Thursday 08 Dec 2016

Price Tags on My Life
AJ Robinson

In honour of Labour Day, I got to thinking about what it meant to me to be a worker, an engineer. It wasn’t just that I enjoyed my work. I always loved the idea of creating things, building things.

One of my proudest projects was the county courthouse for Seminole County, here in Florida. I remember the day my boss gave me a sheet of paper and ask me to list the names of the people in our office who had worked on the project; the names were for the plaque on the front of the building.

At first, I just wrote his and mine. Then I thought about it. Others deserved mention.

I added the office secretary, the receptionist, some of the drafting staff and so on. Anyone and everyone who’d so much as run a copy or answered a phone call concerning the courthouse, I put them on the list. I figured they’d helped; why not let them have their names etched in bronze, too.

It was a good life. My family and I liked being part of the Middle Class. That’s in the past now.

I’m not an engineer. I never will be again. At my age, which is almost 50), no firm is going to hire me, even if they were hiring, and they’re not.

There are no large-scale or even small-scale civil projects going on these days. I’m now part of the working poor. I always will be.

As a result, my wife and I downsized. The bank is about to take our house; we’re moving into a small apartment. To that end, we have to rid ourselves of the “bulk” of our lives.

We’ve had moving sales and we’ll have more. At the last one, I watched as people bought the pieces of my life. I looked about our house to see all the things we’d accumulated with price tags on them.

I watched, as our Middle Class life slowly chipped away. I wondered what I had to look forward to over the next twenty years. Working and living pay cheque to pay cheque, wondering if Social Security and Medicare would be there for me when I retired.

I certainly wouldn’t have any sort of retirement fund, no 401k. Those were wiped out when the economy going south. We had to cash several to pay the bills.

With a minimal income and retirement, how would my health be? Would I delay going to the doctor for check-ups to try to save money. Would I not catch something minor until it was too late?

I don’t care much for political grandstanding and, while I think highly of small business people, I don’t particularly like large corporations. They ship jobs overseas, complain about high taxes and government regulations; corporations do nothing to help the Working Class. When I was an engineer, I saw firsthand the regulations they complained about. From my point of view, it seemed the deck was stacked in favour of the big people and made tough for the small businesses.

I wonder, now, how many more working people will see the pieces of their lives taken away, the price tags waving in the wind.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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