PART I – FITTING IN TO A STRANGE & UGLY WORLD
I was talking with my shrink. We don’t talk “shrink” stuff anymore. She just wants to check in periodically to make sure the medications are doing their job. Find out how am I feeling. What’s going on?
I said that I don’t feel like I fit into this “world” in which I’m living. That I’ve slid into a parallel universe and while the same people are living in it, nothing is the same. She said everyone was feeling like that. I said I didn’t think the kids were having an easier time and she said (with a bit of an edge): “No, they are not having an easier time.”
I nodded. My granddaughter is 26. She finished school. She’s got a job and can get as much work as she wants. Medical fields around here are the way to go. She’s got a boyfriend. This time, it might be serious because they are talking about moving in together which for both of them is a big deal. He’s just sprung from 6 years in the Navy and she’s finally gotten a real job, so they are both poised for a future.
I suspect they wonder — as I do — what kind of future they can have. It’s not a nice world and this is not a nice country.
When I got back in the car I asked Garry if he felt he “fitted” in this place we call our world. I think the short silence was him conveying that as a Black reporter covering Boston, especially during the years of court-mandated busing, meant he never fit in and possibly never expected to. He doesn’t like to talk about it, not with me or really, anyone — unless it’s a formal interview. Otherwise, he’d much prefer to talk about baseball and classic movies.
I persisted. I said: “There was a time when the entire focus of lives was not money. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to have money. We all need it and having more is good. I like having enough money. But there are others things I value and there was a time when everyone had values. Those values were important.”
It’s not just relationships. It’s also where we work. When I was growing up, people were loyal to their work places. In return, the places we worked were (usually) loyal to us, though there were rumblings of change even during the 1950s and 1960s.
We knew, but we didn’t pay attention. We did what we knew we could do. Did it as well as we could. Hoped we’d be appreciated. Felt lucky to be working at something we enjoyed — and in Garry’s case, he was really dedicated to his profession. It was not just a paycheck. It meant something. When the business began to change and this time, he was in the line of fire, it was the biggest shock of his adult life.
Maybe he hasn’t felt like he fit in since we moved from Roxbury to Uxbridge.
We had to live somewhere. A 3-decker condo was not the place for someone with spinal arthritis and a dicey heart.
It’s a worldwide phenomenon but we’ve been — in the U.S — beaten and battered. In one term of Trump, we dropped from a rating of 10 (real Democracy) to a 5 which is the point between Democracy and Autocracy. If that tidbit of information doesn’t put you into a cold sweat, you aren’t paying attention. There’s a real danger of Civil War in this country. It wouldn’t take much to ignite it.
There is a line we should have never crossed, but we crossed it. We feel endangered because we are in danger. There is a very strong likelihood our grandchildren will not have the freedom or the right to vote.
PART 2 – ALL ABOUT WORK IN THE GOLDEN OLDEN DAYS
Remember when we were kids and people worked at their jobs for a lifetime and retired with honor and maybe a gold watch? If you watched movies there were a lot of movies about “efficiency” experts coming in to destroy a company. Lots of movies about bosses who sold the company only to discover that it was ripped to shreds, the employees fired and nothing left but a shell and maybe the name of the company looking lonely on the abandoned building.
Companies and corporations had always had a kind of sympathy and synchronicity with their employees. We (people) worked. They paid us, occasionally gave us raises — even promotions. You didn’t get fired unless you were seriously bad at doing the job (and not temporarily for some medical or family issue, but really inept) or had a rip roaring fight with the Boss. But if you got “let go,” there was a reason. You might not entirely agree with it, but it wasn’t a random change made because you earned a salary and they could hire a schlepper for half your salary and so what if he had no skills?
It was normal to be loyal to your company. Your team. Even if you didn’t always like everything they did or every decision they made, you felt that they were not just the place you worked, but a kind of family.
By the time I entered the job market in the early 1970s (I took some time out to have a child thinking — rightly — that it would be easy to make up the “missed time” while I was young than by taking time out later when it would be harder to sprint to the front of the crowd. By the time I was job hunting for real, they had eliminated job advertisements for “Men Only” or “Women Only.” We weren’t very far from “white only,” either. Just a few short years and as often as not, without actually saying the words, the preference for white employees was strongly implied. Anyone who wasn’t white could read between those lines.
It was another 25 years before mass dismissals to “save money” became typical. The result was not good for anyone. I started out as a writer in a five writer/editor group and ended up the only writer and editor. Everyone else had been let go or resigned. Nor did this get me more than a minimal raise. I just was expected to do all the work five people used to do.
Television stations and newspapers were hard hit. I remember when “Newsday,” a big Long Island newspaper went from actually publishing news to basically being an expensive collection of coupons and advertisements. Television station sheared down their personnel to the degree that the Unions allowed it — and that heavens that there were unions. By the end of the 1990s, no one in the industry who was over the age of 40 felt safe. Watch the movies “Broadcast News” and “Network.” Both are pretty accurate descriptions of those days.
A few people managed to avoid the guillotine, but so many people went down. If they didn’t outright fire you, they made life so difficult many people quit rather than take more abuse.
Today, advertisements to the contrary notwithstanding, organizations have zero loyalty to their workers. They treat us as cattle and they get the kind of work you get from people who are treated like cattle. There has indeed been a huge loss of that “work ethic” that made America special as a workforce, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. When your boss treats you like garbage and you know you will never get a promotion or raise — ever — at some point you stop working hard. If your best doesn’t seem to matter, why keep giving it?
I think we are beginning (following the great American Resignation last year) to see actual sabotage. By which I mean intentionally bad work by people who resent their working conditions and need a way to show it.
Remember when they sent all of our “tech support” overseas? Every company that had good customer service suddenly had a bunch of people thousands of miles away who didn’t understand the product or its process, spoke heavily accented English and no Spanish. Basically, they knew nothing which may have been okay for them, but was terrible for customers. Even the few people here in the States were and are still mostly lacking basic training for the work they do. Anyone ever tried to call Dell customer service? Did you know that there was a time when Dell had great customer service? Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Now that customers are almost as angry about customer service as employees are about terrible working conditions, they are bringing the work they exported back to the States. They are years late and millions of dollars short.
My favorite ‘I can’t believe this incompetent idiot has a job when so many competent people need one” story is when I called the HMO I was working with — who I hated because they were awful. I needed the name of a medical oncologist. Not a surgeon. A medical oncologist, the doctor who takes care of you after you have gone through your treatments.
She said their list of doctors did not include what they did. Like there were no listings for oncologists. Just doctors.
“What have you done with the names?” I asked. “Put them in alphabetical order?”
Silence. That was when I realized this was exactly what they had done. They had listed all their medical personal alphabetically and were unable to tell from the list what any of the doctors did., whether they were family doctors or specialists. What breathlessly stupid management! That girl to whom I was talking to (she sounded like she was 12, but she must have at least 18) knew nothing and sounded frightened. Apparently asking for a specific doctor was way above her pay grade.
I was in luck because when the year turned around, Blue Cross was available and we have been with them ever since. They are expensive, but they are good. They are intelligent, patient and well-trained. And if you need a doctor? They are not listed alphabetically.
Which brings me back to the final question?
WHERE ARE WE? WHAT WORLD IS THIS? IS THERE A FUTURE? IS THERE ANY HOPE OF PROGRESS IN MY LIFETIME?
I have no idea where we are or if we are still living on the same planet. If ever I thought there were parallel universes, I’m pretty sure we are living on one. I doubt we have a future. I feel terrible for our kids and grandchildren. It’s going to get worse and they will have to live in the mess. I do not expect it get better in my lifetime. I try to keep a little flame of hope alive somewhere, but I suspect I have that hope because I need it. Without it, I’m not sure I’d have the will to get out of bed.