The Value of Work

21 Apr

When I was fourteen my mom made me get a job.  She was really hell bent on this, as soon as you can start working legally, you start working.  I don’t mean to make her sound mean—this was perfectly normal.  I imagine someone had made her start working the literal second it was legal as well.  On the east coast, at least 20 years ago, there wasn’t an underclass of immigrants doing all the gigs that teenagers could do.  You’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, you get a job. I wish it were like that out here; you’d see more fourteen year old girls working retail.

Anyway, she made me get a job.  And again, not to be mean, and not to make me give her the money or pay rent to live in my own childhood home or any shit like that– I got to keep the money.  But just to teach me some lesson about the value of work. Or some other, more jaded lesson.  Something about how all work sucks and is useless and horrible and the value that you actually get out of your labor isn’t shit compared to what some rich property owning guy makes, some guy who ninety nine times out of one hundred inherited some position in society where it would be easy to have these things.  To own a McDonald’s franchise or whatever.

So my first gig was working on a cranberry farm.  Not a bad gig at all, considering, it was for some family friends who were perfectly nice.  I was working with the farmer’s daughter and the other girl who carpooled with us to school, in these cranberry bogs.  For those of you who don’t know how the cranberry comes to your table or juice pak or whatever—it’s a swamp-dwelling fruit,  a crawling vine that grows in cold, moist sand.  It’s emblematic of southeastern Massachusetts, I think, because it’s a scrubby, twisty little plant that scratches out a bare existence in the miserly, unyielding mire.  In sand lashed by salt water, peppered with rocks.  It crouches in these frigid swamps and yields a berry so hard and bitter that if you actually ate it it would hurt you. It would damage your digestive tract.  And this is the only fruit that grows in any numbers in the area.  In order to make it palatable you have to pump it with sugar, which of course, Puritan settlers did not have.  They sweetened their food with pine cones or something.  Sugar would probably have been viewed as satanic somehow.  But anyway, this was the fruit they had, and they must have seen it as fitting.  Eating this fruit is a punishment.

My job was to walk around in these giant man-made swamps and pull out rock maple saplings.  Little eight inch high trees with a tap root that went all the way to the fucking Earth’s core, and if you didn’t extract every inch of tap root, the tree would immediately spring back stronger than before.  It’s weird, to be—to be killing trees, for one thing, when every public service announcement, every park ranger on a field trip, is telling you trees are a precious fragile resource and hey little boys and girls, we must be stewards of the forest and etc., and then your first job is getting paid four dollars an hour to walk around ripping up trees.  And it’s weird to be, like—you leave one millimeter of tap root in the ground, and this fucking tree will be back in full form tomorrow. I am fucking impressed by that.  I feel bad killing this organism that is so fucking resilient and badass.

But the thing that JUST occurred to me is that this swamp maple that I was going around killing is the same fucking tree that produces maple syrup.  The only non-bee-infested source of sugar in the American northeast. If people, starting with colonials, had simply left the fucking swamp alone, they could have had huge stands of natural, impossible to fuck up trees that required NO EFFORT to grow and produced sweet delicious sugar.  Instead, there are hundreds of years of backbreaking labor going into coddling a hard, bitter, inedible fruit.  This is the true value of work– generally, if you just leave things alone, things will end up pretty much OK and nature will take care of it.  But if you throw in hundreds of years of human ingenuity, effort, and exploitation of one’s fellow man, you can get it so that you have something that is much worse than before.

2 Responses to “The Value of Work”

  1. pffffffftttsssssssiimmbllllllddddddnnnnnnnnn August 21, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    One of my best fishing spots is a set of abandoned cranberry bogs down in the Pine Barrens in Jersey. There’s tons of em down there, as a matter of fact, Ocean Spray even has a bottling plant down there. These particular ones are kind of hidden, you can’t access them from the main road, you have to walk about a half mile back in the woods down some trails – the Pine Barrens is crisscrossed with a maze of trails. Some of them are firebreaks built by the fire departments to do their controlled burns, some of them are quad trails, some of them date all the way back to the revolutionary war; supposedly the colonists cleared them to throw off invading British troops – they lead to nowhere, loop back on one another, etc., pirates, poachers, runaway slaves, and fugitives during that time also used to use the Pine Barrens as a hideaway, so some were built by them. So, anyway, there’s three of them in a row seperated by these narrow strips of land like you would see in some asian rice paddy (I don’t know the name for these things, you probably do) most of these strips are washed out, connected by makeshift duckboard walkways built by anglers. The trail leading from the main road connects to these narrow strips and you can walk out along them and fish the banks. This place is pristine; it’s like a fucking sanctuary. There’s beaver dams in the bogs, you see beavers swimming around. painter turtles sunning themselves on half-submerged logs. Bluegills the size of your head, huge largemouth bass, chain pickerel the size of pike, redbreast sunnies, yellow perch, and the fish are clean and healthy looking. Most spots you fish in SOuth Jersey are next to
    fucking oil refineries, or right next to the highway where you have to listen to an endless stream of cars and trucks thundering past. Not exactly the tranquil environment I find ideal for fishing. You can fish in Philly, too, but it’s something like this:

    So this spot down in the Pine Barrens is a pretty well kept secret. The only other people I run into there are a handful of local “Pineys” South Jersey’s version of rednecks, and the Mexican day laborers that work the blueberry fields and functioning cranberry bogs around the area. What’s funny, I ripped into illegal immigrants in another comment; all the blueberry farms are owned by Italians who came over to work as day laborers for the original WASP landowners around the turn of the century. They faced all kinds of discrimination; the local KKK chapter tried to drive them out – these evil Roman Catholics. My great-grandparents emigrated to North Jersey and Philly LEGALLY, but still, some Scots-Irish dude around 1913 was probably going on rants similar to mine about my ancestors: “Fucking dirty eye-talians taking all our jobs.” I tried to give a bunch of these Mexicans a “steward of the forest” speech one day. They keep everything they catch to eat. Like 10 of them will come at a time packed into some 86 honda civic with a Mexican flag CD hanging from the rearview and flame decal stickers running down the side of it. They pile out of them like one of those fucking clown cars in the circus and yank as many fish as they can out of the lake to take home and fry up. So I went over to them one day and I says to em “you know you keep pulling all these fish out of here and there ain’t gonna be none left to catch.” They just stood there staring at me like I had three fucking heads. Then one of them tried to speak to me in English, but it was so broken I couldn’t understand what the fuck he was saying, so I just walked away. They’re generally nice people, and they’re hard fucking workers, but they are problematic. This ain’t 1913, eventually you gotta say enough is enough; we’re closed.

    Here’s some pictures of the spot, the beaver dam:

    Here’s those narrow strips of land:

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure the Indians cultivated cranberries before the arrival of the Puritans, and maple syrup doesn’t really have any nutritional value. That woulda ruined the moral of the story, though.


  1. Shit Jobs: McDonald’s « delicioustacos - January 27, 2013

    […] was sixteen and my mom made me get a job.  Again.  Learn the value of work.  She was right, it’s a lesson I retain decades later: the value of work is less than […]

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