You know how some people get an entry-level job somewhere, doing some simple menial task that doesn’t require much training or education, and through ambition and hard work gradually move up to something better, perhaps even rising to the very top of the organization?
Jason was not one of those people.
He started in the mailroom and stayed there for about ten years. Job openings and other opportunities and other opportunities for advancement came and went and Jason missed them, mostly because he wasn’t interested, and also he was rarely around. A lot of those simple, menial tasks had to be done by other people when they could find the time because Jason wouldn’t do them, or he’d start them and leave them unfinished. No one could tell when he came and went because he brought a radio in with him and would play it while working, but frequently I’d go into the mailroom and find the radio on but no Jason. If he was in there and I had a few minutes I might talk to him a bit, share a joke, say something about the song on the radio. I think Jason’s disappearances and generally not doing his job were allowed to slide because people liked him, and before he was hired we’d been without a regular person in the mailroom for so long that some people had simply absorbed some of the mailroom work into their regular routines so there wasn’t always that much for him to do.
Jason was always upbeat, too. I’d ask him how he was doing and he’d say, “Aw, I can’t complain.”
One day I laughed and said, “You know, I think I’d worry if you could complain.” He glared at me, and that was my first glimpse of a darker side of Jason.
Things started to change. People got annoyed with having to do Jason’s work when things got busy, and when someone needed him to do something they couldn’t necessarily find him. There was an office coffee club–anyone who wanted coffee had to pay to join. It wasn’t much, a couple of bucks a week per person. Jason didn’t join but he was regularly caught getting coffee and only stopped after several warnings. He still didn’t join but always had a cup of coffee when he was around. That mystery was only solved when we all got a message from a department on a different floor that if “we” didn’t stop stealing their coffee they’d call security.
Jason didn’t have coffee anymore, and people stopped doing his work. Then in a meeting to review departmental responsibilities he asked when someone was going to be hired to help him out because he was so overwhelmed.
“You do less than anybody who’s ever worked in the mailroom,” I snapped, and I knew what I was talking about. I’d started in the mailroom.
A decision was made at the upper levels that Jason’s time could be shared with another department, in a job where he’d not only have responsibility but he’d be working as part of a team. When he showed up in the mailroom he was grouchy and was frequently overheard telling delivery people he was being watched over all the time.
Then one Wednesday morning we all got an email that simply said, “Jason has quit.” There was no notice, no warning. No one heard anything from him after that. I feel bad for saying this but I think we were all relieved.
Most people look at graffiti and see a crime. And I understand that. Sometimes, though, when I see something good, something that clearly took thought and effort, I see hard work and ambition. I see–and I realize this is a leap because I don’t know the artists behind most graffiti–someone who’s trying to work their way up to something better. I keep going back to the example of New York in the 1980‘s when city officials saw graffiti as a blight but art collectors and gallery owners saw talented artists who were taking risks because they didn’t have any other outlet. Sometimes when I look at graffiti I read it as a statement by someone who’s got something to complain about.