Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Let's raise a glass to the hard working people

Out here in Cody Wyoming getting ready to live in the Park this weekend (pray it warms up. There's still snow and ice up there). Came across this beautiful tribute to some working folk from Scranton PA. Click here for the full article by DArt. I reproduce the first half here.

My father’s father worked on the railroad. His name was George. He was a railroad night watchman in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His wife was a homemaker named Helen. His son, my father, was also named George. During the Korean Conflict, my father was stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey. After his service, he married his high school sweetheart, my mother. Her name is Mary. They bought a house in a small New Jersey neighborhood and my father went to work as a butcher.

Grandfather George was more of a local legend for being a lothario. They said he had a different girl at every station along the train route. And, since he was a night watchman, there would always be a dark and empty station house available for a railroad tryst. Grandma Helen probably heard the whispers but she stayed loyal to her man and by the time they were in their sixties, they looked quite similar to each other and died in the same year.

My mother’s father worked in coal mines throughout the Wyoming Valley on the Susquehanna River just southwest of Scranton, Pennsylvania. His name was Adelbert but everyone knew him as George. He died of Black Lung, his father worked in the coal mines and died of Black Lung as did his father’s father. His wife, my grandmother, was a homemaker named Veronica. Her daughter, my mother, was also a homemaker.

Grandpa Adelbert was a renowned drinker. At the end of a very long week of working twelve hour days, he would stop in the local beer garden and do his best to drink up his entire paycheck. The bar was filled to capacity with coal miners of Easter European decent, black from head to toe with coal dust, drinking to forget and drinking to celebrate living to see another day and another chance to go into that deep black hole and earn more money.

My grandmother would show up at the same hour every week, long after he was too drunk to notice, boldly walk into the men-only establishment and steal the balance of the money right out of his pocket so she would have something left to pay the rent and put food on the table.

The previous five paragraphs may be the only thing ever written about them. They never won any awards; they never held any positions of power. They got up early every morning, worked hard all day, soothed their aching muscles and licked their wounds in the evening, and slept the sleep of the just every night. There wasn’t an intellectual, mathematician, poet, philosopher, or artist among them.

These are my people
the salt of the ea

Lets drink copy 2

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I just finished a job for a friend. The job was to create an illustration of an old truck. He happens to be very wealthy, lives in a mansion, and has a stable of a dozen different high-end automobiles. And yet, he doesn’t “hire” me for these jobs, he always approaches me with, “Could you do me a favor. It won’t take you long.” These are the words every artist dreads.

It took me about eight hours – all in. The bill would have come to over $500. Instead, he graciously gives me a gift certificate to a fine restaurant in the amount of $100 and walks away feeling as if he did me a favor.

For dinner, my wife and I had two appetizers and two entrees. We both drank water. There was no coffee or desert. The bill came to $120 plus a $25 tip. So, it cost me $45 out of pocket to have a reasonable meal for two at this restaurant. Wouldn’t you think he would know this and make the gift certificate for at least $150?

The atmosphere in the restaurant was:
If I can afford to eat here,
I must be doing well.

The other diners were all in their fifties and sixties. The men all wore the same uniform: khaki shorts, collar tee shirt, docksiders—no socks, and either a necklace or bracelet or ring-on-a-finger-you-don’t-normally-see-a-ring-on. I counted eight men within my view, and they all wore that exact outfit.

From the table next to us, a tall guy in his fifties with a full head of gray hair was expounding on the night he and his buddy beat up two bouncers at a club in the city. He spoke loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear, “So I took his fuckin’ head and boom! I smashed it into the sidewalk and busted his nose. There was blood everywhere. Meanwhile, my buddy smashed the other guy’s face into a telephone pole.” The other three at his table erupted in laughter and his wife seemed very proud. This was delightful conversation to have to listen to as you eat a rare steak.

It wasn’t just him, though. This restaurant permeated that self-important attitude that I’ve come to despise. When did they acquire this sense of entitlement? I wondered if things had gone differently in my life and I had made a lot of money or wanted to appear as if I had, could I wear the appropriate uniform and sport a pinky ring as big as a walnut? Could I tell stories aloud that made me sound like a badass and not care whose dinner I interrupted? Could I look down my nose at the one couple who didn’t seem to fit in?

Could I be one of them?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *


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