Tuesday, October 4, 2016

To the Work You Are Entitled, but Not the Fruits Thereof

From those early days of yours in the work force, by which was meant a seven-day-a-week job delivering the Los Angeles Examiner to a route in the mid-Wilshire area of that sprawling city to a final round of jobs as a temporary mail carrier during your last years as an undergraduate, you'd experienced without being aware of it at the time the great bugbear of the working class, which could be expressed as doing more or less the same chore.

You had a splendid clue from your father, who, through no real fault of his own, was toppled from the managerial/ownership tier by the Great Depression. In subsequent years to his topple, you watched him perform at working-class level at a variety of jobs not at all unlike work activities you were later to follow, aware how close you were in temperament to your father without seeing through the veil of culture to the cause.

Later, after the university, while you were pursuing non-working-class activities, you were nevertheless forced by circumstances to consider the occasional working-class job, even brought face-to-face with the temptations of considering it your destiny and possible path to managerial and ownership paths away from your cherished personal goals.  One such moment stands vivid in your memory for its irony, implications, and indications of the cusp you were treading.

You were in a large outdoor patio area in Bel-Air, an upmarket westside neighborhood quite close to the university and cherished by many of its residents precisely because of the thing it was not, which was Beverly Hills, which was regarded as a distinct step downward in culture. 

Bel-Air was carved from the upper embankments of the Santa Monica Mountains.  An individual named John spoke to the assembled group of which you were one, in a slow, deliberate, action verb manner, indicating such things as a tool shed and rest room, the last mention causing a murmur of amusement and perhaps confusion.

You explained to John that he probably would do better by using the words "el bano," which brought a series of nods from others in the group and a frown of concern from John, who wanted to know your name.

When you gave John your name, he consulted a list on a clip board, then frowned yet again, not finding it.  The venue was the home of  a Hollywood producer. Your purpose for being there was different from those to whom John was discussing tool sheds and rooms for resting. Indeed you were offered a bottle of cold Perrier and an explanation that you would be joined in moments by the owner.

You were not surprised at all by the shift in reception. Not six months earlier, you'd appeared at a home being rented by the actor Mickey Rooney, greeted at the door by a woman who handed you a neatly tied bundle of rags from a laundry service, and reminded that Mr. Rooney could not abide the odor of ammonia, thus you were to use only Pine-Sol.

The prospect of performing a series of related tasks according to some system had the same meaning to you as your father, each of you responding to those prospects in a different manner. Neither of you had disdain for work, neither of you believed he should be granted some dispensation from it. You remember once expressing the belief to your father that the worst possible job to have would be a maid in a hotel or motel, likening the prospect to a work-day Sisyphus. 

Your father was sympathetic, but he wondered how many ditches or excavations you'd been tasked with digging or, indeed, how many inventories you'd had to make, particularly inventories of items or components for which you felt no sympathy or interest.

Of the many things he told you to which you soon attached value, "You didn't go to school to learn how to do the same thing the same way, or even the same thing at all."

From time to time your sympathies for working class men and women came in the form of you inventing for fictional ones of your creation various equivalents of the peasant's revolt, in which a ditch digger or motel maid did something different, not for the protest of the work but rather the joy of finding a different form of expression.

One actor you used to work for took you, one morning when you'd arrived early, only to discover him just returning home from a night of roistering, to the side of a long, white stable. "You see that wall?" he accused.  When you nodded, he continued. "We throw performances at that wall, kid. You and me. What sticks to the wall, we use. 

The wall is the same every time. It's the audience. The stuff we throw comes from wherever we happen to grab. If we throw hard enough, something of substance sticks. If not, then we grab another handful and throw some more. The only thing that remains the same is the wall."

You remember that moment for several reasons, one of which was wondering why your professors never spoke in such terms, another reason was understanding perhaps why they didn't. Also at that moment, the actor's mother appeared, a tall, elegant form with long braids of silky gray hair piled in a stately cairn. "Can you gentlemen finish with your mud throwing and come in to breakfast?"

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