This was the piece I was working on before writing Sidelined by Illness. It is important enough that I felt I needed to post it belated as it is. Or maybe it is still current. In any case, here it is.
When I was in high school and later in trade school, I sacked groceries after school as a way to help the family. It was common in those days (1980’s) for high school students to have jobs on the side, and it was common for children to start working as soon as they showed interest in work, if not being forced to work simply to feed themselves.
We were a poor family. My mother was on her own at that point, had been on her own for several years. Dad had remarried, but found the chore of raising 5 unruly children too much to deal with so he sent us back to our mother in Texas to live. Mom was trying to get an education at the time, living in what could loosely be called campus housing (Avenger Village next to what was then TSTI. An interesting history if you are into that) so the 5 of us crammed ourselves into whatever housing she could afford on the wages for whatever jobs she could get.
Which wasn’t much. It was also typical back then for women to leave college once they had found a husband, sexist as that statement might sound; but women weren’t expected to be wage earners, bread winners. They were expected to be mothers and housewives and to put up with whatever their husbands asked of them. So mom started a family with no real job skills of her own beyond the ability to raise children, and when she finally refused to put up with dad’s behavior anymore, eleven years later, she was on her own with 4 kids and no skills.
We interrupted her education again, but she never complained about it. She just went back to working at fast food joints, bars and restaurants, the odd convenience store job as the demands for housing, clothes and food for her growing children required.
I had already had my first job by that point, my one and only experience with fast-food work (a job you couldn’t force me to do again) if you count work that dad found for me to do the fast-food work was my 3rd job, having worked off and on in his gas station for change to buy comics and sodas with, and then worked in the fields hoeing weeds with a one-armed hispanic friend of my fathers (he could work faster with one arm than I could with two and 20 years less mileage on the meter) but in any case I was no stranger to having to work to get the things I wanted, so back to work I went, paying for my own car as a senior, as well as feeding the family whenever I could afford it.
Which wasn’t often, and not often enough. There were many days where there simply wasn’t enough food. Oh, we never really starved, mother was sure of that. We survived on government issued milk and cheese, bread when we could get it. Proud as my mother was, she wasn’t willing to turn away a hand-out of perfectly good food. She wouldn’t take food stamps (to this day she refuses them, looks down on people who take them) but she would work at almost any job that was offered. As I said, sometimes three or four jobs at once. So we didn’t starve even if we didn’t have much adult supervision.
So here I was working at a grocery store, often hungry, my job being to haul people’s groceries out to their cars for them, making minimum wage. Rumor has it that in other states bag-boys (as we were called) got tips. Not in Texas. In Texas you only tip the cute waitresses and the bartenders who give you a little extra alcohol in your drinks. You certainly don’t tip uppity teenagers who carry your groceries for you. Teenagers should learn to work hard, because hard work is all you can look forward to in this life.
Part of my job was cleaning the store at closing time (I can mop a floor clean enough to eat off of to this day) Part of that job was taking out the trash at the end of the day. Boxes went into the recycler even back in the bad old days, but there was always trash generated during the day that had to be taken out. Sometimes in this trash there were unopened containers of food. Being an innovative lad, I would arrange things at the end of the shift so that I could drive around back and pick up the food that I deemed safe to eat, and take it home to my family.
That was, until the new night manager took over. The night manager took an instant dislike to me. He knew I was a poor kid, up to no good. Set the manager against me so that I was watched specifically to be caught setting food aside.
There was a brand of cookie that came in paper bags back then (even more now) No matter how many times the night stockers were told not to open the boxes with box cutters, without fail, they always opened them with box cutters and slit the bags open. This happened so routinely that if the staff wanted a quick snack, there was always a bag or 10 laying around that the stockers had made unsellable by cutting the bag. Of the 20 or so people working in the store who knew this, I was the only one specifically targeted for reprimand for setting the cookies aside.
Starting at about that time, this petty little modo would check to make sure that I destroyed all the food deemed unsellable. Slice open the milk jugs. Shred the bread bags. Whatever it took. If people wanted food they would have to buy it through the front door. No one was getting free meals from the dumpster at their store.
This is the mindset of the average working-class American, in a nutshell. If you want anything, you work for it. If you don’t work for it, you starve. If you can’t work for it, you will starve even sooner. Handouts are for layabouts and slackers; no one who takes a handout is worth anything in life. Sick people are different; but sick people get better. That poor soul in the wheelchair, we feel sorry for him, but we don’t give him more than enough to keep him off the streets. We certainly don’t give layabouts enough that they can survive on without work; and if they do work their benefits are cut off. If you can work you don’t need any help.
You might well ask at this point What in Hell does this have to do with Greece? The title of the piece is Greece in Perspective.
Yet another person on Facebook blocked me over this difference in perspective. No amount of reasoning with this person was going to break through her preconceived notions of the unworthiness of those layabout Greek people. No recitation of facts concerning the equally ruinous nature of US policy; of our loophole filled tax structure, underfunded and understaffed taxing authority, the low tax rates that the wealthy enjoy (if they pay any taxes at all) Nothing would dissuade this person from her single-minded determination that Greece should be made to suffer for its peoples laziness.
Never mind that an entire country cannot be compared to one person, whose laziness might or might not be determinable just by looking at them. Never mind that wealthy US business firms instructed Greek authorities on just how to cheat the system, the same firms that then later had to go begging to the US government for bailouts (which shouldn’t have been given in my estimation) in order to avoid the same penance that the Greeks are now willing to go down in flames over rather than pay.
Because they can’t pay. Because Greece isn’t Germany, in the same way that Germany isn’t the US, and that whole regions and political entities cannot be summarized in the behavior of a single individual. Because you can’t get blood out of a stone no matter how hard you squeeze it.
Sometimes people really can’t provide for themselves. Sometimes lazy people really aren’t lazy at all; sometimes the seemingly lazy lay-about really is sick. Laziness is itself a survival trait, a reward for not expending energy the body might need to go that one last inch to get to water.
The final straw for me on this subject was when an acquaintance of mine described his daughter as lazy, because instead of going to college and following the track he had planned out for her, she got married and had a child. Her husband is working, risking his life in the military. She’s working even if she doesn’t have a job. She’s raising a child, and that is the hardest work of all. Lazy isn’t the word to describe this person. You can question her intelligence, but not her willingness to struggle with life.
Sometimes the demands placed on people are just too high. Looking at Greece today we would be better served to remember Germany right before World War Two, rather than dismiss them as that slacker kid who mooched off of you back in college. The missed opportunity of all missed opportunities. Watching the suffering of the German people under the debt burdens laid on them following World War One, the rest of the world could have had pity and eased the burden, given them hope. Instead we hardened out hearts and forced them to do the thing that made sense to them, empower the only man and his political party that gave them hope.
Shall we descend into war and chaos? Or will we be more like General Marshall? General Marshall who, after the destruction of World War Two and understanding that hopelessness was what motivated the Germans to such desperate acts, proposed what became known as the Marshall Plan. Altering from that time forward how victors treat the vanquished. Or so we should hope.
A bit of perspective, to brighten your day.
“The cost of war is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones.” – General George C. Marshall.
As it turns out, Greece is not populated by layabouts and ne’er-do-wells. They actually have the most working days per year of any of the European Union nations, according to statistics,
Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that workers in Greece put in an average weekly shift of 42 hours, even more than Germans who only manage 35.3.
Willing to work harder than most of the rest of the people in Europe, just not rewarded at the same rate as the rest of Europe. I wonder where I’ve heard that before? As usual, the people who do the work are rewarded the least. The people who hold the investments make all the money. Just FYI, it looks like Greece is no longer out in the woods financially. So I guess that is good news.