Before I got going in journalism I worked as a tree surgeon, in both Los Angeles and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Ropes, saddles, spikes, pole clippers, pole saws, chain saws, cables, etc. I was in my early-mid 20s and in the best shape of my life. I wasn’t a party animal but I smoked off and on, threw down a fair amount of Heineken or Coors every night and occasionally with chaser shots of Jack Daniels. And I felt great the whole time. My spiritual state was another matter.
In Los Angeles I worked for Bob, the owner of a small tree outfit. He spent most of his time meeting prospective clients and selling the work, and I was a kind of informal foreman of a three-man crew. Bob would calculate the cost of a job by estimating how much time it would take. Sometimes the job would take less time than he figured and sometimes a little more. Either way he knew we’d get the job done within a reasonable time frame.
Not long after I was hired Bob showed us a job that he figured would take a full eight hours and maybe closer to nine. “You’ve got all day,” he told me as we arrived in the early morning. “I’ll be gone until the late afternoon but if you can finish by 5 or 6 pm we’ll be in good shape.”
As soon as he left I told the other two guys, “Let’s finish this sucker as fast as we can — five or six hours — and then we’ll have a couple of hours of lying around time in the late afternoon.” We did that — busted ass, had a short lunch, managed to finish by 3 pm. We were raking up, folding the tarps and putting away the equipment around 3:15 pm when Bob returned. “Whoa…you’ve finished! Good work!” He was so pleased with our professional dispatch that he decided to take us over to another job.
“Whoa, wait…you told us this was it for the day,” I said. “Well, yeah but we can make it an even better day if we finish this other job,” Bob answered with a grin and a comradely poke. “It’ll only take an hour, 90 minutes at most…won’t be that hard.”
I felt used and abused, but this episode taught me a lesson. Never work hard for the boss because if you do he’ll just try to make you do more and work harder. From that point on I never worked any faster than I had to, and sometimes a little slower. I didn’t become a slacker and I always did the work, but I learned to take my time.
Now that I’m running my own business I’ve adopted Bob’s attitude — do more, earn more, go-go — but when you’re earning wages you see things differently. I remember this mindset like it was yesterday. I can imagine what it must be like to live your whole life with this attitude — fuck the boss, I hate this fucking job, I work so hard and for what? — and can therefore sympathize to some extent with wage-earner types. Not that much but somewhat.