This morning I finished a book called Fuck Work. Add you own subtitle! Mine is Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea.
But like you, I am surrounded by the evidence of work. How did the prior Walter put it? Every token or comfort of civilization is a product of some barbarism inflicted on somebody, somewhere.
The magnificent brownstones (and newer structures) in my neighborhood were built by masons who worked their asses off for a living wage. Now they’re maintained by people who have ten buildings or more to supervise.
My book is not meant to obliterate or obscure or otherwise repress the memory of their labor.
Yesterday I hired Eric Beeker, a local kid, he lives across the street, to scrub the balcony, because, as my girlfriend pointed out, it looked way worse for the winter weather—just plain dirty and funky.
Everybody calls him Junior, but I asked him if that was OK, and he said he preferred J.R., which is what Mel (a super), the mayor of 123rd Street calls him. “All right, then,” I said, “It’s J. R.”
Today I took my lunch out on that pristine balcony, 132 square feet of 6 X 9 inch pavers, imagine a floor made of petrified paperbacks and you’ve got the picture. And what did I see? What did I hear?
To my left was the jury-rigged scaffolding of the bricklayers who are tuck-pointing the twelve-floor apartment building on 124th Street (I face north). The poor bastard on the scaffold was trying to right the thing, hoping, I’m sure, to see better than a 45 degree angle, and hoping, I think, not to die.
To my right was the crane that delivers the corrugated metal and rebar that will undergird the concrete floors of the Whole Foods grocery store that rises on 125th and Lenox.
I know something about these procedures. On June 1, 1970, while working for a mason contractor just off the East-West Tollway in Illinois, I fell 27 feet to my death. I still dream about it as if I’m a dead man, looking and falling from the bottom up. I broke my elbow, bruised my hip—my right leg was purple for two months—and suffered a concussion, and that was the end of my life as a working man.
I died to my old self that day. Soon after I applied for admission to Northern Illinois University, having been expelled from Carthage College. The rest is history.
Right across from me, on the fifth floor of 118 West 124th Street, the music was loud, people were dancing, and somebody was snapping out instructions to the beat of her own clapping hands. The boarded-up building, where abandoned mattresses once filled every balcony, had become a rehearsal space!
I couldn’t see them, but I could hear that she and her students were working their asses off. I ate my lunch with a smile.