Back in the “good old days” of the 1940s, most neighborhoods in the city had their local dumpster divers, garbage pickers and scavengers looking for something they could turn a dime on. Rationing of food and consumer products during the war effort prompted most of us to be resourceful just to survive. We collected empty bottles, cans, old newspapers, rags and bacon grease for recycling. Bacon grease and other oils were reconstituted and used to grease cannons on our battleships and artillery on the fields of human tragedy.
Once a week, the “junk man” drove his old worn-out truck through our neighborhood collecting our recycled stuff. All the kids made fun of him. He wore an old, worn, ragged dress jacket, loosely fitting patched pants and leather shoes that were faded, wrinkled and stiff from baking in the hot sun. He topped off his working uniform with a black top hat that looked like it is was left over from a turn-of-the-century New Year’s eve party. He gave us small change for our efforts and sometimes he would trade food rationing stamps for containers of grease. The rationing stamps were more valuable than the money. Supposedly, if you didn’t have the stamps it didn’t matter how much money you had, you couldn’t buy anything anyway. Of course, bribery was the business of the day. After the war ended the junk man seemed to disappear into the maze of a new world of prosperity.
I never knew the man’s name, but I do remember his kindness. In 1951, my dad was going through some real hard times financially. Work was slow and I had just spent two years in the hospital. We had no insurance but, thankfully, the March of Dimes paid for most of the bill. Late one night there was a knock on our door. My father always had a baseball bat by the door to discourage late intruders. With bat in hand, he opened the door and the junk man, dressed in a fine suit, tie and polished shoes, was standing in the doorway. He said he heard about our hard times and wanted to talk to my father.
They sat by themselves in the living room and had a long conversation over a cup of coffee. He finally stood up, shook my father’s hand, affectionately patted my mom on the back and gave me a huge hug as he was walking out the door. Mom and I couldn’t wait to hear what they were talking about.
We knew he had been a junk man for many years. What we didn’t know was that he was eccentric and wealthy. Dad said he never mentioned his name but in a very humble, almost apologetic way, offered to help pay the balance of the hospital bills and help us financially until we got back on our feet. The voice of my father’s pride said he appreciated the offer and that he would consider it; my father’s tears said he was overwhelmed with the kindness of the man from the junk yard. Dad said, “I guess the saying is true. You should never judge a man by the clothes he wears.”
And the world shouldn’t pre-judge our 406 American athletes during the upcoming opening day ceremony at the Olympics because their uniforms were made in China. Ralph Lauren was commissioned to design and manufacture the uniforms and had them made in China. Once the Democrats learned of this they used it as a political rallying point against Mitt Romney, whom they accuse of outsourcing American jobs when he was the head man at Bain capital investments.
Republicans and Democrats alike railed against the Chinese-manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile workers are desperate for jobs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was furious with the United States Olympic Committee for outsourcing American jobs. He said, “I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.” Maybe Reid and Republicans should burn the so-called fair trade agreements that gave corporations tax incentives to encourage outsourcing.
Personally, I’m more concerned about the prominence of the Ralph Lauren logo on the blazers where an American flag should be proudly displayed. Are American athletes competing for Lauren or the United States?
Fortunately, our athletes will be judged by their physical skills, high degree of sportsmanship and the merits of their character, not by the clothes they wear.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.