Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day!

A few years ago, a 'This American Life' episode set out to determine, scientifically, if we have a shared sense of what qualifies as good and bad music. They consulted with musicologists, fans, critics, and artists to determine the elements of a good vs. bad song. The good qualities were things like a melody, a memorable chorus, and a pleasing vocal quality (whatever that means). The bad qualities were children's voices, abrupt changes in tempo, and lyrics involving the holidays. Then they hired musicians to write one song incorporating the good qualities and another indulging the bad.

You can probably guess the outcome: the 'good' song was an unqualified disaster: a milquetoast combination of Michael Bolten and Josh Groban on downers. The 'bad' song was a mess, but a magnificent one, and this time of year I find myself getting those wonderfully awful kids shrieking, "Labor Daaay! . . . Labor Daaay!" stuck in my head in a rolling loop.

This year, in honor of Labor Day, I want to salute my hard-working neighbors:

* Fernando, who's typically just getting home from work as I leave for my 7am jog, but always has a harried smile, never misses his children's basketball games, and will send his first son to college next year, followed by two more kids after that.

* Leroy, who works with industrial chemicals but has decided to commute on foot the four miles each way, even in the dead of winter, to keep himself feeling healthy.

* Cesar, who fixes cars out of his garage and has passed those skills to his son, also Cesar, who's managed to avoid getting mixed up in the trouble that afflicts most of the young guys here in the neighborhood.

* The hunched woman who collects cans out of the dumpsters on a daily basis, but was spotted buying organic beets at the farmer's market yesterday.

* Strange, unsettling Scott, who wears military fatigues and takes any available shift at O'Hare, but recently managed to coax his diabetic and agoraphobic wife at least as far as the front porch, where he holds her hand and keeps her water glass refilled.

* All the people who couldn't make it to our recent block party because they work on Saturdays (and are probably working today). They make my complaints about my cubicle job seem pretty feeble, even in a world where all things are relative.

Two blocks east of here, most of the residents have office jobs and a closet full of suits. They leave for the train around 8:00 and generally come home no later than 6:00. But from a block east as far west as Oak Park, you find a lot more long hours, graveyard shifts, wage workers, and uniforms. To these good neighbors I say thanks for all you do, and for reminding me how comparatively easy I have it.


LazyMF said...

Great post. Thanks. This is the first thing I've read/heard today with a labor theme. I turned on Fresh Air hoping to hear Terri Gross cover a coupler labor issues. Instead she had on a people to talk about the movies "Wall-e" and "Step Brothers." Well, ummm, like, I guess that's what to expect from Ms. Gross.

tracy said...

We sang taht Labor Day song on Monday morning over breakfast! It's a favorite in our house: "school is out and the pools are open!" I wish I knew more of the lyrics...