Monday, November 23, 2009

And I've worked on Arbor Day

For the past four years I've only had to work a couple of the major holidays, usually Memorial Day and Labor Day. Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, all free.

For the first eight or nine years of my working life, I rarely had any holiday off. I'd be in the office as the late Thanksgiving football game started. I've watched the Times Square Ball drop while seated at my desk in the Fargo newspaper office. I participated in a competitive Easter Egg hunt in a newsroom.

Come Thursday, I'll again be free of work obligations, but I'll feel sympathy for all of those stuck at a desk or on an assembly line or behind a fast-food counter.

Here, then, some notes about working the various holidays.
* Thanksgiving. Eating a TV dinner is never an entirely pleasing experience, no matter how crisp the brownie or well-buttered the corn. Physically it's fine. It's quick, easy, tasty. But the meal is laced with mystery and a crushing sense of loneliness or incompetency accompanies every kernel and bite of ostensibly mashed potato. Either a significant other isn't there to prepare a meal or a complete lack of cooking skills has led to the point where meat generously defined by Swanson's as chicken is now a viable option.

That's for every other day of the year. But eating a TV dinner on Thanksgiving brings someone to a new level of personal debasement and introspection. I did it four or five times, sticking with the chicken despite occasional flirtations with the salisbury steak. While images of family members downing turkey and stuffing danced in my head, I sat on my stained couch and picked around the skin of the chicken, searching for the white meat trumpeted on the packaging. A volunteer shift at a soup kitchen would have ended the personal pity party, but the preservatives sapped me of my strength and ambition. At work, a co-worker often brought in leftovers, a much-appreciated gesture even if it almost felt more like taunting than goodwill.

"Here you go, here are the 12 pieces of turkey my hoggish family didn't stuff into their overfed faces. Make yourself a sandwich. Sorry, uncle Lester ate all the pie, otherwise I would have brought some in. God, was it a feast. What'd you have to eat?"

A few years I was able to eat the normal meal with the family before going into work around 4 p.m., just when the Cowboys were kicking off. That did mean shelving the much-needed 5 p.m. nap.

* Easter. Best thing about not being able to go home or be with family on this day? No church! No guilt about having no church.

Sorry, I mean, it's upsetting not being able to wake at 8 to mark that day's most famous rising. Easter in a newspaper office is a fairly normal day. Unlike the other holidays when many leagues shut down with the exception of a game or two, there can be, depending on when Easter falls, a full schedule of basketball, baseball or hockey games. Sometimes the Masters finishes that day.

Easter's primarily a morning holiday it seems, so working in the afternoon never bothered me. Didn't feel like I was missing anything.

* Christmas. If I missed a Christmas, I always called back home at some point in the day to get the report on gifts and to speak with relatives I might not get to see for another year. Nothing takes place in the sports world, with the exception of the ABC-sponsored Kobe vs. Shaq/LeBron/Celtics game, so work's a breeze. Wait for the NBA game to finish, slap some 25-inch bowl game previews into the inside sections and format a little agate. If I did work Christmas I usually worked Christmas Eve as well, a dual shift made possible by the fact we'd be celebrating Christmas as a family a few days later, whenever I returned home. That makes Christmas unique, the ability to extend it a week or hold it days earlier, depending on everyone's schedule. No one holds their Thanksgiving meal in early December.

* New Year's Eve. There was never much to do at the paper as the world counts down to midnight. Often the paper implemented early deadlines, meaning we finished an hour or so earlier. But being done at midnight doesn't do much good when everyone else has been drunk since 6. They're already done with the fun stage and are instead reflecting on that awkward pass on the neighbor earlier in the evening. We'd drive to a party after our shift, arriving in time to see someone vomiting or drunkenly vowing to change their ways in the new year, the same resolution the guy's made the previous seven years. Warmed the heart. We snacked on leftover munchies that guests had pawed through, sipped a drink and went home. Happy New Year.

* Fourth of July. In Minnesota most of the big holidays take place in months when snow covers the ground and people actually, unironically say, "Gosh, sure got warm today, didn't it?" when the temperature reaches 30 degrees. While working those days means missing out on family, food, gifts, alcohol and alcoholic relatives, they are all spent indoors. Working the Fourth means missing out on a nice summer day. Pickup basketball in the park, or softball at the local diamond. A day at the beach. No fireworks, illegal or otherwise, at night. That's why I was always sort of secretly happy when bad weather intruded on the Fourth. If I had to be stuck inside reading the AP wire or penning a parasailing feature, others should suffer too. Perhaps the sentiment's vaguely unpatriotic. But at the same I was doing my part for the First Amendment.

The above paragraph also applies to Memorial Day.

Labor Day? Winter holiday in Minnesota.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

I think you have Labor Day mixed up with perhaps President's Day. You cannot have a winter holiday in Minnesota without ice fishing and I can never remember the lakes being frozen over by Labor Day.