The Problem Solver
During your break, you peel the Band-Aids off your hands to apply new ones. You examine your hands for a moment. They’re chapped and dirty; you’d like to go easier on them. You think of my father’s hands, which were always dirty and rough. Two weeks’ vacation were never enough to free them from all the dirt of working. To help loosen the dirt, he’d wash socks every weekend, dunking his hands in a pot of hand washing paste, taking a handful of the greasy, slightly grainy paste, applying it to the socks, rubbing them together, and then rinsing them. Stinging cuts would open up on his workingman’s hands. They had pink spots, some of which were raw flesh, with leftover grey and black streaks. I’d always assumed he simply had hands like that; it had never occurred to me that those hands might have come about through his work. You see now: you’re getting workingwoman’s hands.
Your new hands move goods, and your mind is a counting machine that keeps wandering. You do it well, nonetheless. You’ll be informed of that in a few days’ time and you won’t have expected it at all. Some would say you just make things a bit hard for yourself. But the fact of the matter is you’re standing next to a box of Italian model cars and realizing that the faux fancy packaging on most models is broken, the reflective foil has come loose and fallen on the cars, and some cars roll to and fro, no longer fixed in place. In other cases, the reflective foil is fogged over. What was intended to be the model car’s showroom looks like a car dealership damaged by a storm and then never patched up.
You call the problem solver. It’ll have to be the problem solver again, even though you don’t want to call him. The problem solver says none of it matters as long as the product’s OK, and it does seem to be. You think for a while or you don’t think at all, but you do stand around motionless and gaze at the large pile of cars with damaged packaging. In the end you hold up the boxes with loose and fogged-over foil and shake them to force the plastic back into its correct position. A futile undertaking, reflexive diligence; but you don’t understand why you shouldn’t put things into a respectable state. You open a few packages carefully and affix the reflective foil as best you can with a strip of tape. The pile barely decreases. You give up and receive the cars in the damaged packages as well, without repairing them first. You squint your eyes a little. While you’re working toward the end of your shift and you’re tired and hungry and you count and count again all the time, and then count what you’ve counted all over again, I’m sitting in a café in town with a friend. We’re chatting and drinking white wine spritzers; we haven’t seen each other for a while. A very tall woman approaches our table, holding fliers fanned out in her hand, and asks whether we want to come along to a reading; it’s starting in ten minutes. We shake our heads. No thanks, we say, we’re leaving in a minute. As we pay our bill we spot the book that’s about to be read from:
Monday at Last! The New Joy of Work Performance.
My friend says the book deserves an award for the