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Gristmill: Mannish Boy

Wed, 07/26/2023 - 17:17
Teamster Union members picketing New York’s City Hall in 1954.
Dick DeMarsico / New York World-Telegram and The Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Me and my brother were talking to each other about what makes a man a man. Was it brain or brawn or the month you were born? We just couldn’t understand.

No, I’ve never discussed any such thing with my brother. Those are lyrics from “Tattoo,” off the great 1967 concept album “The Who Sell Out.” That’s the one interspersed with fake ads, funny product placement (the romance reject “should’ve used Odorono”), and singsong WLNG-style jingles (“Radio London reminds you: Go to the church of your choice”).

But I have contemplated the tune’s sentiment, most recently after my brother’s visit with our parents for a week of beaching it and doing nothing. Because he’s a Teamster, a unionized driver in the TV and movie business in Oregon, out in the world, doing things, moving stuff, while conversely, day in and day out, I slave over a battery-hot laptop. To quote another comic song, “Hell Hole” by Spinal Tap, “This ain’t no way to be a man.”

I’m not the first to say it, but the white collar have long envied the blue collar in certain ways: Bang it out, get it done, and then leave the damn job behind at 5 o’clock to go relax with a beer or a ballgame or both. Do not, on the other hand, live your job. These days there’s another source of envy: their better wages.

About that laptop, remember when email was fun, quirky, and new? A winning and novel means to keep in touch with distant friends? Did it really have to fall into the wrong hands so quickly and so completely and become such a soul-sucking tool? Such a daily onslaught? Such a firehose of unwanted, unasked-for information and requests for attention?

Note to sender: It’s exhausting. I can’t keep up. No one can.

But what’s that you say? The grass is always greener? Maybe so. It sounds like an outtake from Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” but I loaded cargo onto trucks at a warehouse outside Minneapolis for a spell. Big boxes of electronics. Heavy, and heavy of volume. The collar couldn’t have been any bluer, more like tattered, soiled.

“Hey man, you can’t weigh but more than a buck and a half,” was one co-worker’s way of questioning what I was doing there. The lesson learned? My God, did that place ever need the Teamsters.


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