by Jane Rozell
originally published in the 2015 Summer Issue
It’s Monday morning, and another week of work begins. Upstairs I hear my neighbour stirring. It is five o’clock and soon he’ll be on his way to his job as a subway train operator. At seven my next-door neighbour will leave for his work as a waiter in a downtown restaurant. Then at eight, the teenager upstairs will be off to school. The last exit will be at nine when the new tenant in our little apartment building hurries past my window to her car, laden down with a huge backpack and a bulging tote bag.
How glad I am that I am no longer a prisoner of the nine-to-five workweek (in my case, it was eight-to-four). It’s wonderful to not be part of the hurrying, scurrying crowd of people fighting for a seat on public transit. It’s wonderful to not be at the mercy of seemingly tyrannical department heads and so-called important people from the New York head office. Most of all, it is wonderful to not be required to do mind-numbing irrelevant work on outdated equipment day after endless day. At last, I am reasonably free to choose what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I do it.
It is hard for me to fully comprehend that for at least 48 weeks of every year of my 20 working years, I was a prisoner of the local transit system. I spent my early mornings rushing to the bus stop, clatteriing down the stairs of the subway station, jostling for a seat or even a space to stand, on a train and then running a block to my office, my workplace, always sure that I was going to be late for work. At the end of the day, there was the same procedure but in reverse. It turned me into a sheep, numbed by the constant waiting for a bus, waiting for a train, waiting in line to purchase transit tickets or tokens, standing in the stifling heat of summer, freezing in the winter.
So much of my work involved counting, listing and checking. There are files to update, charts to fill in and reports to make up. Makeup, fabricate, those are the right words. No matter what the facts were, we were always expected to prepare material that head office wanted to see and hear material that spoke only of success. Not that they were really interested. After all, we were merely the Canadian branch of an American company. We used antiquated methods and outdated technology and this was true at all levels, not just in my bottom-of-the-ladder clerical department.
I had a supervisor who came to work early and left late, never took breaks and usually ate lunch at her desk. I know she took work home in that battered black briefcase of hers. I’m sure she would deny this as it was against company rules, but all upper-level staff did it. I’m sure she expected me to do the same though again would no doubt deny it.
Why did I take this job and then why did I stay in it? A lack of confidence in my abilities and a lack of money to get further education definitely were a huge part of the story. But in simplest terms I took this job and stayed in this job because I needed money to help finance a family of three children and one alcoholic husband. Once I was accepted as a permanent employee by the company, I was afraid to risk anything by moving on to set up something else. That’s all over now. I’m long retired and able to see what I might have done differently. Of course, hindsight gives us 20/20 vision. What matters now is that I’m not trapped in that endless cycle. I am free to structure a life plan that is, as much as is possible, my choice and then live it.
Jane Rozell is a student in the University in the Community. This past year, she has been working on her writing.
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