Our Times

Saw a job listing on a professional networking site that intrigued. Thirty/35 years ago, I would’ve been all over it. Most astonishing thing about the job description? A former high school classmate generated this possibility.

Recalling him, he never struck as being particularly dynamic. He filled backgrounds in many scenes.

Yet two reasons have throttled any enthusiasm towards pursuing his offer. One, I’m 63 and along the glidepath into retirement. Two, I’d bring experience to the job.

I only relocated to Nevada after my prior career dissolved. No way I could remain back East and attain any position with the perks that had vanished. If it’d happened in my late 30s or early 40s, I could’ve reclimbed the mountain. Yes, it would’ve taken greater effort than the first time around because I’d be retracing steps. Find me someone who wouldn’t have found that frustrating.

But as a 50-plus adult? That handwriting was chiseled into walls.

My job interviews just would’ve been formalities, and those certainly uncomfortable occasions for anyone younger sitting across from me.

As I’d heard from one completely honest HR dog to whom I’d assured of my confidence, my presence could’ve discomforted less mature staffers. Working in proximity to someone their fathers’ or uncles’ ages might’ve unnerved them. My answer to that was most of those who’d have felt so unsettled should’ve suffered pangs later on in life after having avoided opportunities to have been with such men.

But this knowledge only comes through experience. Our world today revolves around the callow and unformed.

Just before Labor Day I watched a perfect movie about working and striving. Modern Times. A satire, the 1936 Charlie Chaplin silent to sound celluloid bridge is just the sort of film whatever label this present generation brands itself might ridicule. That is if the immediate gratification bunch could sit through 90 minutes of linear storytelling.

It’s too broad. It’d been filmed in black & white. There are no nuances for overly aware audiences to delve into then congratulate themselves on for having deciphered.

Modern Times is a movie classic. Only cave dwellers, avid gamers, and people incapable of tearing their eyes off a handheld’s screen might be ignorant of Chaplin’s send up of the Industrial Age. Much of our focus on industry lionizes boardroom titans, satraps, shoguns. Extremely little on the worker ants who make and expand the renown of the high & mighty.

There’s no shortage of glamorous onscreen portrayals of boardroom intrigues or financial shenanigans. There’s an acute paucity of showing the effort producing our daily bread. And until several decades ago, those movies were tinged pink in order to claim them instruments of whatever sinister “-ism” wanted fairer disbursements of profits, i.e., wealth.

Rather than narrow the divide, give the true creators of American prosperity their due, the narrow-minded encased in executive offices preferred claiming such as insidious attempts to undermine capitalism. Therefore, America.

The idea of addressing inequities between labor and management scared powerful Americans. (Still does.) Wasn’t this a topic through which communists made hay? As any erudite red menace type or genuine anarchist could’ve explained, the only true enemy of capitalism is greedy executive board members and grasping shareholders.

Until automation eliminated much of assembly lines’ human elements, Modern Times was an apt, okay, exaggerated, demonstration of the mindless drudgery necessary to manufacture objects which fueled prosperity. Assembling components produced articles that offered consumers inexpensive goods. (Had to include that. There are at least two generations of Americans who don’t know how shelves get filled.) Volume sales yielded marvelous profits. The process also dehumanized and demoralized the people along the conveyors.

Presenting the above scenario in a humorous way probably hammered the point better than had it been put forward with gravity.

However, overlooked or underappreciated in the movie is Chaplin’s view of how authority indifferently grinds those deemed marginal.

An acquaintance succumbs to an accident. The state wants to send his minor daughter to an orphanage. Instead, Chaplin’s unnamed character assumes custodial duty. He becomes her guardian. While quite irresponsible for himself, he does care for her in a manner beyond that of any institution.

In Modern Times Chaplin’s figure is admittedly a shit magnet. Misfortune is easily drawn to him. What chance to improve himself doesn’t he screw up? A running gag in the movie shows him often being sprung from jail after serving his sentence.

Nonetheless challenged by obstacles of his own making as well as a few fate has rolled his way, he and his ward eventually reach a place where they’ve created a design for living. Theirs. The requisites are met and surpassed. He finally becomes a dutiful earner. Unfettered, she’s happy.

Unfortunately for both, the state must be obeyed. Despite having become productive and through that establishing a comfortable level of domesticity, authority emphasizes contentedness must yield to its control. Rather than respect the solution the pair have found, agents of the state come to seize the girl. Her thriving is immaterial. She must be fed into the system.

Here’s where cinema and real life diverge. Especially present-day real life. In the movie the couple resists then escape. They become vagabonds.

Seeing, knowing how deferential our society has become to the state, anyone today in any kind of similar straits would’ve submitted. No hitting the road, just a handover. Maybe a tearful one but a surrender nevertheless.

Technologically and intellectually advanced as we’ve become, the two attributes have also deepened docility. The kind employers prize.

One of the few benefits from Covid is that it’s strengthened employees’ hands. Either through better wages, improved benefits, or just making management finally realize the essential nature of worker ants, smart hourly and salaried people are using this leverage to their advantage. Even better, let’s hope they’re reversing the boss roles by exploiting their new-found edges.

Since these new American nomads of labor are unlikely to belong to unions, there’s no way the new conditions can be codified then ratified. Meaning once Covid conditions significantly abate, management will be clawing back its “generosity” like fiends on sugar jags.

Unfortunately, today’s American laborer does not possess the same tenacity of prior workers. No protests. No job actions. No proud committed agitators haranguing hostile bosses or timid workers who prefer living bent than standing straight. No manifestations to publicly air grievances loudly. No burning tires to remind, inform, discomfort, aggravate those societal segments believing themselves inoculated from labor strife. No rolling cars owned by co-workers wishing to hang apart rather than hang together.

Left to 21st century clock-punchers, most of us maintaining livelihoods through honest toil as well as retaining our dignity might still be pulling beastly long hours in settings resembling those of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company or the meatpacking plant in The Jungle, a 1906 novel. Forget about hiring goons to confront any employee promoting positions contrary to business or injurious to the bottom line. The barest suggestions of intimidation would suffice to further mash and keep the current workforce heeled.

When management does come demanding resumptions of pre-Covid standards, there will be muted complaints and scant dissent. Most grumbling will re-tuck itself into quiet conformity. The meek shall re-inherit the end of the short stick.

Some Found a Land of Dust and Disappointment

In Las Vegas, it’s easy to differentiate pensioners who retired from the main industry apart from those who flocked here thinking the city would be golden in their Golden Years. That also goes for locals who spent their lives here making livings in the region’s other professions.

Gray hairs who had spent lives bolstering our nation’s one-time industrial prominence and former service personnel who spent careers in the military predominate the second category.

A third bunch grew up in Las Vegas. They stayed, found careers here outside the neon, the noise, the notoriety. Through everyday satisfactions they were contented. Continue reading Some Found a Land of Dust and Disappointment

Speed Kills … As It Should

In July, barreled down into Northwestern Arizona from Las Vegas. Dropped some coin in barren White Hills playing lottery that’ll help fund the Grand Canyon State’s educational system. Such donations would’ve been better spent here in Nevada. But thanks to the Nevada gaming industry’s dumb insistence lotto dollars will deduct from the Silver State’s games of chance and sports books, Nevadans do not benefit from such participations. Continue reading Speed Kills … As It Should

Baby Myopia

Not all life is precious. Americans prove that daily. Just look at the energy being expended on “what may be” in the womb. Children already born could use that same vigor. It could hone their direction. The attention would improve their lives immeasurably.

Instead, wrong-headed Americans focus on an organ just a little half of mankind contains. To the detriment and exclusion of the women nestling this vessel too many men have made it contentious. To them and a fair number of misguided women, their sisters should be sacrificed for what’s inside the womb. Or may someday occupy it. The hell with what is. Continue reading Baby Myopia

Disenchantment USA

The title of the movie escapes me. Or maybe several comprise memory. The remembered scenes issue from Nazi propaganda reels.

In any case, the rudely sinuous voice of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Enlightenment and Propaganda, narrates the black & white images. They were issued early during the Nazi reign. During the ascent. Continue reading Disenchantment USA

Reemergence Maybe

Perhaps this last weekend of May 2022 is the one that finally returns the visiting hordes who once flooded Las Vegas. After all, Memorial Day, or as it should’ve remained, Decoration Day, is seen as the unofficial start of summer.

According to hopeful leisure industry analysts, Americans are busting with all sorts of pent-up desire to getaway. Two years of Covid conditions have made us stir crazy. Where better to let everything hang out and fly the freakiest freak flags than Las Vegas? A city where even if strangers knew your name, they’d be too involved in their own personal deviances to notice others.

Anyone working directly in the hospitality industry or its adjuncts is counting on such participants who contribute to Las Vegas’ “What happens here, stays here” tall tales.

No matter what sort of happy faces the tourist bureau sketches, the numbers just haven’t been there. It’s fine that conventions and spectacles have returned to the city, yet post-Covid attendance has been generally woeful. Continue reading Reemergence Maybe

Let Us Broil

In the Mojave Desert, residents are on the cusp of our least wonderful time of year. Indeed, if Andy Williams had to sing about this season those lyrics would get stuck in his throat.

Summer. Already in mid-May Las Vegans can expect triple digit temperatures. As the month elides into June it becomes hotter with July and August turning everyday into a constant blow torch of torrid.

Throughout summer, I thank American breweries for 30 packs! Continue reading Let Us Broil

Elsewhere May Day Is Labor Day

This Covid period among our older populace proves that after a time minds become less pliant. In them views narrow then solidify.

When I hear people, say, at least 14 years my senior, opine, they often remind me of an Allen Ginsberg quote. The poet said: “Our heads are round so thought can change direction.”

Life has squared their noggins.

There must come a period in life when our ability to juggle contrary positions against – or even adapt to – what our minds hold as irrevocable erodes. At one point each of us must’ve been mentally nimble. But as many of us age, our ability to modify or rearrange perception and understanding loses fluidity.

It’s not that those hewing tenaciously to fixed positions are simply stubborn. More like their mental processes have congealed. They just can’t budge.

No need to provoke such people. They’ll erupt without cause. The mantra they spew? “Nobody wants to work anymore.”

Popularly known as “the Silent Generation,” they huddle wedged between former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and “Baby Boomers.” Arriving just before the Depression then shoved onto the periphery of American memory with the first birth of 1946, too few members of this cohort left an impression on our national scene. Also, the calamities that occurred between the years 1929-1945 made prospective parents wary about bringing or being able to afford having children. Their aggregate was lower than the two generations sandwiching them.

Though the Depression and World War II were nowhere near as formative to them as it was upon the participants and combatants, both events nevertheless left imprints. Here in the economically poleaxed America of the1930s and wartime’s Fortress of Democracy, daily life must’ve been maintained at some levels of precariousness.

Each era embedded its own worries upon the still forming.

Unless one’s background affluent during the Depression, want was a constant threat. A job which sustained home and hearth week after week was no certainty. And unlike today, the safety net, if one existed, consisted of savings, family, and perhaps friends. Compared to now, government programs that helped citizens tide over rough patches were meager as well as sparse.

Doubtlessly parents one pay envelope away from being up against it discussed finances in the most sotto tones. Nonetheless careful as they must have been, that sort of constant stress must’ve also reached then affected young minds.

And while the war that broke out among the Europeans in September 1939 was a topic that could be bandied at intellectual remove, Pearl Harbor two years later became a realer than real matter of survival. The Depression’s threat of possible imminent destitution might be diverted through a head down, no boat rocking posture coupled with an “it could be worse” attitude which made them grateful to possess what they had.

The December 7th, 1941, attack became a life and death matter.

Two oceans aside, wolves threatened Americans’ doors. The vast watery expanses which had kept America remote from most global conflicts were by 1941 capable of being crossed by all sorts of weapons. What had been viewed while watching movie theaters’ newsreels – cities obliterated from the air, columns of grim jackbooted troops intent on carnage – now offered foretastes of what America might’ve shared with Europe or Asia.

Easy to imagine that after Pearl Harbor no American regarded fates similar to Rotterdam or Shanghai visiting these shores as “improbable.” At least initially, conversation based on war topics were undoubtedly debated between disbelief and hysteria.

Although dementia and death have substantially reduced those then present as WWII adults, that there was possibly an undercurrent of defeatism during the global conflict’s first disastrous months is difficult to deny. It’s just the sort of thing children can absorb though can’t properly articulate sufficiently in order to have parents explain. Or dispel.

Maybe it becomes a thing that weighs adolescents who enter their teens before becoming adults; that inexplicable thing they unconsciously drag with them through life.

A benefit from Covid is it’s loosened the shackles of American workers. That’s given them leverage against bosses. Terrific!

On one hand, the worker shortage, created from retirements, deaths, and searches for better, stems directly from the disease.

The first a realization by long-time employees they’d gotten to points of simply living to work rather than working to live. Why drop dead at one’s place of employment or linger a few post-retirement years in pain and regret? If the necessary years had accrued – even if the total short – why not abandon that toil and enjoy what remained of life while it still possible?

The second, a factor way too few Americans grasp or want to, is a good number of working people succumbed to Covid. To them, their families, friends, it wasn’t a hoax. Covid wasn’t just jumped-up flu.

Despite the best efforts of right-wing barking heads and jackleg screamers to slander every patient overwhelming ICUs and hospital staffs, sufferers filling wards and providing care in them weren’t crisis actors. For awhile rumors circulated that at my own job Covid claimed one co-worker a week. Of course confidentiality rules and HR doing its utmost to protect the company blunted ascertaining whether this fact or not.

Third, the first two Covid conditions created mobility. Countless current workers are exploiting this last opening. A circumstance anyone constitutionally timid finds adverse.

A worker shortage meant dead-end, low-wage positions, and peonage treatment could be dumped for perhaps more satisfying, higher paying labor where supervisors aware the worm has turned keep their tyrant conduct in check.

That’s what “the Silent Generation” means when it erroneously states “Nobody wants to work anymore.” They’re angered that it appears nobody wants to work as they once did.

Fearful of losing jobs they were grateful to have even if it meant being humiliated throughout a career. For far too many laboring Americans that was the take-it-or-leave-it pact until Covid.

Current attitudes spreading regarding how one’s daily bread is earned reflects badly on “the Silent Generation.” They put up with shit because in return for a comfortable living standard made possible through a decent salary, benefits, and pensions, the boss could release his inner Attila the Hun on them at will. Rotten management will never hide its contempt for the cogs. Before Covid, underlings could be replaced as easily as getting a fresh tissue after soiling the previous sheet.

Then, even getting raises could’ve grown into ordeals. Despite workplace performances justifying the bump how often had the process transformed productive employees into nearly on their knees supplicants?

We may suppose “the Silent Generation” invented some nobility about enduring these trials. We may also suppose them seeing a new generation come along and blithely chucking the old nature for new measures somehow tarnishes whatever glory had shined jobs offering two-weeks-a year vacation.

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