Tag Archives: work

Mary Poppins in Russia

Today’s guest post comes from Plain Jane. It was originally part of a conversation on our companion blog, The Baboondocks, related to the sudden shift in King Juan Carlos’ job description. The question was “What is the best job you’ve ever abdicated?”

The best job I ever had was working as an au pair for the Bridges family in Moscow in 1964.

It was a fun job with lots of challenges, satisfaction and privilege. Certainly not a high paying job, but at $90.00 per month and free room and board, all the necessities were covered. The rest was gravy.

Taking care of three kids ranging in age from three to nine was a blast. Mary and Elizabeth, the two youngest, were early risers. By the time I’d get out of bed around 7 A.M. they’d already have played ballerinas for hours and left a trail of fancy dresses discarded on the floor of the hallway. After a breakfast of Danish pancakes, they’d be off to school and daycare, and I’d a have a few hours to do laundry and tidy up our quarters.

After school we’d explore Moscow on foot, by bus, train and embassy car. If I didn’t feel like making them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, we’d head for the embassy snack bar where a German cook made wonderful burgers, BLTs and the best German potato salad. Then we’d hang out on the embassy playground in the afternoon. Au pairs from Canada, Australia and several European countries lounging in swim suits on beach towels spread on the ground, watching their charges happily at play.

On days with no school, we’d pack picnic lunches and take the bus and subway to whatever destination struck our fancy that day. One such place was Gorky Park. There we’d while away the hours. Locals – mostly old men drinking Kvass and playing chess at small tables, and work crews of matronly, babushka-wearing women with big shovels for maintaining flower beds would give us curious looks – our brightly colored clothes in stark contrast to their drab hues. Other days we’d go to the Red Square, hike through the Kremlin or explore the banks along the Moscow River.

I’d take a lot of photos on these excursions. Pictures of David staring longingly at a toy train display at the Gum department store on the Red Square, or of Elizabeth posed in front of the Tsar canon inside the Kremlin walls. Snapshots of all three of them in swimsuits, munching on a picnic lunch on a weekend outing to the beach along the Moscow River.

After dinner, bath time and a little horsing around in their pajamas. Then the kids and I would pile into David’s bed for bedtime stories and singing. Of all her obscure childhood memories, Elizabeth wrote me a few years ago, the one that stands out as her fondest is of me singing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” to them. To this day it a song that she often hums to herself when cleaning house. She says it cheers her up to remember that summer fifty years ago. And David told me that he still makes those Danish pancakes for his own kids on their birthdays.

That’s a legacy I’m proud of.

What lifelong habit have you inherited from a teacher or caretaker?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I have a steady, good paying job that’s as vital to the community as anything anybody else does, and it’s more important than most. I’m proud of my work and I don’t mind saying so. But snide comments from the neighbors, my friends and even some members of my own family are wearing me down. It feels like people just don’t understand what I do.

Even though we have a great history that’s directly connected to human progress, there hasn’t been a popular role model for my line of work since Art Carney was hanging out with Jackie Gleason.

Yes, I’m a sewer worker.

Sometimes I have to go into dank places where waste collects and congeals into a putrid sludge. Our high-tech equipment usually keeps us at a distance from the most unsavory elements of our work, although it helps to have a strong stomach. I am very careful about where I step, though I do sometimes get a fragrant paste smeared on my boots and clothes.

But I’ve done this for a while, so clean-up is one of my best skills. On my way home I look just as prim and pressed as anyone. My house is as tidy and as sweet smelling as a fussy florist’s flat.

Still, as soon as people realize what I do for a living, I am subjected to a never-ending flow of poop jokes. There is never a time when people don’t feel that it’s appropriate to cut loose with another good-natured jibe about gas, muck, and chunks.

Diarrhea comes up with surprising regularity in these casual conversations, even though we in the profession treat it the same way actors approach Macbeth – we never speak its name.

My 25th high school class reunion is coming up in a few weeks, and I’m torn. I want to go but I feel like I can’t tell people what I do for a living. My wife suggested I say I’m in the disease prevention field, which is accurate but it could lead to more questions and eventual disappointment when people find out I’m not a doctor. My brother said I should just tell them I’m in the pipeline business, but somehow that sounds … dirty!

Dr. Babooner, I feel stuck. Should I tell the truth, lie, or just stay home?

Clogged Brain

I told Clogged he should definitely go to his class reunion and should consider telling the truth. Most people truly appreciate our sewage system and the professionals who make it run. It’s not at all difficult to understand why this work is a social good. Even small-government conservatives are willing to pay taxes in support of what you do. But if being honest is too painful, one can always claim to be a member of the U.S. Congress. With some, that revelation will give you a quick taste of how it feels to have a job that is truly reviled, and everyone else will quickly change the subject to something more pleasant!

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?