We took the dog for a walk through the neighborhood this Sunday morning. There was fog when we awoke, and a bit of moisture still in the air, but it’s been unseasonably cool this past week and very pleasant. July and August are to summer what January and February are to winter: the worst of the season, days and weeks to be “gotten through” on the way to something better. But if this July has been among the more pleasurable on record where weather is concerned – at least in southwestern Ohio - it’s exacted a toll in other ways.
This past week was especially horrific. A Malaysian airliner with nearly 300 people aboard was shot down over Ukraine. Those initial reports were bad enough, but it was horrific to see the evening news with pictures of a devastated crash site, and bodies strewn everywhere and rebels keeping investigators at bay. Imagine hearing that a flight carrying a loved one had been shot down only to turn on the news and possibly glimpse a body or a toy or a belonging you might recognize as the property of that loved one and be told there is no one looking after the site or retrieving the bodies because some government and its rebel forces need to flex their egos and prove who is in charge. At times like this, it’s difficult to understand how the human race has managed to survive its own barbarism for so many centuries.
In our neighborhood this morning it was very quiet. Sundays were a day of rest when I was growing up. Most businesses were closed. People got up, had breakfast, read the newspaper, went to church and maybe visited the grandparents. In the afternoon they sat on patios and read while the kids played in the backyard. Maybe you fell asleep on the couch later watching an afternoon baseball game. You grilled hamburgers outside, and as the nighttime approached the kids were out catching lightning bugs in a jar. The whole idea of the day was to relax, and recharge your batteries for the workweek ahead. For the duration of our walk this morning, it might well have been 1964 instead of 2014. We took note of the many nice looking houses with well-kept yards on the blocks we walked. There are more fences now than I remember as a child. People seem to have affection for those six-foot high wood privacy fences these days. I think they’re an eyesore. I’m all for privacy, but if you live in the suburbs, it seems to me that putting up a fence to keep the neighbors away is missing the whole point of living in the suburbs. If you want that much privacy, move to the country or to the mountains. The rest of the fences we saw were often in need of paint or in a state of disrepair, but that only suggested that the people with those kinds of fences were less concerned with privacy than those with the other kind. I noticed, too, that while many people go to great lengths to beautify their yards, few people trim their trees. I know it can be expensive. But it’s necessary unless you want to undermine all your other work. Still, I don’t want to be too critical. Most people in the neighborhoods here really do seem to care about appearances. When houses go up for sale around here, they’re usually not up for sale long. The streets are quiet as well. There’s not much traffic, and the distant sound of a barking dog or a lonesome train whistle are often the only things you’ll hear for hours.
On days like this, I’m grateful I don’t live in the Middle East. Israel launched an offensive against Gaza this week that has already seen hundreds of casualties. It’s easy to ignore the news coming out of the Middle East on a daily basis because the entire region is in a constant state of conflict. When the quiet subsides in my neighborhood it’s because of children riding their bikes or the squeal of the brakes as the UPS truck stops in front of the house. When the brief and always temporary quiet subsides in Gaza, or Israel or Iraq or Syria, it’s breached by the sound of bombs exploding and people screaming.
The newsfeed on my Facebook page this week was the usual array of cat pictures and cat videos, along with pictures of food, and jewelry, various placards decorated with art and a quote that pertained in some fashion as to how to make the world a better place or your own life more enjoyable, along with a variety of status updates that were usually bereft of any recognizable wit or so opaque as to be pointless to everyone except the person who posted it. These were interrupted frequently by news of the deaths of famous people. The jazz musician Charlie Haden died unexpectedly. The original drummer and last surviving member of The Ramones died. Actress Elaine Stritch died. Guitarist Johnny Winter died as most blues musicians seem to – on the road awaiting his next gig. Actor James Garner passed away just yesterday. These were all people who touched my life in some way, and I felt the passing of each to varying degrees. I asked myself if any of them might have answered in the affirmative if they’d been asked if they were happy to be escaping all the misery and conflict and suffering most of us witnessed this week all around the world? There’s no way I can get an answer to that question, but I think of it these days every time anybody dies. I miss my parents to this day, but I took some comfort in the fact that they both passed before the effects of 9/11/2001 sent the world we all knew spiraling into some kind of chaotic hell from which it appears we may never escape. They’d witnessed the horrors of World War II. That was more than enough.
Any Sunday I’m not working is welcome. I usually get Sundays off, but I’ve had to work more than my share of them lately, and it changes the entire week for me and negatively affects my outlook for the week ahead. I still try to keep my Sundays as they use to be – a day to rest and recharge the batteries. I get to read, sometimes I find time to write, or see some baseball on TV. My job, while I’m grateful to have it, and to be bringing home the modest paycheck that goes with it, is a near constant assault on my concept of integrity, and work ethic, my patience and my sanity. It’s all I can do each day to walk upright from the building and not begin screaming the moment I emerge from the building. The air-conditioning in the part of the building in which I work is still broken. So I’m working in uncomfortable heat and humidity for eight hours. I witness a profound lack of work ethic in many of my co-workers and managers. And if pressed to pick a single word that most accurately describes the work force I’m embarrassed to be part of, the word would be “lazy”. These are people who will not bend over to pick up something they dropped on the floor. They will not, under any circumstances, lift a finger to do anything that they are not required to do – unless it benefits them in some way. They take no pride in doing their jobs well or in earning every dollar they are paid – no matter how minimal. I’m not that way, so I don’t fit in. I usually try to work on my own to avoid witnessing the kind of behavior I use to fire people for exhibiting when I was managing stores. In order to maintain my sanity, I’m forced to stop caring about the outcome of my labor. I can only care about satisfying my own work ethic and my own integrity because I am outnumbered and cannot otherwise have an impact on how efficiently and effectively my work center operates. My days off need to be quiet walks in my neighborhood because my workdays are noisy, and uncomfortable, and, indeed, sometimes dangerous since safety is not and never has been a focus or concern for the company.
But unless I fall off a ladder and split my head open on the concrete floor (where I have no doubt my broken body would lie for days while my co-workers stepped over it, ignoring the inconvenience and refusing to clean up the blood I’d spilled) my job probably won’t really kill me the way a bomb in my neighborhood would or falling out of the sky from 33,000 feet certainly would. Am I the lucky one then? Or are the lucky ones those who perished for whatever reasons this past week? Depends on your perspective, I guess. All I know for certain is that while there are reminders still of the world I knew as a child, the world in which I’m living now is not the one into which I was born. I don’t recognize the people. I don’t understand them. I don’t know why they believe as they do or act as they do. All I know is that I’m not one of them. And I’m proud not to be.
I have an appointment tomorrow to have my eyes checked. I already know I need new glasses. So perhaps it will all look different to me tomorrow. But I doubt it.