the usual fashion accessory in my profession.

And the understaffing and discouragement in maintenance are a reflection of the understaffing and discouragement institution-wide. Many of us, at this point, are making it out of sheer necessity and a sense of loyalty to a place that has been home for years.

So, I’m retiring. Not when I can afford it, when it’s practical – which is seven years from now - but in one year, ten months and one week. Not that I’m counting. My current estimates suggest that my pension income may cover my rent, electric and phone bills. Eating, without additional work, will be optional.

I don’t care.

It was a good day, today. I enjoyed every crud-encrusted, Pinesol perfumed, rubber gloved moment of it.

I made the decision on Saturday. And that was a good day. It was the day I stopped being paralyzed by the thought of losing “security.”

It was the day I realized that I can still do whatever it takes. Even if it means cleaning up other people’s crap.