Much of the time, in the world of management (I'm learning), there are way too many things to do.
But on rare occasions (such as tonight) you find things to do.
Or somebody else finds them for you.
Tonight, my boss decided that the gum needed to be scraped off the hardwood and tile floors around our store. My first response when I heard this, was, "There's gum on the hardwood and tile floors?" She looked at me like I was a leprechaun.
“Yeah,” she said.
This is how good managers are: they notice the little things.
So I grabbed a blade and set to scraping. Scraping gum off any kind of flooring turns out to be—not surprisingly—quite a humbling experience. But there are a few things that can take the humbling exercise up a couple of notches. Like when a little girl (7 years-old or so) standing nearby a particularly gummy spot I was working on asked me what I was doing; said, “ewwww,” when I told her; then scratched her head and said, “it looks like you’re ruining the floor with that blade.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but we don’t have anything else to get it off with.”
Then her friend piped in and, pointing to a big glob of gum a few feet away, said, “There’s some more over there. Are you gonna get that?”
Thanks. Thanks again.
There’s something very intimate about digging into a months-old glob of gum with a box cutter blade and revisiting the smell of spearmint that had been locked in below the surface and trampled upon by a million anonymous feet. “Wow,” I thought when the aroma hit me, “this was in some stranger’s mouth. And now I get to scrape it up.” It’s a kind of intimate you could very well live a lifetime without experiencing and be, methinks, just fine.
There are some tasks that I never give a second thought...things that are taken care of invisibly, things that just get done somehow.
I was thinking about this when we did inventory the other night. The freaky people from RGIS were there (and I only say “freaky" because it always creeps me out how there are like 1,500 of them who come swarming into wherever they’re working that night and just type numbers into little computers all night like Night of the Living Dead: The Accountants Return. And they hardly say a word. If you’ve ever worked in retail during inventory, you probably know what I’m talking about. Really, it’s a little scary).
Well, I realized that people don’t EVER give a thought to those people unless they’re working somewhere and it happens to be inventory night. And then the RGIS people are seen as the enemy because they’ve invaded the store and who the hell wants to be there for inventory anyway? The RGIS people are always being yelled at to rescan a section or to stop making a mess or to just be faster (if that were humanly possible). Plus, they always work overnight and have to go on break at the same time like some kind of zombie herd.
Now THAT is a thankless job.
And then there's the work that janitors do every single day. And I do mean every single day; the janitors at my store work 7 days/week. They clean the store in the morning and then have to return in the afternoon to restock the bathroom supplies. Sometimes they’ll be all dressed up because they had to leave a party or some other event just to come make sure the customers at Barnes & Noble would be able to comfortably wipe their asses.
These are customers, by the way, who can’t even manage to keep gum in their mouths.
I walked into the restroom the other day and a co-worker who was on her way out warned me not to go into the first stall. ‘What’s in the 1st stall?” I thought. But I knew I didn’t want to know what was in the 1st stall because whatever it was, it promised to be gross. I wondered how many other people had walked in and walked right out of that same stall because they didn’t want to deal with whatever was waiting in there.
Then I wondered absently when it would be taken care of. And I remembered: the janitor women would be in at 7:00 the next morning. They would take care of it. They would unclog the toilet or wipe the crap off the seat or pick the bloody tampon off the floor. They would do it.
That thought—thinking of it in those terms—makes me want to cry.
How could this be okay?
How could we have agreed to this setup, collectively?
And I think it’s kind of disturbing that scraping gum off a floor is an “experience” for me—something I can examine from afar like a detached anthropologist and have the leisure to write a blog about. 'Hmmm…how did that make me feel?'
And for others, it’s a living. It’s what you do to make ends meet.
I wish I could give a big hug of gratitude to the people who work tirelessly in thankless jobs that are truly service oriented…like, the Ultimate kind of service.
I want them to know that there are people who see them, who appreciate them, who know they are so many heros working so many miracles, day after day.