Able to leap tall buildings

by Wolf Pascoe on May 21, 2011

A worker survives the Depression


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.”



The Chrysler Building

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 are far away



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:

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. . .


Any thoughts about work or Depression 2.0? I invite, bestir, and exhort you to add your comment below. I always respond here.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf May 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm

You never disappoint. There’s a great deal in this wonderful tale that ties together your past, your present, your future – and the same for those of us who read.

Depression 2.0 it is. And there’s irony in the word, isn’t there?

As for Nick, I’d say he is a lucky kid to have a dad who advises that everyone should be able to work with their hands. And kudos to that patient who recognized the gift of letting your son watch you build.


Wolf Pascoe May 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Thanks for the compliments. Yes, irony. Because no one responsible for it will say it. But let’s not get started on that.


Barbara S. May 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Love your dad’s response to your joke – that says so much! And how great that Nick got to see you at work! One little seed – no telling what it will look like when it blooms, but I’m sure it will be fantastic.


Wolf Pascoe May 22, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I didn’t get it at the time, of course. It was many years, in fact, before I did.


Alameda May 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I take it you chose medicine for a reason. It seems you don’t enjoy it now as you think you could have done something else. It is a gift to be multitalented. Hopefully Nick will not sense your discontent with your day profession because it will confuse him at a later time in decision making. It was great to expose him to your work though too early at this age.
PS there are a lot of professionals (doctors, lawyers….) who are hurting in this downturn. You must be good at what you do if you hit the ground standing.


Wolf Pascoe May 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Nick says he’s going to design Legos for a living. I support him wholeheartedly in this.


Planner2015 May 22, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Found your blog by following a comment you posted at Tribal Writer … glad I did. Keep up the good work. Writing is work that you do with your hands.


Wolf Pascoe May 24, 2011 at 12:47 am

Yes, Tribal Writer is hard to resist. Glad you dropped by.


Another dad May 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Beautifully expressed, Wolf. Always makes me think.


Wolf Pascoe May 24, 2011 at 12:47 am

I like a guy who’s always thinking.


Clark Kent's Lunchbox May 27, 2011 at 8:44 am

I’ve read this post twice – once in my reader and then again today (Friday is my come-back-and-post-comments-on-favorite-posts day). I say that because it’s been on my mind since the first reading. I feel this way about my time in the Army, my sons (even though the 2 youngest weren’t around for any of it), all seem to be in awe of what I was doing then (just as I have been with my father’s Army service). When I got into the corporate world, that feeling was gone. It was about making money, and my kids had a hard time grasping what I did. I didn’t really feel too good about that (plus I felt is was sidetracking me from my artistic leaning too). When Depression 2.0 (perfect term) hit, it hit HARD for me on many fronts, and my boys kept asking when I was going to get a job. I felt like such a bum even though I was doing everything I could to find work.

I’m working again now and because most of it involves my dream to be a writer, the talks we’ve been having on the topic revolve around being strong in tough circumstances and not being afraid to follow your own dreams. I’m hoping that what I’m doing is an example of that for them.

Another superb post proving why you’re why you should have the “Awesome Badge” 🙂


Wolf Pascoe May 30, 2011 at 10:21 pm

It’s strange. Nick asked me today what a hobo was, and what a bum was. I told him as best I could, and talked about the Depressions and homelessness. I don’t know where his interest comes from. We lived in a tent this weekend (school camp out.) We had a blast. When we got home today, he said, “Home is the best place in the world.”


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