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Jerome Christenson: What d’ya say, Maggie?

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Jerome Christenson

Jerome Christenson

It’s nice to see all the “Help Wanted” signs.

After all those years of being part of “the help” it’s nice to finally feel wanted. But I know I speak for lots and lots of us when I say, “Thanks, but no thanks. Not unless a whole lot of things have changed.”

Because a whole lot of things have changed.

Why anybody would be surprised that a pandemic with half a million dead, several million in the hospital and darn near everyone running around with their nose in a mask and six feet from anybody else might have some lasting effect on folks is a puzzle to me. It’s darn near two years since COVID-19 triggered The Great Stay-at-Home, reintroducing folks to their kitchens, living rooms, family members and close friends and neighbors. Overnight we discovered life went on without recourse to bars, restaurants, shopping sprees and rock concerts. We learned who had to be out and at work to keep the lights on and the water running and who nobody would really miss if they lounged around in their jammies all day. It was a great cultural Come-to-Jesus, and it seems a lot of us got religion.

There’s really nothing terribly new about these recent revelations. As the great COVID disruption abated two principles re-emerged after lying dormant for too, too many years: “There’s more to life than work;” and, “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

It all added up to millions upon millions of job-seekers showing up at interviews humming a bit of Bob Dylan — “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…”

This has taken Maggie by surprise.

No, people haven’t gotten lazy all of a sudden. The fact is, almost everybody actually likes to work, to do things that make life better for themselves and the community they are part of. What we don’t care to do is toil away at this, that or another thing that not only doesn’t give us any personal satisfaction or make life better for anybody we might care about, and having to do it at a time and place, and under conditions that pretty much spoil the rest of the time we have to do what really needs to get done. Make the nastiest job you can think of meaningful, reasonably well compensated, and done in the context of friends, family or community and there’ll be no problem getting it done.

As a guy who’s cleaned calf pens, mucked out hog lots, delivered pizza, run a dishwasher, dehorned cattle, worked in a cannery, sold feed, and taught college I can testify to that.

And all these “Help Wanted” signs outside fast fooderies, sweat shops, and the like testify to it as well.

It’s an ironic side effect of the coronavirus that the widespread infection has demonstrated to a lot of people with crummy jobs just how important those crummy jobs are … and inconvenience by annoying inconvenience, the rest of us are learning that too.

It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that if the guys who run the sewer plant don’t show up for work, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all in it up to our ankles.

So, what’s it gonna take? Nothing more than a decent measure of respect and a living wage. Is that too much to ask? Too much to expect?

Respect doesn’t cost anything. A reasonable, reliable work schedule. Working conditions that put humanity first, efficiency second — though the first nearly always enhances the second. A fair, convivial workplace. A recognition that everyone has a life before and after the job. It doesn’t take much more than that.

That, and a wage sufficient to pay for supper, shoes, a roof overhead and a warm place to poop. Enough for a trip to the doctor and a way to get there and back. Enough for a library card and all the education that can be crammed betwixt the ears. Enough to live on in reasonable comfort and dignity.

How much will that cost? Less than a year’s stay in prison. Less than a bigger police force. Less than in-patient treatment. Less, even, than a funeral.

Well, Maggie, what d’ya say?

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