Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Those Laboring Days


In the 1980’s and 90’s, even a klutz like me could find work as a manual laborer. I painted houses, washed windows and cleaned apartments and offices. At my first house painting job, I propped a ladder upside down against the wall, don’t laugh, and was not let go. Once I was so hungover, I had to climb down from the ladder five or six times to throw up, and still wasn’t fired. My boss, Joe LeBlanc, just laughed it off. In fact, he even paid me a full day’s wage, and told me to go home. When times were good, everyone made out OK, and was more generous towards each other. They drank more, and tipped more at the bar. After work, we often ducked into The Office, a rather skanky strip joint, and certainly no “gentlemen’s club,” before heading to McGlinchey’s for Rolling Rock and Jameson. At The Office, a black chick grinned, “I’ve heard you Chinese guys can have sex, like, a hundred times in a row?” I didn’t have the heart to disabuse her of that invigorating and lovely notion.

Joe was a Canadian who had gone South to join the US Army. He fought in Vietnam, was dishonorably discharged, then just ended up living here, illegally. Days removed from the war zone, Joe shot at an Oakland street light. “Why?” I asked. “I don’t know. I was just fucked up.” A gun freak, Joe was erecting a dome dwelling in an all-white Kentucky county. He gave me an open invitation to come down and try his large assortment of assault rifles, but shit, man, I didn’t want Joe to have some nasty flashback. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! He might finish me off if he saw me with an AK-47 in the middle of them woods, you know what I mean?

Like us all, Joe had his rough spots, but he was a very good man, I’m convinced, because he treated his workers well, and was willing to hire goofs or even fuckups. When work was scarce during winter, Joe lent me money, in envelopes stuffed through my mail slot, and twice he even said, “Forget about it,” when I tried to pay him back. Joe hired an old guy, because he knew grandpa was hurting. Laura was rather large, so he had her paint first floor windows, to spare her from climbing up ladders. Joe employed a guy who was so slow, he was nicknamed “Smooth.” It was like seeing Marcel Marceau with a piece of sand paper. A chemist of sort, maybe even an alchemist, Smooth was hooked to a special cocktail of pharmaceuticals, and actually died at the sink, standing up, before he reached 30. Tony had served 13 months for drug dealing. He and his brother had taken Amtrak for their monthly Philly to Miami run, but business got so good, they decided to buy an asskicking muscle car. They were busted after a stupid traffic stop. Tony died at 35. Tony said that some of the prettier dudes in prison had their assholes slit with a razor, not voluntarily, of course, to make them more penetrable. I incorporated this detail into a short story in my collection, Fake House.

Any man who’s willing to be boss to such a lame roster is OK in my book, but like I said, times were good then, and everyone could find work. I also knew Tumi, a German drifter who traveled strictly by Greyhound, and could be on the bus for three days at a time. When not in Philly or rain dancing in North Dakota, he was often in Santa Monica, where he slept on the beach. Out of cash, all Tumi had to do was stand in front of a paint store, and a contractor would hire him before too long. Tumi needed just enough for his daily all-you-can-eat buffet meal, then lager in the evening. His real name was Ludwig, by the way, with Tumi adopted because he was somehow Muslim. No genius, Tumi educated me, “An olive, my friend, has as much protein as a steak.” Also, “A bone must take so long to make. So long!” Joe also hired Tumi.

Now, Joe wasn’t running a charity, but a regular business, and we didn’t loaf and do drugs on the job. We actually worked our tails off, when we weren’t throwing up, that is. Joe hired us because there was actually a shortage of labor, at least for the kind of grunt work we were doing, but now, you’ll need a college degree just to serve latte or park cars. With legions diving after so few jobs, soon we’ll have PhD’s chirping, “Original recipe or spicy, Sir?” Or, “Would you like a Holiday Mint McFlurry with that?” Recent majors in Postmodern Linked Verse Deconstruction will be pole dancing, then asking, “I’ve heard you Chinese guys can have sex, like, a hundred times in a row?” You must flatter the clientele if you want a decent tip, capisce?

Last week, I popped into McGlinchey’s just before noon, and found it nearly empty. If lowlifes can’t even drink a cheap beer for lunch, you know the economy is nosediving. “Where’s everybody, Ronnie?” I asked the owner.

“Well, you’re here!”

“But this ain’t right, Ronnie. Where’s everybody?!”

“I think people’s drinking habits have changed, that’s all.”

“You sure it ain’t the economy?”

“No, no. People just don’t drink as much as they used to. Before, you never had people come into a bar and not drink, but now you do.”

“What do you mean not drink? You can’t come in here and not drink!”

“Well, you might have a table of four people, and one or maybe even two might not drink at all.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Or people will just buy beer from a store, then drink at their apartments. That way, they can also smoke.”

“Oh, come on, Ronnie, people have always smoked weed!”

“I guess you’re right. Maybe it does have something to do with the economy.”

Of course, it is the imploding economy. One of Ronnie’s bartenders, Alia, told me that business was down by about a third. Many regulars who had come in daily, she now saw maybe once a month. Alia herself was cutting back, by eating out less. There was nothing positive about this economic mess.

For some business owners, it may be too painful to admit the obvious. They will latch onto “recovery” even as they sink and their neighbors go belly up. As a downtown dive bar, however, McGlinchey’s may be resilient. When swankier pubs go bust, their ex clientele, now not so flushed either, yet still parched, throatwise, will drift over to settle into these cushionless booths, and onto these ratty and leaning stools. “What’s the beer special today? What’s the cheapest you have on tap?”

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?