I wrote a column a short while back about teachers who didn’t want to go back to school until they could be guaranteed that everything was safe.
The reaction to my suggestion that teachers shouldn’t demand absolute guarantees of safety, which is pretty much what they’ve been doing, made me think about other "essential" workers during this time of crisis, people who really have no other choice than to show up for work and hope that the gods and a competent Secretary of Health are protecting them.
In particular, I thought about sanitation workers.
In the Philadelphia area where I live, the trash has been piling up.
That is a function of several things, including a number of personnel calling in sick, a larger volume of trash produced by the hoards of stay-at-home workers, and the difficulty of dealing with other people’s waste products when you are trying to stay safe yourself.
I understand this, and I haven’t opened my mouth once to complain about the piles of trash on my street.
I really haven’t.
You know why I haven’t?
His name was Michael Fusco.
Mike, as his friends called him, was a sweet-tempered beanpole of a man, with a mischievous expression in his brown eyes, a weathered faced even in his early 40s, calloused hands, and a contagious smile.
His loves were his wife Mamie, unfiltered Chesterfields, flannel shirts, and his first grandchild: Me.
Mike was also the hardest worker I’ve ever met, and in my 58 years I’ve met a lot of conscientious people. But my "Pop Pop" woke up before the crack of dawn, had his coffee, Stella D’Oro and first cigarette, then went out to clean up everyone else’s messes.
In the Philadelphia of the 1940s and 1950s, before the days of recycling and the "greening of America," there were mountains of unsavory messes.
But Mike went out there every day, and then came home and scrubbed up before he allowed Mamie to kiss him. Ironically, he was the cleanest man in the 49th Street neighborhood of West Philly. Spending your hours around the refuse made by strangers makes you understand the importance of soap.
It also whips any sort of pretention out of your system.
Mike encountered a lot of things in his travels that were rejected by their original owners, but when he got a hold of them, they gained new life.
I was the beneficiary of dollhouses, and rocking chairs, and stuffed animals, and a vanity set that was grander than anything Princess Diana would have owned.
He painted, polished, carved, glued and hammered the trash of others into beloved memories for his granddaughter.
And before I was even born, that job took a year of his life from him.
Traveling on the back of a truck, he fell off and broke his back when the driver awkwardly navigated a corner. By some miracle, he was not paralyzed, but spent months in bed convalescing while his wife had to support a family of five on a few dollars a week.
They did it. They managed. They didn’t complain.
Today, we complain about everything. We are a weaker breed.
And we are much more arrogant toward others, which is ironic since some of us are wedded to this politically correct ideal of not saying the wrong thing.
We refuse to give offense with our words. But our actions, they speak volumes.
So these days, people don’t generally care about the sensibilities and sensitivities of the folk who clean up after them. They don’t tie their bags completely, they don’t separate their garbage, they don’t think how disgusting it might be for a stranger to handle the remains of last night’s hangover or that moldy bread you forgot was in the back of the cupboard.
One of the likely reasons they don’t is because, as one man told me when I mentioned Mike’s story to him, they "Pay taxes, dammit, and it’s a service."
Someone else told me that the sanitation workers willingly entered the field, so they shouldn’t be complaining.
And the interesting thing is, unlike the teachers, most of them haven’t complained, despite the snide comments and preachy editorials from what I like to call the Perpetually Offended.
I suppose there are just certain types of folk who roll up their sleeves, walk out the door, and do the jobs they are paid to do.
Mike Fusco was one of them. I wish, I so truly wish, there were more.
Christine Flowers is a Philadelphian who loves the Eagles but can leave the cheesesteaks. She writes about anything that will likely annoy the majority of people, and in her spare time practices immigration law (which is bound to annoy at least some people). Read Christine Flower's Reports — More Here.
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