IOU: The working class scholar speaks.


POOR correspondent - Posted on 06 July 2010

Tony Robles/Special to PNN
Tuesday, March 25, 2008;

I recall the instruction and indoctrination I received from my father as a child. Early on he stressed to me the importance of work. He stressed that I be on time and that "nobody in this world gave you anything for free." You had to work. He'd talk about all the children starving in China and how I was lucky to be eating. 30 years later I realize that there are people starving all over, many of whom are within shouting distance from where I am typing this.

I worked at a life insurance brokerage. I gave them 5 years of my life. I worked as a process specialist, which meant that I did everything except sell policies. The work was monotonous and it took a toll on my body and spirit. I met some good people along the way, one of whom was an aspiring actor. He started at the brokerage before I did. He was a nice looking fellow with more talent in his pinky than most folks had in their entire bodies. His passion was acting and I always thought he was wasting his time at that desk. Breaking into acting is hard and perhaps he was tired of the rejection. Whatever the reason, he is still working there and he is one of my best friends. He's not that old and I hope that he never loses his passion for the stage.

I didn't develop close friendships with many of my coworkers. I would sometimes see them outside of work on public transit or elsewhere. The encounters were a nod or a half-hearted smile. I would think about the fact that I spent much of my life with these people and I knew absolutely nothing about them--besides the fact that they sat in front of a computer or ate microwavable popcorn at their desks. The relationship dynamic was tangential at best.

One of my coworkers was a general office clerk, I'll call her Emma. She did the standard filing and typing. I never exchanged words or even a glance with her. She looked troubled but I didn't stop to ask her why. One day I didn't see Eleanor. Another day went by followed by another. I didn't ask what happened to her. She soon disappeared from my memory.

A month or so afterwards I heard one of the supervisors whisper, "Did you see you know who across the street?" I was not curious about who who was. However, I kept hearing about a person who was across the street.

One day I went out to lunch. As I crossed the street I saw Emma. She was sitting among the business folks who were working on their brown bag lunches, salads, soups and other edibles. Emma had the same troubled look only this time, she was homeless. She looked as if she hadn't been on the streets that long but she looked worn.

I wondered why nobody from the insurance company had spoken to her. I overheard another co-worker say, "Well, she's a bag lady now!" It was true, she was a bag lady, but she was also a woman with hair that needed washing, a woman in need of food, shelter and the basic necessities of life. I stood and watched Emma sitting among the business folks and the pigeons and the bike messengers and the people coming and going between Bart, Muni and homes and jobs.

I later learned that Emma had come across difficult circumstances. A relative had fallen ill and it caused an emotional and financial strain on Emma. She ended up losing her studio apartment. The emotional effects had a devastating effect on Emma. She ended up in the street. I'd see her across the street from the Brokerage, a few years after I had quit.

My father told me you don't get anything for free in this world. This is true. The things you get free of cost are the coldness and unfeeling disregard that fuels capitalism. What does capitalism owe Emma? What did the insurance brokerage owe her--something? Nothing? What should those co workers have done? What could they have done? Did they owe Emma anything besides the words: She's a bag lady now?

...they have done?"
What did Tony do? What could he have done?
By the way, was it "Emma" or "Eleanor?"

And did Tony owe her anything besides writing the words "she's a bag lady now."

..you just keep telling yourselves that it was capitalism that did this to her, and if we do away with capitalism, everything will be all right. :P

PNN RADIO

Sign-up for POOR email!