The Work

I have worked all my adult life, beginning with that first job, at a Burger Chef, while I was in high school. After flippin’ the burgers for awhile, I did the bag boy thing at an A&P, where I moved into the big time of running a cash register.

One high school summer I did an  internship in an office at the Louisiana State Capitol.

Then moving on to LSU, I did part-time gigs: selling ladies shoes, dippin’ ice cream at a little off-campus storefront from which I got fired for leaving the doors open one night; also, servicing vending machines at the Student Union building in between classes and chairing a committee of the student Union.

As chairman of the student National Speakers committee (a freebie job, but great experience), I introduced Dr. Benjamin Spock and comedian-activist Dick Gregory to our assembled student/faculty audiences. After that, the Young Republicans complained about the lefty speakers with no conservative balance. They wanted somebody to represent their side. I told them that was understandable, but we had, alas, blown the budget on Spock and Gregory. I told them we could go halfsies on paying William Buckley, if they could get him for us, which they did. I always thought that was mighty civil of them; maybe that’s why I’m a Republican today.

I have fond memories of that time, which include hearing Dr. Spock talking about two Maoist girls who heckled him on some other campus somewhere, and Dick Gregory requesting a bowl of fruit be delivered to his hotel room and then making people laugh at his speech later but then impressing upon them the urgency of our racial problems. Then there was meeting Bill Buckley at the airport, escorting him to his hotel room and watching him tie his skinny tie as he smiled and talked to me like I was one of his New Yawk buddies. Bill had a very winning smile.

After a couple years of English and Political Science and intermittent cannabis distractions, I managed somehow to graduate, in December ’73, I hit the trail with my “General Studies” sheepskin from LSU University College. Now this southern boy gravitated over to the epitome of southern exotica, a place called “Florida,” where I sold  debit life insurance for awhile in a black neighborhood, then moved on over to selling classified advertising for Mr Poynter at the St. Pete Times. But then I lost my license on points, but continued to drive and got nabbed by a highway patrolmen. When I went to court on  the infraction, a judge named Rasmussen  told me that if people disregarded the law in the way I had done, there would “anarchy in this country, so therefore I sentence you to five days in the county detention center.”

“Detention center? What’s that?” I asked the judge.

“That’s the jail son,” he replied.

“When does it start?” I queried.

“Right now,” he said.

When I got to the jail, it was an alien environment for this university boy with wing tips, and so I decided to take control of my situation by getting involved in a poker game with these hardened criminals, but then I made the mistake of winning. I say “mistake,” because my little stack of quarters or whatnot motivated one of the incarcerated fellows to ask me a for a dollar to get in the game, but I told him No.

So later that night, since he was in the same bunk with me, he punched me out.

I did, however, survive it.

Four days later, I’m out of the Pasco County jail, and I didn’t get run over by a train or get drunk or nothin excitin’ but I did happen to go to a movie filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains; it was Where the Lilies Bloom.

The setting in that movie seemed so absolutely beautiful to me that I thought I’d like to just get the hell out of Florida and go to that place depicted in the movie, and so I did, and I’ve been liven’ in these mountains ever since. That was about forty year ago.

After settling in Asheville, a place far more mountainous and wintry than this Louisiana boy had ever known, I got a job selling printing for a printshop. That turned into about five years of good work, but it came in two stints that were punctuated by a detour to Waco Texas in 1978. ‘T’was there I got saved.

After meeting Jesus I returned to North Carolina and the print shop for awhile.

Then I drifted into the building trade and spent the lion’s share of my working life as a carpenter building houses and a few other structures, including a bridge at Grandfather Mountain that completed the missing link of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which them WPA boys had left hangin’ back in the ’30s, either cuz they ran out of money, or the War came on, or the jagged mountain was just too craggy for a man to build a bridge on it at that time.

I married Pat; we had three young’uns, now grown. Which brings me now to the main point of this here blog: work. When a man gets a family, he manages somehow to motivated to go out in the wide jungle world and make a livin’, by hook or by crook. And this is, I think, a very important part of what makes work for folks and what makes the world go ’round: Family. A greater motivator than ideology or guv’mint.

Last weekend, this mountain boy and my wife, Pat, were in San Francisco, at the upper end of Silicon valley where our son works amongst the high-flyin’ v.c.-fueled startups of our day. I spent a lot of time walking through that amazing city, and on the last morning there I found this interesting sight in the Mission district where our son resides.

So I snapped it for you:

MissionHeroes1

I found this really interesting. It’s a great work of art, painted lovingly and precisely on the face of a small business, which appears to be a hairstylist’s shop, probably a family business, but not run by Papa because it’s more likely run by Mama, with Papa working over on Mission Street with his grocery or some such enterprise.

You will notice, on the painting, some great people–true heroes of working people. The heavy hitters among them include: Gandhi, Dr. King, Cesar Chavez. Also identifiable are a few whose legacy and life’s work was questionable, tainted with revolutionary violence: Che, Sandino. Sitting Bull is in the very middle. I wrote this song, Sitting Bull’s Eyes, about him a long time ago.

The other persons in this mural are worthy of historical consideration. I checked out all those names, which are written beside each face. I cannot remember them all, but perhaps you will visit the Mission in San Francisco someday and see this great work of art for yourself. Or you may recognize them from the photo.

Worth noting in the artwork is an omission: amongst this collection of lefty heavyweights, the two theoreticians Marx and Lenin are not included; nor are the bloody tyrants, Mao and Stalin.

Some of those leaders pictured are not totally honorable in my Christian world-view, but they are obviously heroic in the eyes of the artist, and that says something significant about the perpetual struggle between, in this world, them that have, and them that have not. As for me, I respect them that are willing to work hard for what they do get, such as I, by God’s grace, have done.

Smoke

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