The first job I ever held was as a janitor/stockboy at a convenience store in Union, KY. That gig lasted two weeks, and by the end of that time, both the owner and I knew that my talents might be best employed elsewhere, and by a different employer. Among other things, I stocked the bottles too slowly. This wasn’t intentional on my part, but I have to admit that I liked working in the cooler.
My next job was at Sears store #1730 in the Florence Mall, when I had to earn some cash to go to the local directional university. I worked in the Customer Service department, taking credit card payments, handling returns, helping folks apply for Sears cards, finding catalog orders — that sort of thing. I had that gig for a couple of years, until I left to start work on my M.A. Most of the time, I’d work 20-30 hours a week, in five-and-a-half-hour shifts (including a 15-minute break). Occasionally I’d do a full eight (which came with a lunch), but not often.
Somewhere along the way, I had to page someone over the intercom, and some of the local panjandra decided they liked my voice, so when I had the evening shift, I started reading the announcements we did each night at 8:45 and when we closed at 9:00. From there, I was conscripted into writing and cutting the recorded announcements that would cycle through the day. I went to a little room with a pen and a legal pad, where I would find the recorder and a copy of the week’s promotional circular. From these materials I would craft ten or so thirty-second spots, often involving cheesy puns (or puns about cheese if the Hickory Farms kiosk was in season). I did this each week, and every ten minutes or so, one of these little spots would blat across the house PA, each concluding with the title of today’s post.
I didn’t mind — it was a chance to get off my feet for as much as an hour — but as the weeks went on, I noticed something. If you spend a lot of time in any environment, the ambient sounds typically fade to a level below that of consciousness. You stop noticing the sound of the other registers and the background music, for example. However, there’s something weirdly disconcerting about having one’s own voice become part of the bibblebibblebibble of your world. You hear yourself, but you stop listening to yourself.
This may be the birth of humility.