Posted 3/29/22

WOODWORKING No matter the job, it can teach you The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours: We have given our …

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No matter the job, it can teach you

The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours: We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! –From a poem by British poet William Wordsworth, who is buried in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.

His sentiments were put to good use by Journal Editor Sarah Nigbor, my boss, who more than likely will not end up buried in Westminster Abbey, but whose column told timeless truths about life.

In her Aug. 4 column (awhile back, I know), she outlined the course of her life since graduation from UWRiver Falls. A bouncy narrative of job hunting, freelance writing, working for several newspapers, supplementing her earnings tending bar at Philander's in Prescott, about which she admits feeling shame at working as a “mere” bartender. More on that below.

Sarah records her successes and failures with biting honesty, celebrating her promotion to editor of four—yes four—newspapers all at the same time,” getting and spending,” as Wordsworth would say and eventually running out of physical and emotional energy to keep enjoying that sweet smell of success.

When Sarah finally crashes under the weight of editing four papers, she visits a doctor who tells her she's suffering from anxiety and depression, so she left her pinnacle of success behind, took a less demanding job, realizing that money and title were ''laying waste her power” as a mother, a daughter, and well, a human being.

These days, she's back in the Fourth Estate, as editor of the newspaper you're reading where she is not treated as a faceless number in the hurlyburly of corporate news mergers and closings. She concludes in her essay that whether you're a bartender or a CEO, if you enjoy the work that’s making you a living, that's what really matters.

Discussing Sarah's column with my wife, we agreed that our acquaintance had made the valuable discovery that deep down any work that teaches habits of industry and honesty will serve you well in years ahead—and then we reminisced about our startingout jobs that have done us some good throughout our lives.

We've been married for 52 years and in the course of that half-century we've learned the hard way that getting ahead shouldn't be among our main priorities. But we had our share of meagre jobs to eke us through life. One summer Ruth worked at the Campfire marshmallow factory, where her assignment was to watch marshmallows tumble through a bin and throw out the ones with dark spots. She breathed in powdered sugar by the minute, and the daily end-of-work ritual involved removing the hairnet, the apron and the globs from the nose. That and a later factory job scraping excess plastic out of necks of Clorox bottles gave her a lifelong respect for people who hold steady at routine jobs in order to keep themselves and their families “above water.”

Another summer she returned to south Chicago to retrieve a good-paying job as waitress at a pancake house. “Never could have made it there,” she said, “Except that I learned so much from the crabby, slave-driving boss at my first waitress job at Howard Johnson’s, I was pretty darn good at waitressing. When she asked to see the manager who’d hired her the previous summer, she was told, “Oh we haven’t seen him since December. They found his empty Cadillac parked by the Chicago River. [Someone obviously had ‘laid waste his powers.’] We have a new manager, the guy in the shiny navy suit and black tie. Don’t approach him until he’s finished talking to the other guy in the dark suit!”

Me? I scrubbed vats caked with burnt chocolate milk and whipping cream at a Land O'Lakes fluid milk plant in my hometown. Got a rash on my arms that didn’t go away for six months, but at $1.12 an hour, it paid tuition at Eau Claire. Even so, I was driven by ambition, so I lied about my age and got a job as a bartender at the Towne Room of the Hotel Eau Claire. Yes, it was fancy and known for a clientele that tipped. My first tip came when a drunken lawyer from Menomonie threw a dollar bill on the floor and said, “That's for you, kid.” When I stooped over to pick it up, he kicked me in the butt. I picked it up anyway. Pride be damned. I peddled Mason work boots and never made a penny. But I ate all the LifeSavers packets we were supposed to give our door-to-door customers, none of whom wore work boots. My designated area was the Third Ward, where most male residents wore Cordovans in the winter, white bucks in the summer. That’s where I learned the principle of “location, location, location!”

The bottom line is that all jobs, no matter how little selfrespect they offer, prepare us for the trials and tribulations that lay ahead. And it wasn't all bad. I’m still pretty good at mixing a drink and shooting the breeze with just about anybody, and I had the pleasure of serving Sen. Joseph “Tailgunner” McCarthy his third Manhattan in as many minutes, which he failed to keep down. Before a crowd of witch hunters.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715426-9554.