Jan Priddy, 7/17/2017
Current occupation: beach walker
Former occupations: private and public high school Art and English teacher, college English teacher, quilt store clerk (best reverse income), baker, architectural draftsperson, freelance designer, dog magazine columnist, direct delivery junk-mail rep (most disreputable), artist, record store sales clerk, abused Taco Bell employee.
Contact information: My work has earned an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, Arts & Letters fellowship, Soapstone residency, Pushcart nomination, and publication in journals such as Brevity blog, The MacGuffin, CALYX, Work Literary Magazine, Raven Chronicles, The Humanist, and North American Review. An MFA graduate from Pacific University, I live in the NW corner of my home state of Oregon. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEAVING WORK, 1970
I was good at my first job. I filled and wrapped
a taco fast as anyone. I smiled, my hands
busy filling tiny containers with hot sauce
when no customers came to my window.
I cleaned and closed best of all, shifting
the food to the refer, scrubbing down
the stainless steel, mopping again and again
beginning early because we were not paid
to close. The work had to be done whether
it took ten minutes or an hour. I did it right
in ten. The new boy was paid a third again
each hour what I received for training him.
When I asked, the boss said he was a boy,
something I had already noticed. But I
did not walk away from that job because
the work was hard and boring, or because
I was not paid for closing, or because
my boss thought it was fair to pay me less.
I walked away the day he told me protesters
deserve to be shot. Wrapped in his belief
that made me want him dead. But instead,
I walked away and even when he asked,
I never went back. He shorted my last check,
well, what could I expect?
Jobs for women used to appear
separately from the classified listings
for real work in the paper.
My grandmother worked and so
did my mother, only when they needed
to support the family.
Each took the sort of position
women were welcomed to, and each
They worked in clerical
positions, under the supervision
of men younger than they.
And each enjoyed the work
until they left because was expected
of women who became wives.
As if working were a sorry
circumstance, a pointless leisure
that kills the soul.
My grandmother cranked
the laundry on Monday, filled
shelves with canned fruit.
Housework and mothering
kept her busy every day until
she began dying.
It was only late in her life
that my mother acknowledged
how much she loved her job.
“You always feel better,”
she claimed, “when you are earning
your way.” I felt it.
Before I delivered junk mail,
folded burritos, and priced records
I folded laundry and penciled
out the cost of aquarium supplies.
Sometimes I swept and dusted
before vacuuming. I washed
the family dishes and none
of this was fun. It was work. Work
was also roasting a turkey, baking
pies, a batch of cookies, a green
salad—also work, but work enjoyed.
Bad managers can ruin a job, but
the job itself might not be so bad.
I enjoyed leaning out the window
of my friend’s truck, hanging
leaflets and coupons. We laughed
together as we went, house to house
in our disreputable task. The fast
food job was sometimes fun, a way
to get work done swiftly. I got a tip
one time. I learned how to make
pastries during the year at a bakery.
I watched the boys go into the ovens
and come out loaves. I stood
at counters and waited on tired
and hungry people. Even the bad
days were not so awful. Awful
was watching my father die
of cancer. Awful was burying
dogs. Awful was losing my
temper with people I love. Work
never dipped into awful.