If there's one thing that characterizes Eugene, it's a piss-poor labor market. I've heard that there's 11 applications for every professional job here, not to mention a glut of degrees being churned out by the local institution of higher education. So arriving in 1996 (with a vague idea about wanting to attend graduate school "later"), I had to find work. My first attempt at working was going door-to-door "for the environment" as an OSPIRG canvasser. I wasn't very good at it. I dreaded cold-knocking on doors and hitting people up for cash. I lasted three days, although those three days introduced me to some crazy friends.
My poor first try at post-college made me reassess my life in Eugene by making money the old fashioned way: hawking parking lot items at Phish shows across the country. When I returned to Eugene a month and a half later, a friend of mine had taken a job as the HR person for an agency which ran group homes for people with developmental disabilities. My job was to pretty much helping people with their day to day lives for three straight days, sleeping overnight on-site. Fairly mellow stuff - a little dramatic with the clients, but not taxing work. Nor did it pay well, and we weren't treated particularly well by the bosses, but that's a story for down the road. I will say that the group home scene in Eugene was an odd mix of people. With the minimum work requirements being a high school diploma and a clean criminal record, you came across a wide swath of low-income Eugene/Springfield. I met a good chunk of the radical scene through working in group homes - folks who would work three days a week in town at a group home and then live in a tree for the next three days, with a "day off" wedged between. I met a lot of tweakers, including one woman who always worked the night shift. She had the typical shrunken head look of a crank fiend, and would always ask us if she could take the five-gallon buckets in which we bought laundry detergent.
I saw some really bizarre shit working in that business. There was one client who, every day, we would have to comb his apartment from top to bottom to make sure there was nothing there - staples, loose paper, anything - that he would eat. This person had eaten part of his couch before. And the leather uppers of a basketball shoe. Another client was perhaps the sweetest woman ever, who loved to kick back with Hamm's beer and grunt "party," but because of her experience in the state institution, she freaked out when it was time to be showered. On at least four separate occasions that I can recall, I had glass bowls that she had launched narrowly miss my head.
I had a client miss the bus and try to drive his battery-operated wheelchair down the freeway to get home.
I worked in the field for five years. An important five years, to be sure, but I wasn't sad to leave it to return to graduate school in 2001.
Labels: leaving Eugene, literary relocation blogging