Sunday, March 08, 2015

It Could Be Worse


A rant about the dreariness of labor – but first the news

The Deal with Iran

Roger Cohen at the New York Times argues persuasively and intelligently in favor of Obama’s deal with the Iranians. Charles Krauthammer at the National Review argues with equal intelligence in favor of Netanyahu’s rejection of that same plan.

This point and counterpoint is very satisfying to me. I agree with Roger Cohen and support the deal, but the vigorous opposition is not right-wing raving, but a sensible alternative.  Both choices can be well-received.

Deborah Lipstadt in the Jewish Daily Forward 

Liptstadt details an intelligent response to Islamic rampages in Europe. ….. Again, it is satisfying, even comforting, when someone can explains things clearly and name things truly.

My pal Harvey Blume talks about the dreary possibility of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He discusses various alternatives….. We so desperately long for these alternatives – well, I do, and Harvey seems to feel that way too….. Can we at least consider Bernie Sanders?

Elephants in the Circus and Elephants on the Table in Zimbabwe

We hear that the Ringling Brothers circus will retire their performing elephants and send them back to the farm in Florida. This is a good thing. We know and love elephants because of the circus – so many of us, our parents and grandparents too, saw the prancing pachyderms and gazed in wonder. That was the beginning of our education – in knowing the ways of these enormous beasts -- that they like peanuts, and that they have long memories.

Having been educated at the circus and at the zoo, we can move up to a higher level of care and retire the elephants to a savannah-park.

Eating Elephants in Zimbabwe.  However, there is a degree of cultural assertion in our objection to the consumption of elephant meat in Zimbabwe.  We need to make a distinction. Robert Mugabe, the lifelong tyrant and cruel ruler of Zimbabwe is guilty of many crimes against humanity and nature. We despise his despotism, but the consumption of elephant meat at his birthday feast is a matter of no concern – not to the people of Zimbabwe, who have been killing and eating elephants for thousands of years.

Dwell on that thought for a moment – African people live among large mammals, and have lived among large mammals since the beginning of time.  They sometimes hunt and kill these animals, and consume them -- the giraffe, the hippo, the crocodile, the kudu, the impala -- such a rich variety of game, including the elephant
The poaching and slaughter of elephants for their ivory is an international crime. That’s the problem. That is our legitimate concern……. But it kind of bothers me that Mugabe slaughters thousands of his people and oppresses millions of his people and nobody pays attention. Then he eats a baby elephant and we are outraged.
The consumption of nyamandlovu is the least of his crimes. “Nyama” means meat in the Ndebele language of Zimbabwe. “Ndlovu” means elephant. So put them together and you have “nyamandlovu” which is elephant meat. What do you think they do with a slaughtered elephant – let the huge creature to rot in the sun? No, it is consumed.
Ndlovu is a common surname in Zimbabwe, so we will meet a Mr. Ndlovu – or Mr. Elephant as we translate his name. We will meet Mr. Mkomo, or Mr. Cow. We will meet Mrs. Ncube, which is Mrs. Monkey….. This is quite charming, and noble.
So let us retire the circus elephants to the farm in Florida. Let us support a boycott of all ivory products. Let us travel to Africa and go on safari and view these magnificent creatures in their home territory. And let us pray for the end of Mugabe’s reign – may he rot in hell!
It Could Be Worse
I am not ranting about my crummy job in particular – it is no worse than yours. I am crying out on behalf of all of us – these are the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau warned us about. The common drudgery. The bleakness of labor….. This is for my daughter who commutes an hour each way every day, slogging through traffic in Seattle. This is for my son who endured more than a year of part-time hell as a clerk at Barnes & Noble. This is for all of you who know what I am talking about.
Looking back on --- I can't call it a career, but looking back on some forty years in the workforce, starting with my first after-school job at Del Dotto's grocery store, leading up to my current position at Oscar's greenhouse, I must say it's been basically one crummy job after another. A lot of boring jobs that never paid well. I did not succeed, or earn top dollar or get any satisfaction -- with a few exceptions. I mean, there were a few bright spots -- but for the most part it was, and still is, routine drudgery for a few dollars.

One Facebook friend talks about his good union job and how other guys were fools to work under the table all those years because they have no pension now.... I reply to his boast --- that good union jobs were not simply available for the asking. They were few and far between and some of us worked under the table because that was all we could get...... The only union job I ever had was at Cascade Cannery, and it paid well, but that union was busted and that cannery was closed.

It doesn't matter. I can say what I want. I worked for a living and I earned every dollar.

I started several businesses, for the dubious pleasure of being my own boss. Each time I lost money. Turns out I had no talent for such occupation.

Actually I did well at work. It just wasn't any fun. Maybe that's why they call it work..... that reminds me of that old hippie saying "Do what you love and the money will follow." Not true. Nobody ever paid me to do what I love. They paid me to do something they wanted me to do, and they didn't really care if I loved doing it or not, as long as I did it........ And nobody ever "gave me a job." There was no gift involved, it was always and simply a deal, a mutual agreement to exchange labor for money -- and if both parties are satisfied, then it is a kindness, but not an obligation, to thank the other party.

I enjoyed working as a reporter for the Wilson County News in 2005-2007, and I enjoyed working at Hedlin's produce market in 2010..... Those two jobs come to mind as quite satisfying in that I looked forward to coming to work every day. But that’s two jobs over forty years in the work force…..a dismal record.

It cheers me up quite a bit to report this bad news. The embrace of reality can be quite satisfying.

What is the point of me telling this story about my work experience – to gain sympathy? No, I am sharing this story because it is so common. Many of you will report the same thing. Many of you will report a regime of drudgery and boredom. So I am speaking for you, not for myself.

You do hear of work satisfaction – I have heard this most often from teachers, who seem to be astonished by how much they love their work. But I have heard much less of this from other people. You hear from architects who occasionally get a creative assignment, but who spend of most of their days sucking up to unfeeling clients with no taste. You hear from lawyers whose clients do not seek justice – they seek revenge and they are willing to pay for that revenge.

You hear from farmers who worked themselves to exhaustion and lost the farm anyway. You hear from women who were abused on the job….. That is something that mercifully passed me by. I was always treated fair enough. I was never mocked or insulted, or forced to perform a dangerous function. I can think of no employer who cheated me out of promised wages.

And I am grateful to be part of this great American dream in that at least I made enough money to put a roof over my head and feed my family and have some access to health care and good schools for my children. Yes, it was drudgery, but we still had the weekend. We still had fun and ate well enough.

It wasn’t so bad after all. But there was no zinger either, no prize, no parade, no bonus, no round of applause….. it was just a matter of showing up, show up on time and sober, and if you don’t show up, someone else will.  The understanding is that you can easily be replaced.

One job comes to mind, in the late summer of 1983, at LeFeber Bulb Co. in Mount Vernon, a farm that grew daffodils bulbs for harvest and sale. In August they dug up the bulbs and brought them to a processing shed….. That’s where we worked, in the shed….. They fed the bulbs into a machine that shook and rattled and sorted the bulbs according to size….. My job was to stand at the end of the chute and gather the bulbs into a burlap sack. When the sack was full, tie it up and place it on the pallet. Same job, all day long, Next day, same job, all day long.

But there is one saving grace to farm labor, because after a few weeks, the bulb harvest was done and that particular boring, dusty job was finished until next year, and the farm crew moved onto some other equally brain-dead task…. Side benefits – we enjoyed working in the fresh air, and Jim LeFeber was a pretty nice guy to work for. So it was not any kind of hell, just working day drudgery.

It could be worse.

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Fred Owen

Fred Owens
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My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
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