What would you do if you couldn’t do your job? It’s something you see in Hollywood interviews quite a bit. “If you couldn’t be an actor, what would you be doing?” So now, I’m asking you. It’s a job I ask myself quite a bit when my current job just seems to be a little too much and I start longing for something simpler. Sometimes, it manifests itself in the from of my education. I’ll just get up, walk towards my blackboard, and start scratching out quadratic equations. When my coworkers ask me what I’m doing, I’ll just say, “Remembering a simpler time.” Only problem is, sometimes wanting something simpler can turn into a classic case of “Be careful what you wish for.”
About a week or so ago, I had reached one of minute-long impasses at work. I was finished preparing for tomorrow and was starting to look ahead for the day after tomorrow. As I was pondering over my schedule, my boss came up to me. She had to run out to the bank for 10 minutes. The assistant manager was stuck doing job interviews. Everyone else was teaching. So, since I currently had a free moment, would I mind manning the front desk for 10 minutes? It was the boss, so of course my answer was, “No problem, boss!”
She led me out to the front desk and gave me all the instructions I’d need to know. She knew that I have no Japanese language skills, so my instructions were simple. If someone came in, motion for them to sit down and ask them to wait. The boss would take care of them when she returned. If the phone rang, I was to say, “Good morning! Please hold,” put them on hold, and then politely interrupt the assistant manager’s interviews. The assistant manager would then deal with it. Also, out of the blue, she asked if I could buy stamps. I had been to the post office a few times to mail some letters home, so I said yeah, I knew. The boss asked if I had any questions. I said no. It all seemed simple enough. The boss left, and I was in charge.
Okay, I thought. I’m behind the desk. The boss will be back in 10 minutes. What can happen in 10 minutes? It’ll probably be nice and quiet, and I’ll just sit behind this desk and relax. Nothing will happen. I took a deep breath, and began grooving to the elevator music playing in our lobby. Theme from A Summer Place began to play. The definitive lobby/elevator music. That’s when it began.
A person came in. She came up to the desk and started talking to me in Japanese. She pointed to one of our ads in the paper. I just smiled and said in my best Queen’s English, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Japanese. Please sit down, and someone will be with your shortly.” I motioned towards the seats. She nodded as though she understood and sat down. I was starting to get nervous, though. I don’t like to keep people waiting for long periods of time. I hoped there was no line at the bank and the boss would be back quick. Theme from A Summer Place droned on.
I breathed a sigh of relief when one of my fellow foreign teachers came in. Back-up. He came over to me behind the desk and started flipping through the day’s schedule and we made a little small-talk. That’s when the phone ring. My panic came and went swiftly, though, as my fellow foreign teacher instinctively reached for the phone and began talking in his rough Japanese. He soon hung up the phone, and wrote in a student’s cancellation on the schedule. I thanked him for his help, and he went back to his classroom to begin preparing. It wasn’t much longer before the boss returned. I went back to my classroom and sighed in relief.
The day went on, I taught my classes, and soon the evening came. Now, I’ve already been told several times by the boss that she likes it if all of our prep work is done by 5 PM. Then, we can spend all of our free time in the evening helping out behind the front desk. I had no class at 6 PM, so I figured I should head out front and see if the boss had any work for me. I asked the boss if she had a task, and she said she did. She wrote out a shopping list for me. It was a short list. She wanted me to go to the convenience store down the street and buy some stamps. I again panicked slightly. She noticed my panic, and told me that I had said I could buy stamps. That’s when I told the whole story about going to the post office. The boss understood and made some additions to the shopping list. She spelt out everything I had to say to the clerk in both the English alphabet and in Japanese characters, and then gave it back to me. All I had to do was say to the clerk everything she wrote out in the English alphabet. And, if I chickened out, all I had to do was show him the list. Again, it all seemed simple enough. “You’ll only be 10 minutes,” the boss said. I went to get my hat, but the boss told me to not bother. The store was just up the street and I wouldn’t need it.
I headed out the door, list in hand. I was a little nervous again. This was, quite frankly, the most complicated thing I had to do so far in Japan. I entered the convenience store and walked on up to the clerk. He greeted me, and I just smiled and nodded. I looked down at my list, and said what the boss had written for me. The clerk looked at me with a quizzical look on his face. Rather than try again, I simply showed him the list. He took a look and nodded. He reached below the counter and pulled out a binder full of stamps. He pulled out the ones that the boss had asked me to get, and he tore out the required amounts. He bagged the stamps for me and I paid him with the money the boss gave me. He gave me my change, and I was sure to get the receipt. The boss didn’t say I had to get the receipt, but I remembered buying stuff for Extra Evil. When you do stuff like this, always get the receipt.
I walked back up to the office, feeling rather confident at how well things had went. I presented the stamps and change to the boss, and she thanked me. When I presented the receipt, she was kind of stunned. Her face just seemed to resonate, “I forgot to tell him. How did he know?” She asked if I had read the list or just gave it to the clerk. I shuffled my feet a little, looked down, and said I gave it to the clerk. She giggled and went back to her office.
I still had some time, so the boss told me to help the assistant manager. The assistant manager was folding flyers, and so she gave me some and told me to help her. This was the first time I actually started missing Extra Evil. At least there, the promotions department in Edmonton took care of stuff like this. I folded the flyers no problem, and then the assistant manager gave me a second set of flyers. These ones I had to put our branch’s stamp on. I sat down and began stamping. After I had been stamping for about 20 minutes, the boss asked me if my arms were tired. I said no, and they weren’t. One of the benefits of being a 25 year old virgin is the high level of endurance you develop in your arms.
As I proceeded to stamp, I began enjoying it. It was wonderfully simple work. Very satisfying, too, as the pile of stamped flyers began to grow. That’s when my mind started to wander. Maybe I should give all this up. Maybe I should quit trying to be some kind of white collar professional. Turn my back on all this, and get a good trade. What trade could I get? My brother’s already an electrician. My sister’s dating a plumber. What could I get? I always figured that, if I had to get a trade, I’d be a roofer. Something about being high up, outside, doing something with my hands. Sounds like fun. Yeah, something simple. Oh, for a simpler time. I went back to stamping my flyers, dreaming that it could go on forever.