Thirty-eight Years on the Job

A man sitting at a picnic table inside the dog park waved to me as I entered with Elmer. He was a regular with a rescue husky like mine. We’d talked on several occasions but hadn’t shared names although we both knew the other’s dog’s name. Dog parks are like that.

I put him in his mid sixties and remembered he walked with a slight limp.

The huskies converged and started running around and playing. A couple of other dogs joined to party and I headed toward the man to say hello because it seemed like the cordial thing to do.

I said hello and he stood up and began walking toward the melee of dogs. I joined him.

He’s always filming the dogs in the park with his phone. He must have thousands of minutes of footage.

The songbirds were out and I heard a woodpecker and sounds of construction in the distance.

We began talking about our dogs and then there was a pause and I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he worked at driving a forklift, loading and unloading pallets of milk. He’d had the same job for 38 year in the same warehouse not far from the park.

I said I marveled at his longevity and that was no condescension. I truly did. There is no way I could have ever worked the same job for 38 years in a row.

He said he was about ready to retire and had a good pension and Social Security pending. He was set in his retirement, a comfortable middle class existence that simply won’t be possible for the next generation of forklift drivers. Of course all forklift drivers might be replaced by robots but I think not.

I asked the man what he planned to do in retirement. He said he was moving out of Oregon. There was a hint of disgust in his face when he said Oregon and I instantly caught his drift. The state was too Blue, too damn liberal. He was a Trumpian and wanted to live among other Trumpians.

He told me he was looking to move to South Carolina or Tennessee, buy some land, get more huskies.

Imagine living your whole life in a progressive place like Portland, Oregon and then moving to those backward states with their insane and racist legislators and members of Congress. But it happens all the time these days, as does the reverse of people moving out of states like Florida because they can’t stand the reactionary MAGA politics. (I met such a man at this dog park a few days ago.)

The man didn’t elaborate and I didn’t probe. No one has uttered a work of politics in this park in my two months of visits and I think that is a good thing. There is no middle ground left in America.

Except for dogs.

Dogs flew around us and made us laugh. The man asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a retired English teacher.

He lit up when I said that and said he loved to read, fiction, biographies, anything, he owned hundreds of books.

We discussed books for a minute and I mentioned my love of finding gold in street libraries. He said he’s never looked in one but would have to give it a try.

The man then launched into the story of his favorite high school teacher, a Mrs. Bleeker or something like that. She had taught him freshman English and he really discovered a love of reading from her.

I wondered if any of my former students are in a dog park talking about how they discovered a joy of writing from me. It seemed unlikely.

We talked some more about books and then he had to leave.

I wondered if he would like reading The Old Crow Book Club.