Old Farmers And Garbage-Men

I was sitting at the breakfast table idly watching the garbage truck make its rounds when I felt suddenly wistful.  (That’s not quite as weird as it sounds – please let me explain.)

Here in Calgary we have bins that can be picked up, dumped, and replaced at the curb by trucks with mechanical arms.  Occasionally the operators have to pick up extra garbage bags by hand, but usually they just drive down the street and let the truck do the work.

It’s a far cry from the way they did it even a few years ago.  Each garbage truck used to have a ‘swamper’ who rode along on the rear bumper, jumping off to pick up garbage bags and sling them into the back, then hopping on again to ride to the next stop a few yards away.

Years ago one of my friends did that job, and his co-workers joked that you weren’t a true swamper until you’d vomited at least once at the sight and/or smell of the garbage.  It was a brutal job full of heavy repetitive lifting and vile stenches.

And here comes the ‘wistful’ part, because that made me think of my dad.

Not that he was a sanitation worker; although that was part of his job before we got flush toilets.  In the summer we used an outhouse, but in the winter there was a pail in the basement.  When it got full, he’d carry it out across the snowbanks and dump it far away from the house.  He said he only slipped and fell with it once, but that was more than enough.

No; what reminded me of him was the thought of tireless physical labour.

I remember him slinging sixty-pound bales up to the loft of the barn with a single jerk of his powerful arms.  Lift-toss, lift-toss; over and over like a machine in the oppressive heat and humidity of a Manitoba summer.  The only sign of his effort was the sweat soaking his shirt and dripping off the end of his nose.

He mucked out the barn with a shovel and his own muscle.  He worked the fields for endless days in the blazing sun on an old steel-seated FarmAll tractor, without a sunshade or even a backrest.

And when the machines broke down he got out the giant tools.  Two-inch sockets.  Wrenches as long as my arm and twice as heavy.  His days were a punishing round of physical chores.

Looking out at the automated garbage truck, I realized those days are mostly gone.  Farming, garbage collection, you name it; it’s machine power instead of manpower now.  Chores are accomplished with the press of a button from a comfortable seat in an air-conditioned cab.

I doubt if anybody mourns the change.  Those weren’t ‘the good old days’.  They were hard and dangerous; heartbreaking and backbreaking.  Many men were killed or terribly injured, and bent backs and swollen joints and missing fingers are the visible legacy of their labour.

But I have to wonder:  If the work of the future consists of pressing buttons, will the men of tomorrow feel the same fierce pride and sheer primeval triumph my dad’s generation experienced when they fell into bed at the end of a successful day?

And will I be able to give them the same respect and admiration?

I don’t think so.  Do you?

I Don’t Get No Respect

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been feeling under-respected lately.  And the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s not just a recent thing.

In school, I was known as the smart kid in the class.  Anybody who’s ever been a kid knows that “smart” is not a highly-regarded quality in the schoolyard.  Fortunately I was also a jock so I didn’t suffer too badly, but it was a relief to go on to university where “smart” would get some respect.

Little did I know.

I actually wanted to go into engineering, but my parents convinced me that a) I shouldn’t neglect my artistic side; b) my brother was already in engineering and I shouldn’t compete; and c) interior design would be a better career for me because when I got married and had a family, I could make the house look nice for my husband.

As wince-worthy as that advice is now, it was well-meant at the time and like the dutiful daughter I was, I followed it.

Interior design was not a good fit.  *cue uproarious laughter at the understatement of the century*

I was really good at the technical side.  I totally sucked at the design part.

Whenever somebody asked me what I did for a living, I cringed.  When I told them, their instant reaction was to pat me on the head and tell me how nice and girly it was for me to make houses pretty.

I spent far too much time explaining that no; interior decorators only pick pretty colours.  Interior designers take a brutal four-year university bachelor’s degree, draft plans and construction details for walls, casework, and millwork, know the ins and outs of building codes and fire codes, supervise construction sites, and administer complex project tenders and contracts.  And they pick pretty colours.

Unless they’re me.  Then they get one of the other designers to pick pretty colours for them.

After twelve excruciating years, I switched to IT, which suited me much better.  You’d think that would garner some respect, but it turns out that announcing you’re a computer geek stops conversations dead.  People’s eyes dart sideways, they mumble, “I don’t know anything about computers”, and then they flee.

You’d think I was trying to engage them in a rousing discussion about PPPoE protocol or something.

Okay, fine.  So now I’m an author.

When I tell people that, they recoil as if I’d just stuck my hand down my pants and started smiling and humming.  Usually they mutter something to the effect of “Oh, God, another author” and flee.

Or they pat me on the head and tell me how nice and girly it is for me to write pretty little romances.


Have you seen my books?

So I give up.  From now on when people ask me what I do, I’m going to tell them I’m a cannibalistic serial killer.  And that they’re looking particularly tasty today.

They’ll still flee, but at least I’ll get a laugh out of it.

Anybody else getting respect for their career?  Please… tell me what it’s like…

* * *

Many thanks to Shree over at Heartsongs for nominating me for the Liebster and One Lovely Blog awards!  To (kinda) fulfill the requirements of the awards, here’s a link to a couple of posts with obscure facts about me, and please pop over to visit my favourite bloggers – they’re in the blogroll at the right.  Thanks!

I’m Losing It…


Motorcycle season is still a few months away, but I think it might be time to get out my boots and leathers anyway.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been referred to as “dear”, “little”, and “girl”.  I’m in serious danger of losing my badass self-image.

Note I said “self-image”.  In reality, I’m probably more good-ass than badass, but I’m a loyal and happy resident of the state of delusion.  I like it here.  I’m staying as long as I can.

My image crisis started in a restaurant in Parksville, BC.  The ten-year-old (okay, fine, maybe she was eighteen) waitress called me “dear”.  Repeatedly.  Just like the group of sweet little old ladies beside me.  Granted, I don’t know if they actually were sweet.  I couldn’t overhear their conversation, so maybe they were swearing like sailors and swapping stories of their latest sexual conquests.  I kinda hope so.

But the point is, she called me “dear”.

And just like Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get no respect.  Later at the airport baggage carousel, I was waiting for my luggage when a guy pushed past and stood right in front of me.

Hey, buddy, am I fucking invisible?

I wistfully contemplated giving him a nice solid elbow strike to the back of the head, but I had a feeling my apparent invisibility wouldn’t fool the security cameras.

Then “little” and “girl” got thrown at me at the gym.  At 5’10” and 48 years old, neither of those words have applied to me for a very long time.  I’m willing to concede that “little” might have been a comparative term since it was used by my muay thai instructor, who’s over six feet of muscle.  It wasn’t like I was going to argue with him.

But then I was waiting behind a couple of guys at the security gate to the change rooms, and one turned to the other and said, “Let the girl go first.”

I glanced around just to be sure, but I was the only female in the vicinity.  What the hell was that?  “The girl”?  Reminded me of the “good” old days, when the boss used to say, “I’ll have my girl do it.”

Just to be clear, I’m not necessarily offended by being called a girl.  In fact, one of my most treasured compliments was one I overheard a couple of years ago when I was at a show & shine (outdoor classic car show, for those who aren’t car nuts).  I was checking out a 1970 Challenger with the 426 big-block when I overheard a guy behind me:  “There’s a girl over by the car that just makes you wanna…”  His more politically correct companion interrupted with the words, “…go over and say hello.”

I checked surreptitiously, but again, I was the only female in the vicinity.  At 46, I took it as a high compliment, cheerfully ignoring the possibility that I might have misinterpreted his sentence structure and it was actually the car that made him wanna.  Hey, I don’t judge.  There were lots of cars there that made me wanna.

But I digress.  My point is, short of starting to spew f-bombs publicly (and as I mentioned before, I’m too Canadian to do that), I need to find a way to polish up my badass image.

Wonder if the gym’s dress code allows boots and leathers?