They say you can’t truly understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. Last week, I’d have been happy to let somebody walk a mile in my shoes, even if it meant I never got the shoes back.
This was the first full week of my new job, which I will endeavor to explain without too many technical details. Every year, without fail, kids go off to college and think, “Instead of doing something lucrative like construction work or garbage collection, I wish to pursue a liberal arts degree, and I am in a whimsically impractical mood today so I shall major in music.” They must choose a primary instrument, and most schools will make them learn a secondary instrument as well, so that they graduate with marginally more marketable skills than just being able to play the oboe really well. They take lessons in both of these instruments. While some of their music can be played unaccompanied, most of it has a piano part (or in many cases, an orchestra part that has been reduced down to a piano score since symphony orchestras are so impractical to fit into most practice rooms).
That’s where I come in. I’m filling in this semester for a staff accompanist who is on sabbatical, and my job is to play for 25 students at their lessons, rehearse with them as needed, and perform with them for their recitals and juries (the performance equivalent of a final exam at the end of the term). Practicing for all of this is done on my own time, as is the inevitable paperwork and email that comes with any job which is affected by 25 complicated student schedules.
As it turns out, getting started with a job like this is rather more complicated than I thought. There is a vast mountain of paperwork that must be filled out, and every department which urgently requires my signature seems to be in a different building. Things came to a head last Tuesday when I marched onto campus in high dudgeon over a parking ticket I’d received the day before. Unless they were deliberately making their maps unclear to mess with the freshmen (including secretly calling the parallel parking on one side of the main parking lot by a different name and then not posting a sign labeling it as such), I had gotten a parking ticket in error, and I wasn’t about to pay 15 bucks for it. It was the Principle of the Thing.
So I decided to use just a few minutes (foreshadowing here, don’t miss it) of my first practice session of the day for paperwork. Drop off new contract – check! See, that was fast! I was pretty close to my car, which I’d parked in a metered spot on the street since I’d been in a hurry that morning, so I decided to move it to a campus parking lot and avoid a ticket from the city police. Found a spot – no problem! Now to walk back across campus to check in with campus security and figure out what the heck this ticket was all about.
I walked into their office, head held high and skirt swishing indignantly, and explained that of course I did not need to pay this since I had in fact been parked in a legal spot. (And quietly hoped very hard that this was true.) Much confusion ensued. I had a Music department permit – well, yes, shouldn’t I, since I’m in the music department? They can only park in certain spaces – yes, but there are only two of them and they’re reserved for out-of-town professors, which is why I paid for a general parking permit (I did not say, “Duhhh”, but I thought it). It eventually turned out that I had been given a music parking permit in error, completely independently of my online application for a general parking permit, which they could not locate in their files. I did not swear at them. I am proud of this.
The eventual result of the mass confusion was that I had to walk back across campus and see if I still had my temporary permit – I did not, since I had very responsibly pitched it into the nearest recycle bin as soon as I got my REAL parking permit (which was, of course, the wrong one). So I had to move my car again, and found a spot in the free 2-hour parking on the street. This would have been fine, except that I was going to be on campus for five more hours.
Walked back. Played for student lessons. Walked to the music workroom to get my music prepped for my binder. Walked to another building for more lessons. Walked back to the music workroom to get music out of my mailbox. Walked to the HR department for more paperwork. Walked across campus to move my car yet again. Drove it back to the metered parking, gave it my last dime, and walked back to my office, upstairs, downstairs, to the next building, upstairs again, downstairs again, took the shortcut across the darkened stage and did not fall off into the orchestra pit – hurrah!
By the end of the day, I was officially hired, made it on time to all my rehearsals, had all my music prepped and in my binder, did not get any parking tickets, and kept all my cussing safely in the privacy of my own head. But honey, I was tired.
So if anyone ever wants to truly understand me and walk a mile in my shoes, I will give this bit of advice: Pick a day when I’m not wearing ballet flats.