Shitty jobs that don’t exist

I don’t think we can ful­ly under­stand the appeal Trump with­out real­iz­ing just how shit­ty life has become for a lot of work­ing class white men and their fam­i­lies. Sta­ble, hon­est union jobs just don’t exist any­more. It wasn’t so long ago that you could grad­u­ate high school, work hard, and have a good life with a rancher and two cars in the dri­ve­way. You weren’t liv­ing large but you had enough for a Dis­ney vaca­tion every cou­ple of years and a nice TV on the liv­ing room wall. For a lot of work­ing class fam­i­lies, that just doesn’t exist any­more. Now it’s astro­nom­i­cal cred­it card deb­its, defaults on mort­gages, divorces from the stress. Sav­ing for the kids’ col­lege or for retire­ment is just a joke. It’s easy to get nos­tal­gic for what’s been lost.

A few years ago I wrote about the time when I worked the night shift at the local super­mar­ket. The old­er guys there had decent-enough sta­ble jobs they had worked at for twen­ty years, but for the younger guys, the super­mar­ket was just anoth­er tem­po­rary stop in a never-ending rota­tion of shit jobs. Some­times it’d be pump­ing gas overnight hop­ing you wouldn’t get shot. Oth­er times it’d be work­ing the box store hop­ing some ran­dom man­ager didn’t fire you because he didn’t like the way you look. A lot just didn’t last at any job.

There was a small core of long-time night­shift crew mem­bers and a revolv­ing door of new hires. Some of the new peo­ple last­ed only a day before quit­ting and some a week or two, but few remained longer. Many of the­se tem­po­rary employ­ees were poster chil­dren for the tragedies of mod­ern twenty-something man­hood (night crews were almost all male). One twenty-something white guy was just back from Iraq; he shout­ed to him­self, shot angry looks at us, and was full of jerky, twitchy move­ments. We all instinc­tive­ly kept our dis­tance. Over one lunch break, he opened up enough to admit he was on pro­ba­tion for an unspec­i­fied offense and that loss of this job would mean a return to pris­on. When he dis­ap­peared after two weeks (pre­sum­ably to jail), we were all vis­i­bly relieved. (Our fears weren’t entire­ly unfound­ed: a night crew mem­ber from a near­by ShopRite helped plan the 2007 Fort Dix ter­ror­ist plot.)

Anoth­er co-worker last­ed a bit longer. He was old­er and calmer, an African Amer­i­can man in his late for­ties who biked in. I liked him and dur­ing breaks, we some­times talked about God. One frosty morn­ing, he asked if I could give him a lift home. As he gave direc­tions down a par­tic­u­lar road, I thought­less­ly said, “Oh so you live back past Anco­ra,” refer­ring to a locally-notorious state psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. He paused a moment before qui­et­ly telling me that Anco­ra was our des­ti­na­tion and that he lived in its halfway house for vets in recov­ery. Despite the insti­tu­tion­al sup­port, he too was gone after about a mon­th.

The reg­u­lars were more sta­ble, but even they were sus­cep­ti­ble to the tec­ton­ic shifts of the mod­ern work­force. There was a time not so long ago when some­one could grad­u­ate high school, work hard, be depend­able, and earn a decent working-class liv­ing. My shift man­ager was only a few years old­er than me, but he owned a house and a depend­able car, and he had the night­shift lux­u­ry of being able to attend all of his son’s Lit­tle League games. But that kind of job was dis­ap­pear­ing. Few new hires were offered full-time work any­more. The new jobs were part-time, short-term, and throw-away. Even the more sta­ble “part-timers” drift­ed from one drea­ry, often dan­ger­ous, job to the next.

You can read the whole piece here:

To be clear: I don’t think Trump him­self real­ly gives a crap about the­se peo­ple. As I said yes­ter­day, he’s all about him­self and his fel­low rich New York­ers. The mil­lions of peo­ple who vot­ed for him most­ly got suck­ered. That’s just how Trump works. He suck­ers, he raids, he bank­rupts, then he moves on (see: Atlantic City). Eight years from now our coun­try will be tee­ter­ing in bank­rupt­cy again, but that’s not the point, not real­ly, not now at least. The Amer­i­can Dream real­ly has dis­ap­peared for a lot of peo­ple. They’d like to see Amer­i­can made great again.

The Messy Work Begins

One of the take­aways of this elec­tion this is that we’ve all siloed our­selves away in our self-selected Face­book feeds. We lis­ten to most our news and hang out pri­mar­i­ly with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any heal­ing will be open­ing up those feeds and doing the messy work of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with peo­ple who have strong­ly dif­fer­ent opin­ions. That means real­ly respect­ing the world­view peo­ple are shar­ing (and that’s as hard for me as for any­one) and lis­ten­ing through to emo­tions and life expe­ri­ences that have brought peo­ple into our lives. Basic lis­ten­ing tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If some­one with less priv­i­lege tells you they’re scared, con­sid­er they might have a valid con­cern and don’t inter­rupt or tell them they’re being alarmist. 

But all this also means apol­o­giz­ing and for­giv­ing each oth­er and being okay with a high lev­el of messi­ness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opin­ion pre­vail and that’s okay. We are all in this togeth­er.

Throwback from 2005: “Aggregating Our Webs

One of the first iterations of QuakerQuaker, from January 2006.
One of the first iter­a­tions of Quak­erQuak­er, from Jan­u­ary 2006.

Look­ing back at a 2005 post that start­ed to lay out what was to become Quak­erQuak­er:

May­be the web’s form of hyper­link­ing is actu­ally supe­rior to Old Media pub­lish­ing. I love how I can put for­ward a strong vision of Quak­erism with­out offend­ing any­one – any put-off read­ers can hit the “back” but­ton. And if a blog I read posts some­thing I don’t agree with, I can sim­ply choose not to com­ment. If life’s just too busy then I just miss a few weeks of posts. With my “Sub­jec­tive Guide to Quak­er Blogs” and my “On the Web” posts I high­light the blog­gers I find par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, even when I’m not in per­fect the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty. I like that I can have dis­cus­sions back and forth with Friends who I don’t exact­ly agree with.

Remembering it’s an honor just to be read

Strange moment this morn­ing when I checked my blog stats and real­ized that I get a fair amount of traf­fic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was check­ing the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future con­tent on Friends Jour­nal or Quak­er­S­peak and for that pur­pose the review’s pop­u­lar­i­ty with Google (and read­ers) isn’t that use­ful.

But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for key­words and I don’t want to dom­i­nate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impres­sions that attract a small audi­ence, then my blog post is a suc­cess. A dozen or so ran­dom peo­ple a mon­th Google in to spend a cou­ple of min­utes read­ing my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of tar­get­ing and SEO we some­times for­get that it’s an hon­or to sim­ply be read.

The oth­er night stayed up late to cud­dled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pon­dered the clich­es in the show­er the next morn­ing. Boil­ing the­se impres­sions down into 500 words on a train com­mute would be easy enough. I should do it more.

Up Into The Cherry Tree

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Vers­es

My moth­er died a few days ago. While I’m over­whelmed with the mes­sages of prayers and con­do­lences, at least at some lev­el it feels like cheat­ing to accept them too ful­ly. This isn’t a new con­di­tion. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.

A lit­tle over five years ago my moth­er was for­mal­ly diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the test­ing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared sce­nar­io for aging. Grow­ing up, we had befriend­ed an active elder­ly neigh­bor who had gen­tly died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Gold­smith had come to her in a dream the next night to con­grat­u­late her­self, say­ing “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years after­wards, my moth­er con­vinced her­self that she would go in a sim­i­lar­ly ele­gant way.

My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a pos­si­bil­i­ty when she sched­uled that doctor’s vis­it. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­i­ly. I had been jok­ing for years that my mom seemed to have only twen­ty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had brave­ly bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeat­ed­ly, that she would be leav­ing it “in a box.” Caulk­ing trim, replac­ing win­dows, and trou­bleshoot­ing a mud room leak that defied a dozen con­trac­tors became her occu­pa­tion, along with vol­un­teer­ing and watch­ing grand­kids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.

When she called to tell me the diag­no­sis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doc­tor was putting her on Ari­cept. A quick Google search con­firmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doc­tor lat­er that after­noon helped map out the road ahead.

Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been dis­ap­pear­ing from us for a long while. Reg­u­lar out­ings became less fre­quent till we couldn’t even take her out to a near­by restau­rant for her birth­day. As words dis­ap­peared and speech began fal­ter­ing, I’d show her recent kid pho­tos on my phone and tell sto­ries to fill the emp­ty­ing space. Even­tu­al­ly she stopped show­ing inter­est even in this. On my last reg­u­lar vis­it with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun tak­ing pic­tures. Mom kept point­ing out at the phone’s dis­play as if it were a mir­ror. But con­ver­sa­tion was too dis­joint­ed and after a few min­utes, my kids start­ed wan­der­ing in ever widen­ing cir­cles look­ing for inter­est­ing but­tons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.

In the past few weeks her for­get­ful­ness has extend­ed to eat­ing and swal­low­ing. Inter­ven­tion would only buy a lit­tle more time until she for­got how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.

On my last few vis­its she was most­ly sleep­ing. She’s was calm, preter­nat­u­ral­ly calm. Lying on her back, pale and peace­ful, she looked as if she might already be a body rest­ing in a cas­ket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if bare­ly. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there. Some peo­ple are good in the­se kinds of sit­u­a­tions, but I self-consciously strug­gle. With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion, I struck on the idea of read­ing from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on count­less nights as a child.  “Up into the cher­ry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pic­tured the cher­ry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be togeth­er.

The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For rea­sons that go deep into biog­ra­phy, she was a won­der­ful­ly friend­ly per­son who didn’t have a lot of close friends any­more. It seems pecu­liar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so peo­ple notice your depar­ture. But then may­be that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eight­ies. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of qui­et rip­ples with which we entered.

Liz (Betsy) Klein(top) aka Mom

My mom Liz just passed away tonight. It’s not unex­pect­ed. And sad­ly, given her health, it’s per­haps not even so trag­ic; she’s been declin­ing for years from Alzheimer’s and all but stopped eat­ing in recent weeks. I’m sure I’ll find voice to tell some sto­ries in the months ahead, but for now I’ll share some pic­tures. She would have turned 85 next mon­th.

A note about names: she was born in late sum­mer 1930 as Eliz­a­beth Ann Klein­top. In her adult life she went as Bet­sy and took the last names of her part­ners. In her late 60s she decid­ed to take back a vari­a­tion of her last name and overnight Bet­sy Kel­ley became Liz Klein.