Making Work Visible
City University of New York / Labor Arts
2023 Contest Winners
The day I began working was a rollercoaster of emotions, a thrilling yet nerve wrecking adventure that unfolded before me. I remember the moment I woke up that morning, the anticipation that made my heart race. Questions flooded my mind like an everlasting April shower. What would the boss think of me? Was I dressed appropriately? How would I get paid? What if the work turned out to be dull? And the most intriguing question of all, would I be tasked with making bread? You see, the job was at a French bakery, a place exploding with both the smell of freshly baked pastries and the unknown challenges that lay ahead for me. All these worries and thrills blended in my mind as I got out of bed, got dressed, had a nice heart healthy breakfast in the form of a bowl of Wheaties, and headed out the door, ready to face whatever was in store for me.
Before I go any further with this crazy experience, I feel inclined to give credit where it is due. The first time I encountered this discourse community was at home with my grandmother and aunts at the age of six, they taught me etiquette for when I had a job, teaching me how to address older individuals or people who held a higher position. My first impression was obviously love for my grandmother but respect, which is how I choose to view people older than me with more so respect. The first words that they taught me were sir, ma’am, and gestures that I learned to use was sucking up to an extent, because this made them feel even more respected but gave me recognition as well. My impressions of them did not change, but as I grew older, I got more respect. The advice they gave me was “even after I am gone behave with every stranger you meet like you are representing me and this family.”
The journey to my workplace started with a trip on the train. As I waited on the burning platform, time seemed to crawl at the pace of tired sloth. Eventually, I boarded the train, only to realize after a few stops that I had mistakenly hopped onto the uptown instead of downtown. Panic set in, and I had to desperately search for the right train. It was one of the first times I took the train since my school and hangout spots did not require public transport. When I inevitably got on the downtown train, but then I accidentally hopped onto the express train, skipping my intended stop “what the actual fuck” I thought to myself as I saw my stop pass by. It took a good half-hour, along with two train transfers, before I finally reached my destination.
Stepping out of the R train forest hills station, I was both sweaty and anxious, my heart pounding from the combination of rushing and stress. accumulating my courage, I approached the cashier to find out about the person I was supposed to meet. To my surprise, I had arrived an hour early, and the manager hadn’t even shown up yet. So, I waited, taking the opportunity to call my dad and assure him that I arrived safe. As a positive unexpected bonus, they offered me free lemonade, which was a refreshing relief in the heat.
Finally, the moment came when I met my manager, and we began our tour of the bakery. It was a fascinating experience until we left the main restaurant area, heading into what appeared to be an apartment building. My thoughts raced with confusion. “Why are we leaving the restaurant?” I wondered. We entered an elevator, went down several floors, and when the doors opened, my manager explained that this was where I would be working. To my surprise, he revealed that my job would mainly involve janitorial and stocking duties. This revelation caught me off guard, as it was quite different from what I had envisioned.
Meeting the director of stock, I was led into a room filled with supplies, and it became apparent that I had not one, but three bosses to impress. The stock manager showed me around the room, telling me my responsibilities, including receiving flour bag deliveries, and organizing them in the room. The sudden weight of these responsibilities triggered a sudden wave of anxiety. Not only did I have to remember where everything belonged, but I also had to manage the physical demands of the job.
As soon as the stock manager finished explaining my duties, he informed me of a flour delivery that had just come. We rushed to the elevator and went up to receive 15 heavy 50-pound bags of flour. Fear surged through me as I worried about whether I could handle a single bag let alone 15. Thankfully, I came up with the strength to complete the task, then sorted the bags into their designated flour sections based on their specific uses.
Afterwards, I had a 30-minute break before returning to work. During this time, I went out to shake shack and got myself a chicken sandwich with crinkle fries and an apple juice, I quickly ate it and then got back to work. I gathered full trash bags and disposed of them in the large dumpster at the back of the bakery. I carefully mapped the entire stock room, painstakingly scraped, and cleaned the dough residue from all the mixing machines, and even ventured outside to remove weeds from the front of the store. It was an exhausting but fulfilling experience.
Just when I thought my day was coming to an end, my manager informed me of one more order. As I headed to retrieve it, my luck took a dramatic downfall. The elevator malfunctioned, trapping me inside. Panic surged through me as I repeatedly pushed the emergency button, thinking, “My first day and I’m already going to die.” After about 15 agonizing minutes, a stranger heard the alarm and managed to rescue me from the elevator’s grasp.
Finally free, I rushed to my manager, who was not happy with me taking so long and presumed uncommittedness on my first day. I explained what happened, and he responded with an amused, “Oh, that’s what that sound was.” in an unapologetic tone, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and think to myself “Bruh.” Nevertheless, I went on receiving and sorting out cups, napkins, cardboard boxes for pastries, and various supplies for the last order. As I finished up the delivery stock process, I quickly clocked out, ready to head home.
That evening, I filled in on my dad on the craziness of my first day and we both shared a wholesome laugh. Little did I know that my first day of work was just the beginning of a series of memorable adventures. In the next few weeks, I would break a nail at the gym after work and later find myself nursing a sprained leg from an electric scooter mishap. But those are stories for another day, each adding a puzzle piece to the puzzle of my growing life experiences.
I would say thinking about it retrospectively this whole discourse community is
Welcoming to the extent that once you are in and you are comfortable you are welcomed, but at the same time exclusive because you are required to apply yourself for job positions. This discourse community is open to everyone, and I feel that everyone will have to at some point in their life be put in it. So once in it you will need to learn how to manage your time in it. This type of literacy grants me access to meeting new people which makes connections that can benefit me in the future, as well as cause others to perceive me in a positive way, also preparing me for the real world. Otherwise, I would be on the couch watching tv and games or maybe I am wrong, and I might have taken up a sport broadening my knowledge on that discourse community. This discourse community did not require me to have to spend much money, I had to spend a small amount on more professional attire but other than that I was the one getting paid and using it for my personal wants. I was thrown into the wild of the workplace and came out with communication skills in learning how to speak with staff and customers, and independence for myself, having to wake myself up and make sure I was not late to work and completed all my tasks for the day.
If I were to have never been a part of this discourse community, I would have probably been a disrespectful individual spending all my time with bad posture, and no goals in life, losing all of my discipline and etiquette that I had learned that had helped me thrive. Which would have been greatly obstructing when I got to the point of needing a job. I used to think that my grandmother was so annoying for correcting my way of talking, walking, and acting around others because I saw it all as pointless. “Why must I always have to be impressing others?” I thought, I now know that everything they taught me was not only for the people around me to know I am a nice and welcoming person but so when I got my first job I could impress and thrive in any work environment starting with the basics.