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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Demolished Bridge

I have to make a correction to my previous post. I did leave one bridge in a complete state of collapse behind me, but it happened in utter silence, and none of the principals involved except me were ever aware of my action. That was because it took place not in a moment of anger but in one of my private, considerable dismay.

When I graduated from high school, there was a gap of a couple of months before I could start college because, due to something that probably is rarely allowed these days, I had "skipped" half a grade. To fill that gap my mother found a job for me, as a delivery boy for a corner grocery just two blocks from our house. Using a big bike with a big basket attached to the handlebars, I delivered groceries to people in the nearby neighborhood who ordered stuff by phone. I guess that, like corner grocery stores themselves, that's another amenity of the old days that vanished long ago.

That job didn't compare with working in a coal mine a thousand feet underground, and I was diligent, but after a while the situation started taking me through some serious changes.

I was the lowest in a crew of three, which included the grocer himself and another rainbow, a girl slightly older than me, and, including the grocer, we all worked without stopping, from daybreak till well after dark in that beat-up, gray, scruffy, dusty, confining little building.

I suppose that maneuvering that bicycle through the city streets with heavy bags in the basket was the hardest part for me, as I had had practically no experience at riding a bike. When I wasn't delivering I also had to do all sorts of other menial things, though that didn't bother me much, because the other two in the crew, including the grocer, were also laboring at generally the same sort of tasks, and presumably not for that much more gratification. I forget how much I was paid. I want to say 25 dollars a week, but even that sounds like more that it was.

No, what got me was when one evening I caught a glimpse of where all our labors were really directed.

The grocer, his wife, and his daughter lived in an apartment up above the store, in a state of "splendid isolation," because they were ethnically different from all the surrounding neighborhood. Occasionally the wife, while still wearing her downtown D.C. finery. would help out in the store alongside us ragmuffins for short periods at the cash register, but that evening was the only time I ever went upstairs into their lair or saw the daughter, because she was always at school or elsewhere downtown and I never once saw her in the store. But when I got that look at her, right away I could tell that she was the type who was always beautifully dressed and used to all the comforts and conveniences that her father's unending labors and cares could afford her. She was a true hothouse princess whose well-being and exclusivity depended utterly on the sweat of the grime-stained laborers below her.

I suppose that it seemed to me that this scene had been anticipated many times earlier, on slave plantations all across the South, where the master drove his minions unceasingly so that, for one thing, his ladyfolk could be kept in style.

I was intensely relieved when, after about two months, I had to start my freshman classes at nearby Howard, and I was able to quit that job, and meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone, I did away with the bridge that had connected me to that store, in the same sort of way that I have always disposed of anything and anybody that offends of me, and I've found that it always works..

In this case I would never ever walk on the same side of the street as that store. I would hurry down that avenue on the other side while desperately hoping that no one unlucky to be still toiling away in that place would see me. I didn't want to see them doing that, and I didn't want them to see me. Being still young and very much a dreamer, as i still am, I saw very little in terms of economic necessity. Instead all those periods of frenzied activity in which the three of us took part, all day every day for six days a week, while upstairs ethereal beings floated in an air of sumptuousness fed by our labors, struck me as being crazy and a complete denial of the way life should be.

I left that job while still on good terms with the grocer, and more than once he called my house, trying to get me to work there again, temporarily. But even though I could've sorely used even that little money, I would have none of it. Working in that place had been far too dreary, demanding, and demeaning. Worst of all, it had offered absolutely no prospect of a better day ahead for anyone, including the grocer.

Eventually I moved out of that neighborhood and then out of the city, and even now the memory makes me realize anew how beneficial geographical distance and the passage of time can be.


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