Today is Labor Day, which has been observed in the United States and Canada since 1894. It commemorates the accomplishments of working people, so, naturally, we celebrate by taking the day off from work.
This may be because of our deep ambivalence about work. There is the money and the mostly pleasant and intelligent people we work with. But then there is the down side of work–some would even call it the dark side.
Like the job I got one summber working on the assembly line at a tie factory. I was a tie-packer, packing ties in boxes and packing those boxes into bigger boxes. That part was a piece of cake.
The quality control aspect of the job was something else again. The ties were pressed by women standing on their feet all day, sweating as they leaned over ironing boards with hot, heavy irons. They put cardboard forms into the ties to get out any wrinkles, and they had to do this without ironing in any creases.
I was a 19 year-old college student, and I took my responsibilities seriously. So the first time—the very first time—I found a crease in a tie, I went to the presser and showed it to her. She looked at the tie, then she looked at me.
She gripped the iron very tightly but said nothing. She didn’t have to; I had a strong sense that she wanted nothing more than to lift that iron and smash it into my eager young face.
Needless to say, I rapidly lost interest in the quality control aspects of the job. At the end of the summer, I asked my mother to call the tie factory and say that I couldn’t work there anymore. She said that, unfortunately, I’d come down with mononucleosis. And back I went to college.
For me, it’s been uphill ever since: challenging work, decent pay and benefits, and mostly pleasant and helpful co-workers. But I’ll never forget the silent, hostile look on that woman’s face as she clutched the hot iron not so far away from my face.
Happy holiday to all.
photo by oddsock