"Things that interfere with writing well: Earning a living, especially by teaching."

-William H. Gass

Friday, March 16, 2007

Adventures in Day Jobbing

My continuing adventures into the day jobbing world have yielded yet another new, exciting experience. Yesterday I got to explore the previously mysterious and vaguely attractive (dramatic pause) all day conference. For those of you who, like me, thought a day off from the grind might be both useful and kinda fun, enjoy the following peek into the conference experience.

I don’t drive, so my boss offered to give me a ride to Worcester for the event. The day before it began, however, he said that he “realized where Worcester was located” and couldn’t pass up the convenient route from his place to the conference. This route, of course, came nowhere near my house or our place of business.

The MBTA website is actually pretty user friendly, I will admit that. The commuter rail runs between Boston and Worcester at times that are convenient for the people operating the commuter rail. Anyone else has to either arrive absurdly early or slightly late. Given my boss’s willingness to totally dick me over on the ride, I dicked over the conference and showed up 1.5 hours late. The conference waits for no man. Workshops happened. People networked. I awkwardly sipped coffee in South Station amongst suited people waiting for the trains they take every day, nursing feelings of guilt and anxiety about my lateness…

So I arrive in Worcester. A place, as far as I can tell, notable only for its complete lack of an aesthetically pleasing view in any direction at any time of day. There are probably many crappy events happening at any one time in Worcester that few people really want to attend but attend out of a lack of other things to do. Normally this would be confusing, all of these events happening at various places across the city. Luckily every crappy event in Worcester is conveniently held at the DCU center. This conference is no exception.

I am welcomed by a piece of 8.5x11 paper with something else printed on the back of it which is itself taped to a sign that looks like it should say “Please wait to be seated.” The arrow points up an escalator at the top of which a replica of the first welcome implores me to go up another escalator. At the top of this there is a long folded table draped with the conference’s hosting organization’s logo and mission statement. Several dot org types mill about in business suits and hiking shoes. Everyone has crazy earrings.

I find my name in the A-H collection of laminated nametag lanyards. A smiling woman checks my name off of two lists, highlights something, and points to a stack of folders filled with helpful information and a survey. I am asked to please take the survey before leaving that afternoon. Instinctively, I find the coffee. I pace around, looking for a bathroom that I don’t need to use.

The first round of workshops lets out and my boss appears behind me like a Ninja. I have no idea how long he has been there when he says, “May I join you for coffee, ma’am?” We put stale croissants on delicate tea saucers. A powerhouse of a woman approaches us and looks at our lanyards before addressing us by name. She spits a piece of croissant at me in the middle of some emphatic statement about the previous workshop and doesn’t even pause while I wipe it off. I can’t hear a word she’s saying because I can’t stop thinking about how I would lose sleep for days if I spit croissant at someone I just met at a conference in the middle of a sentence. She and my boss exchange cards and I mentally note how networking works, minus the spitting. She asks for my card and I glare at my boss, who whispers a promise to order them.

Let me tell you that it is damn hard to shake someone’s hand while holding a cup full of coffee balanced on a saucer. So practice that now, if you have a conference coming up.

The next set of workshops starts and I am the last one in. I take a seat in the front row, my back toward the presenter, facing a table of people I don’t know. I turn my chair and sit in that kind of casual entirely uncomfortable “turn the chair half way around and crane your neck” position, the one where you grip the back of the chair for leverage and keep saying to yourself, “just turn the chair all the way around” but never do. A man two tables over is looking at my cleavage, which is showing because a button has come undone. This pleases me immeasurably.

The presenter is a regional manager for a wholesale grocery company. The workshop is about CORI’s from the employer’s perspective. As practitioners, we are meant to glean best practices in securing employment for convicted offenders. As an educator of court-involved youth, this indirectly involves me. What the regional manager seems to think we are there to learn about is the history, practices, and importance of regional managers of wholesale grocery companies. He hands out candy and explains that candy is just one of the hundreds of food items that have to go through him before hitting the grocery stores we shop at “each and every day.” The subsequent three minute oration consists only of food items, and rivals the Forest Gump litany of shrimp recipes both in length and in the cognitive wherewithal of the speaker. But while Bubba dies before the end of the movie, the regional manager is the protagonist and lasts the whole fucking time.

I now know how to get my ex-offenders employed at a grocery warehouse. Which is, it would seem, the highest degree of success for which they ought to hope if this workshop has anything to say about it.

Being mature and patient, I sat with my chin on my hand and doodled on my legal pad. I tried to engage one of my table partners in a non-verbal griping session but she wouldn’t bite. So I just rolled my eyes to no one and waited for lunch.

Finding my coworkers disappeared by 12:30 I sit with strangers at lunch. The two women who know each other at the table make no effort to stop talking or engage any one else in their conversation. A woman across from me stares at her food and seems to be mumbling to herself and is, in my expert opinion, batshit. Flanked by the self-sequestered chatters and batshit lady is Earl. I can’t call him by any other name, though I ought to change it, because he is so perfectly Earl. Funny that Earl – a name associated with nobility, elites of monarchies, and really nice tea – calls to my mind a middle aged American guy whose Saturdays consist of yard work and bad food in a kitchen with peeling linoleum that no one ever fixes…

I digress. Earl and I strike up a conversation and I immediately get the sense that I am being sold a car. Unluckily for Earl, I don’t drive. So he goes on about his great program that moves “these kids” toward “success” (see grocery manager paragraph). Earl does not take kindly to questions and gentle inquiries as to the point of assigning work if nobody provides feedback and tries to engage batshit lady in a conversation. Batshit lady watches her food while Earl expounds on the merits of his program which has, and I quote, “everything you could want*.” I begin, as usual, to relate only to the waitstaff, who are so grateful to be noticed and thanked I get more coffee than anyone else.

*Everything you want = new carpet, high speed internet, and big, new windows. No mention of, say, high quality teachers or engaging, challenging curriculum. No mention, ever, of the students.

The keynote speaker is mildly inspiring and moderately interesting and I mean it when I clap. This is nice. In the questions from the audience segment batshit lady approaches the microphone, which is placed terrifyingly close to my seat, and talks for nearly three minutes. Since she asked no discernable question and maybe made a great point somewhere in her own wacky thought process a few scattered hands start clapping and the keynote speaker deftly chooses a line from her monologue on which to comment and directs us back to our desserts.

I begin to recognize that I’ve had too much coffee. The chatting ladies are watching me drum my fingers crazily on the table top. Earl leaves, offering me his card. I take it while intently balancing a bite of apple crisp on my fork.

The third and final workshop of the afternoon begins. Again, I am at the first table in the room but this time by choice. I feel participation in my future; I feel ready, caffeinated. The powerpoint’s title is Integrated Curriculum.

One and one half hours, three small group discussions, and one long explanation of “homogenous vs. heterogeneous” (for real, like what the words mean) later I have an “annoyed & superior” attitude that is neither flattering nor helpful. I begin making a list of movies I’d like to see in the margins of the powerpoint hand out. I have an epiphany in the last three minutes, and vow to never, ever bore my students this terribly. (Of course, if they’re “successful” they’ll be bagging groceries soon so I guess boredom is something I should make familiar.)

I begin to feel a deep sense of longing for my classroom and a hatred for everything outside of it. I feel like Dorothy. I don’t want to see the wizard, I don’t like Emerald City, I just want to go home. Plus I want to crush Earl with a house. Riding into a pink-orange sky, the sun throwing a sunset onto construction sites and concrete buildings without any windows, I settle into my commuter rail bench and fall asleep, the laminated nametag lanyard letting fellow passengers know who I am.