A Place Where I Once Worked

We were the best in our profession. We knew this to be true because we wanted it to be so, because our boss told us we were the best, and most of all because to admit otherwise might have depressed the lot of us and made us realize that our primary motivation for our work was the paycheck we earned for saying we were the best.

No matter the changing nature of our client base (i.e. ethnic makeup, earned income, ability to speak a common language, and level of desire to achieve more than the dole always has to offer the sad and the prematurely pregnant), we accepted the challenge, surveyed the resultant scene and declared that it was good (or would become good in forty days’ and nights’ worth of measured time).

All around us each and every day — well, almost every day — were signs that our public favored us as saints. Our salaries were low by comparison with those of other types of professionals, but the homemade cookies tasted sweet, the congratulatory notes boosted our already high morale, and the weak coffee was to die for.

Speeches. We were continual recipients of praiseworthy speeches, speeches delivered inside noisy auditoriums whose floors were dusty with our dedicated footprints.

“I’m here as representative of the Veterans of Foreign Desecration, and I’m here to tell you — same as I told you last year and the year before, I think — that although no member of our troop will ever vote to raise your salaries, because our taxes are already too high and who needs more taxes in this country we all love; still, as our professional servants y’all are the best. I know this because I was once a recipient of your multitudinous gifts for making the unsuccessful among us feel somehow successful. Now, would you please face the stars and stripes and repeat after me.”

“And now,” announced our chief professional, “Here to present the most significant prize awarded at today’s ceremony, a book that young Juan is allowed to carry home with him — as if to indicate that he has won the book and can actually read it — and then return this book to our professional library, where it will be held for time immemorial, is Mr. Gutenberg. Please, take it away, Mr. Gutenberg.”

Yes, each week we tireless, underpaid, overworked and sainted professionals lived with the knowledge that someone, although just who we were never sure, thought us important enough to brew us watery coffee, bake us sugary cookies and praise us when the mortgage came due.

And each morning, bright and bleary-eyed, we returned to our posts and tried our best to communicate with Juan (which was a damned sight easier task than making sense of Juan’s Mama).

And each afternoon we once again surveyed the scene as our client base, now the solid foundation of the welfare state we helped to create, lined up inside their big buck trucks and Cadillac Escalades to remind Juan and his amigos that they would return by six in the evening, a box of cereal — purchased with food stamps — at the ready.

And together we allowed our professional hearts to swell with pride as we shrugged our shoulders and took on the posture of humble servants who know they work with the best in their profession. Each one of us sighed and next returned to the four-walled chamber we had been assigned to occupy, there to sit down at a desk and scratch out notes regarding tomorrow’s hopes and dreams.

So, Dr. Medicine and Lord Lawsuit, Esquire, eat your hearts out, for although you worked hard enough to know your stuff and earn your ample salaries — salaries that allow you to purchase castles and eat entrees that lie centered on otherwise white and empty plates — no one will ever name you best before the flag; no soul will ever reward your efforts with a sugar cookie.

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