Working Class Privilege

New Years Eve was somewhat of a slow day at clinic.We had three punks  working and saw about 30 people.Keith did the morning shift, while Michele did the swing shift and I worked the afternoon into the evening.Shoshana and Melissa split the desk.All stations were covered for the final day of the year.When we figured the holiday hours, we decided to end New Years Eve an hour early, making the last appointment 5:50pm.I closed Christmas Eve last week and on that day, which was also a Friday, we closed shop an hour early.2010 has come to a close and with it our third holiday season as a social business project, as community organizers and as participants in a social movement.Three years of community acupuncture and I am privileged.

My father never knew this kind of working life.He never will, I figure.He has always been under a boss.Always.He’s never been any kind of boss to anyone else.He’s not been a supervisor or a manager.He has been an unskilled laborer his whole life.And I love him.

Visiting home last spring I had watched him assistant coach one of my adopted brothers baseball games.I watched him casually, with his prop-like amaretto flavored decaf coffee, though no cigarette these days. And he was doing what he has always done at one of his kid’s baseball games: cheered people on.He is that guy at the game that stands behind the backstop, giving frequent encouragement through the repetition of sound and reliable tips.“Keep your head up, John.”“Watch for the curveball.”As kids he put himself into our baseball teams with such devotion that as a relatively new father I can only now marvel at his commitment and affection for us.He was always there.He lived through us.That could be good or bad.

The kids on the team seem so different than when we all grew up.I can’t imagine what it is like to be a teenager today.I am saying this at 35 years old.Still, I can’t imagine growing up thinking that this kind of overwhelming media saturation is normal.That Wal-Mart is normal.I can’t imagine thinking that the endless and homogenized corporate sprawl is normal or not having a personal understanding from experience that it has not always been this way.The continuing devastation of our communities is not natural, not right and not something that is just happening.

Growing up in the 80’s and through the 90's allowed me to experience the dismantling of the rules and regulations supporting the financial integrity and power of the working class from the inside, participating unknowingly in the chaotic strain placed on relationships when what was once just enough slips into scarcity.Hardly unique was this experience, yet the time worn memories of childhood seem alien to me these days.Long Island, New York has been thoroughly developed up the middle, while the coastal lands north, south and east have been almost entirely preserved for the upper class.  They own the land in one way or another.  When a park, arboretum, university or museum is placed within a exclusive hamlet or village that has its own police force, it sends a clear message about who is welcome and who is not.Though not on the coast and practically right smack in the middle of the tuning fork shaped landmass, I grew up in Ronkonkoma.  A mostly white suburb in Suffolk County, it serves as a stark example of Nassau and Suffolk County's status as the most racially segregated suburbs in the nation.  My parents bought their house when it was still possible for working class people of whatever background to buy a home in Ronkonkoma.My brother recently left a union roofing job after he couldn’t get a home loan while making $70k a year.He worked his ass off and is one of the hardest working people I have ever known.So, he and his family transplanted on the assurances of a private roofing job as a supervisor to Buffalo, New York.After training, he was promptly laid off.They are still in Buffalo.

Most of the coastal areas, as does much of Long Island, retain the names of native lands and people.

And so, we were a working class family in an increasingly middle class neighborhood and watched as the green spaces around us, undeveloped lots really, were transformed into expensive housing structures and retail spaces.There used to be more neighborhood stores and small businesses.Now it is a seemingly endless sprawl of corporate chains that connect together like some never ending strand of capitalist DNA.That and the growing number of closed small businesses.This isn’t normal.Or, it wasn’t normal.But it is now, I suppose. And of course, the middle class is now feeling the crunch too.  

To me my father represents a sort of battlefield that the class war has been fought on, a canvass for the human drama that unfolds when people are crumpled up like a pieces of paper and thrown in the garbage.But he always uncrinkled himself, pulled himself out of the can and got back into line though, even when the line went nowhere.And I love him for that.

So, with a partner I opened Tucson Community Acupuncture.I have decided my own hours and helped decide my wage.I never have anyone checking my work, looking over my shoulder or telling me what to do.The work is stable and sustainable.I have no boss.The clinic and the community are my boss and I serve them.But they give out what I put in: love.And this is the life that neither my mother or father will ever know.And that hurts me.

Connecting with a patient in clinic that feels like family, that feels working class, fills me with a feeling that is hard to understand but feels good nonetheless.I like being in a position to offer service to people that remind me of my mother and father.As a kid I watched them consistently struggle, stress, strain and fight.Things were always tense, I still don’t totally understand why.Money was no bit player in this routine.We seemed to have always been struggling, my parents always fighting, my mother always depressed and my father always at a new job.I am three thousand miles away from them now and they still live in the same sad house.My mother has seen my clinic once while my father has yet to.And sometimes I am sure that they will never sit in a community acupuncture clinic and get treatment back home, able to go because it is priced in their range.There are no CA clinics on Long Island.7.5 million people and no CA clinics.  There is Brooklyn, but that is just too far.  We don't consider that Long Island anyway.  More like "the city".

The one time my mother came to Tucson I got to treat her.I almost cried putting in the needles.She is so wounded from her youth.She does not take care of herself and is always in pain, emotional and physical.And she won’t let anyone help her.The only way I cannot feel heartbroken over her hurt is to be angry at her most of the time or just not think of it.And so I live in the desert now and I do not blame her.But touching her soft skin while she lay in our best recliner, a thrift store score if there ever was one, it pained me deeply to take care of this sad, beautiful, working class woman.

Meeting and interacting with people that feel like family on a daily basis, being myself while sharing in their joy as well as their sorrows and frustrations is the best form of privilege I can think of.As someone that ran three thousand miles to escape the wreckage of a family falling apart, I will never know the experience of needling my mother or father on a weekly basis, nor my sisters or brothers, adopted or blood.That kills me sometimes.I may have a dysfunctional wreck of a family.But I am addicted to them.They are my blood and I love them, and I am drawn there in spite of or perhaps because of the hurt.And so I’ll always go back there, as I am able.

This community acupuncture clinic, where I experience the autonomy of the middle class professional in my working experience while interacting with people that feel like me, even if they do not necessarily look like me is my privilege.Being a part of a community that I know and understand, pouring my heart into my hands with each and every needle is my working class privilege.It is not something I can ever stop doing.

Now will someone please open a CA clinic in Ronkonkoma?  Or Brentwood?  Or Hempstead?   

This story was posted on January 2 2011 by LarryG.
Tags: classism jobs

Comments

  • January 2 2011 at 5:16 PM
    Jessica Feltz writes:

    Thank you.

    This: “I almost cried putting in the needles.  She is so wounded from her youth.  She does not take care of herself and is always in pain, emotional and physical.  And she won’t let anyone help her.  The only way I cannot feel heartbroken over her hurt is to be angry at her most of the time or just not think of it.  And so I live in the desert now and I do not blame her.  But touching her soft skin while she lay in our best recliner, a thrift store score if there ever was one, it pained me deeply to take care of this sad, beautiful, working class woman.”

    And this: “As someone that ran three thousand miles to escape the wreckage of a family falling apart, I will never know the experience of needling my mother or father on a weekly basis, nor my sisters or brothers, adopted or blood.  That kills me sometimes.  I may have a dysfunctional wreck of a family.  But I am addicted to them.  They are my blood and I love them, and I am drawn there in spite of or perhaps because of the hurt.  And so I’ll always go back there, as I am able.

    Those both brought tears.  The whole blog is a beautiful tribute to your family.  Thank you for sharing yourself, your story, and your heart, LG.

      0 likes
  • January 2 2011 at 5:35 PM
    Diana writes:

    It is a priviliege

    Hi Larry

    I’m so moved by your post.  I feel most grateful for my clinic when I am treating folks who work hard and have few other options for nurturing, preventative care.  What gets me are the 60+ year olds who are cleaning other people’s houses or taking care of “the elderly” in ways that clearly put their bodies on the line.  I’m grateful I (acupuncture, that is) can offer them some pain relief, some comfort, some relaxation.  It also pains me that my parents don’t have access to affordable care, especially as I see them aging…they are five hours away, in Northeastern Vermont. 

     

    I was one of the lucky few who did survived in business for 10 years doing boutique acupuncture.  Five years ago, as soon as I heard about Community style treatment, I made the switch.  Now, my income is about the same, but my feeling of usefulness, helpfulness, effectiveness, and success is miles beyond what it was before.   I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating – helping more people, and really, really helping them, at a level that is almost impossible if you are charging $100 + per treatment, is amazingly fulfilling. 

    My thanks to all of you who keep CAN ticking, and who inspire with your work, your words and your passion.

      1 likes
  • January 2 2011 at 6:58 PM
    melissa writes:

    thank you

    Larry, this is one of the most favorite things i have ever read on CAN.

    thank you  for sharing so much in this post—i could relate to so much of it. i rejoice in the life you have worked to create in your clinic and community, and in your work with CAN. it is a privilege to see your example.

     

    Melissa

    Good health is not a measure of adapting to a sick society.

    When the power of love outshines the love of power, the world will know peace.

      1 likes
    • urbanapuncture
  • January 2 2011 at 7:38 PM
    chaitime writes:

    .

    nice blog lars. its interesting to see everyone’s journey through the class system and how it has affected and shaped them in to the person they are. your blog made me realize that it helps so much in the understanding of class when its told in the context of real life stories, of actual people and actual lives being lived. we can’t escape class, its in us and around us in every aspect of our
    lives, we can strengthen our awareness and understanding of it though. thanks for telling your story.

      0 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 2:56 AM
    Lisafer writes:

    what Jess said

    thanks.

      0 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 1:30 PM
    Guest writes:

    Working Class Privilege

    perhaps it is your calling to open a CA clinic in your old hometown?

      0 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 2:07 PM
    LarryG writes:

    ...

    mom, dad, is this you? 

    thanks all for your comments.

     

     

     

      1 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 2:23 PM
    david villanueva writes:

    Great blog, Larry.

    Very personal and heart-rending.

      0 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 9:54 PM
    andy wegman writes:

    Thanks for digging deep, Brother.

    It’s (almost) always a pleasure to read your writing.

    Ha!

      0 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 10:20 PM
    Whitsitt writes:

    giving thanks for privilige

    This is the first time I’ve cried reading the blogs in a long time.  Thank you.

     

      1 likes
  • January 3 2011 at 10:28 PM
    obnicole writes:

    3rd time reading this

    ...and yet I still got all choked up again. 

    This essay should go in a  book!

      1 likes
  • January 4 2011 at 1:43 AM
    JuliaC writes:

    So deep

    So lovely. Thank you, Larry. 

    Julia in Berkeley

      0 likes
  • January 4 2011 at 11:56 AM
    tessmcginn writes:

    thank you Larry

    you are a tribute to your class. 

    Tess Bois (formerly McGinn)

    One World Community Acupuncture

    Fitchburg, MA

      0 likes
  • January 4 2011 at 6:41 PM
    Nic writes:

    good post Larry!  It really

    good post Larry!  It really shows your passion.

     

    Nick

     

      0 likes
  • January 4 2011 at 11:05 PM
    crismonteiro writes:

    this beautiful blog

    has been in my mind and heart all day.

    Thanks bro. 

      0 likes
  • January 5 2011 at 9:13 AM
    ellengrover writes:

    It is not something I can ever stop doing

    you said it, babes.  love it.   - e

      0 likes
  • January 5 2011 at 12:04 PM
    tatyana writes:

    beautiful

    Thanks for this post, Larry.

    My mom lives on the opposite coast from me - (Englewood, NJ, just outside NYC) and I too wish I could needle her regualrly. Every time she visits (about once peryear, she gets acupuncture from me nearly every day of her visit. While she now enjoys a pretty comfortable life, she still cannot afford boutique acupuncture prices. There is no CA cinic anywhere near where she lives, in fact there is really very little acupuncture in her area.

    This part:
    This community acupuncture clinic, where I experience the
    autonomy of the middle class professional in my working experience while
    interacting with people that feel like me, even if they do not necessarily look
    like me is my privilege.
    - really hit the spot for me. I feel so priviledged to have found the livelihood that resonates with my heart and my culture.

    -tatyana

      0 likes
  • January 5 2011 at 9:55 PM
    lumiel writes:

    This has to be my favorite blog.

    Thank you.

      0 likes
  • January 24 2015 at 6:39 PM
    Cynthia Marie writes:

    Why it’s worth it…

    ... I’m sitting here at the neighborhood coffee shop, staring into the huge work of opening up my own CA clinic and wondering if I’m making the right choice. This beautiful piece and my deep emotional reaction gives me hope that if my heart is in the right place, my brain and backbone will get on board, too. Thanks for sharing this.

      1 likes

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