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Archive for January 22nd, 2014

Dudley

There is a man on my mail route, probably in his mid 30s, with the unlikely name of Dudley. I have never known anyone else with that name, and the only other Dudley I have heard of is the comic actor Dudley Moore.

Dudley is the third Dudley in his line, after his father and grandfather. He has not named any of his sons Dudley.

His last name is Scottish, and he is descended from some of the earliest settlers in Wayne County, Ohio.

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When I first moved here, nearly twenty years ago, I read that some of the earliest Europeans in Wayne County were Scots, but I did not see much evidence of them in the area, aside from the College of Wooster, founded by Scottish Lowlanders and once associated with the Presbyterian church, and whose sports teams are dubbed The Fighting Scots. There is a bagpipe and drum corps besides the brass marching band, and they wear kilts in the black and yellow Clan MacLeod tartan.

I know, very unhistorical and unlikely, given the Lowland background of the place.

Other than that, the area seemed devoid of much lasting impact of the early Scots, who had been eclipsed by the later English, German and Swiss immigrants.

Then, maybe 16 years ago I successfully bid on a route that included, besides half of the downtown, the southwest quadrant of the town of Wooster, a working class and poor area.

There I found people living in old houses whose names were Grant and Duncan and McClelland and McDougall.

It turns out that Dudley, who was raised on a farm south of town, is the grandson of one of the old women on my former route.

Dudley lives in the subsidized housing complex that I deliver. As he has been unemployed most of the nearly two years I have been on my this route, and as he is gregarious and likeable, I have talked a lot to him when he comes out to the cluster box to get his mail. He is an intelligent guy, a reader, and fairly radical, at least when you get him going. We have talked a lot about the socio-economic system and disparity and the plight of the displaced working class.

You know me, always fanning the flames.

He is a Freemason, and proudly displays the Masonic symbol on his living room window. We have never discussed it, but I suspect Freemasonry in his family goes back way before the first time the name “Dudley” ever appeared.

Dudley lives with a woman, and between them they have four kids. The children have several last names; I suspect the story is as convoluted as that of many families today, and not only among the poor. He says he intends to marry his girlfriend when their lives are more stable, and told me that when he does he will wear a kilt in his Clan tartan. In spite of the irregularity of his situation he is devoted to his family, and looks askance at the ways of some of his neighbors, dealing drugs and otherwise behaving badly.

There is a real sense of decency about him.

He has often spoken with frustration about the indignities of living in subsidized housing. He told me that every month they are subjected to inspections, with strangers in ties with clipboards walking through their home.

That is the sort of thing that makes me hate bureaucracy and all its works and pomps: it reminds me of the scene inĀ Time Bandits where, after the prissy Robin Hood (played by John Cleese) distributes alms to a poor person, one of his brutish Merry Men slugs the beggar.

Dudley has often expressed his desire to get out of there and off of government assistance, to support his family on his own.

He finally got a job last winter, at a local factory. The pay was pretty crappy, around $9 an hour, but he figured it was a foot in the door. He apparently was a hard worker, and soon he was told that he was being considered for a promotion to lower management.

Then he got pneumonia. He missed two weeks of work, as well as two weeks of pay; it is a non-union shop and there is no paid sick leave.

Ah, the benevolent capitalist.

I am willing to bet, even in a smallish factory like this, that you could pay for all the annual sick days of every worker out of the CEO’s salary and he wouldn’t be hurting at all.

When Dudley got better he went back to work, but pretty soon his back gave out, fruit of an alcohol-fueled car crash in his youth. This time after a week or so off work, in a doctor’s care, he was fired.

Yes, you union critics, companies still do things like that.

In spite of these setbacks, in spite of his back pain, and in spite of being unemployed again, he was always upbeat and friendly.

That was last summer, but early this winter he got another job, this time working in a group home for disabled adults. He was pretty excited to be working, and he thought he had the qualifications to do this job well. So did I; like I said he is outgoing and friendly and it seemed like he would be good with the disabled. He told me, excitedly, that he would make a salary; I forget how much he said, but it sounded abysmal to me, not enough to raise a family.

I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks, but when I did he reported that he liked his job. A lot of it consisted of hanging out with the housemates, taking them bowling or out to dinner or on other excursions.

But there were drawbacks.

He said that at one restaurant one of the men soiled himself, and he, Dudley, had to clean the mess. Then when they got home the man did it again, leaving a trail all the way to his room.

I told him that I didn’t think I could do that job, and I resisted saying something about “shitty wages”.

Then I didn’t see him for a good while again. When I did he was wearing a tie. When I asked him how the job was going he said “Excellent!” and told me that he had been promoted to an administrative position, overseeing several group homes. I congratulated him, and then inquired if this involved a decent raise, as I am aware that management in a lot of low wage industries offers a pittance. Yes, he said, his salary would more than double, to $49,000 a year.

I shook his hand and congratulated him again. He talked excitedly about getting his family out of public housing, of being able to buy a house in the country.

I was so pleased at this development; it is a rare and happy occasion to see a workingman get an honest break, hard to come by in these days of the decline and fall of the honest break.

I sure hope he gets married in that kilt.

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