Have you ever felt uncomfortable because you were too comfortable?
Uncomfortable. I don’t like the sound of this unpleasant word. However, I truly believe that it’s the only barrier that stands between what you are and what you can be. Once you approach this wall and jump over with all your might, there’s this beautiful, amazing world waiting just for you.
The reward on the other side got me into doing something that I had never done before.
For the past few weeks, my house started feeling so small that I thought it was trying to suffocate me. The sofas and the drapes and the ceramic wares and the paintings and every item that was meant to serve human functioning and happiness irritated me; I felt enslaved in the lap of luxury. And the sense of familiarity around me simply irked me. Suddenly, I longed for chaos, I wished for change and I wanted to break the ritual and the usual pattern of my everyday life. So this little breakdown of mine gave considerable impetus to do something new and different. Thus the search began…on the Internet. My random browsing led me to a website where a job advertisement was posted. The advert read, “Looking for individuals who can work for 7 days, work for 12 hours a day, lift weights up to 30 pounds, should be able to stand on his feet all day and start work at 5:30 am.” This instantly caught my attention. Without any hesitation or delay, I took the leap forward. I filled up the form, called them, met them the next morning, gave a written test, waited till they went through the paper, and voila, I was taken and employed.
So there I was, on the first day of my job as a mail examiner, and I seriously had no idea what I was getting into. But, I somehow enjoyed the fear of the unknown. I liked the idea of being lost.
My office was a printing warehouse – a massive space with more than 25 printers and some 60 to 70 odd people working for, on or around those machines. It was a noisy, dusty, chilly and extremely busy environment. To top it all, cellphone, food and drink were not allowed in the working area. Two people – an operator and a mail examiner were appointed on each printer. The operator had to be a factotum, a man with many crafts. His responsibilities included loading the machine with huge rolls of paper, inserting envelopes and leaflets on a continuous basis, fixing the machine if it stopped working, cleaning the machine if it was dirty, doing the paper work and helping the mail examiner as and when needed. In comparison, the mail examiner’s job looked easy. The job was easy because all you had to do was pick up a handful of letters that came out of the printer, quickly examine them, seal them if they were open and load them on a plastic tray. A tray could fit anywhere between 300 to 400 envelopes depending upon how neatly you packed them. Once full, you had to lift that tray and stack it up on a large delivery cart. So this looked quite easy at first but it was difficult and repetitive since this was pretty much all you did standing on your feet for 12 hours! Also, you had to be real quick as you were competing against a workaholic machinery and boy, those machines never stopped. If it did, thanks to paper jams or unknown malfunctions, then it was a blessed day for you. And what you could do in that 2 to 5 minute break was heaven. Suddenly, the prospect of quenching your thirst, going to the bathroom and releasing what you had been holding for so long or simply squatting down to alleviate your sore legs seemed priceless. Apart from this, there was a solid one-hour lunch break – the only time when we didn’t work. But machines continued. There was always a stranger coming from somewhere to do your job while you ate your food!
My lunch hour needs a special mention here. 11 to 12 was my lunch break, and it was indeed a much-needed break! There were three ways of doing it, you either went home or to a restaurant, you ate in the cafeteria or you ate in your car. I chose the third one, the most popular of the golden triangle. Suddenly I had high regard for my car, as my lovely Kia Soul, in those 7 days, looked no less than a superior room in a boutique hotel. A comfy seat, a stereo system, air conditioning, phone, food, drink – she had it all. She had just about everything a man really needed to survive and to be happy. Life, in that limited space seemed so large and sufficient. Life, in that one hour, was simple, sorted and at its best.
Sometimes it’s the people that make a workplace more likeable. That’s what I found here. There were a variety of people from all walks of life – some came every month to supplement their income and few others were permanent employees. I interacted with a lot of them since mail examiners had to work on a different machine (and different operator) every other day. There was a Caribbean lady with a husband who worked in the night shift, a single mom of three kids, an elderly grandmother, a master degree student, a mother of 6-month old girl, a father who was fired from his regular job, a young girl looking to earn extra bucks for Christmas…all kinds of people worked here for all kinds of reasons. Reasons may have been different but there a common thread that ran through most of them. They rarely complained about the job, whether it was the odd hours, the unusual approach, the “chair-free” issue or other eccentricities attached. When they were at work, they were the most sincere, enthusiastic and obedient people who had, sort of, made peace with the downside of the job. “I am already here, I might as well do it good.” They came with this attitude.
I worked there for 7 straight days, 12 hours a day, from 5:30 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening. On an average, I would examine and load 15,000 to17,000 envelopes on a slow machine and 25,000 to 30,000 on a fast machine. This was a short-term job but a real hard one, infact one of the hardest things I have done in my life. People who know about this mail examiner stint often ask me, “So why did you do it or what did you gain from this?” It was an easy question. Of course, I got rich by $700, and acquired a good pair of biceps from all that heavy lifting as a bonus. But the fountain of wealth was cleverly disguised in the form of a lifetime’s worth of experiences and stories that would enrich my life for many, many more days to come. This was the bigger cheque, which I gladly deposited in my memory bank.
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