“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”
Image: Modern Toss, New Scientist
“Holy crap. Perhaps a U.S. Senator shouldn’t suggest that the Russian military is better than the American military that protected him from an insurrection he helped foment?”
“We can’t even imagine the thinking behind Gov. Abbott’s callous decision to strip the remaining federal unemployment insurance benefits out of the pockets of Texas working families. If he took the time or had any interest in understanding the challenges working people face, Gov. Abbott would see clearly that folks across Texas desperately need these funds as they try to navigate their way through the economic carnage of the pandemic.”
Rick Levy, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, reacting to Gov. Abbott’s decision to opt out of federal unemployment benefits extensions
“The Big Pharma fairy tale is one of groundbreaking R&D that justifies astronomical prices. But the pharma reality is that you spend most of your company’s money making money for yourself and your shareholders.”
During the U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing, Porter also declared, “You lie to patients when you charge them twice as much for an unimproved drug, and then you lie to policymakers when you tell us that R&D justifies those price increases.”
Gonzalez’s 2020 total compensation topped USD 24 million.
A sign of hope for America.
Things are beginning to return to the way they were. At least for me. I found Lysol® at the store last week! It’s a small – yet strangely ridiculous – sign of hope. Maybe not so much strange as pathetic. I mean, are things really so out of whack that we get excited about Lysol and toilet paper?
Last year started off rough for me, when my mother suffered a debilitating stroke. I reluctantly had to place her in a rehabilitation facility to help her heal. Her dementia only intensified matters. Then the pandemic hit. And then the facility practically evicted her in May of 2020 because her Medicare benefits expired. She finally passed at the end of June.
The stress of caring for both of my elderly parents for so long seemed to hit afterwards as my body and mind almost completely collapsed. In the midst of a global plague, I naturally thought I had “The Virus”. But it was just that relentless stress. I already knew its effects from life in the working world. Yet I’d never felt it so personally.
Alas, the U.S. economy is regaining strength, for which conservatives are crediting Donald Trump. But those of us with more than a few brain cells know Trump’s actions and behavior throughout his thankfully single term in office traumatized the American psyche and steered our financial situation into greater distress.
We finally have a president, though, who know how to act…well, presidential! Joe Biden may be an old codger, but as someone rapidly headed towards 60, I’d rather have an old man who knows how to govern than a failed businessman / tax cheat / cretin of a human being who brags about fondling women and holds up a bible like it’s a copy of Mein Kompf for a cheap photo op.
Earlier this week I started working on a temporary job – one that requires me to actually get into my truck and drive to an office building in a neighboring suburb. Aside from having to wear a face mask whenever I leave my desk, it’s a rather normal and ordinary corporate environment. Oddly, it feels good to go somewhere other than a store or a restaurant during the week.
Some other things, however, remain troublesome. Like its owner, my 15-year-old vehicle is showing its age. I really think it just wants to lead a life of its own – much like my body. Unfortunately, I’ve gained too much weight over the past several months. I believe that’s a recurring problem. But rotund physiques have become a common sight here in the U.S. If I’d known better, I would have invested in sweat pants years ago!
Regardless, I still see hope on the horizon of mediocre. Now, I must do some sit-ups and enjoy spraying that Lysol.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
Those of us who served time in the corporate working world are all too familiar with the often-loathsome office party – the annual end-of-the-year gathering where coworkers pretend they’ve loved spending so much of their time throughout the year with one another. One good thing about working freelance is that I’ve been able to avoid such mundane bacchanalias. But 2020 has allowed many in the workforce to evade the antics of business life.
At the end of 1999, executives at the bank in Dallas where I worked conjured up the bright idea of staging quarterly workplace assemblages to encourage team building. This was also when the idiotic concept of multi-tasking had become forcibly fashionable. In January of 2000, we were to gather at a restaurant / gaming house to have dinner and then engage in some kind of laser tag amusement. Since it took place after work, I informed my manager and constituents I could not make it; that it would cut into my free time, which would only serve to aggravate me and not make me love them any more than I already didn’t. I wasn’t the only one with the same sentiment. In April we took off in the middle of the day to patronize…a bowling alley. I absolutely HATE bowling. Like golf, I don’t consider anything near a sport. Any activity where people dress up in ugly slacks or short pants and consume alcohol at the same time isn’t a sport! But, as Gloria Gaynor once bellowed, I survived.
In July, we gathered after work for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. Afterwards, we were to stroll to a local movie theatre and watch “The Perfect Storm”, which had just been released. I had already read the book of the same name written by Sebastian Junger. I would have liked to see the movie, but not right then, seated alongside my coworkers. Besides, dinner and a movie doesn’t sound like a team-building exercise; it sounds more like a date. Again I expressed myself and didn’t go to the movie, even though the bank was paying for it.
The following month all hell seemed to break loose, when the bank underwent a major management rearrangement and several mid-level managers (including mine) had their jobs eliminated. So much for team-building!
Photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager obviously comprehends the uncomfortable nature of the dreaded office party and has captured its mendacity in a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” pays homage to the drudgery of the working world and the demands it often imposes upon its minions who often spend more time at work than at home. The exhibit features about a dozen sculptures that look eerily like real people when photographed. They’re bizarre moments of debauchery and stupidity perpetrated under the guise of workplace camaraderie. It’s a little bit of “The Poseidon Adventure” (a New Year’s party wrecked by a rogue wave) mixed with “Die Hard” (an office Christmas party ravaged by well-dressed terrorists).
Regardless, the images are certain to bring tears and/or smiles to many and a general sense of, “Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that shit anymore!”
“Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having except as a result of hard work.”
– Booker T. Washington
“Dare to be honest and fear no labour.”
– Robert Burns
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
– Maya Angelou
“No human masterpiece has been created without great labour.”
– Andre Gide
“If all the cars in the United States were placed end-to-end, it would probably be Labor Day weekend.”
– Doug Larson
“Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them.”
– Joseph Joubert
“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”
– Samuel Gompers
“I believe that summer is our time, a time for the people, and no politician should be allowed to speak to us during the summer. They can start again after Labor Day.”
– Lewis Black
“Before the reward, there must be labor. You plant before harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.”
– Ralph Ransom
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”
– Albert Einstein
“Work is no disgrace; the disgrace is idleness.”
– Greek Proverb
“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“A man is not paid for having a head and hands, but for using them.”
– Elbert Hubbard
“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the lines between work and play.”
– Arnold J. Toynbee
“It is labor indeed that puts the difference on everything.”
– John Locke
“As we celebrate Labor Day, we honor the men and women who fought tirelessly for workers’ rights, which are so critical to our strong and successful labor force.”
– Elizabeth Esty
“I’ve heard of nothing coming from nothing, but I’ve never heard of absolutely nothing coming from hard work.”
– Uzo Aduba
“Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”
– Michelle Obama
“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
– Vince Lombardi
“Though you can love what you do not master, you cannot master what you do not love.”
– Mokokoma Mokhonoana
“Work isn’t to make money; you work to justify life.”
– Marc Chagall
“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and – above all – don’t let anyone limit your dreams.”
– Donovan Bailey
Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me. It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas. I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001. But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day! Wow! The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life. A lifetime ago.
And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then. Both society and me. I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990. I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since. I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore. I’m just reflecting. I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often. I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.
It makes me recall how my parents often did the same. ‘It’s been how long?!’ I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016. Now, I find myself doing the same.
I’m certainly not upset about it. I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors. That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone. The alternative is not as attractive.
After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years. Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago. My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters. After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”
Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”
“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”
Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled. Even the priest laughed, she told us.
My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”
For me, those “little things” have added up.
A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work. They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution. I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues. One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time. Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic. I laughed. It didn’t make me feel old. I realized immediately it was just progress. But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner. I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE. I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room. Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder. I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.” And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.
In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.
“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me. “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.
Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them. Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her. Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing. Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family). My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten. He grew to like them, especially my father. I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company. On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.
I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.
“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.
“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.
While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other. Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not. I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did. Within no more than a moment, the two were playing. Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates! They got along very well.
At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard. He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018. I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.
“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised. As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer. I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something. “Work hard and play hard, yes. You’re young. There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women. Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking. You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”
Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing. But I feel Andy understood how serious I was. I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog. He had to think for a moment, before he finally did. “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”
He asked me what had become of him. I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening. I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.
Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry. His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man. Sorry to hear that. I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”
“No,” I answered. “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.” No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected. When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise. It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it. I could understand. We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.
Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education. I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return. I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.
About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time. She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor. I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble. “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said. “It just does. You realize you want to do more things.” I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.
Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.
“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.” But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it. As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20. Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way. I let life keep getting in the way.
It’s a curious sensation, though. Life is now coming full circle. And it actually feels pretty good.