Thursday, December 10, 2009

Driving to work in northern New Jersey

Most of the time they’re invisible, these men and women who leave their homes in the Poconos long before daylight to work at menial jobs in New York City, or warehouse jobs in Newark, buzzing along I-80 through the bare hills of western New Jersey in their beat-up Corollas and Sonatas, two or three to a car, dark-skinned people you never pay attention to unless someone points them out when they get pulled over by the cops, women and men you never hear from because they’re too tired to raise their voices, even when some pundit starts bellyaching about their children and drugs, about the need to speak English and the failure of our schools to inculcate our values into our citizens, these unfashionable men and women who live in cheap houses in the leftover woods, far away from fine culture and fancy shopping, carrying impossible mortgages, heavy-set, in poor health, on medication, protecting their miniscule slice of the American pie, trying to gain a toe-hold on the sheer surface of the American Dream.

How do they figure into your vision of the good life, the orderlies, janitors, stock-pickers, kitchen help, mailroom clerks, delivery boys, bus drivers, garbage collectors, the people with heavy accents wearing simple uniforms, whose work day stretches from night to night? And what effin right do you have to imagine the good life on their behalf?

You see them at the canteen truck on County Road in Secaucus, kibitzing with the lanky mustachioed dude who sells them buttered rolls and jelly donuts, laughing at their own jokes, huddled around steaming containers of sweet coffee, already up for hours, one or two of them smoking, but not like they used to, living the good life, got a job that pays well, got a roof over their heads, men and women no different from anybody else around here, always listening to music, sexual music, singing along to the music of the heart and soul. You see them dancing.

You think it's romantic, this turgid god-obsessed narrative we call the American Dream? You know, the one featuring the noble savage, the pitiable immigrant, the holy fool, the dangerous stranger, the disappeared, the shiftless, the hired hands, the poor, the masses, the rabble,
those people. Go ahead, speed up and drive on, put a little aesthetic distance between them and your fat arse. Don't worry, they couldn't care less whether you pray to their god or not.

Most of the time they're invisible, these women and men who work so hard, who carry their lives on their backs and still find time to dance and sing. You don't even think about them except when you need them. Then you realize how impoverished
your world really is.

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