June 10th 2010
The grey long-haired cat from next door runs for the tunnel he’s created in the thin leaves of the deer grass in the front yard. I have startled him–nothing else is moving in this heat. I would follow him if I could.
Summer has arrived at last. I could stand perfectly still and sweat. Today, though, I am moving boxes from the garage to storage and I am soaked with myself. If I give it an hour or so, think only of the shower I will take afterward, I can do this chore. This is how summer passes: I negotiate with my body, promise it future reward for present discomfort. As long as I’ve lived in the Central Valley heat, I’ve done thus. My body is quick to forgive–it lives in the moment. But I remember, and I’m ashamed to mistreat it so.
I worked 13 years for an ice company. Summer was measured from Memorial Day to Labor Day and every day between was a Wednesday–there seemed to be no end to demand. I would step into the freezer and steam would coalesce around me. Later, when I stumbled upon the works of Andres Montoya, his iceworker persona resonated with me. It was the way the iceworker spoke up for those who don’t speak, who aren’t allowed official speech. Montoya’s iceworker was a champion; my experience was the opposite: long demeaning hours away from family, corporate disregard for employees, the Rockwell image of the iceman and cart, children running behind for ice chips, hiding the predatory nature of business. One summer, on a Sunday, there was a massive blackout in California. I was at my then girlfriend’s apartment with my kids when I was called in to work. I was told we were helping people keep food fresh and survive the heat, but we were getting top dollar for every bag sold. Meanwhile, I lost time with my family. When they fired me several years later, none of those sacrifices mattered.
My body has long forgotten those iniquities. My whole life has moved on–I have a career so different now that I wonder how it happened. I used to think I would leave the Central Valley and never return. Many of my friends did so, but I didn’t. I married, raised kids, went back to school; now I have a new career and friends here. I like that I empower people in my job, instead of contributing to their continued servitude. I like that I’m valued for my intellect and critical thinking skills instead of punished for them. My new job is like a grass tunnel–a retreat from the capitalist blast furnace. I no longer have to negotiate with my body to get up for work.