Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

May Day

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Total Black: $2,577.29
Total Red: $235,585.30

It’s May Day.  The day nearly everyone else in the world celebrates labor.  But not here.  In the United States it’s Loyalty Day today.  Did you proclaim your loyalty yet? 

Historically in many Western countries the first of May signified the day when people welcomed the end of the colder months and the start of the warmth of spring and summer.  Maypole celebrations and that jazz.  Fertility celebrations and such.  And, as with nearly all pre-Christian celebrations, the Catholic church integrated May Day as well.  May is now the month to celebrate the Virgin Mary.  As a child in the small Catholic elementary school I attended Sister Victoria processed the third and fourth graders around the classroom one year—during May—carrying a construction-paper crown on a pillow.  We then adorned the statue of Mary with the crown we created.  If I recall correctly, each day a different child’s crown got placed on the statute.  So pagan really now in retrospect.

I’m not sure about the linkage, but somehow celebrations for the start of summer became interwoven with commemorating labor movements and efforts to push back against unfair and oppressive work conditions.  But then communists usurped labor movements and made the “worker” its icon and (dare I say it) the enemy of the United States.  “Union” has become an insult in this  country.  I touched on some of this history back in Laborious Labor Day, but I didn’t really address the class implications.  Today’s labors brought this to mind when I worked a Gazillion Bubble Show birthday party.

Today four of us worked the party: me, Party Girl, and two other ushers.  It’s an expensive party and this patron was having difficulties making ends meet.  In addition to paying for the space and the labor, parents pay for tickets to the Gazillion Bubble Show for all the attendees as well as Me in a Bubble pictures for the kids (and sometimes the parents too).  Party Girl offered the mom a few concessions: she brought their own chairs and tables for the adults.  She brought her own food as well.  But still this was supposed to be a very large party.  And on weekends we have a short window to get everyone in, feed ’em, entertain ’em, and get them back out again: those few hours between the matinée and evening performances.

No Hello Kitty tiaras today like in Overactive Imagination.  Just a whole lot of food.  Mounds and mounds of food actually.  I first heard about this party a few days ago when the birthday party coordinator asked me if I wanted to work it.  I said sure.  I’m not that comfortable around children.  Maybe I’m too afraid of making an ass out of myself.  Doing that with friends is one thing.  With strangers, and with children—a whole other ball of wax.  Plus children, especially teenagers, have been my mortal enemies since I was once one myself.  They’ve got this eerie insight that they do not hesitate to use.  Sharp, scathing little monsters.  Generally, then, I avoid the game playing and such and stick to serving the food, cleaning up, taking care of that end of things while the other ushers entertain.  Plus, I do find it a bit odd that two or three grown adult men—by chance (or design?) all gay—are playing games with these children while Party Girl organizes in the background.  But I digress.

What struck me today about this was the poignant clash between classes.  When I first heard about the financial hiccups along the way, I envisioned some Upper West Side woman looking to impress her Society friends by spending gobs of money on a birthday party.  Either that or a family like the one depicted in the bubble picture above who would mortgage their home for Daddy’s Little Princess.  Instead a fairly large black woman met us at the back door to the theatre.  That surprised me, not only for the reasons just stated, but because impression Party Girl conveyed was not of a single mom trying to make a wonderful memory for her little girl but of some Mad Mom, so to speak.  Immediately my mood shifted and I attempted to remind everyone—since Party Girl had already infected all of us with her frustrations over coordinating the party with the mother—that it was for the children, not the parents.  That was met with a groan.

Later on, once everything had been eaten or wrapped up and taken home, and the kids danced and ran around, and the mad rush to get all 40+ people plus the remains of their three six-foot long subs sandwiches was complete, Party Girl and I were in the Time Out New York Lounge having a drink when a co-worker came over to tell us that the mother expressed to him what a wonderful time she had and how happy her daughter was.  She mentioned that she’s a single mom and all she has is her kids and this day would be a great memory for them.  And her.  Party Girl, however, wanted none of that.  She could care less.  All she could think of was the stress from trying to coordinate the event, the multiple emails and telephone calls to hammer down the details, and the hassle of arranging everything.  But swimming under that current was something else.  Once our co-worker shared the mother’s kind words with us, Party Girl commented to our co-worker, himself African-American, how “ghetto” the mom and her guests were.  And she followed that up with an observation about how beautiful the birthday girl was and how pretty her sister was with perfect teeth.  That nearly broke my heart.

Announcement time: please don’t comment on black people’s teeth or their diction.  Leave their mouths alone, will you?  It’s not considered a compliment to tell a black man that he’s “well spoken. ”  Because the underlying assumption is that black people do not speak well.  Therefore you think you’re complimenting him (or her) on standing out, getting ahead of the pack he or she is leaving behind.  That may be true.  But more often—as in the comments of Harry Reid or Joe Biden vis-a-vis Barack Obama—what you’re really doing is proclaiming your own lack of interaction with black people in general, and particularly your own ignorance of the black upper-classes.  By complimenting an African-American on her or his diction, you push that individual back into the “ghetto” category—from whence they may never have come—only to pull them back out again.  And as for teeth?  White people commenting on black people’s teeth hearkens back to times of slavery when, like horses or cattle, prospective slave owners examined the teeth and gums of slaves for signs of illness.  Not a nice image to call to mind when trying to compliment someone.

Class is very alive today in American society.  And I suspect it’s the unspoken prejudice many of us harbor.  But to be frank, there’s two varieties of “lower class.”  There’s your white trash / ghetto common-garden variety: generally un- or under-educated folk, not very polite or considerate, often grossly lacking in basic manners and social niceties.  They may smoke cigarettes, or drink, or both.  They often say crass things and laugh at their own nastiness.  You may even see them showcased on faux-talk shows.  The raspy voice of some greasy-spoon waitress springs to mind.  They’re the “type” you instinctively feel you shouldn’t trust to watch your valuables while you run to the bathroom quickly at the airport.  But there’s a second type that people often confuse with the first: also lower-income but also hard-working folk, just trying to live their lives and make ends meet.  They’re dressed nicely.  Clean—as in washed.  Maybe not sporting top designers but you’re not embarrassed to be seen walking with them.  Think the “Roseanne” show or perhaps “Good Times.”

Clearly the mom for today’s birthday party was part of the “Good Poor” class yet Party Girl lumped her in with the “Ghetto Poor.”  No, the mom wouldn’t return home to a doorman building.  And so what if she had difficulty gathering the money for the party.  She was our patron.  And she was polite and courteous to us.  Her daughter was beautifully dressed and the children well-behaved.  The mother asked us to share their food and she tipped us fairly generously: one hundred dollars, twenty-five dollars a piece.  But Party Girl didn’t see a single mom trying to make a memory for her daughter.  She saw a Jerry Springer-style Ghetto Mom that she had to “serve” because it was her job to, but one she certainly wasn’t going out of her way for.

On International Labor Day—except here in the United States—I’m left wondering how Party Girl might have responded had today’s mom been a Mad Mom, fully equipped with her Coach bag and Prada shoes.  She probably wouldn’t have tipped us at all, frankly.

Total black is hovering steadily.  I suppose it’s actually up by $25 but I don’t calculate into total black any cash on hand.  Total red, unfortunately, is also steadily hovering.  Neither will be moving much until after I get started settle things in the new location.

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