Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stockholm Syndrome

This is the first time since I was eighteen years old that I haven't spent my summer stripping dirty bedsheets on the third floor of a college dorm. I read books about summer trips through Europe, and I hear songs about dizzying summer romances, but I suppose when your medium is a blog (a word that itself so aesthetically unpleasant I can hardly believe that we, as a people, have allowed it to go this far) it's fitting that your summer stories all feature you sweating profusely into a baby blue, collared uniform shirt.

Bryan Adams: Those were the best days of my life! O-ooh yeeah!
Kathy Cacace: The half-functioning radio clipped to my belt loop slowly dragged my pants further and further down my ass as I descended the stairs, but I couldn't do anything about it because my hands were full of linen packets! O-ooh yeeah!

Being a Conference Assistant at Oberlin College is a terrible job. Really. It's awful. You are the underpaid labor by which the college is transformed into a hotel while school's out. You spend all day walking around campus in the sweltering heat, popping from dorm to dorm replacing dirty bedsheets with clean ones. You haul keyboxes across campus in a golf cart and pray to God the moron driving doesn't hit the curb too hard and upset a box, necessitating hours of key-code matching. You withstand three weeks of Ohio Scottish Arts School students greeting the dawn with a fifteen-bagpipe salute. You fill out the log. You fold the blankets. You unlock the chapel for the big hick wedding. You comb all of north campus for the keys your manager lost. You count hundreds of pillows with maybe one of your coworkers, which was a really big job and you could've used some help, but there was no one else in the office to call as backup because everyone else on your shift was busy at the reflecting pond trying to knock out the goldfish with their retractable keyrings.

You sit for eight hours with a rotating cast of Socialist overseers as you check in hundreds of members of the Socialist Workers Party, and you stay there through your dinner, which, at least, was probably take-out since you can't get to the dining hall, which just would've been serving turkey tetrazzini again anyway, and you return three days later to collect all the keys again, this time sitting behind a big plastic barrel into which the kindhearted Socialists donate their five-dollar key deposits as a tip for the Workers, because, after all, the Worker is what they're really all about.

You will not see a dime of this. You will instead enjoy a box of middle-eastern pastries, which you know they bought at Java Zone because you live in this town year round, goddammit, and they can't put one over on you.

It's a terrible job. And I miss it like crazy.

Conference Services was the best bad job I ever worked. It's how I know that I'm right when I say I wouldn't mind editing medical books for the rest of my life, as long as the people I worked with were fun. The three summers I worked as a CA allowed me to meet the vast majority of the people I think of when I think of what made college good (or bearable, at times). Not to mention that even if I don't see these people for thirty years, until we too are invading the dorms for our reunions and leaving inappropriate stains on our bedsheets, I know that all I would have to say to strike up the old rhythm is "noties."

For every great person I met, there were easily three awesomely bad ones. The standoff between the good CAs and the bad CAs only cemented the friendship, though. I don't know if I would've been so close with some of them if our co-workers didn't stink to high heaven (enough to force a manegerial intervention), or walk so slowly they could've gestated a baby from their creepy beanpole boyfriend to term by the time they got to Wilder Hall, or knock on other CAs doors in their underwear, or fellate an eggroll in front of our boss.

Or come to work loopy on painkillers, announce they'd also had a few beers, and then disappear into the night in Bubba (the golf cart) with crucial sets of keys in their possession.

Except that last one was a manager. Let's call him Leaky.

Now, according to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, "manager" is defined as "one who manages," which is further defined as "to handle or direct with a degree of skill." I believe that describes Leaky perfectly. Leaky handled many things well: talking, pacing, blinking a lot, and combing his pompadour, for example. He also directed many things well, most notably our attention to the many inadequacies of Asia, Asian cuisine, and Asian people.

Leaky also had many, many skills. He was excellent at drinking beer on the college account without realizing that his receipts would be sent directly to his boss. He had a great talent for talking into his radio at extraordinarily close range so all we could hear at the desk was a garbled string of guttural syllables and the crackle of spit. He was a pro at making veiled allusions to his former life as a "total stud" who downed "eighteen-packs" like they were water. He was amazing at misplacing keyrings that contained masters to every building on campus and blaming his underlings. He was wonderful at narrating his own life [Well...uhh...let's see...we should probably get some dinner...the office gave us that DPO so we don't have to buy it...lemme just walk over to this desk and get it...yeah...there it is...ahhh...I'll get whatever you guys wanna get, so long as it's not that Asian crap...they always cut the beef in triangles instead of cubes...yeah...gives me heartburn...yeah...so I'm just gonna walk over here and put this on your table...]. He was the best at conducting long conversations with his mistress on the phone. (Corrollary: he was also really good at having a mistress, considering he looked like an Ewok Buddy Holly impersonator.)

The thing Leaky was really the best at, though, was being re-hired summer after summer despite his illegal, immoral, and impossibly stupid antics.

I hope that one of the current CAs is reading this from work. I hope they are sitting at the desk, their view behind one of those stupid turquoise iMacs just permitting them to watch Leaky's big head bob across the room like a bowling ball on a trampoline. I hope he's rubbing his stomach and muttering to himself. I hope you know that I would rather be there, Leaky and all, than looking at one more picture of knee replacement surgery.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I am reading this, and just so you know, I just got back from something new this year... a graveyard shift for socialist check-ins. There are two for early arrivals and one for late departs, I'm working all three, and it's wonderfully absurd to come into work as 'leaky' is leaving and sit in the lounge of South all night while four old socialist ladies 'gaurd' the doors with all the ferocity of baked harkness kid. You are missed probably as much as you miss it. -Brian

6:54 AM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

I always wondered who exactly those old ladies were guarding the doors from. The feds? Fascists? Church groups?

But, more importantly, who could they actually prevent from entering? Squirrels? Neighbor kids looking to retrieve their baseball?

The truth is out! The Socialist security detail is actually South's front line against ant invasion!

10:34 AM  
Anonymous brad said...

brian, make sure olufandra and ogmundur and rosbene get ALL THE CLEAN SHEETS THEY NEED. icelandic people... i mean... native detroiters tend to wet the bed a lot, and they won't ask for replacements. they just sort of whimper and scratch at the door until you do it for them. don't let the socialists sleep in their own pee.

10:55 AM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

Rosbene wasn't from Iceland. He was an old southern guy.

I mean, "Dosmbeb."

10:57 AM  

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