Growing up, my parents were always consistent and fair when it came to my brother and me. My mom and dad both made a point of letting us know that there were no favorites. In their eyes, we were and always would be uniquely equal. Choices, consequences and privileges were the same for us both. This, without a doubt in my mind, is the only effective method to parent a family. Nevertheless, being the younger of two brothers, I was quick to notice the drawback to their parenting style. Equality meant me waiting an extra year and a half before receiving most privileges. (Oddly enough, this wasn’t true for most consequences.) Therefore, I had to stand back and jealously watch as my brother earned an allowance before me, mowed the lawn before me (Only my brother could have convinced me that that was a privilege.) and of course got a job before me.
I can still remember the day my mom, dad and I drove my brother to his first shift as a fuel jockey. I was so green as I watched him walk towards the gas pumps and the freedom they represented that I could have shit leaves. A few months later, when he graduated up the part-time ladder to flipping pizzas at Fat Albert’s, I think I actually did. Not only was my brother taking on new responsibility and making money, but he was also gorging himself on free pizza and subs every weekend. Equality had never tasted so bitter!
And then came the day when I was finally allowed to work. I proudly followed in my brother’s footsteps and donned the same purple Fat Albert’s uniform as him. For a few weeks, I basked in the glory of another step towards manhood and gloated about the cheese it put in my mouth and pockets. I had arrived. I was of age. I was free.
Or so I thought.
Two weeks after serving my first pizza, I realized that this was another of my brother’s footsteps in which I should have been a little more patient to step. As he did with mowing the lawn, my brother somewhat deceived me on the pleasures of part-time work. Sure there was cash, responsibility and a belly full of free food. But there was also obligation, responsibility and an extreme loss of free time. (It didn’t take long for me to understand the biting pleasure of responsibility – one of childhood’s true double-edged swords.) Nevertheless, for better or worse, I had entered the world of employment and there was no stepping back.
And I never did. I eventually gave up my fast food career and finished high school working part-time at Woolco giving fashion, sports and hardware advice to those who knew no better – Shane Kaufman, Woolco floor representative and bullshitter extraordinaire; I spent all but my first of seven university years reprimanding frosh for the same stupidity that I was given shit for during my first year – Shane Kaufman, campus security, desk clerk and hypocrite especial; and I spent my summers earning money any way I could – Shane Kaufman, camp counselor, group facilitator, and Walmart construction worker meraviglioso.
It was during my years of doing part-time and summer work where I learned that job satisfaction rests with the people more than the position. Put the wrong person in the right position and a dream job suddenly becomes a nightmare; likewise, give the right person the right position and a job in the sewers smells of roses. I’m sure this is why I settled so smoothly into a career with kids – they are far more genuine, upfront and fun to work with than most adults. Although it is never enjoyable dealing with the drama and angst of pre-pubescent students (of which I have many), I can at least relate to where they are coming from. As I have said before, I am still very much kid myself. It’s walking into a staffroom at work and being confronted by the same sort of teenaged anxiety amongst my peers that gets my teeth gritting in disgust and my hand reaching for the door. Drama works well on TV, not in my life.
One of the most interesting jobs I have had as it relates to this was at Open Hands, a group home (Actually there were five homes scattered around the city.) for the developmentally challenged. I had a love-hate relationship with that job from the moment I stepped through the front door at one of the five houses. The clients (This is what the residents were called.) varied in abilities, disabilities, age and need. Some residents were in a vegetative state and required complete and utter care, while others were extremely high functioning individuals who went to school and even worked. The diversity of the people at the homes brought something new to every shift.
Some days were shaded with chaos, violence and rooms full of feces and others were colored with laughter, fun and hours of innocent joy. Nevertheless, whatever excitement the shift had in store for me, I was never really caught off guard. The residents didn’t know of drama or hidden agendas. They were and always would be true to who they were. There was no reason for them not to be.
At one house, I knew that the little girl who sat quietly in the corner grinning at me through her mischievous black eyes, was waiting for me to turn my back on her so she could spring up, wrap her tiny fingers in my hair and pull with all of her might until a nice thick lock was ripped from my skull. (She caught me. Once.) Likewise, I knew that behind the angelic eyes of one little boy at another residence lied the spirit of true wickedness. He was very honest and open about wanting to push my buttons until I was ready to explode. (I only worked the night shift at his house.)
I was only ever caught off guard once. But even then, I wasn’t all that surprised. I was told from the very start that one female resident often got aggressive towards the male staff and clients at the house. She wasn’t violent though. Just extremely horny. I was told to send her to her room whenever she started acting up so that she could calm herself down. As it turned out, this was a very regular occurrence and the whole ritual became a hazy shade of normal. At least it was until along came the day when I heard her gravelly voice call out from her room, “Shane. Shane. Come touch my pillows. Shane….” That was the last shift I worked at that house.
Despite how difficult it was dealing with some of the clients, I always found their honesty to be quite endearing. Believe it or not, they were one of the things I loved the most about that job. What I disliked about Open Hands, however, were my co-workers. I couldn’t stand how gossip, rumors and insults seemed to work their ugly fingers into almost every conversation that I had with them. As I said before, I don’t do drama well. This is why I opted for the night shift every chance I got.
Give Me One Reason, by Tracy Chapman, brings me back to the second summer that I worked at Open Hands; particularly, to a man who was possibly one of the most imposing individuals I had ever seen. He was a giant of a man who carried himself with the weight of a bull, the eye of a beast and the quietness of a mouse. The only time I ever heard him speak was when he asked to watch Speed (Apparently it helped to keep him calm which (trust me) was a good thing.) and when he heard this song. The staff members knew he loved it and played it every time they took a drive in the van. I couldn’t contain myself the first time I heard this guy belt out the chorus. “Gimmi one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn this car around…” I was grateful to hear him giggling along with me as things might not have fared well had he thought I was mocking him. I guess he saw the humor in what he was saying and was tickled. Simple and very pure.
Open Hands helped to teach me that work becomes less of a job when you enjoy what you are doing. It also showed me that the people with whom you share your day have a lot to do with how much enjoyment you get. I feel that I have payed my employment dues and am currently blessed with the opportunity to work for myself. At our school, I have had the pleasure of working alongside teachers with whom I call friends. Fate and friendship spared me office drama. And now, as I anticipate starting the new semester working with my brother, I am excited for what the future brings. I relish in the thought and belief that I have found the right man for the right job.
Give Me One Reason youtube link