Blue Collars vs. Ivy Leaguers

I started out my adult life as a long-haired, hard partying blue collar guy. I pulled thousand pound carts of linen around for several years. It was a great daily workout, and kept me in shape. And I was paid for it. It didn’t take long for me to be the last White Man standing, except for management. I was immersed in “diversity.”

I must have heard “man, you are so underemployed” a thousand times. I was urged to go to college. I did make a half-hearted attempt at community college, but predictably wasn’t diligent enough. I preferred spending my free time writing songs and poetry, and sporadically working on the Great American Novel, which eventually became The Unreals. I wish more of you would read it. I have other, more polished novels, but it doesn’t look like anyone wants to publish them. They say that every first novel is autobiographical, so you could probably learn a lot more about me from reading it. If you want to. You might feel you know too much about me already. I’m an open book. I’d reveal the skeletons in my closet before anyone else had a chance to.

It did frustrate me sometimes, to see my peers going to real colleges, and getting better jobs than I had a chance for, because of that magic degree. Meanwhile, I was doing intense physical labor, and learning the intricacies of other cultures, especially Black culture. My innate hatred of the rich fit in perfectly. I despised “the Man” more than all the nonwhites could ever hope to. And “the Man” looked down on someone like me, who was stuck in a job like that. In their eyes, I might as well have been cleaning toilets. When I got my real estate license in 1985, I continued to work this blue collar job for a few years on a part time basis. It was difficult to juggle two such disparate avocations. My customers would have dropped me instantly if they knew.

A few times, I came directly from a real estate showing to my blue collar job without changing from my suit and tie. Of course, I couldn’t do that kind of work in a monkey suit, so I carried a change of clothes. Like the Flash. I decided to try an experiment. I delivered some pharmacy items to a few nursing stations, in my professional outfit. The same nurses who normally never gave me a second glance, lit up like fireflies, to paraphrase one of the many great lines from It’s a Wonderful Life. Not to be conceited, but I was a pretty handsome lad in those days. However, I was just as handsome in my uniform with the nametag. It was the suit and tie. It advertised a different status level. And that got their attention.

Eventually, I moved on to IT, as a computer operator. At that time, this was a very respectable job. Certainly light years above my former position as a physical laborer. And real estate became the part-time gig. It still is. I continued to hate and disrespect “the Man,” even if I was treated a bit better by him. If I’d ever somehow become one of those highly paid Vice Presidents in Charge of Looking out of the Window, I don’t think it would have altered my instinctive animosity for pomp and power. I couldn’t possibly have uttered “Great idea, JR,” with a straight face at one of their pointless meetings, even if it meant losing a six figure Christmas bonus.

So, as someone who worked and interacted with hundreds of nonwhites at the bottom of the employment ladder (well, okay, we were above the likes of fast food workers and ditch diggers), but also with realtors who were making a half million dollars a year, I feel qualified to make some informed observations. In many ways, the blue collar workers had more dignity and class about them. Some of the white collar professionals were shockingly vulgar, and displayed their animal impulses if they got to know and trust you. There were as many adulterous affairs going on as there were at the blue collar level, and even more family dysfunction.

After my very first real estate closing, the other agent, who was a fairly attractive but much older woman, asked me if I wanted to go for a drink to celebrate. I thought her motives were obvious, but then I do have a big ego. Maybe she just wanted an innocent celebratory drink. At any rate, I kindly declined. Would I have declined, if she’d been younger and really attractive? I’d like to think so, but again I am highly susceptible to flattery. I couldn’t picture any older woman, in my blue collar setting, hitting on me like that. Were the women with less income more principled? Or was it my ridiculous uniform with the nametag?

On the blue collar job, and later in IT, I didn’t hesitate to share my rabble rousing views with my co-workers. My fellow blue collar workers mostly loved it. The few who didn’t were usually working part-time while attending college, and bound for bigger and better things. One of them became a hospital administrator. I can still see him sleeping off a hangover on top of one of the Gomco suction machines, when he was being paid to work. Somehow, I doubt he’d tolerate that kind of thing in his future role. We did get away with a lot of stuff like that. I always came in a little late, and left a little early. There was a lot of flexibility and numerous perks. But the perks weren’t financial, and there was clearly no future in it, as everyone kept reminding me.

In IT, there were different perks, but it took a while to adjust to the stricter rules regarding time. They really monitored when you came in and when you left, and only gave you a seven minute courtesy window. But most of them were interested in my always provocative views, although the ratio wasn’t nearly as high as it had been on my blue collar job. I began to realize that the way we look at the world is significantly influenced by what we do for a living. Physical laborers know they’re doing hard work for little pay, and that “the Man,” or the system, sucks. In IT, there was a bit of that feeling among the operators, and the Help Desk, but not so much with the analysts, and certainly not in those with positions of real authority, making great money.

In real estate, I found only a few other Realtors who related to my radical thoughts. Most were preoccupied with money, and material possessions. The ones who were the really big agents, the top sellers in the company, wouldn’t talk to me any more than the directors at my blue collar job would have talked to me. In every industry, as there is in society at large, most people are very, very class conscious. They know where you stand on the totem pole. And if you’re well below them on that totem pole, they aren’t going to be friends with you. Or in many cases, talk to you. The doctors at the hospital where I labored as a blue collar worker literally didn’t acknowledge my existence.

One thing I learned is that formal education is not an indicator of intelligence. Certainly not of common sense. The most uneducated blue collar worker I knew had far more “street smarts,” and was far less likely to be fooled by propaganda, than the most successful Realtor I encountered. At one point, the hospital spent millions of dollars on a new automated cart system. After years, and more millions spent on worthless “consultants,” that system ran for ten minutes. Every single blue collar worker knew it wouldn’t work, and we took bets on how long it would last. It was that obvious that their carts wouldn’t fit into the spaces designated for them, but the well paid college graduates couldn’t see what the high school dropouts could.

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