Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Made It Myself

For a couple of years, I worked part-time at a social work center in Detroit as a receptionist / writer / records keeper, all-around Girl Monday through Friday. The first thing happened was an older female social worker named Mary who took it upon herself to teach me to make coffee (I knew how, but she insisted on this really strong terrible stuff that would make even my hair stand on edge) and talking to me as if I were a slightly retarded child (later on, I would find out that she had ten children and one was indeed autistic) and keeping me chained to her filing cabinet engrossed in endless case histories dating back to the sixties. I stood so long that I fainted one day, and it wasn't from excitement. Mary drove everyone to drink by treating them as if they were slow, but I learned to respect her in that she could work an almost impossible system to get the very best things for her clients. She hadn't been around the block; she poured the cement for it. After a little while, Mary told me how smart I seemed and had I ever thought about going to college. Yes, I said, neglecting to add that I had a doctorate in creative writing and was teaching part-time at the community college to make ends meet.

Of course, my co-workers who knew me got a good laugh out of these interchanges, Mary trying to get me to see the importance of my education and how much more I could be doing with my life. Eventually she learned of my background and apologized for treating me the way she did. No harm done, I said and there wasn't. I'd learned a lot from her just by observing her way of cutting through the bullshit. I was far more insulted by an older client who kept coming in to harrass the help and telling me that I could go to Harvard if I wanted, meaning the Harvard Coney on the corner. You're a good little worker, darling, he said. Your life should have taken a different turn. You could have gotten married, I'm sure. I smiled and cursed him in my mind. My days consisted of financial despair, exhausting work, romantic woe, and the endless task of putting out fires at all my jobs. I have, I said. I'm now a lesbian. My fellow co-worker spit his coffee as the client turned red. Is that true? he asked. That can't be true. Two of my co-workers were lesbians, and he'd done his best to deny that reality -- of course, my thin fiction wouldn't fly. Want some coffee? I said. I made it myself. He took the first sip, put it down, and never ever spoke to me again. I thought about my first day in the office and learning how my way around the coffee machine, silently thanked Mary, and laughed.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I'd always loved to read and, eventually, I began to want to learn to write. It seemed that it was a thing that could be learned with enough work." Larry Brown
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Jesus Camp
Benedictions and Maledictions
25 days until The Sopranos airs!


Sir Basil Seal said...

Dear Michelle,
I must apologize for not writing more often but I unexpectedly was posted to Krishikastan and the computers there are incommunicado or something very funny like that. I see that you haven't lost your marvelous sense of humour(the pouring concrete and the Harvard establishment engendered many snorts and claps from me as you can imagine). Now that I'm back in your magnificent country I'll once again be able to enjoy your wonderful Michelle's Spell blog. I can't keep away from it. Please stop by the consulate for a drink anytime as the diplomacy business is rather slow this time of year.
Affectionately yours,

Rosie O. said...

Try hanging upside down like a bat. It works for me.

The Black Knight said...

Alfred, check the security door at the cave.

Charles Gramlich said...

I got a good laugh out of the "you could go to college" thing. Once when I was in about my third year of graduate school I stopped for gas at a little place in my hometown and the guy asked me if I was still in school. When I said yes, he said, "Well, my god, what did you do, change majors a dozen times." I just smiled and said, "Yeah, pretty much."

The Elephant Man said...

Marvelous photo, Michelle. A friend of mine who works the night stock shift at Krogers can get you rubber knee pads. They work wonders she says. Just e-mail me. We'll see what we can come up with.

the walking man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
paul said...


the walking man said...

Why is it that you or anyone got respect only once they found out about your degree.

I was fixing up to 2500 cars a year from minor to major repairs, worked two jobs, one of which was managing single handedly a 60 bay repair shop, and never got any of the respect that I felt I deserved because I was only an auto mechanic. I was ASE certified and a State certified Master Auto mechanic for cars, trucks and motorcycles, yet I still always got the "oh you're just a mechanic" until something went wrong with their car or bike that they didn't even know how to open the hood on.

I worked in a power plant and could do high pressure steam welding and get it right the first time it was x-rayed but then that was just pipe fitting.

I was knocking back about 80k a year before taxes and I got treated like a monkey with a hammer.

When I couldn't do it anymore because my disc blew out in my back I tried school at age 46 and had to withdraw fom basic algebra 5 times so I don't even get the respect of an associates degree because it wasn't worth the aggravation to keep trying to understand that (abc) doesn't mean abc.

My father had his PhD. in chemical engineering, was a registered pharmicist and had his BS in chemistry, My mother had her MSW, I have a sister with a Phd. In Political Science, Another with her MSW, A brother that passed the bar his first time and another with an MBA and i am the only one that is debt free, everything except my motor home is mine and the bank can have that if i can't make the payments.

I was making my own money at 12 and started paying taxes at 14, I am a veteran with an honorable discharge and I enlisted during Viet Nam but still no degree, no respect. I hitch hiked the four corners of the continent for 4 years and still no respect because I have no degree.

I am not stupid because I couldn't pass algebra, I was stupid for thinking that a degree would make me more credible.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Oh man, lesbians--don't get me started! They seem to be abundant in the men's prisons and I'm not talking about grunt positions here--I'm talking decision makers and ball breakers!

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle, lovely post and view as always and such a wondrous dress. As for people and degrees, all of us should be respectful and respected. In the end we shall receive mercy and blessings and it does not require formal education. Walking Man, I respect you brother and raise my glass to you and of course to Michelle and all her readers. Bravo!

Jason said...

Sorry Michelle, no snakes.

Susan Miller said...

I so enjoyed how you observed, played with information and made mental notes as the real story played out in front of you. That is possibly one of my new favorite things about writing...watching stories unfold around me.