(Illustration: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)
For a number of years, the running joke about me among my friends was that, because I write for a living, I'm a bum. They didn't really mean it, and there was definitely a tinge of envy in their voices when they cracked on me about it - after all, my commute to work is the 15 feet from my bed to my desk, and wearing pants is entirely optional in my "office" - but there it is. These friends of mine are people who bust their asses for a living, as security guards and in hot restaurant kitchens and in windowless offices and in crowded classrooms and behind bar tops and pedaling bicycle rickshaws filled with inebriated low-tipping tourists back and forth between downtown hotels and Fenway Park, and so the fact that I sat at home reading and writing every day made me an easy mark.
That all changed when the economy got eaten by a bunch of white-collar hedge fund bandits in Washington and New York. It stopped being funny to rank on people about their jobs when it seemed like everyone we knew was either in danger of losing theirs or already had. It stopped being funny when the money got tight. And I stopped hearing the jokes about my profession when my own financial security required I take a second job.
Since nobody anywhere was hiring anyone for anything, I took the best gig I could find, which turned out to be bouncing at a bar. Several nights a week, I pushed away from my keyboard to stand outside a door on a frigid street in a black shirt and check IDs, throw out drunks and keep the peace, such as it was. The gig also involved hauling out garbage, sweeping up cigarette butts, dumping beer swill buckets, polishing tables and dragging dripping boxes of empty beer bottles out behind the building at the end of the night. The pay wasn't great, and my work on average wasn't done until 4:00 AM, but it was enough to make the difference between eating and not eating, and I've been at it ever since.
The job is as blue-collar as you can get, which is nothing new for me. I had my first job before I was ten years old, working the snack bar at a scruffy little public golf course, which later became mowing the entire place and raking every sand trap once I was tall enough to see over the steering wheel of the machinery. Growing up, I never had less than two jobs, and usually had three. I've cleaned septic tanks, served ice cream, rented videos, delivered pizzas, and for one memorably nightmarish season, sold men's underwear for six bucks an hour at a Filene's department store.
About 15 years ago, however, I moved into white-collar office work, and then became a teacher, and then a full-time writer, which I suppose you could define as "no collar" to go along with "no pants." However you define it, the fact of the matter was that it had been a very long time since I'd done a job whose sole requirement was having a strong back and a good right hook, and I realized very quickly that my friend's jokes about my writing career were not entirely misplaced. I'd been in my own cushy writing bubble long enough to forget what sore feet and long nights feels like at the end of a week, and while I'm not saying writing is easy, it is definitely soft by comparison.
The best part about my night job is that most everyone who goes there to drink works very, very, very hard for a living. A great many of them smoke, and since Boston banned butts in bars more than seven years ago, I get to spend a great deal of time talking to the customers out on the sidewalk when they come out to light up. Given the nature of my day job, these conversations invariably turn political, and so, in a very weird and interesting way, I have become something of an informal pollster on the issues of the day. It is a wildly unscientific process, to be sure, given that the people I "poll" are at least partially if not fully in the bag, and that our conversations tend to last only as long as it takes them to choke a butt, but it has been a revelatory experience nonetheless.
The short version of my "findings" boils down to this: people are pissed off and scared. They work too hard for too little, and just spent the last year watching fat cat pols in DC dicker and dither over a health care "reform" bill even the experts don't seem to fully understand. They've watched their jobs, futures and family security explode like the Hindenburg, only to open a newspaper and read about scumbag CEOs and thieving brokerage houses raking in millions in bonuses and billions in profits as a reward for stealing everything but the spoons in the sideboard. They want the heads of these people to roll, and they want jobs, and they want their futures back, and if the politicians who have thus far failed to get this done were on fire in front of them, they wouldn't piss on them to put them out.
So, screw my writing, my political analysis and my cushy little no-collar perspective. This is the bouncer talking, and these people in Washington had better listen good. This push for financial regulation and reform that's about to happen had better be the real deal, had better have some big sharp teeth, and had better include putting some fat Wall Street fillet-mignon asses in prison for the havoc they have wreaked on the lives of millions of good, decent and diligent workers who deserve better.
George W. Bush and his people got a walk for the flagrant crimes they committed, and we've watched these Wall Street criminals thus far escape equally scot-free, and I am here to tell you, the view from the sidewalk is nothing but livid little people who wonder what it has to take before someone goes to jail for being a crook.
I'd say more, but I can't right now. My night job is expecting me.