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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

(Another moment from my new show, “Every Job I’ve Ever Had”)

My boss hands me a broom handle and points to a pile of crap. Actual crap. A mound of human waste. He tells me to “take care of it.”

I’d like to thrown the broom handle at his feet and announce, a bit too dramatically, that I’m done with his orders, that I’m outta here, that I’ll have a better job than this by sundown. But I don’t do any of that. No, I have to accept that, given my life choices, ambitions, decisions and motivations up to this point, this is the best job I’m currently capable of having.

I’m 22, working at a dilapidated hotel in London, and the sewage has backed up. Again. This backwash of human by-product is about the size of the top of a picnic table, and it’s growing slowly but ominously, like the lava flow of a doodie volcano. It’s threatening to take over the entire hotel, if not the entire block, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. It’s a miniature Poo-suvius. It’s a Lilliputian Krapatoa. It’s Mount St. Smellins. And it’s demanding a virginal sacrifice. That seems to be me. I’ve been given a broom handle, sans broom, and ordered to unclog it.

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And something to keep in mind – as if I haven’t driven this point home – there are a lot of curry shops near this hotel.

As I plunge the broom handle into the pile of burnt sienna and ocre I’m thinking – how did this happen? How did it get worse? Aren’t you supposed to get better jobs as you get older? Why has each progressive job since I was 6 gone down a notch or two until I end up here? And what am I gonna say if some girl at the pub asks what I do? This is a hard one to double-speak your way around.

“I’m a shit poker. I poke in shit. Can I buy you a drink?”

There’s this list that we fall back on when in the middle of doing jobs that we don’t want to do. I think you know this list. We all do. This Universal Rationalization list is in our DNA. Nobody ever sat me down and explained it to me, and I’ve never even seen it written down, yet I began referring to it as early as age 6. As I stab and wiggle the stick into the expanding blob, I mentally whip out and unfold that list in hopes of some relief.

1. I’m being paid well.

Actually, I’m not. I’ve just finished a vagabond hitching trip around Europe and made my way to London seeking my under-the-table, green-card-less fortune. Most of my payment is in the form of a place to live, a room in this very hotel with the drainage problem. It’s barely big enough for one person, and I’m sharing it with three Aussies. I’m being paid very, very not well.

2. I won’t have to do this forever.

This was comforting when I was scraping a greasy Corvair engine as a first-grader, but now I’m not so certain. Things aren’t exactly looking up for me employment-wise, so I’m not confident that this current gig is a mere blip in my work life. This may be the beginning of the end.

3. At least I’m not poking in shit with a stick.

There’s this old Southern saying that I remember hearing while growing up: “Beats poking in shit with a stick.” Meaning, no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. Well, clearly this is the rare occurrence where this saying actually makes me feel worse.

But I want to remain positive. Even in a cloud this brown there must be a silver lining. Right?

After much soul searching, and shit poking, I’m finally able to add a fourth item to my list.

4. At least they gave me a stick.


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