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Working All Day

I read somewhere once that primitive, aboriginal societies have lots more free discretionary time on their hands than citizens of the "First World". Even after totaling the time they spend in food gathering & preparation, shelter maintenance, and basic domestic chores, theyíre still left with much more time for fun stuff like arts & crafts, story-telling, religious observances, feasts, dancing, quality family time and play.

Like most people in the "civilized" world, I spend close to 50% of my conscious adult life at work. This always seemed necessary in order to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads, and working personal transportation to make it all go around. For me, itís been a mandatory effort with no apparent alternative. After 38 years of doing it, itís turned into a pretty deep rut.

If youíre going to spend that much of your life engaged in something, youíd best find some jollies in it. Fortunately, I do. I get a lot of satisfaction and pride when something I work on works. (That goes along with some occasional deep frustration when things donít go right.) Being raised and role-modeled by denizens of the "old school", Iíve always felt that some degree of mutual loyalty existed between myself and my employer -- coupled with a true desire to make a meaningful and successful contribution to a cause larger than myself.

I realize that the "loyalty thing" probably doesnít extend as far as I pretend it does. Maybe even less so, as the years have gone by. But if you operate like itís there, everyoneís better off for it. Otherwise you get paranoid real quickly, and suffer a lot of mental anguish day-by-day. In my case, Iíve worked for one single employer for my entire life. Iíve done well by them, and they by me. Itís been a tolerably good relationship.

I say that Iíve worked for one single company, but that company isnít really the same one I started with. When I began working, it was for a very profitable Fortune 25 corporation, a diverse conglomerate with a solid 90-year history behind it. But every 12 years or so, whatever top dog was currently in charge would scoop up all the billions of dollars of generated profits and do something really stupid with them. Like unsuccessfully trying to corner particular commodity markets, or putting them into high-risk junk bonds and commercial loans Ė naturally, always at the cusp of business cycle nosedives -- or getting into speculative and unfamiliar business areas either too early or too late to be able to succeed in the marketplace. The corporation was an inch away from bankruptcy not once, but twice during my time with it. The guys responsible for those debacles walked away with millions. (Perhaps coincidentally, most of our "evil" CEOs had names that ended with a vowel.) Thatís what comes of having a "captive" Board of Directors Ė or should I say, a "Bleating Herd" of Directors. It just gripes me because I worked damned hard to help generate those profits!

Ultimately, a new top dog decided to split up the entire conglomerate and sell off all but one piece of it. That single retained portion is doing extremely well these days, so it was probably a smart business move. My piece was sold to an overseas entity. (It happened to be the only piece that still retained the original company name.) For us, at the time, it was actually a great thing to have happened Ė since there was to be no new investment coming in from the corporate coffers. For America, it was not such a great thing. In fact, our particular industry now no longer includes any American-owned companies. Without divulging the industry in question, allowing that situation to occur will prove to be a huge U.S. Government strategic blunder in the future. But as our nation eschews any form of Socialism, itís understandable why and how it transpired.

Well, those are musings about what happens in the stratosphere, while I live close to the ground. So close that I get dirt on my nose sometimes, and love it. I havenít been in a position to be extremely creative in my particular job, but I have managed to pick up four U.S. Patents along the way Ė assigned to the company, of course. They were for stupid little things with no huge value Ė some unique tools, specific to our manufacturing processes. You get a few hundred bucks for an accepted patent disclosure from the company, plus a nice brand new crisp dollar bill when the patent is finally registered. (Some polecat at work stole one of those dollar bills before I could get it home!) To me, those few precious patents are like cherries on top of the ice cream sundae that is my working life. When I eventually retire, theyíll be the only thing I can take away that really mean anything to me, professionally speaking.

In the old days, they used horses in mills to turn the big stone grinding wheel. Those horses would turn in a circle all day, every day of their useful lives. When they became too old to work, the ones that werenít turned into glue were put out to pasture Ė and there they would spend 12 hours every day walking in a tight circle. They simply didnít know what else to do.

One of Chrisís old University Professors told the story about his immigrant father, whose job it was to count logs in a sawmill lot. After he retired, he stood up on the hill outside the sawmill every day and counted the logs in the lot Ė it was better than hanging around the house doing nothing.

These stories disturb me. When I think about my retirement, Iím afraid that I wonít be able to keep sane with the few odds Ďn ends and hobbies I have around the house. I hate traveling anymore, and driving & sleeping in an RV would be like living Hell for me. Iím not big on home improvements, landscaping or maintenance these days. The interests I do develop seem to fade away, after hitting them hard for a few months. Maybe I could try writing, but I know that my style is usually too pedantic, and other times way too meandering to turn that into anything meaningful. Without the discipline of getting up in the morning and turning in a tight circle all day, Iím not sure how well I could survive in an environment with absolute total freedom and maximum discretionary time.

How do those aborigine guys do it? More importantly, is it too late for me to figure it out?

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My U.S. Patents were:

4,627,163 -- "Tube Cutter for Cutting Two Concentric Tubes Bulged Together" (12/9/86)

5,026,968 -- "Welding Electrode Tip Cracking Apparatus and Method" (6/25/91)

5,146,676 Ė "Hand-Actuated Spring Clip Insertion Tool" (9/15/92)

5,187,348 Ė "Weld Electrode-to-Workpiece Arc Gap Setting Apparatus and Method" (2/16/93)

You can see what I mean when I said "stupid little things of no huge value" -- other than as some sort of symbolic recognition that I had a few pertinent thoughts during those 38 years of working all day. Notice how long itís been since the last thought occurred!

"Working All Day" is the title of a song by Gentle Giant

 

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