Sunday, July 6, 2014

Grin and Bear It (Aug. 15, 1980)


 People used to hand me that tell me this all the time.
 When I fell out the kitchen window when I was a kid, and fell straight down into the basement, hitting my head on stone, my uncles leaned close as the ambulance rushed me to the hospital and said: "Try to grin and bear it."
 This despite my wails of pain that out blasted the siren, and the fact that some idiot had left the cellar door open so my head hit stone instead of wood.
 Grin and bear it! Grin and bear it!
 What about the concept of justice, and vengeance, and getting even for ills caused me by society? Am I supposed to walk around accepting every indignity, just in order to keep peace?
 Well, I'm in pain again, and again someone is telling me to "grin and bear it."
 Management told us to move some white goods from the store to the warehouse yesterday, giving us a few pallets and a hand truck, but nothing to the goods with, or enough people to manhandle these refrigerators, stoves and air-conditioners onto the pallets. So each grabbed a piece and did our best to fling them up. As a result, I pulled a muscle in my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack, and rushed to the hospital. A few muscle relaxers, pain-killers and a short night's sleep later, I was back in the labor pool waiting my next assignment.
 All this is nothing new.  I broke a toe earlier from having a pallet of oil fall on it, because management was too cheap to buy a ramp for the truck that wasn't warped. In other, less dramatic instances, I hurt my back, lifting boxes of sporting goods we should have repackaged. All this, I've suffered over a few sparse months.
 Others here, have suffered much worse and for longer. Like Barbara, who claims she gets hurt every time she comes into the store, and from the evidence I've seen, she's right. She cut her finger on a box staple she tried to undo with a scissor, when management refused to purchase the appropriate tool. Her visit to the hospital's emergency room resulted in 12 stitches, and light duty for a week -- light meaning she wouldn't have to open any more boxes, but still had to maintain the quota for checking things in. More than once, she had to use the women's room to stop her hand from bleeding.
 Donna, a veteran at 21, shuffles around the store with more wounds than she can count, moaning over some new affliction too minor to send her to the hospital, but painful enough for her to purchase a tin of aspirin a day. She does not eat breakfast. She does not eat lunch. She just pops pills and keeps on working, cringing to managements complaints about how slow she moves.
 Even Ed, who is the most loyal man in the store, gets shot down from time to time, management complaining about how long it takes him to get from one part of the store to the other, his limp so noticeable that we've joked about buying him a wheel chair, or building him one from container scraps. He secretly hates management, but would never think to complain, hobbling on, day after day, until he's forced to take a day off, for which he gets docked.
 "We don't have sick days here," management tells us.
 Of course, Tex mumbles from his corner of the loading dock, never so loud as to draw the wrath of management, but with a nearly non-stop rap that forms the backdrop of our existence here. He complains about the lack of cooperation we get from management, the lack of vision, and, of course, the lack of pay. Then, he had his car accident, and came back after many weeks, looking so pale and weak we thought management would let him go. Now, he takes off as many days as Ed does, and is docked so much, he can't save up enough to fix his car.
 Melissa is management's spokes person on the receiving doc, bearing a title and a little extra in her pay envelop. She complains constantly about our complaining, and constantly clutches her stomach as she walks, telling us that we're killing her. She eats Rolaids as much as Donna takes aspirin, but never escapes the pain, cringing and shaking whenever someone from the main office calls on the telephone, turning pale when management asks her to come up to the office for a talk.
 And over and over, the catch phrase echoes from management's lips, as if they hoped by saying it enough we might come to believe it: grin and bear it, grin and bear it, grin and bear it, and strangely, we do.

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