The Time We Serve

And so it begins . . .
In seconds, the world will change
and I alone can rearrange my footsteps
to dictate the direction of my future

In seconds,
Now will have passed and grow further from the moment
In seconds, today will be tomorrow
and if I do nothing then nothing will be different.

If I do nothing,
then I will be nothing more than a man trying to serve his time
while sinking into the quicksand of complacent failures
and wondering,
“Where did I go wrong?”

The crowd inside of the union hall was filled with out of work men with out of work attitudes and out of work faces. Most of them are not hirable—which is why they are out of work. They sit in the chairs, or stand around, waiting for either of the delegates to step from the doorway and call out a name. And each morning, they arrive early to see if there are any job openings or temporary positions.
I walked in, filthy from a morning shift. Mud stained my hands and tiny rocks from broken pieces of cement were stuck in the gelled roots of my hair. I had the sort of dirt on my face that does not easily wash off.
In my years of swinging wrenches and working in building machine rooms—there is no dirt like black soot or the grime that comes from old drain lines that rot away inside of closed walls.

Stepping from the elevator, I walked over towards the window where a young girl with a pleasant smile handed out sick checks. These checks are the contribution by our employer of a minimal sum for every hour of service, which includes overtime, but does not exclude paid personal days or vacations.
Based on a 40-hour work week, the tally from each hour adds to be just shy of one day’s pay at the end of the month. Fortunately, my overtime adds up and the check comes out to more.

Like many others, I head over to my union hall at the beginning of each month and take out my one day’s pay.
When I arrive, I see the same faces. I see the same out of work mopes. I hear them talking about the same complaints and reliving the same stories about their previous work sites. They complain about their old bosses—meanwhile—their old bosses are still employed and none of them see the irony of why they are on the bench and no one will hire them.

As big as the industry is and with as many members as we have; the world is truly a small place. Bad names are followed with bad reputations. The stories of misconduct and write-up slips follow like paper ghosts that whisper into the ears of management.

Dressed in my uniform, I stood at the window and signed in. Then I filled out the request for my check. My sleeves were rolled to the elbows. My striped buttoned-down shirt was stained with scattered mud that flew from an old drain pipe. My blue pants were covered in filth and my knees were dirty after kneeling on them for most of a long morning.

I could feel the others watching me. They looked me over and watched as I handed my request through the window to be processed.
I overheard someone behind me say, “It must be nice to have a sick check.”
But I did not respond.
The young girl pleasantly took the paperwork from my hands. She noticed I was dirty. Her eyes opened wide as she smiled.
“Tough day?”
“Not too bad,” I said.

When I was younger, I decided to tell the powers that be where they could shove their rules. I told my employers where to go. I bucked the system. I argued and I complained. I fought back with every ounce and every bit of energy because, “No one is gonna tell me what to do!”
I defied authority and I refused to follow instructions. I would not listen to rules or do any more than necessary. I never took initiative—unless it was for my own needs.
In my efforts to defend myself; I was hell-bent and quick with my tongue. I became troublesome to many, but yet, I could not understand why I was often alone or rarely included in extra shiftwork

I stood my ground, or so I thought. I wore my pride on my chest and I would not accept anything less than respectful treatment. However, eventually, employers lost interest in me. The powers that be lost interest and I had no one to argue with. I was alone without a plan. I was somewhat uneducated with minimal training.
Other than arguing, I had very few skills. Suddenly it became apparent that the fight I tried so hard to win was lost.

In the end, we all do time in some way, shape, or form. But it is our attitude behavior that determines how we serve it. In which case, work is unavoidable. The clock will move and whether I do my time at work by completing what’s expected of me, or I serve my time by waiting for an unemployment check and complaining in the union hall is completely up to me—either way, I still have to serve.

After waiting patiently at the sick check window, the pleasant girl handed me an envelope with a check valued at a little more than one day’s pay. I opened the envelope to see its magic number. Then I removed the check, folding it twice, and placed it in my wallet.
Again, someone from the back of the room repeated “Must be good to get a sick check?”
“Not too bad,” I said.
He informed me, “It’s been a while since I’ve gotten one of those.”

He was older than me and standing by the elevator wearing a union pride baseball hat. He wore a black jacket with the union insignia on the back; he wore beat up jeans, and beat up work boots. His pale-skinned hands were rock-like and old.
His face was unshaven and his dirty blonde hair slovenly poked out from beneath his slightly crooked hat.
I have seen him before and listened to him talk to other workers at the union hall. I have heard him complain and I have listened to him carry on about his previous employers.
He wore his pride like a shield, and more, no one was going to tell him what to do.
I get that.

I’m no better than him . . .
I just choose to serve my time differently than he does.

That’s all.

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