I have learned why I love being a musician, and I learned it by getting the worst job of my life.
Assembly line work is about as low as you can go, and Third Shift is the butt end of that. From eleven p.m. to seven a.m. we stand at our work stations in a windowless warehouse and attach Widgets to Wodgets, for just a shade over minimum wage. No brains are needed. It is mind-numbing, body-battering, soul-crushing drudgery. Why do we do it? Because at the moment we have no alternatives.
Third Shift is What I Do, but it is not What I Am. I am a musician. I have played with dance bands, composed theatre music, entertained at weddings, taught children to sing. I will do this again. And I cherish my music work, I realize, because every project, every performance has what I call a “Wow Factor.”
I believe we all regularly need Wow Factors — events or experiences or realizations that make us pause, step back and say — “Wow.” Something exciting. Something unexpected, unpredictable. We can get Wows from our families or hobbies or travel or outside events, but we really need Wows from our work. I believe the best Wows are ones with personal involvement. When I sew a costume, complete a CD or hear an audience clap and stamp and whoop, I can say — “Wow. I made this happen.”
There are no Wow Factors on the Third Shift. The work seldom changes. And it never ends — there is a warehouse with crates full of Widgets and pallets of Wodgets. We workers never see the finished product. Personal involvement? I suspect my job could be done just as well by a chimpanzee.
I think I understand why people turn to drugs. I think I understand why people would rather sell drugs than do this. We have measured out our lives, not with coffee spoons, but with Widgets and Wodgets. “The dignity of honest labor?” Forget it, man. Where’s the Wow?
And I reflect that thousands of things around us — our cars, our clothes, our appliances — exist because right now, people somewhere, in Indiana or Indonesia, in Mississippi or Mexico or Malaysia, are standing in a windowless warehouse, with tired feet and aching fingers, attaching Widgets to Wodgets.
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