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On the alternate Earth where some pundits live, the worst thing to ever befall Americans during the Great Depression was the New Deal. To them, federal recovery programs were wasteful extravagances that straight-jacketed men of wealth from creating jobs while inventing a nation of loafers. Some revisionist historians have even suggested that the Depression wasn’t as bad as people say it was – at least not Grapes of Wrath bad. These Depression deniers and the fairy tales they spread on talk radio and in blogs help explain why today’s political wilderness rings with the sound of falling axes as Congress merrily chops down the social programs that protect the poor, unemployed and injured.
Men and women grow old and die, but there are documents, both large and small, that loudly declare these new interpretations of the Depression to be the myths they are. One of the small but forceful records is White Collar,
Imagine your neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor and their neighbor . . . plus the most disgusting fast-food joint you can envision (Grade C in the window), the nearest gas station, the local pet store and an auto repair shop to boot.
Now, imagine all their trash coming at you on an endless conveyor belt – faster than chocolates on I Love Lucy .
Your job: to dig in and pull out the recyclables.
Thousands of workers, often immigrant Latinas, do this all day, every day, at material recovery facilities (MRFs) across Southern California. Many of these MRFs are grim, post-apocalyptic jalopy buildings that would have been perfect as sets for Blade Runner.
The workers are called “sorters,” and they’re at the front line of a shadow industry that desperately needs to be reigned in. They sort and sort and sort .
Remember August’s “Tower Guy” story? I happened to be working at the computer that night, when I heard my wife gasp from the other room, where she was watching the evening news. “Get in here,” she called, “some guy is having a Howard Beale moment!”
Turns out that she was watching KTLA, where police had just arrested someone for climbing Channel 5’s steel tower on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood—apparently he got some 30 feet into the air before the cops got him down. Was this some sort of crazy stunt by a thrill-seeker? An attempted suicide? A promo for some new reality show? Who could know? After all, the blurb in the L.A. Times was content to conclude that “it was unclear why he began traversing the metal tower.”
Of course, the dominant narrative is that the guy must be nuts. The cops sent a Mental Evaluation Unit.
Today’s uncertainty is tomorrow’s unemployment. At least that’s the way it seems to most of us who are teens and young adults. And so far, no one’s told us different.
We are growing anxious. The job market is down. College tuition is up. More and more, it feels as though the deck is stacked against us, with government busy looking out for the unemployed of the present, neglecting the unemployed of the future, and the private sector ignoring the unemployed all together.
Beyond that, we face a decision that seems to be lose-lose. If we graduate high school — which, believe me, many of us do not — we have the choice to go to college (if we can get in) or start hunting for work (if we can get an interview). The former situation guarantees us hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt over our next few decades.
I am an 84-year-old social activist – a calling that began in Pittsburgh, where I was recruited in 1942 at the age of 15 (69 years ago — oy) to organize an attempt to buy Jews out of Nazi Europe. That experience gave some focus to a world gone mad and, I believe, saved my adolescence. (And we had fun!) I have never since left “the fold” — who would I be if activism were not an important part of my identity?
Lately, though, I’ve been considering a new persona as I transition into my precious remaining years, asking myself, What? and Who? and How? This is where the Frying Pan comes in – by inviting me to post my thoughts about my plans here. Will these be more of the same? (And I do mean “same.” How many times can I gather up the passion and energy to work for peace,