Dr. D. running for the Beatrice Corporate Marathon Team.

I’ve often heard that “work” is a four-letter word. No wonder I try to avoid it at all costs. But wait, “word” is also a four-letter word. Hm. And so is “four.”

The more I think about work, the less I like it. I’ve worked all of my adult life despite never having a job that I really loved, or at least liked even a little bit. I mean, I can work very hard as long what I do isn’t classified as “work.” If I have to do physical or intellectual labor for someone else, and hopefully, for a salary, I’m unhappy and resentful.

I can workout all day just for the fun of it because I’m doing it just for me. Years ago when I ran marathons, I used to run more that one-hundred mile weeks just because I loved running marathons and I wanted to run my fastest marathon possible.

One of my pet peeves of having a job is having a boss who bosses me around. But worse than me being ordered about by someone on a power trip who loves to exert his or her authority just to show everyone who’s the boss, is having me in charge and having me order people around.

When I worked at the peanut butter factory, I did repetitive, monotonous manual labor. My first job was stacking sixty cases of peanut butter on wooden pallets. Each case weighed about forty pounds. I learned how to save a step here, an arm movement there. When you work eight hours doing manual labor, every motion adds up. That was the only way to conserve my energy so I wouldn’t wear myself out. Sometimes when the assembly line broke down, I got to rest awhile. Eventually, I brought a paperback with me so I could read during my breaks and whenever the line was down. Well, my bosses couldn’t stand to see me sitting there doing nothing, so they would always find something for me to do like sweep the floor, stack pallets up, etc. Well, no matter how many things I was supposed to do during that downtime, I always figured out a way to do everything more efficiently. No matter. I still always had time to sit and read. My boss finally gave up on finding more tasks for me.

My mother used to get mad at me because I didn’t aspire to get promoted or take better paying positions such as mechanic. My mother coached me as to what to say whenever I was approached to advance on the job. The boss would usually ask if I could do a certain task and I was supposed to answer, “No, but I can learn!” Every time I was asked, I would say, “No, I don’t know how.” “Would you like to learn?” “No.” And that would be the end of my climbing the company ladder.

Somehow, my mother would always find out about my new job offer and yell at me for not accepting the promotion. She would call me lazy and unambitious. Back then I was really into kung fu, so on my days off I would work out all day. I want to build up my endurance and stamina. In fact, at work I could work tirelessly for hours. Then, one day, against my wishes–due to a shortage of manpower–I was promoted to assistant foreman on one of the peanut butter production lines. Suddenly, I found myself having to boss my fellow employees around. And they didn’t like it! They liked me well enough as a coworker, but hated me as their boss. One possible reason was because I was younger than them. I was caught in the middle. My boss would give me orders to get certain things done, and I had to make the workers work. Well, absolutely no one obeyed any of my commands. So, silently, I started doing all the work that had to be done. And everyone just watched me. I didn’t complain. I just kept working, minding my own business. I didn’t know what else to do. At least, I wouldn’t get in trouble for not working. Eventually, everyone start working alongside me. I was shocked! When we were done, the foreman showed up and congratulated us on a job well-done. After that, I never bossed anyone around, but everyone did their job before I even had to tell them. Go figure!

Pobre pero honrado

That’s the thing about Mexicans. They have a different standard for measuring success. For as long as I can remember, Mexicans take great pride in being hard workers. Nothing else matters to them. And that’s why they’re destined to remain in the ranks of the middle class. Pobre, pero honrado means poor but honorable. So as long as a Mexican works hard, he or she is respected and nothing else matters. Through hard work, a Mexican will never starve to death. He or she may never get ahead in life, but at least these Mexicans are honorable. If they have two or three jobs just to feed and house la familia, so much the better. Whenever I met a Mexican girlfriend’s parents, they would be impressed by the fact that I had a good-paying factory job. They liked the fact that I was hard worker. However, I learned early in life that if my girlfriend’s parents liked me, that was the kiss of death for our relationship.

The greatest compliment you could pay to my father was: You’re such a great worker! Every time someone told him that at work, he would be sure to tell us as soon as he got home. My mother was also proud to be called a hard worker. In fact, she never rested. She worked a full-time job in a factory and then she would come home and work around the house. When my father came home, he would rest because he already did his work for the day. My mother would then call my father lazy and he would feel insulted. Saturday mornings, no one slept in. My mother believed that Saturday mornings were meant for everyone to sleep in until seven in the morning and then wake up to work around the house. Something always needed cleaning or fixing around the house. We couldn’t see our friends until every last chore my mother assigned us was done. She didn’t want anyone talking about how she had raised lazy children.

Growing up, I loved to read. I could read for hours everyday. This really bothered my mother because I would just be lying around the house doing nothing. What would her friends say if they came over now and saw me doing nothing? She was so embarrassed to have such a lazy son! All through high school, she insisted that I find a job after school. But no one would hire me because I looked like I was about twelve years old. My mother wanted to take me to different stores to find me a job. I told her that no one would hire me if I applied for a job with my mother. So she left me alone for a while.

When I was seventeen she found me a job in a peanut butter factory. You had to be eighteen to work in a factory according to federal labor laws, but the company made an exception for me. You should have seen my mother’s face glow whenever she told someone that I had a full-time factory job. She was so proud of me! Especially, since I earned more money than her. Unfortunately, I was still a junior in high school at the time and I had to work the midnight shift. I’d come home from work and immediately change clothes so I could go to school. I often fell asleep in my classes.

Finally, I told my mother that I couldn’t do both–work full time and go to school full time. She was so disappointed in me! I told her I wanted to quit my job so I could graduate from high school. She told me that if I quit my job, I couldn’t live with her anymore. I tried to do both for as long as I could, but I eventually dropped out of school. My mother was happy that I decided to keep my job. I would be pobre, pero honrado the rest of my life and that suited her just fine. She couldn’t understand why I would want to go to school. If I graduated high school, I would probably want to go to college. I couldn’t understand my mother’s point of view: Why pay to go to college when the factory will pay me to work for them? It was as simple as that, but I just didn’t get it back then. I still don’t.

Looking back on all this after so many years, I’m actually not at all bitter about having to work in the factory for twelve years and not going to college until much later in life. When I compare myself to some of my friends, I find that we’re all in about the same place in life. I now fully understand the value of working hard and being pobre, pero honrado. Actually, I’m quite happy with my life now. 🙂

I couldn't be president. I already have three jobs!

Cell phones

My electronic home monitoring device

I never had a beeper. I never had a brick phone. I never had the latest technological gadgets. But one day I suddenly had a cell phone. My ex-wife gave me one.

I actually had a cell phone before most people. Some people were really impressed that I had a cell phone. People could reach me wherever I was, which was both good and bad. However, I prefer to communicate via e-mail rather than talk on the telephone. A few people would call me, but mostly my ex would call me to see where I was. She would call and almost immediately ask, “Where are you?” Invariably, I would answer, “I’m at work,” “I’m at school,” or “I’m upstairs. I never left the house.” I felt like a parolee with an electronic home monitoring device.

The cell phone is a wonderful invention that I can live without and I haven’t had one for years now. With a cell phone you lose all of your privacy. I mean, everyone may contact you anytime, anyplace. If you give everyone your cell phone and home phone numbers, they call your cell phone first instinctively. You’re always available to everyone at all hours of the day. With a landline telephone, I would never answer the phone when I was showering, on the toilet, or away from the house. When I first had my cell phone, I always answered no matter where I was. I felt as if I was tethered by an electronic leash.

Once I was at Home Depot, when I unexpectedly had to use the bathroom. Suddenly, I could hear my stomach churning and the noises were traveling down my abdomen. I immediately went to the bathroom. I must admit that it was a very close call and I almost regretted not having a change of underwear in the car. While sitting on the toilet, my cell phone rings and I instinctively answer it. As I’m talking, my stomach starts churning again. Let’s just say the methane gases within me built up again and took the path of least resistance. Adding to the sound effect were the acoustics of this toilet stall that would rival any concert hall. I tried to control my bodily functions because I was holding a telephone conversation, but all my efforts were in vain. Suddenly, the pent up gases escaped from my body despite my most valiant effort with a mighty roar. My friend on the end of the line asks, “What was that?” I was too embarrassed to tell the truth so I said, “I’m at Home Depot. That was a saw.” My friend said, “But that noise was extremely loud.” “Well, it was a chain saw! There it goes again! See, doesn’t it sound like a chain saw?”

I’ve been living cell-phone free and happily for three years now.

Speaking Spanish at work

I love fruit!

When I was about sixteen, my friend Reinaldo stopped by my house early one summer morning after the school year had ended. Of course, I was sleeping because I was relaxing from another demanding year at grammar school. He told me that he had found me a job at a fruit stand. I was surprised because I had never told him that I was looking for a job. Rey worked on a fruit truck that drove through the neighborhood and stopped to sell fruit and vegetables at the curbside. As a sixteen-year-old young man, I was impressed by his well-paying job and how he was so proud of it, epecially since Rey was only fifteen. Anyway, when they were buying their fruits and vegetables at the market before they started the day, the owner of a fruitstand asked Rey if he had any friends who spoke Spanish and English. The fruitstand was trying to attract Mexican customers since so many lived in the neighborhood. Rey immediately thought of me. Well, I liked the idea of working so I could have some spending money during the summer.

Well, when I went to the fruitstand, the manager told me that the owner was on vacation. I would have to work three days a week: Saturdays and Sundays, and another day during the week as needed. My duties included unloading produce from delivery truck and waiting on customers. If the customer was Mexican, I would have to wait on them in Spanish. I don’t remember how much I earned, but it seemed like a lot of money to me at the time. The owner was supposed to give me a raise when he returned from vacation, the manager told me. I worked there all summer and never once saw the owner.

Well, at first there weren’t that many Mexican customers, but the manager would call me to wait on anyone who looked Mexican. He decided who was or wasn’t Mexican just by their appearance. He was judging people based only on their appearance. And I, as a Mexican, wasn’t always so sure if they were Mexican or not. This kind of bothered me until I realized that he was always right. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that he was exercising good business sense.

By the end of the summer, many Mexicans were shopping at the fruitstand. My friend Rey would stop by occasionally when they ran out of some product on the truck and they would buy it at cost from the fruitstand. He was so proud that he had found me such a great job. And I was so thankful to Rey for thinking of me for this job!

What did I learn from this experience? I still haven’t quite figured it out yet. But I’m sure that I learned something.