What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
— Robert Hayden
There’s this blog I read, How to Be a Retronaut. Read is the wrong word. It’s pictures. Like the Lewis Hine photo to the right titled, “A worker hanging on to two steel beams-1931.”
He’s constructing the Empire State Building.
It took only 410 days to build, by 3,400 workers, many of them desperate for work at the height of the Depression. — Washington Post
The Depression was a bad, bad time. Maybe it was exhilarating hanging on to those girders. Maybe if you had a family to feed in those days, nothing else mattered. According to official records, only one worker fell off the scaffolding. Another threw himself down an elevator shaft when he got a pink slip.
Why did the moron jump off the Empire State Building?
Because he wanted to make a hit on Broadway.
When I was a kid, moron jokes were big. What did we know of political correctness? As a five-year-old I told that joke to my dad, who had lost his job in the Depression. He frowned.
“It wouldn’t be Broadway,” he said. “It’s 5th Avenue and 34th.”
When Depression 2.0 hit, I was fortunate enough to have work. What I do, anesthesia, is a little like hanging on to those girders, but only a little. It’s more like I’m suspending someone else from the girder. If I lose my grip, I’m not the one who falls.
I whined to myself for years about all the things that were wrong with being and becoming a doctor. I resented the way doctorhood always seemed to derail my artistic ambitions. Once, I had a dream that two beat-up, old anesthesiologists showed up on my back porch. Looking like they’d just hopped a train, they needed a handout. Such was the image of contempt I held my profession in.
I know we’re not responsible for our dreams, but still, that one embarrasses me now. When the world went into free fall in 2008, my work was a parachute. All around me, lives splattered to pieces. I touched ground roughly, but standing. My own glorious plans were in ruins, but I was able to replace them with down-to-earth plans.
Now I think it’s glorious to earn your bread by using your hands. Everyone should train their hands to do something.
Nick used to pester me to bring him to the hospital where I work. One Sunday, when he was five, I took him. In an empty operating room, I showed him a gleaming anesthesia machine and let him squeeze the bag.
While we were there, I was called to perform a bedside epidural blood patch on a woman with a severe headache. Nick tagged along. I stationed him in the hall outside the room. When I went inside to speak to the woman, Nick poked his head around the door.
“Nick,” I said, “I need you to wait outside.”
“Is that your son,” she said. “It’s all right. He can come in.”
I sat Nick in a corner away from the action and did something around the woman’s spinal cord involving a needle and blood. Her headache went away.
I don’t suppose any of those construction workers ever thought of bringing their kids along to watch them swing from girders. But it’s a nice feeling.
. . .
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Baby bump? Try Budget Bummer: Big Little Wolf writes eloquently on Depression 2.0
Those Winter Sundays — Robert Hayden’s moving poem about his father, from which the quotation above comes. You can listen to the poet reading the poem below:
. . .
Any thoughts about work or Depression 2.0? I invite, bestir, and exhort you to add your comment below. I always respond here.