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
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?
Back to Essays...
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