You know when you go to bed too early, intent on getting a good night’s sleep, and then you wake up at 12:30, and your body is like, awesome nap, let’s party!
That happened to me the other night, and with that time, which is not stolen time, but credit card debt time because the exhaustion comes back at a high interest rate, I read the William Finnegan article about fast food laborers.
Arisleyda Tapia, the subject of Finnegan’s piece, is making $8.35 an hour at McDonald’s and works 30 hours a week. Somehow, she is supporting herself and her daughter in New York and her family back in the DR. I imagine she’s already cut out the lattes.
What struck me about her plight was how far removed she was from the wealth in New York. Not just far from the economy of $70 million apartments, but far from the economy of people serving those people, where the real menial wages are. I’ve been part of that economy, tutoring and babysitting for kids whose careers could be renting out their childhood homes.
People are willing to pay more for a babysitter who can talk books or a maid who can speak English. Which is fair enough. The service industry is another free market. But I feel like for all the liberal handwringing over how the lowest class is treated, there’s not enough effort to make better service jobs available to them. Where is the dog walking service that employees immigrants instead of hipsters?
I’m also reading Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave right now, which for a book set in Italy in the 60s, felt very relevant to Finnegan’s piece. I kind of wish Finnegan had included this excerpt from the book in his article:
Can you imagine, she asked, what it means to spend eight hours a day standing up to your waist in the mortadella cooking water? Can you imagine what it means to have your fingers covered with cuts from slicing the meat off animal bones? Can you imagine what it means to go in and out of the refrigerated rooms at twenty degrees below zero, and get ten lire more an hour—ten lire—for cold compensation? If you imagined this, what do you think you can learn from people who are forced to live like that? … The union has never gone in and the workers are nothing but poor victims of blackmail, dependent on the law of the owner, that is: I pay you and so I possess you and I possess your life, your family, and everything that surrounds you, and if you don’t do as I say, I’ll ruin you.