Mary Senter, 9/8/2014
Current Occupation: Corrections Officer
Former Occupation: Cook, fish processor, factory worker, elevator operator, waitress, janitor, carpenter, welder, sheet metal mechanic, and maintenance worker.
Contact Information: Mary Senter studied Literary Fiction Writing at the University of Washington. Her stories can be found in Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing, Thirty Nights of Tuesday and Heater. She writes in a cabin in the woods on the shores of Puget Sound. She is working on an historical novel set in the in the 1890s. Visit her at www.marysenter.com.
Blue Collar Blues
I’ve been wearing boots to work most of my adult life: rubber boots, steel-toed boots, lineman’s boots, loggers, and now tactical boots. I was drawn to the blue-collar life, which is funny, because my dad’s a Lawyer and my mom was in PR and real estate and…I’m a woman.
I knew from an early age that boys had all the fun. They got to play baseball and ride BMX bikes and get dirty. I never had much interest in wearing dresses and playing dolls. During college, when my friends were seeking work as secretaries and receptionists, I went to work in a fish factory. My safety equipment included rubber boots, gloves and a hair net and I stood on a line for eight hours a day, elbow deep in fish parts. You would think that would have cured me from that type of work, but it didn’t.
Whenever it was time to search the classified, I never looked in the administration section. The thought of going to work in a cubicle and having to try to decide what fancy outfit to wear didn’t interest me. I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl, or better yet, a uniform girl. If you wear a uniform to work, you never have to think about what you’re going to wear.
At 23, I enlisted in the Air Force and began to appreciate a uniform. I became a structural journeyman and wore BDUs and 16-inch steel-toed lineman’s boots. I was a welder, a carpenter, and a sheet metal mechanic. My uniform was very comfortable and when it wore out, it was replaced. I almost never had to go shopping and was always in style.
After being discharged, I continued working construction and facilities maintenance for many years. When I finally decided I couldn’t stand working outside in wet Washington winters anymore, I became a corrections officer. Now my collar is literally blue, my uniform is less comfortable, but my boots are more comfortable and my office changes every day.
Working in a jail is dangerous, disgusting and depressing, and I’ve seen things I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. Every day is a challenge and I never know if in the next second someone will throw himself off the upper level or go into cardiac arrest or start beating the crap out of the guy sitting next to him at dinner. It’s never boring.
Over the course of my blue-collar life, I can say I’ve done a lot of things many women haven’t. I’ve busted ass, gotten heat exhaustion, been harassed, risen at 3am, spent countless hours with elevated blood pressure while stuck on I-5, the clock ticking toward the daycare closing and no way to get there in time. I’ve pushed, pulled, hauled, lifted, led, directed, fixed, altered, maintained, transported, cleaned, sorted, inspected, built, constructed, demolished, supervised, hammered, soldered, welded, built, packed, installed, booked, interviewed, checked, monitored, operated, repaired, replaced, planned, cut, bent, shaped, sawed, drilled, sanded, stripped, calked, and layed. I’ve cleaned up shit, picked up trash, been cussed at, worked while soaking wet, sliced my skin open more times than I could count, worked to the point of complete exhaustion, been exposed to extreme heights, hazardous fumes, naked people, dangerous criminals, TB, hepatitis, AIDS, and MRSA. I’ve fought with inmates who were coated in blood and urine, and have come home every night smelling like low tide in summertime. However, even though my work was no picnic, every one of my jobs has also been filled with great experiences; and I’m so thankful that I have been able to do the work of men all of these years, because men really do have all the fun.
My dad once asked me why I wanted to do this work. He said ditch digging (done that, too) is for men with strong backs and weak minds. Maybe so, but it’s also for tomboys who like to go outside and get dirty.
But what was I thinking? I could have been in a nice, safe, comfortable, warm office all of these years, pushing nothing but paper. I’m middle-aged now. It’s time I came to my senses. I’m too old for ditch digging.
I’m switching gears, finally. I’m pursuing a Master’s in Strategic Communication and plan to work for a non-profit, cultural arts organization, museum, or university, doing social media marketing and digital communication. I also hope to help other writers build their author platforms.
I know, a total switch. How will I manage to put together a professional outfit every morning? What will I do when there is no danger of being smeared with bodily fluids throughout my day? Will I know how to communicate with people who discuss things other than football and guns and don’t use profanity or off-color remarks?
These are the things I worry about, but I’m pretty sure I’ll manage. I’m looking forward to hanging up my boots, permanently.