A Little Love Note To Strange Workbenches

When I’m turning left like a bouncy-strided NASCAR driver on the track in the local YMCA, I’m not one to steal a glimpse of the women in their workout clothes. Not that I would admit on a blog my wife reads from time to time, anyway. One thing turns my head every time, though: a metal door marked YMCA Staff Only opened to reveal the workshop within.

Beyond that door lies more than a janitorial closet, although certain supplies are stashed within for easy access on the second floor. In addition to those supplies, the shelves contain various and sundry implements to perform the most basic of repairs throughout the facility and upon some of the machines within. Then my long limbs carry me beyond the doorway.

There’s something about a professional workshop that triggers a certain wistfulness within me. Upon each professional’s bench, implements and tools relevant to the job at hand lie within reach according to a logic and preference to the guy doing the job. He’s got the screwdrivers arranged as he uses them and the lead mallet on a shelf where he can grab it on his way to the end of the printing press to pound the empty paper roll from its roller. When I see the workspace, I can almost see myself doing the job, and in that moment, I slightly transcend myself.

I don’t get that sense in an office environment. If you’ve seen one cubicle, you’ve seen them all. Most of the customization from one job to another involves a different desktop wallpaper and set of applications installed upon a computer. A different set of binders on the bookshelf, if any. A different set of photographs or cutesy individual touches.

But workbenches, they have different tools and different things. I’ve worked enough different non-office environments that my different workspaces had a variety of implements. My produce back room had machete-like blades for splitting watermelon, knives for trimming ears of corn, Styrofoam trays for packaging product, and a toolbox containing numbers and signs for pricing. My art store shipping and receiving station had a tape gun for closing boxes, sundry pens for counting products, and trays for packing lists. My print shop workbench contained two bottles of highly caustic cleaners, numerous cans of differently colored soy-based ink, screwdrivers for adjusting wheels and for unlocking plates, and the aforementioned lead mallet along with a poem hanging on the file cabinet for me to memorize for my open mic nights.

Maybe my fascination with workbenches stems from my desire for a lost youth where I worked these jobs and marched ever higher in positions and placements until I broke the barrier into business casual and a career. Maybe I long for those olden days when I made something or moved some physical things every day.

Or, just maybe, they continue to trip my imagination in ways that office-based careers and their environments cannot.

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