Wage Slavery 7: Gang aft agley

When last we left the WildeRix, he had left Texas for Arkansas yet again. Let’s see what happens next…

Many folks have quoted the idea born from Robert Burn’s poem “To a Mouse” and recite the proverb about the best laid schemes of mice and men:

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Of course, nobody ever quotes it in the Scottish, probably because they have no idea what it means to gang aft agley.  Likewise, nobody knows what auld lang syne means, but we sing it faithfully upon the dawn of each new year, little appreciating the sentiment locked away in the Scottish dialect, merely feeling the emotion of the changing tide that the melody carries us upon.

Having fallen in love with Burns back in high school when I sought to come to terms with my Scottish roots, I poured over many of his poems.  It didn’t take me long to pick up on the dialect from the footnotes in the anthologies and to note that auld lang syne means literally “old long since,” to wit: “the good old days”.  Likewise, gang aft agley translates easily enough as “go often awry” — which describes exactly what my plans did.

Susan and I moved in with her parents in Fayetteville, AR.  It felt refreshing to not have to worry about rent and utilities.  We figured we could get some throw-away jobs, and save up our money in order to head down to Orlando and try to get some happy-go-lucky jobs down at Disney World.  Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

We threw away our first jobs quickly enough.  Working for some out-source sales company, trying to get people to sign up for a platinum credit cards.  I did way worse at outbound sales than I thought possible.  I think I only made one sale in the two weeks I worked there.

Then we found out about this overnight job working for a mental health facility.  The pay sounded incredible at the time: $8.50 per hour.  I didn’t think we could do much better than that.  And the job looked easy enough, too.  So we got hired on as psychiatric technicians at this mental hospital, working the night shift for what felt like a pretty decent wage.

Of course, nothing ever turns out the way it seems.  You see, the hospital’s adolescent clients had all committed sexual offenses against other youths — mostly because someone had victimized them at some point prior.  It broke my heart, many times, and turned my stomach many others, reading their case files.

By law, the kids had to remain under constant supervision at all times, unless in the bathroom by themselves.  Our job on the night shift consisted of sitting outside their bedrooms in the hallway, with the bedroom door open, to make sure that we maintained line-of-sight with the kids even while they slept.  Plus, every 15 minutes, we had to chart what position they slept in: prone, supine, left, right.

Aside from the emotional aspect, getting used to working from 11 pm to 7 am took quite a toll on our bodies.  You never realized how ingrained your circadian cycles feel until you try to break them.  We would spend 5 days on-shift, fighting to get used to staying up all night and struggling like hell — with the aid of over-the-counter drugs and aluminum foil on our windows — to sleep through the day.  By the end of the week, our bodies would have pretty much adjusted, but the two days off would completely break the cycle, and we would have to begin our Sisyphean struggle all over again.

We also had to face up to the fact that, despite considering ourselves night owls, staying up until 7 am feels a hell of a lot different than staying up until 3 or 4 am.  Those last few hours of waking definitely tax the body more than anything else up to that point.

I did like some things about the job, though.  I basically had 8 hours in which I got paid to read, play gameboy games, and talk with my coworkers.  Of course, that shit gets old really fast, too.  I also really liked a lot of my coworkers: Michael, from Russia, with whom I could refresh a language that I hadn’t used much since graduating college — plus his mom would make awesome pelmeni, borscht and stroganoff for him to eat for “dinner”, and he would often share; Travis, with his jovial attitude; Tony, with his pagan insights; and Matt with his quiet and friendly manner.

On the night shift, we didn’t have nearly as much interaction with the kids as the other shifts.  The kids had mostly gone to bed by the time our shift started.  We had to wake them up in the mornings, as the next shift came in.  But we also had to deal with any nocturnal incidents — mostly consisting of wetting the bed.  You know you have worked too long in a place like that when you can tell which kid wet his bed in his sleep simply by the smell.  And that smell lingered everywhere.  You felt like you took it home with you in your nostrils come morning.

You would think after all the cons, that we would have ditched the job in short order.  Many did.  Of the few psychiatric facilities in town, the psych-tech positions have massive turn-around.  I think our facility and the one next to it probably buy annual add space in the classified to advertise for psych-tech positions.  Coming back to Fayetteville, 5 years later, nothing has changed on that front.  But with this job, we felt like we got to make at least a little difference in some kids’ lives.  We would often work into the morning shift if staff didn’t show up to replace us — both for the overtime as well as for a chance to get to interact with the kids.  The kids kind of viewed the night shift staff the way you might view a cool aunt or uncle.  We didn’t have to lay down the law as much as the other shifts, so we didn’t have as many negative interactions with them.

We also got the chance to see some of the group and milieu therapy sessions when we worked into the morning.  Some of the counselors really impressed me, and they got me thinking about pursuing a career in therapy — something I never would have considered before that job.  And little, by little, Susan and I realized that our path no longer pointed toward Orlando.  Perhaps by passing through one of the saddest places on Earth, we could no longer move on to the happiest.

Eventually, we moved out of Susan’s parents’ house, got our own apartment, complete with utility bills, and we settled in to Fayetteville.  But it didn’t take long for the psych-tech job to do a psych number on us.  I transferred over to serving as the facility chaplain, and Susan quit altogether.  Eventually, I did too.  I moved on to working as a manager at Arby’s, falling back once again on my prodigious food-service experience.

In the spring of 2001, our plans went agley once again when we went with our friend Joe to see the musical he had written undergo a theatrical reading at a symposium at his alma mater.  There we ran into Bill Russell, the Tony nominated lyricist and librettist of the critically acclaimed musical Side Show.  My wife had loved Bill’s show ever since she first listened to the original cast recording several years before.  Susan having introduced the show to me when we first got together, I loved his work as well.  We both felt honored and amazed at meeting such a friendly, talented, supportive, and inspirational figure.

We kept in contact with Bill for months afterward and eventually ended up building his website for him.  In the meantime, Susan fell in love with the concept of working in the musical business on the administrative side.  We considered different options on how to make that happen, but in the end Bill convinced us that the only real choice lay in moving to New York.

So we moved our sights up the Atlantic coast from Orlando to Manhattan.  Our friend Joe also had decided to move to NYC at the same time, so we pooled our resources and pulled up our roots together.  Despite the fact that we found our apartment the same week that the twin towers fell, we decided to stay and make a new life there, proving Burns’ ode to the mouse true yet again.

I give it to you in modern English this time:

But Mousie, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of Mice and Men,
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Well, they didn’t leave me with nothing but grief and pain.  I got a little of the promised joy as well, when I moved to New York.  But I will save that for next time.

Next: Wage Slavery 8: Turning tables in New York

9 responses to this post.

  1. i’ve really been enjoying reading these summaries, though i’m often not sure what to say about them.

    thank you for writing them!


  2. He just took the words right out of my keyboard.


  3. yeah – there’s this blog phenomenon that the more a post reaches someone, the least likely they’ll comment. it seems like i always get props for the stupid s*it i toss up in 15 minutes and the heartful essays get ignored. so i’m breaking the trend….. keep up the memoir, it’s a touching slice of life.


  4. Posted by Rix on 10/26/2007 at 9:42 am

    Thank you guys for all your kind words. You actually gave me the impetus to make time to write this week’s story — even though I wrote it a few days late.


  5. Posted by Idetrorce on 12/15/2007 at 9:39 am

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you


  6. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

    You mean like how shellfish doesn’t agree with you?

    Sorry, Idetrorce, could you vague it up a little more?


  7. Beautifully written explaination of Gang Aft Agley and Auld Lang Syne…well done!


  8. Posted by Antonio Felix on 08/18/2011 at 6:13 am

    Thanks to explain the mining of those sentences, relay help me in my studies
    Thank you for explaining the sense of these sentences (gang aft agley and auld lang syne). It helped me in my studies.

    from the good portugal sun

    Antonio Felix


  9. Posted by Antonio Felix on 08/18/2011 at 6:14 am

    Thank you for explaining the sense of these sentences (gang aft agley and auld lang syne). It helped me in my studies.

    from the good portugal sun

    Antonio Felix


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