There have been several younger men in my life recently as well as a couple of older ones, most of them strangers. There was Josh, the bee guy who went up on our roof twice to deal with a colony of Africanized bees which were a dire threat to anyone who ventured near. There was George, in his 60’s, who also went up on the roof (after the bee guy was finished) to clean and re-coat our roof. There will be no more water leaks on inside walls for awhile. There was the tire guy who pulled a screw out of my car tire, repaired the leak and put the tire back on – all for $20. Recently Anthony reappeared to iron out our cable problems and tell as many stories as we wanted to hear. Ray is pretty indispensable. He takes care of turning on our water and heat and switching on the heat pad on our roof so we don’t get ice dams here in Colorado while we are whooping it up in Tucson. Then there is Jack, who man-handles appliances through our too narrow doors, hooks them up and came back at 6 p.m. to readjust the dishwasher when a drawer was grazing the handle. Our lawnmower is being tuned up by Joe, the small engine repair guy.
We have depended on many service and repair people over the years as well as builders, propane delivery guys, plumbers and electricians. Almost without fail they have been friendly and competent. Some exceeded all our expectations in their level of skill. The one negative experience we had was back East, when a plumber who also held some village office accused us of “stealing food from the mouths of his children” because we dared to ask if he would install a Home Depot toilet in our renovated bathroom. I guess he felt strongly about our buying directly from him and paying his mark-up. I have a feeling his reaction was more to do with the fact that we were “people from away” than the actual impending starvation of his children. We managed to find a plumber who was more than happy to work with us and became our regular go-to guy for all plumbing problems.
They were all the so-called working class people because in America there is a class system whether we acknowledge it or not. (If you want to know more about our class system, read Joe Bageant’s “Rainbow Pie – A Memoir Of Redneck America“). Our working class guys probably graduated high school or a trade school, were trained by an employer in their specialty, learned on the job or were apprentices to state licensed tradespeople. I try to stay on their good side as I can’t imagine life without them. None came to my house who were not offered a cold drink, a coffee or something to eat. When we have had crews of builders a couple of gallons of iced tea were always available and baked goods delivered by me at 3 p.m. daily. None left without a sincere thanks for their work.
Remember Leona Helmsley, the “Queen of Mean”? She was convicted of federal income tax evasion in 1989 and will always be remembered for saying “Only the little people pay taxes.” She was probably right. Helmsley was notorious for abusing her employees and firing them on a whim from their livelihoods. Her unnecessary empire would have disintegrated before her eyes if the maids, cooks, servers, laundry people, janitors, mechanical engineers, doormen – everyone who kept the machine running – had been in a position to say “Enough. You are on your own.”
I have sometimes wondered who would be necessary, who would contribute to their own and their community’s survival if life as we now enjoy it should end and phone calls could not be made to the people who fix our problems. Of course, doctors, nurses and EMT’s would always be needed and they in turn would need the people to keep the generators going. In my imaginary group we would need people who know how to harvest and split wood, people who know animal husbandry, carpenters, farmers, hunters and maybe a short wave radio operator since there is no Internet or phone service. We would need someone to salvage books and paper and teach, a blacksmith, someone who knows how to build a kiln, someone who knows how to regulate irrigation and certainly a “sanitation engineer”. This all sounds like the way we started out.
I enumerate the ways I could be useful or even necessary. At my age it is touch and go about whether I would be left out on the ice or not. I depend on too many people who are stronger and more capable than I. So far I have come up with cooking, cleaning, sewing, taking care of babies and children, planting and cultivating a garden and canning. I could gut and clean a fish and probably skin a rabbit. I know how to change a bed with a person in it and could probably start an I.V. if I had to. I can clean and dress a wound. Does anyone know how to make face cream?
Imagining such circumstances and thinking about the skills you could bring to a group (we all need each other) is a good exercise in reminding ourselves of the things we depend on others to do for us, all those ordinary, working people we rely on to make a community function. Leona Helmsleys would not be welcome or needed.
At the end of the day when we are all sitting around the fire (which I can also build and cook on) if the group would like a story told or a poem read, I could do that too.