A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Is My Water? I--Work.

Let me set the stage for this self-exploration ny giving you a frame of reference. The environment where my "default settings" (see my last blog) were imprinted on my operating system (psyche, values, preconceptions etc.) has several characteristics. I was most vulnerable to input from one or so to the end of junior high, roughly to age 16, or from my birth in 1936 to 1952.  This puts my ages-of-greatest-impression in a period spanning the end of the Great Depression, the whole of World War II,  and the start of the Korean Conflict, nominally FDR through Harry Truman, the pre-and post-War years and the beginning of the Cold War.

The location of the imprinting was the upper south (as defined by a geographer) but quintessentially The South as defined by the area's residents who, to a man (deliberate sexist remark), identified himself as Southern. However, women did too. We were all Southerners, Kentuckians. We knew we bore no resemblance to the "Yankees" across the Ohio River in Indiana or Ohio.

My parents and their friends, born in the first decade of the 20th Century,  were nominally Christian (Protestant), white, mostly Anglo-Saxon types, middle and upper middle class professional folks who had attended college, owned their own homes, a car or two, went to white collar jobs five days a week, spent Sundays in church, and usually belonged to one of the local service organizations such as the Kiwanis, Lions, or Rotary, and almost without exception never to the Masons, Knights of Columbus, or B'nai B'rith.

It was clear to me at an early age that my parents and "their type" were the "real" Americans and "real Christians." So was I. Others weren't. The standards that my parents followed and set for us children were accepted my me as True, and people who deviated from those standards were somehow less desirable and not to be mingled with and certainly not dated or married.  They were not Our Type (hereafter OT).

When I told my mom, one day, that I was on the verge of asking Betty Sue Atkinson out for a date (she was an absolutely beautiful, bright, curvy red head who attended Sacred Heart Academy), my mother turned an even paler shade of white than usual as she tried to explain to me, with her own style of convoluted logic, why that was a bad idea.  (It had seemed like a great idea to me given the standards I knew about up to then--Betty Sue was religious, smart, college-bound, attractive, clean (big points), and her father was a well-known surgeon who enjoyed a membership at the most fashionable local country club.) However, as mother explained it to me,  Betty Sue's family was Catholic and that meant a load of negative stuff (Pope, children raised Catholic, no birth control, meatless Fridays,  St. Christopher on the dashboard, and cheering for Notre Dame...) blah, blah, blah. So, since mother controlled the car keys and my allowance (the iron matriarchal hand clothed in the velvet Southern glove), I decided it would be a better idea for me to relinquish my dreams of lust and glory and go with the guys to a movie or ball game and then the local drive-in restaurant for a burger.

It was in this atmosphere that my earliest "default settings" concerning work and labor were imprinted. To begin with, as an indicator, there was the matter of clothing. The men who came to work at our house doing heavy cleaning or mowing the lawn were usually dressed in blue jeans, khakis, or blue or green khaki work clothes, suits and pants. Almost all wore blue and white cotton work gloves and high top work shoes or boots.OT never owned such clothes as far as I knew. The only exception were a few fathers, ex-GI's,  who wore their old army khakis when doing weekend projects or fishing.

Likewise, the women who came to work at our house wore black dresses with white aprons or, in the summer, white dresses with black or white aprons, heavily starched, and they clomped around in well-worn black or white leather shoes which were usually down at the heel. Many wore hair nets, and occasionally for formal serving occasions, they would sport a little, white, stand-up cap to match their formal, starched aprons and dresses.

"He does manual labor" was a pejorative condemnation irrespective of the type of work or the pay received (hourly bad, salary good). So I came to associate manual labor with not only the clothing worn (above), but also by what kind of work was done (with hands not brain) and with the location
(usually outdoors).  Other negative hallmarks of work not acceptable to OT were rough or calloused hands (unless you played a harp or were a sculptor), red and/or sunburned skin (the darker the worse), physical exertion (except in sports), sweating, bodily odors caused by same, sweat stains on clothing--especially armpits, dirt, over-developed muscles, safety glasses, dirty clothes and body parts (especially hands and face which OT scrubbed assiduously on a regular basis), beer drinking from cans or bottles and/or in a bar, Chevrolets, Fords, Plymouths, riding the bus anywhere. Sears, J C Penney, and Montgomery Wards were not places to be patronized and, in the the early days, neither were supermarkets

My "defaults" were set to appreciate, approve, and associate with "OT"  professional men, of men who worked in offices (not stores); to respect those who hired, fired and supervised others,  doctors, attorneys, bankers, ministers,  educators. high level politicians (can you imagine??), musicians, artists, and journalists. I was rock solid certain that here and here only, with these kinds of people, would my future lie.

As I engage in some serious introspection at this point in my life, I, like David Foster Wallace, see how much of what I automatically took as true-- was and is pure balderdash ( a polite, British-sounding family synonym for bullshit). I am astonished as I think and write this blog just how thoroughly my early environment affected the way I have automatically viewed ("default to") virtually everything, even though I have only dealt here with the issue of work so far. I am appalled at the people and opportunities I passed by just because I actually believed that they were not worthy of my attention or affection--or even my notice, that they were inferior as humans or as ways of making a living.  These prejudices run deep and they are old and, as discussed, they have operated outside of my deliberate intent, informing many of my actions and judgements and attitudes for a good part of my 75 years. 

Fortunately, I have known and dealt with (excised) many of defaults along the way, so at least my internal responses are not as automatic as they once were. There's still work to be done, investigations to be pursued, stock to be taken. The process is a mixture of the  excitement of self-discovery combined with genuine sorrow about what I have allowed to control pieces of my past life. I am genuinely surprised, even shocked  at how arrogant I have been, but  more on all this in the next blog...after I discuss what and how I learned and changed over the years.

Can you imagine that I was once embarrassed to have my executive-type father shake the rough calloused hand of my scoutmaster, a professional carpenter, a wonderful human being.  Shame on me!

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