Yesterday was Labor Day. The holiday was first celebrated in New York City in the latter part of the 1800s. In 1894, Congress passed a law officially making the first Monday in September a national holiday to celebrate America's workforce.
The intent of the holiday was to set aside a day so that all citizens of this great nation could have time to reflect on the wonderful accomplishments made on the sweat and backbreaking toil of millions of workers. With the passage of time, the meaning behind Labor Day has shifted, as is often the case with holidays in general.
For instance, Presidents' Day was originally set aside to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and their great deeds as commanders in chief of the United States of America. Today, of course, most people look forward to Presidents' Day as the time of the year when carpet companies run sales promising the lowest prices ever.
Memorial Day was originated to honor the countless men and women who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield in defense of our nation. Now, when the fourth Monday in May rolls around, it is not uncommon to see a man from Western New York wipe a tear from his eye as he wistfully remembers the hours of his life spent in the orange seats of Buffalo's now-closed Arena, squinting through binoculars and asking his buddy next to him, "What happened? Did we score?"
Labor Day is no different. For most Americans, yesterday was a day to say goodbye to the summer. Time for one last fling, to have a picnic in the park or a swim at the beach. For kids, it was a last 24-hour reprieve from the return to school.
I decided that I would get back to the roots of Labor Day, and spent yesterday in quiet reflection on the homegrown American worker. My thoughts did not travel to the types of jobs most commonly referred to when discussing the dedication of the workforce -- vocations like firefighter, assembly-line worker or construction-site foreman. I thought instead of jobs that people actually do that most of us take for granted, because they are things that we would never want to do ourselves.
For instance, take Porta-Potties. They're at just about every Western New York summer venue. Be it a fair, a concert or a ballgame, you can be sure that the little blue boxes will be Johnny-on-the-spots. This may not be the most pleasant topic to discuss in the newspaper, but somebody's got to clean out these suckers after hundreds of people have duly processed the shortcake at the Lewiston Peach Festival. Is that a job you'd take -- even on a dare? Me neither. So to Mr. or Mrs. Portable-Toilet Cleaner, my hat's off to you. Here's hoping that every intoxicated guy will take the time to lift the seat, if just to make your job a little easier.
I also spent some time meditating on the image of concrete barriers. You know, the ones that are lined up sporadically along the Thruway to break traffic off into single lanes and force men to revert to the "10 o'clock, 2 o'clock" method of holding onto the steering wheel? Who delivers and installs these things? Sometimes they go on for miles and miles -- each one weighing as much as 10 men, or Marlon Brando at the very least. For the thousands of times that I've driven alongside these barriers, I've never seen a crew taking them down or putting them up. That, in and of itself, is an amazing feat. Would I want the job of loading and putting into place tons of backbreaking barriers? No way. Am I glad that there are people out there that have business cards that read "Concrete Barrier Engineer"? You betcha.
In the middle of all of this reflection, as I paused to put on a new shirt that my wife had purchased for me, I reached into the pocket and pulled out a tag that read "Inspected by No. 7." I've never met a clothes inspector -- for all I know I may have stood next to one countless times at the grocery store -- and I'm quite sure that it is another job that just wouldn't suit me. Too tedious. Can you imagine spending all day pulling at the seams of a pair of jeans or the pockets of a button-down dress shirt? But thanks to their hard work, Americans everywhere can stand up and sit down with complete confidence that their clothing will stay securely around their ever-growing body mass. Here's to you, No. 7. Say hello to No. 6 and No. 8 for me, will you?
I have to admit that I've always been fascinated by the work of a well-organized crew. So it was not surprising when my mind wandered to the work done by auditorium crews on the days of dual games in multiple sports. For instance, there are a few days on the yearly calendar when the New York Rangers play a matinee game at Madison Square Garden, followed by the New York Knicks playing an evening game of basketball at the same venue. On those rare occasions, the flooring crew orchestrates a masterful transformation process, which many times eclipses the level of teamwork and cohesion demonstrated by the two professional home teams.
Watching these fine folks work is like watching one of those time-lapse videos of the life of a flower over a summer of openings and foldings. Here's to you, auditorium floor crewmember -- there'd be no multi-millionaire sports icons without you.
Other than athletes, it seems that no segment of our population gets into more trouble than do politicians. When a man of the people puts his foot in his mouth, there's only one direction he can turn for aid -- a spin doctor. It must be a crazy life, that of a spin doctor. Your boss is on a tour of Asia and you get a call at 3 a.m.
"He said what? Oh, fer chrissakes, what was he thinking? Never mind, stupid question."
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, a politician will let something spill forth from his or her mouth that will cause printing presses to whirr. So, to all of the spin doctors among us, happy Labor Day.
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, my thoughts swam to the hardest-working segment of American society -- the long-suffering farmer. We take their labor for granted on just about a daily basis, when we sit down to have our meat and potatoes at the family dinner table.
Look at a farmer's plight. If there is no rain, the crops die and the farmer goes hungry. If there is too much rain, the crops die and the farmer goes hungry. If the rain ratio is just right, there is a bumper crop, and the farmer must undersell his crop, and he ends up going hungry.
Kind of a lousy trend, isn't it?
Add in governmentally controlled mega-farms and the little farmer doesn't stand a chance. Nobody deserves a day of rest more than the forever-toiling American farmer. On behalf of citizens from coast to coast, I salute you.
For those of you still shaking out the last of summer's sand from your shorts, I hope you'll take a belated moment and pay homage to everyone who punches in and out of work each day.
Remember that it is just over a month until the next major holiday -- Columbus Day -- when we offer tribute to the great director of the first two Harry Potter movies.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||September 2 2003|