At the Bottom
by John Marran
Weve all heard expressions like way down on the food chain and didnt make the food chain--hes plankton.
Well, here are a few remarks in defense of plankton and the last few links of the chain: the $5.50-an-hour folks; the no-health-benefits, no-retirement-plan, no-stock-options, no-bonuses, no-paid vacations, no-private-parking-space, no-perks, no-timeshare-vacation-getaway, no-golden-handshake, no-golden-parachute, no-nothin folks.
Reflections about these bottom dwellers began to take shape a long time ago, when a youngster on foot or bike used to deliver our newspaper. Then we had a change of paperboys. The new kid, despite kind, gracious and repeated urging, would not on rainy mornings throw the paper just a little further to reach the porch, but instead left it soaking on the front stoops.
There is a Zen saying: A wet paper that cannot be read is the same as no paper at all. We canceled our subscription.
Then the reflecting began.
The editor of our newspaper could, one rainy morning, clutch his chest, be rushed to the hospital, have quadruple bypass surgery, and spend five weeks convalescing, but the paper would continue to roll seamlessly and smoothly off the presses, and no subscriber would quit.
Not for a moment is it suggested that the paperboy is more important than the editor, but where the rubber meets the road and the paper hits the porch is in the hands of the paperboy. Hes the last link in the chain, but what an important link. The editor may be ailing, but well still get a paper. If some last-link guy craps out--no paper.
About a year ago I was visiting an old friend (now deceased) at his total care facility (aka nursing home). He had been failing for about a year (that makes us passing?). Cancer was the last demon he was to face, and he was mounting a brave last encounter.
Because he was plagued with incontinence, he needed frequent attention (interesting similarities between our condition shortly after our planetary arrival and shortly before our departure). At the nurses station I was told someone would be along to look in on him.
In less than a couple of minutes, an energetic nurses aid came into the room. She was pleasant. I left the room for privacys sake. When I returned, my friend said, Theres a lot of people around here that I could do without, but shes not one of them.
I knew what he meant.
Now I keep running into these last-link people everywhere. They collect my garbage; they wait on me at cheap restaurants, convenience stores, and cut-rate department stores. Although some arent worth much, most are great.
It is impossible to say if a living wage would improve the quality of their work, but it might be worth a try. Its obvious that a living wage would improve the quality of their lives.
( By the way, whats the opposite of a living wage?)
(c) COPYRIGHT 2001 JOHN MARRAN. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.