A Money Coach in Canada

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By all accounts it wasn’t fair.

The men had arrived at 5:30 am, the frost still biting on the ground, coffees in hand.   They formed a rough line along the sidewalk, standing facing the street.  Mostly, they were the illegals.  At about 5:40 the first trucks began to appear and man by man they were called over to jump in the back of the truck.  By 6:15 only the motley were left – one with an obviously gimped leg, another whose bleary eyes betrayed the night before, another who just looked too damn timid for the hard work of the fields.

The trucks dispersed across the land to the vineyards where the men expertly got to work, picking, picking, picking.  First the sun warmed and cheered the morning.  By mid-day it was merciless and water breaks were an unwelcome intrusion, but necessary to keep up the relentless pace until sundown.

At 4pm, something unexpected happened.  Another truck arrived, carrying the men who had been left behind in the morning.  Those leftover men got a quick tutorial from a supervisor, and joined in the silent work.  During the next quick break, word got out:  the landowner had a larger quota than usual to supply to the chain store the next morning, and needed the berries picked asap.

Finally 8pm came, and the men lined up for their money –  cash, of course.  The gimped-leg man was first to be paid and word spread like wildfire that he had received a full days wages.  Same with the timid man.  That’s when the rumours flew: The daily rate had jacked up.   The crew of  leftover men received the usual full days wages, but in fact it was only half-days wages because of the new rates.   So those who had started in the early hours of the morning would be getting double their usual today.

As news of this spread down the line, each man immediately calculated what they would do with the extra money and started the math:  What would they make this entire week, then?   For some, it meant something as earthy as a whole lot of booze.  For others, it meant getting some better boots.  Some of the more sentimental among them thought of surprising their children with gifts.

But it didn’t work out that way.   Not at all.  When the first labourer who had started with the early morning crew expectantly held out his hand, he received the same amount as usual, that is to say, the same amount those who had started at 4pm.  received.  He stood there a moment longer, looking at the boss.  The boss shrugged and turned his body to the next man waiting his pay. Same thing.  The usual amount.  And just as quickly as the excitement had built down the line, the disappointing news spread.

Strange how what feels normal and fair at the beginning of the day can be a real letdown mere hours later.

As the men clustered back to the waiting trucks, their tones were bitter.   And their tones were overheard by the landlord who had just driven in to review the day’s harvest.   Seeing the resentful looks, he approached one threesome and asked what the problem was.  Two of the men just looked at the ground but Joe spoke up:  We worked all day for you.  From the cold morning through the heat, all day into the evening.  But your boss gave us only the same amount as he gave the crew that arrived at 4pm.

A flash of understanding and some anger crossed the landlord’s face.  “What is it to you, what I paid them?  Did I cheat you?  Didn’t you agree to the wages at the beginning of the day?  Aren’t those very wages now in your hands?”

The men still looked at the ground, saying nothing.

“Look,” the landlord said, “It’s my money to do with as I please.  With that last crew, I wanted to make sure they could feed their kids tonight and pay their rent – it’s rent day, remember?  Are you angry that I was generous?”

End of story.

Questions:

  1. In what ways are you resentful of those who seem to have gotten a better deal than you?  (I ask myself this too).
  2. In what ways does our culture set us up for this resentment?
  3. How would it benefit you to instead by content with what you have?

I don’t remember a season of such unrest as this one. Debt Ceiling Crisis in the States. Riots in the UK. Greece on.the.brink. The stock market plummeting and rising and plummeting. And that’s just in the western world.

If ever I’ve been grateful to be Canadian – land of “socialism” to some, where we riot about silliness like hockey outcomes (I’m not making light of it, just grateful it wasn’t about regimes), land of regulated banks and a good, strong dollar, land of one of the lowest debt-to-gdp ratios – if ever I’ve been grateful, I am now.

And I’m grateful too for our political tenor. Our talk is far from ideal, to be sure, and often very bitter, but so far on the whole we stop short of the vitriol I see in other countries. And we should. If my brief stint in the heart of politics up here taught me anything, it’s that politicians, even those whose approaches are angering, are trying their best to create a system that (in their opinion) will be good for the city, territory, province or Canada.

Which brings me to Jack Layton. I’m no NDP-er (I’m Green, and far too capitalist). But Jack Layton by all accounts was a thoroughly decent person. And we said that about him before he died! He was somewhat of a Canadian-style Obama. Talked sincerely about hope, but without excess charisma. Was passionate about social justice … yet comfortable with something as ordinary as “Orange Crush” (Orange Crush?!?) as a de facto campaign slogan. No celebrities made amazing mashups and sang songs for him, but his mustache sure made the rounds. All so Canadian.

And finally to send us all a simple letter, written to be published after his death, not filled with polished rhetoric, yet closing with these simple, straight-up words:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Damn. I’m content to be Canadian.
RIP Mr. Layton.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Trinidad

And just like that, summer was gone.
One day we were still in the high-twenties and I was debating another swim like this; the next morning I sipped my coffee inside and mourned the passing of summer that shockingly occurred overnight.

It’s improbable that summer will return up here. There’s a cool in the air that bodes: winter is coming.

Thank goodness, then, for vestiges of summer. Peaches. Pears. Plums. I’m not yet ready for wintery fare of baked goods, that’s for sure. A few more juicy bites are called for and, thankfully, still available.

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ps. I found this poem, called Plums:

They’re Santa Rosas, crimson, touched by blue,
with slightly mottled skin and amber flesh,
transparently proposing by their hue
the splendor of an August morning, fresh

but ruddy, ripening toward fall.—”So sweet,
so cold,” the poet said; but this one’s tart,
its sunny glow perfected in deceit,
as emulation of a cunning heart.

I eat it anyway, until the pit
alone remains, with scattered drops of juice,
such sour trophies proving nature’s wit:
appearances and real in fragile truce.

-Catherine Savage Brosman

For me, it’s a start.
I delight in my little baker’s rack garden.

Herbs: Rosemary | Sage | Dill | Oregano | Mint | Basil

Lettuce: All kinds, thanks to a wonderful friend who got them started for me and then donated them.

Flowers (you can’t see them, but they’re on the top): Johnny Jump-ups (what delightful little flowers!)

In the mornings, I make my latte and the daschunds and I sit on my steps and quietly enjoy the sunshine drenching the green, green leaves.

Contentment.

Herb Garden Summer 2011

I’m ashamed to admit it, but this money coach has been known to purchase mint water. Profligate.  A silly way to spend money.  And contravenes my commitment to a bottled-water-free life.

I’ve mended my ways!

When I saw a baby mint plant at the local nursery (yes, we have one in Yellowknife) I knew I should probably buy it to regain my  self respect.

The northern light has nurtured it over the months.  Isn’t it gorgeous?

And does this not look refreshing?   Score one for the money coach; begone expensive bottled water!  And if anyone else has ideas or recipes (beyond Mojitos) for mint, I think I have more mint than I can handle if I use it for water alone).


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