Labor Day marks the end of summer. Originally a day to commemorate all that the common laborer has contributed to society, it is now always a slightly melancholy day with the equinox fast approaching and the mighty rays of the sun growing enfeebled. Although the vast majority of us don’t have summers off any more, our employers sometimes devise summer hours to make the monotony of a commuting life a little less onerous. My academic colleagues have all switched their minds back to full engagement as students, lamenting the shortness of summer, stumble resentfully into classrooms to find out what they don’t know. To learn how to be laborers, increasingly. Once upon a time, children, higher education opened doors for you. You would climb that ladder. As an adjunct teaching night classes, I would often pass the janitor cleaning up and I would know s/he was making better money than I was. Labor Day must be upon us again.
Unashamedly a populist, I still think of myself as a laborer. In fact, the longer I work in Manhattan the more like my blue-collar upbringing I become. Yes, I have stood in the presence of Lords of the realm, knights in academic armor, and even a Coptic pope. I can mind my p’s and q’s. If you keep your mouth shut, you’ll appear wise even before those who are truly smart. That’s not my wisdom—I paraphrased it from the Bible. I read the Bible daily when my jobs were labor jobs. My first opportunities were heavy work—moving, pulling, brushing, and occasionally smashing. The sun was so hot that I would find a vending machine and down three Mello Yellos in a row. Summer had no time for beaches, but it offered warmer working conditions and a sense of identity.
Labor Day brings us back to work. Summer’s bright grasp has begun to slip, and already the trees have started to yawn. Like the migrating birds I feel the draw to return. Even an animal knows the place s/he belongs. Perhaps we’ve wandered a little too far from the path that should’ve been evident before us. We paid the costs and went to college and found ourselves back where we started. Labor Day is one of those holidays with no religious connections. It is purely secular. Moved from May because of the Haymarket Massacre, we put it at not the beginning of sunnier times, but at the end. I would jealously watch the sun set, but there clouds forecasted to be in the way. Besides, I have to turn in early because tomorrow is just another work day. We only have to hold out to Memorial Day, so let’s enjoy our last taste of summer and wait for its eventual return.