I’ve always had a lot of friends who worked for the University. When I was a freshman, I knew an awful lot of people who worked in food service in the dorms, which always created something of an awkward dynamic for me. If I were in a friend’s dorm room and I asked him to get me a bag of chips, it was pretty likely that he’d flip me off and tell me to do it myself. However, as soon as his shift at work started, I could go to the cafeteria and he would be my slave, making me a turkey sandwich to my exact specifications.
“No, damn it, only toasted on the meat side! Do I look like the kind of two-bit country asshole who wants his lettuce to wilt? So help me God, I will beat you to death with a sack full of doorknobs! But yeah, we’re still on for Call of Duty tonight, right?”
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would one day be collecting paychecks from the same University that I had funneled so much of my family’s hard earned money into, mainly because in my more temperamental moments I like to say that the University of Oregon overcharges students for a product that is frequently sub par. What I’ve discovered, though, is that it’s far more profitable to collect paychecks and be a part of that sub-par product than it is to be the douchebag rallying against it.
I work as a Technology Monitor in the Chambers Electronic Media Center in the School of Journalism. More specifically, I sit in an almost comically tiny room full of very expensive camera equipment and check it out to journalism majors, some of them friendly, who have reserved it in our tattered and greasy logbooks.
When first applying for the job, I was worried that I was ill-qualified, because until now most of my work experience is either in food service or sitting up all night reviewing footage of Midwestern ghost hunts. What I’ve found out over the past couple weeks of work, however, is that this job is almost eerily similar to food service – the only difference being that the camera equipment I’m giving people is probably less harmful when consumed than some of the bacony, cheesy, cholesteroly foods I delivered to patrons at Mike’s Drive In.
What I’m learning is that when people want something – whether it’s a cheeseburger or an 85mm lens – their personalities are rooted in three core traits:
“Hi there, I’ve got a reservation for PD-170 #8. Oh, it’s not in? No, it’s fine, let me see if another is open. Hey, it looks like #9 isn’t reserved! I’ll take that instead. Thanks!”
“Hey… I’m, uh… I’m looking for a camera.”
“Okay. This entire room is filled with cameras, so could you be more specific?”
“It’s, like… It’s a small one. And I think there’s a number in its name.”
“Okay. That still describes most of the cameras in here. Do you have a reservation?”
“Um… No. Should I do that?”
“Hey, I’m here for PD-170 #8.”
“Okay… It looks like somebody else has that checked ou-”
“I put my name in the book and everything.”
“I’m sure you did. Somebody else probably just came in here and checked it out without looking in the b-”
“God DAMN IT this fucking happens to me all the TIME!”
“I’m really sorry – maybe check the book for another camer-”
“Look and see who checked #8 out! Get his phone number so I can call him!”
“Uh, it looks like we didn’t get this guy’s phone num-”
“You don’t take peoples’ phone numbers? How can you not take their phone numbers!? You should start taking peoples’ phone numbers!”
The friendly ones tend to be upper division journalism majors – wizened old sorts who realize that the best way to get what they want is to play nice with the people in charge of giving it to them, a position that’s favorable to me because it vastly inflates the amount of imaginary power I have in my role as a glorified librarian.
The stupid ones are generally freshmen, unfamiliar with checkout procedures, in the newly created Gateway courses. Gateway is strong in the creating electronic media department but weak in the writing a 100-page research paper department. As a result, these students are technically gifted but, having never experienced Info Hell, fundamentally weak down to their cores. They do not know true fear, and I will never fully respect them.
The angry ones are journalism majors of any given age who are having a bad day and have decided to take out their misfortunes on the Technology Monitor, which is tough to forgive seeing as all the Technology Monitors are either friendly, somewhat dorky guys or cute cheerful girls. Yelling at us because somebody else took your camera is like yelling at Mrs. Butterworth because your pancakes are undercooked.*
*This metaphor isn’t perfect, because I’m almost certain that none of the Technology Monitors dispense syrup when squeezed, but seriously – what kind of stone cold asshole would yell at Mrs. Butterworth? She seems so nice on the commercials.
Dealing with the public aside, this remains one of the better jobs I’ve had. I get to act knowledgeable in front of freshmen when explaining how to use camera equipment, which makes me feel like I’ve learned something over the past few years, I get to surf Wikipedia during downtime, which means I basically get paid to do what I do all the time for free, and my supervisor hasn’t publicly humiliated me.
Of course, I’ve only been working here for three weeks. There’s a whole lot of school year left.
Truman Capps does miss the risk and adventure of being a lactose intolerant person making milkshakes.