Joe by Chelsey Clammer

I like pushing buttons.

I do not like cliché figures of speech.

A song I learned in third grade had a choreographed chicken-like flapping arms dance accompanying it. There was a man in the song, Joe, and his boss tells him one day to turn a button. Not press. But turn.

            How exactly does one turn a button?

            The song:

            “Hello. My name is Joe. I got a wife, three kids and I work in a button factory. One day my boss says to me ‘are you busy?’ I say no. He says ‘turn this button with your right hand,” which was when Joe (us third graders) would start the movement of turning an imaginary button with his right hand. This movement would not cease until the song stopped.

            The song continued:

            “Hello. My name is Joe. I got a wife, three kids and I work in a button factory. One day my boss says to me ‘are you busy?’ I say no. He says ‘turn this button with your left hand,” which was when Joe (us third graders) would start the movement of turning an imaginary button with his left hand. This movement, along with the previously instructed turning of the other button with Joe’s right hand, would not cease until the song stopped.

            No one ever really knew how or when the song would stop.

            “Now turn this button with your left knee.” Then elbows. Then the laughter that always burst in every third grade class when we ran out of appendages with which to turn buttons and so the song continued in a creative way. An absurd way, actually.

            “Now turn this button with your eyelashes.” Then mouth. The nose. Ears were the hardest. Finally, the song would stop when our laughter diminished our ability to turn multiple imaginary buttons. This always happened with “Now turn this button with your bottom.”

            Two points:

  1. What the fuck kind of buttons are they making in this factory?
  2. Why was my third grade teacher making us sing to, dance to and laugh at a song about oppressive hierarchies?
    1. As in: asshole boss who assigns asinine tasks to an employee of whom is most likely underpaid.

We need to cut overhead costs. And since the factory workers appear to be turning buttons instead of making them, we must reduce their pay, as well as the number of employees we have in the button-creation department.

And so the CEO chops off some workers’ heads, forces them to do odd and pointless things, just waiting for production levels to drop due to how the factory workers would fatigue and give up and stop and then be fired because they were not “working hard enough.”

The CEO did not want to pay unemployment.

Thus, fire ‘em.

Joe has a wife and three kids.

When my husband and I lived in a small mountain casino town for nine months, he was receiving fat unemployment checks while I gambled away all of the tips I had made each day from my waitressing gig. Being a person who can get addicted to and fixated on anything that is a noun (in eighth grade I strung together hundreds of pop can tabs I had collected over the year in order to make curtains), gambling became my obsession—the clamor of dings and dongs so exciting, so encouraging to put more money into the slot machine because maybe, just maybe, this time the three red sevens will line up together on the middle line.

            Slot machines no longer have those lever-like handles that you pull down to make the little numbers and symbols spin. Instead, they have buttons.

            I like pushing buttons.

            It is circa-two decades since the last time my third grade class sang and danced and laughed about oppressed factory workers. In the past two-ish decades I have asked my friends if they knew this song. No one has ever answered yes.

Revelation:

My third grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Buttons.

Mrs. Buttons was terribly tyrannical as when the end-of-school bell sounded she would make us stay seated until she said we could leave. Thus, Mrs. Buttons was the first and only teacher I ever flipped off. She didn’t like that. I couldn’t help myself. Her nasally voice and garlic breath and holiday-themed gaudy plastic brooches and blatant annoyance of all of us and obvious hatred for her job really, I mean, like, really, pushed my buttons.

***

tfh chelsey clammer

Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, and The Nervous Breakdown among many others, and has an essay forthcoming in the South Loop Review. She is an award-winning and Pushcart Prize nominated essayist. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. She is also the Nonfiction Editor for The Dying Goose.

Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub, Fall 2014. You can read more of her writing at: http://www.chelseyclammer.com

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