I am working at the computer, in a room that is a cool 72 degrees, thanks
to air-conditioning. I mention this because it is 90-something outside.
With matching humidity. It is sweltering. Suffocating. The air is "close"
as my father-in-law would say.
The lawn has browned to a crisp, the impatiens have gone limp and
the grasshoppers are having a blast.
I have just returned from a run to the post office. En route, I
passed a trash truck manned by one guy who does both the driving and the
picking up, a mowing crew riding Dixie Choppers and wielding hand-held weed
eaters, workmen installing guttering on a house and construction workers
putting a new fašade on the entrance to a big box discount store.
We all gripe about our jobs from time to time, but nobody is more
entitled to gripe than those who slug it out with the elements, the
blistering heat, the scorching sun, the biting cold.
Manual laborers were the impetus for Labor Day. And the building of
America. Even today, though much of our work is done through technology,
the infrastructure that supports it - the cell towers, the cable lines, the
planes and airports that connect us, the automobiles and interstates are
largely constructed by workers in boots who wear hard hats and carry their
lunches in foam coolers and metal buckets.
They are not to be confused with the other type of workers, the
ones in suits and white shirts grabbing their morning lattes. No, these are
the workers that guzzle Big Gulps from the gas station. They are the ones
with T-shirts sticking to their backs when they lumber into McDonald's for
lunch. They are the ones that drive with the windows down.
They have skin the color of bronze and arm muscles that bulge because they
get up every day and go to a job site, not because they meet with a trainer
at the gym.
Manual laborers are the ones that have bad knees by their 40s and bad backs
by their 50s. And they have something else pride.
There is something immensely rewarding about tangible work, the ability to
stand and point at something concrete and say, "I made that. I framed that
building. I wired that section. I laid those bricks. I logged that stand. I
paved that road. I tiled that floor."
The Empire State Building was built by tradesmen and craftsmen in only one
year and 45 days. One hundred and two floors, 210 columns of steel soaring
more than 1,252 feet into the air. Marvelous black and white pictures
documenting the construction show iron workers and riveters walking on
beams, dangling from scaffolding, climbing and crawling on a giant frame of
Work is important to us all. It is the second question we ask. "Where are
you from?" and "What do you do?"
We all work, in some fashion or another. We work to provide for our
families, to eat and pay the bills. But we also work for the satisfaction
of creating, nurturing and producing.
In his famous book "Working," compiled 33 years ago, Studs Terkel concluded
that work was a search for "daily meaning as well as daily bread"
Here's to Labor Day and the American worker.