Let’s begin the new year with a Comment of the Day.
One of the important things I have learned since beginning this blog in 2009—in addition to the apparent fact that trying to elaborate on the topic of blackface and dark make-up in the arts will get one’s blog banned on Facebook and there is literally nothing one can do about it—is that the commenters enrich, define, and advance the mission of the blog beyond anything I could have anticipated.
Pennagain’s comment on the topic of the so-called “gig economy” and California’s efforts to smother it is an excellent example. (One of the joys of any Pennagain COTD is that I know I won’t have to check for typos, since Pennagain regularly checks MY posts for typos…). Behold the Comment of Day on the post, “Side hustle?” SIDE HUSTLE?”:
I hardly know where to start. It’s the so called “gigs” that people learn most from. It’s those with the widest experience who can not only make the most of their job (main gig), whatever it turns out to be, but who will accommodate to change, go with the flow and roll with the punches, get a kick out of learning new things from different people, be comfortable experimenting with ideas and opinions.
Retirement – grandpa M. was 54 when he found, as the British put it so accurately, to be “redundant” to his own business when one of his sons took it over. He’d been good at his job, learning the trade from his father and practicing it in one form or another since he was a child, bringing his expertise (and, necessarily, a wife) to the New World at the turn of the century. He had never done anything else in his life. Building and running his business was his whole world, full of customers, many of whom had become close friends. The job kept him active, on his feet, reaching, stooping, sorting, lifting, dealing with salesmen and stock deliveries. He appraised and bargained, bought and sold. He had fierce competition that excited him, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
On the day he (was) retired, he sat down in a red plush chair in his living room and spent nearly every day for the rest of his life sitting there, having nothing else to do. No interests, no radio—no hobbies, no friends, not even any acquaintances. He’d never bothered to get to know his neighbors or attend any social functions at his house of worship. He had nothing in common with his family (the son who inherited the business never came to visit; too busy at work). The second-generation Americans who came religiously to visit, at least one group each weekend, didn’t speak either his original or his business language, nor he theirs.
He died just after his 55th birthday. In the red chair.
Grandpa B, on the other hand, came to America as a teen (I never learned what his father did) fired with energy, finally settled into one regular gig, evening delivery of the NY Herald, plus as many seasonal jobs as he could find: raking leaves, shoveling snow, gardening, helping the icemen, or cleaning up after the coal cellars were filled. And delivering groceries, meat, fish, whatever. He was a soda jerk at one point, a bicycle messenger and a lifeguard at the local pool at other times or concurrently. Like M., he built a business, but built it from a gig and all the customers he’d met doing the chores and odd jobs. From the start, he’d sold pickles door-to-door along with the newspaper deliveries. They were homemade, his mother’s recipe from the Old Country.
Out of the pickle street sales and the customers who liked them enough to invest came what he called his pickle “factory.” His young wife died — of a sudden, hidden cancer, leaving three daughters — just as the factory became a financial success. Grieving, he concentrated on his daughters until the day the last one (the eldest) was married and, days later, left for “upstate,” the rural New York “away from Broadway” where he had bought a dairy farm with an apple orchard. Of course, said everyone who knew him, his favorite desert was baked apples with fresh cream.
The families, daughters, in-laws and their families visited the farm as often as they could make the trip. We learned to milk a cow and churn butter, and lay on grass and blow the daylights off dandelions. When the kids had mostly all gone off to college and he was in his 70s, … one day he announced he had sold the farm and was going off “to be hippie in warm place” He moved to Venice Beach in — yes, that horrible place — California, took up painting, writing poetry and playing the piano, all badly but with gusto. He learned to drive and passed the test but they wouldn’t give him a license. So he took some advice and read some law. He didn’t speak English very well and wrote postcards to all of us that read aloud hilariously with his accent, but he also read voraciously to a grad level thanks to the newspapers he’d sold back when (he would never credit the public school he rarely attended, quitting in 10th grade) and to the surprise and dismay of everyone, argued and won his own case.
After his third ticket for blocking traffic/driving too slow, they took away his license. He took up roller skating and a girlfriend, a 30-something bottle-blonde gum-chewing tough-talking roller derby princess instead. The happy couple was the favorite visit of his grown up grandkids. They lived together in hippie harmony, both gigging their hearts out – she sold her weaving, and he sold snapshots with his 1935 Box Brownie camera until the cache of film he’d found (and developed in the bathroom) ran out, and fixed stuff and gardened in the neighborhood. Both of them made, ate and gave away (never sold) his pickles. She nursed him during a brief illness when he was 99 years old and called us all when they knew he wouldn’t make it. He regretted only two things, he said: that he wasn’t going to live to 100. And that “they” wouldn’t let him take flying lessons.
I didn’t realize until recently that I’d modeled my life on the spirit of his, Grandpa B., and that I couldn’t have done better. But now, I’m feeling it all closing in, even if I can’t gig much at all anymore, and only one of them is paid. The young people I know are holding on to their low-paying jobs with splitting fingernails; they don’t dare go looking for another. Many of them go to school when they’re not “working,” studying subjects that bring them no pleasure but will simply take them to another level (they hope) of income. And then, they say, when I offer them free tickets to this or that I am privy to from various volunteer activities, that sure, they’d love it, can they bring a friend … but … well, if they get an extra shift or need to get in some study time . . . .
What a shame. What a waste. Even if this doesn’t become law, the idea is sick. Contagiously sick, to be spread among the sleeping woke.