My alarm goes off at four in the morning. That morning time is the only real time I can have to myself, so I take my time-shower, shave, listen to the early news. The morning's the only time that I can walk. I don't run in the morning because I'm running all day, as soon as I leave the house.
Here's my schedule: I'm up by 4 A.M. Out the door by 5:30. Catch the train at 5:55. Get to work at 7:15. Take a breather, have some coffee, start work by 7:30. It's an hour and a half from Mansfield, see, because I had to leave Cambridge when they ended rent control-my rent doubled, to $1,100. I love Cambridge. I would have loved to have stayed. But Where's a regular working stiff going to come up with $1,100? So I moved to Mansfield where I pay $557-better, but still an awful lot of money to pay just to live some place.
Anyway, I work at Harvard until 4:00 P.M. I get on the train, grab a cup of coffee, throw down a donut. Get off the train and walk-twenty minutes from the station to my second job-the Supermarket. It doesn't pay a heck of a lot-six and a half an hour-but it helps, so I do bagging and stocking shelves until 10:30 P.M. I walk back to the train, take it home, get in my door around eleven thirty. Get settled. In bed after midnight. Usually I'm so tired, I hit the pillow and bang-I'm out. But you ever been so tired, you can't go to sleep? That happens some times too, and it just drives me nuts. Anyway, I'm up again by four.
I've been going on that schedule for a little over two years now. Boy, I'll tell you, there are a lot of days when you're walking around in a fog. You're just pooped out. Of course, sometimes you have a day that's not too bad. But you can't think on it too much. You just go. You run like hell. I used to work Saturday and Sunday. But now two days a week I don't have to hit the floor running.
Saturday I try to clean up my own home. I go grocery-shopping. I do laundry. Sunday, I try to do those things I don't have the time for during the week, like I'll sit down and watch the football game. See, time is precious. At my age it is. I'm not sure what's going to happen to me. I'm in hock. I'm borrowing from my retirement plan to get by. It ain't going to be long before I'm borrowing more money. The retirement money'll be gone soon-just a matter of time. And then I'll just have to play it out and see what hits. I don't see retirement in my future. Hell, I'm going to wind up with the Social Security, but I'll just have to keep working on the side forever. Can't fold up, so what are you going to do? Harvard's paying people big bucks to take care of their money, so they certainly wouldn't part with a dime.
I started working here three years ago. Starting money was $8.55 an hour. Well, two weeks ago, I just got a raise to $9.35 an hour. That's three percent a year. But around here, the cost of living has increased a lot more than that. Now, those eighty cents will make my life better-give me a little more breathing room, that's for sure. Though I would like to go out once in a while and do what I call 'indulge.' I'd like to go out to and eat a meal, you know? I do that when I get the tax refund, you know-I'll get a few bucks and indulge.
There's a pub I used to like to go to-Jimmy's Pub. A lot of the troops go there. I'd like to sit down with the troops and have a couple beers, have a meal, watch the ball game. Really sit down at a place instead of sitting home and cooking a can of beans. Everybody knew everybody there. You could sit down and relax. They'd throw birthday parties for people, wedding anniversaries. It was a place you could go and you didn't have to worry. Have a few laughs. But my salary puts a nut in that. Not being able to do that, you start to miss that kind of relationship. I don't see those people unless I happen to run into them.
I try to eat at work when I can. After the luncheons, we get a shot at the leftovers, after the professors eat. So I do that. I'm living week to week. I don't even have my check for this week and I got to start figuring how I'm going to make it through next week. Right now, I got nine dollars in my pocket. Seven of that is for a prescription I need. That leaves two dollars in change in my pocket. That's what I got left to spend today. And I need to stay awake, so I'll buy a 20-cent coffee they got in the machine upstairs. And if I'm doing really well, I'll buy a 95-cent cup at "Seattle's Best."
I'm tired physically, and I'm tired up here, in the head, too. I'm at the point where things start to bug me that normally don't. Sometimes I just need to back off and cool down a little bit before it's too much. I don't need to be a 50K man. All anybody's talking about is a living. I just need a living. And I'm not talking about any extravagant living, I'm talking very basic stuff-a roof over my head, a meal. Right now, I've got that, but only because I'm at the Supermarket 'til 10:30 each night.
Managers always try to cut expenses, and they see wages as expenses. Their minds are trained that way. They get trapped in that, and they forget that it's people they're talking about. It's a person, a guy, trying to live on that. They're talking profits. We're talking survival. They're driving steaks into our hearts. It's cost control. You got to remember with a cleaning company that their primary purpose is to make a profit, which is fine. But for me, I got to watch everything-every dime-like a hawk. Just like the employees have a responsibility to do a decent job, the employer has a responsibility to pay a decent salary. No way should Harvard be paying anybody this low. They're a wealthy institution. But obviously with them it's never enough money.
How does Harvard justify paying a person $8.50 an hour with the kind of money they have? They should be damn well ashamed of themselves. George Bush made a statement a few years back when he was President-'$20,000 a year,' he said, 'I think that's a good salary.' Well, I'd like to see him live on $20,000 a year. If it's such a good salary, go for it, George. You let me know how it feels. My father unloaded steel from freight cars. He fed five kids. My mom worked at city hospital. They worked. I clean this building alone. I got 94 rooms here. I work. George Bush was fortunate enough to have never wanted for anything in his life. I'd sure like to know that feeling once in a while. All he had to do was show up. He's got no right to preach self-reliance. Don't tell me to pull it up by the bootstraps, Georgie, because you didn't do no pulling nowhere. Good salary? Hah. You don't need a Rhodes Scholar to figure that out.
Look, this is not a matter of working hard-people are already working hard. I've been wearing a custodial uniform now going on twenty years. I always say the only thing we don't have is a number across our backs. They figure they own me like a piece of equipment-like a barrel or a buffing machine.
People figure if I had any brains, I'd be doing something else. It's got nothing to do with being lazy or not having the smarts. I got two years in of college at night at Roxbury College. I got an Associate degree in management, and I was going for the bachelor's. I had the idea that I'd start my own business, but then my father got sick-he had cancer-and about a year later my mother got sick-and she had cancer. Throat cancer. I stopped going to school so I could work to take care of them. So I didn't go back, and you need that degree nowadays.
Of course, it's amazing how much abuse people will take. And the people who are taking it just sit back and take it. I've finally decided that as long as there are people willing to take a kick in the teeth, there's people there willing to kick. Like the Spanish workers here, they're getting screwed just because someone else is in a position to do it. With them, managers threaten to call the immigration office if they ask for a raise or even vacation time. And if we get mistreated, how does an ordinary guy pay for a lawyer? You're only going to get representation if an attorney feels like volunteering. I call this place the reservation. We're allowed to think about how mad we all are-we'd just better not say it. Somewhere along the line, I'll tell you, they don't want people thinking for themselves. They've stopped you from thinking today, and that's what's got me worried. Its like everyone's afraid to speak up.
And we have a union. We're in SEIU-Service Employees International Union-Local 254. I been in that union twenty years, but to tell you the truth, the only way any of us even know we got a union is I see the dues deduction each month for $20.50 on my pay stub.
If you're an ordinary working stiff for this outfit, you're dog meat. UNICCO doesn't pay sick leave. With UNICCO, it's an unspoken rule that you don't take your six vacation days. I've only taken two weeks off since February, ninety-seven, when I started. I'm sick, too, and I could use some time to rest. You're supposed to just keep on slugging. And I carry a beeper so they can beep me if they need extra work. Once I worked thirty-five days straight without a day off. But you know, even if you're a dog, someone's got to take time to feed the dog.
The work itself sucks, alright? It's very tiring, and it's hard work. But you just clean it all up hold your nose and you think to yourself, 'I got three kids, I love my kids, I love my kids. I want the kids to be happy.'
Financially I'm OK now. I was able to move out of the projects, but, you know, after paying taxes and daycare and car insurance, that's when you start going to food pantries and soup kitchens at night and you start trash-picking for clothes and toys and furniture. I do it. It's fun, trash-picking. It's shopping. I mean, my kids don't really think they're poor. When we go to a soup kitchen, they think they're going to a restaurant. What the hell? It's free food. They throw it out if nobody eats it. We stick around until after dinner's served, too, so we can get a doggie bag to take home. Why not save it? Waste not, want not.
I find good food in the garbage here too. Chinese food, you know-it doesn't go bad because of all the chemicals. If it's only been out over night, I'll eat it. I don't care. I got some in the fridge now, if you're hungry. It's good. I mean no one puts their mouths on all the pieces. I brought some home for the kids the other night. But you know, at least I'm out of the projects. I had neighbors there who were selling drugs to try to make enough money to move out of there. They couldn't even feed their little kid, so I was feeding him, you know. Or I would take the kid to school, get him dressed, give him a lunch. I mean, at least I'm out of there.
I like this job, because I can come in here and shoot the shit with people from all over the world-from places I'll never go, because I'm broke. Talking to the students makes me sane, because I go insane when I'm always working and taking care of the kids and I don't have any conversation. You know what I mean? It's like I don't have a social life. This is my social life, shooting the shit here.
I don't have time to come home from cleaning all day to sit there and wait for a guy to call me so I can go out on a date and act real feminine. I did try it a little in my early twenties. Even in college. But when you're going out at eight o'clock at night, and you got to be home by ten-thirty so you can be at work by four the next morning, are you going go out and talk and shoot the shit for two hours and spend the night out? No. You just can't do that.
This is the old boy network here. I mean, these people are somebody. These guys got potential. You got people here making hundreds of billions of dollars.
When I was younger I lived near here, and I always thought I'd love to get a Harvard degree, but my mother didn't raise me that I had any intelligence. And it was always like only rich people go to Harvard. But working this job, I get to be around intelligent people. I like that-although I'm not sure how intelligent some of you really are. Like, I don't know if they're at Harvard because they have rich parents or if they're actually intelligent. It's usually a toss up [Laughs].
The students here are the most politest people, though. I thought I was going be walking into a bunch of spoiled, rich brats who would treat me shitty, you know? I wouldn't have cared, really, because it's just a job, but actually they're so polite. And I was really surprised at how smart rich people really are. I have a degree, too, so I'm not stupid- Bunker Hill Community College. I'm finding out that I know a lot more sometimes, too, like I know more about life than some of the students. And that makes me feel better. That's life experience more than books. Life knowledge is more important; book knowledge gets you in the door. You can quote me on that.
Being the cleaning lady you know people. You hear things. You see things. You're the quiet dirt cleaner. I know a judge. I know lawyers. I know politicians. There's a student here who's the son of the guy who was the President of Egypt. I mean, that's a cool thing. I go around telling people I clean up after this kid. And they're like, No way, and I'm like, Yeah, I clean up after someone important! I met him once, and you know, he's just a regular kid.
You know, I don't know if I should say this, but I'm still getting welfare. You're not supposed to be on welfare and work, you know. This job's under the table. But you know, I don't mind someone taking from the system if it means they're getting ahead. Look at corporate welfare-it's corporate welfare that's taking all the money and there's no money left for the people. The government gives all this money to a company so they can come into a town, when in reality all the company does is cut jobs. It's amazing. Then those people start collecting unemployment, right? Keeping the poor people poor by throwing 'em some bones. We'll stay poor. Just throw us some bones! We'll eat 'em. We'll make soup! [Laughs].
Basically, the way I work under the table is by having people pay bills for me. Like one woman makes out a check for my kids' charter school. Another guy writes a check to the phone company or to the oil company. Another company pays me in cash. Nothing goes through my checking account, see, and that's how you get paid under the table. Another company- they owe me thirteen hundred, so I'm trying to get them to buy me a computer for the kids. We barter. The kids are getting into the internet, so I want a fast computer for my house.
Why am I not in a bad mood because of all the shit I have to do? To tell you the truth, I think it started with my mother's husband, who was a jerk. He used to hit her, so she left him. And I was scared shit of all her other boyfriends, so I decided I was always going pull my own weight. I wasn't going to fucking owe nobody nothing. Remember Shirley Temple? Every show she always pulled her own weight and she always said, I'm very self-reliant, you know. I like Shirley Temple. She's cute. So I always tried to be like her.
Men have not helped much in my life. With men, it was always, If you adopt me, I'll clean your house. I was a young girl, you know, and what happened is boom, boom, I started popping out the kids and then nobody was there for me. Well, I wasn't going let my kids sleep on the streets. I still won't. I figure if I ever get homeless I'll take over one of the rooms here! [Laughs]. But I have three kids-I don't want to be homeless. I could do it, but with kids, it's different. So I never have a day off during the school year. And in seven years, I never got a raise.
I come from a family of working people. My father was a miner. My mother worked in a garment factory. When my mother was still a young woman, the illegitimate daughter of a Catholic Priest put a curse on her. It made her hands bleed, and because she worked in a garment factory, her hands bled all over the fabric. So she went to a woman who could cure her hands-she was a powerful woman. She lived in a demolished white ghetto. She cured my mother, and after she did, she said, 'your son will be in books. His picture and his name will be in books.'
I am Danny Maher, son of Axon Maher, the first-born daughter of William Leo Maher, who was son of Cornelius of Tipary, Ireland. My tribe settled in Western Pennslvania, where I was raised on my grandmother's farm, just outside Dilltown.
I always wanted to be a painter, though it was unlikely coming from Dilltown that I would ever get to be a painter. In those days and in that place, you became a soldier or a coal miner or you worked in the steel mills. Dilltown was a company town, and the place was ruled in every sense by R & P Coal Company, which in turn was owned by the Delanos, as in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The owners, they don't give a damn about you-if you live or die, as long as you make money for them. They learned to think like that at Harvard and Yale and Princeton. Then they went down to Pennsylvania and they did that to the people of my tribe, okay? Those were my people that their wealth was garnered from. That was the blood, sweat, tears, and death of the people of my tribe.
The company was the law, and to keep it that way, they had searchlights and gun towers at each end of the main street. You could be a dead man if you were trying to organize a union. Still, the labor movement was born in Pennsylvania. People fought and died to bring about reforms like the forty-hour week, workman's comp and unions.
When it comes to turning out the men who run the capitalist class, the men Harvard produces haven't changed in 100 years. I'll be damned to see where they have. What they will teach you at the Harvard Business School is that you never pay the worker the true value of their wages. Ever. That bottom line view of things-that social Darwinism-it's a bunch of malarkey to me. It is an excuse for what is essentially vicious behavior by people who believe in capitalism and nothing else. I'm telling you that I see that kind behavior as a vicious, vicious action towards other human beings that you have power over. And because you have that power over them, you think you can do anything you want to and it's okay. Well, maybe you can do anything you want, but that don't make it right.
The point is, I've come into this situation with history on my shoulders, and I cannot stand here and say to Harvard, 'Why yes, two plus two is five.' I can't do that, and I'm not going to do that, because if I did, it would mean that I would have to spit in the face of my entire life's experience.
Don't get me wrong-Harvard is a great institution of learning. I admire and respect it and I think that there are things about Harvard that are really fine and beautiful things that are even noble. My wife went to Harvard. She got both her degrees at Harvard-Philosophy and Education Administration. She didn't have no damn money, but she was smart and Harvard saw to it that she was able to come here and get an education based on the fact that she had the brain to do it, and I think that that is a great thing. My wife said to tell you that she never would have had Chinese food if she hadn't come to Harvard. I could not do my wife's job, okay? I don't have the skills to do her job. She's very, very good at it, and I look at the person she is and I think about how she got to be that person and I think about the impact that coming to Harvard had on her.
I think as an institution, it's a brilliant institution. I have a lot of admiration for it, to be frank. I love working in the art museums, and I love being around the art. I think that there are aspects of this university that are fine, wonderful things, and I think there are people at this university who are noble people-like Steven J. Gould and James Womack. But what you see when you work at a job like mine is that there are things about how it views the working class that haven't changed ever, and to ignore that, you ignore that at your peril. Harvard administrators are hiring scabs to break our unions. Unions have a different perspective about the worker, and administrators don't want that perspective to have any power or currency.
I have students come into the museum, who, to tell you frankly, are just pricks. A lot of students come in here for an assignment and don't even know what the hell they're looking for. Sometimes you have a student in there trying to analyze critically a work of art that you've been looking at over and over and over and over again for two straight years, so you see things in that painting that they're not going to find in ten minutes. So I help them out a little bit, without acting like I'm patronizing them. And if you help them get an A, that's a good thing. That's the kind of relationship that's good to have with the student body. But they'll go on and be like their fathers, chances are, and twenty years from now, I'll be fighting them the same way I'm fighting their old man now. That's the way life is. That's the nature of political struggle. I'll fight my whole life for the working class. And when I'm dead, the war will still go on.
I mean, many of the guys are working so many hours that their health has suffered, and we don't have no paid sick days. We've asked for them. Paid sick days are pretty common. That's a common thing, man, anywhere in America. Last fall, the day before Thanksgiving, I got gout. Do you know what gout is? It lasted months and I had to go to work the whole time to walk them damn galleries. I want to tell you man, gout is wicked. Gout is wicked painful. I had to go in there and do that because I don't have no damn paid sick days. People go to work in those museums ill to one degree or another on a regular basis. There are people who got families and they are the support of their families, and if they don't show up and punch in, then they don't get paid and then their family suffers. That is a very callous thing.
Harvard constantly tells you about humanistic views, the truth, morals. You all have to take a required class called Moral Reasoning. Now, I believe that Harvard is about those things. Those are fundamentally important concepts, but they're set aside for economic convenience. I think that anybody who went to this university would be really pissed off if they realized a group of people at Harvard are trying to set aside all of those very profound, philosophical, and moral points in order to squeeze the last drop of blood out of a group of essentially defenseless workers and that they could do it because they have the power to do it. It's not like Harvard don't got the money. To pay us a living wage would not break the university, and it would also satisfy the philosophical and moral principles that they are constantly telling everybody that they stand for and which they negate and turn into a lot of hypocrisy by the way they treat us.
If somebody comes in here with a sawed off shotgun one day, it ain't going to be the administrators or the director of the museum that's going to be looking down the barrel of somebody's sawed off shotgun. It's not going to be the people who are telling us that we're entitled to a 75¢ raise over four years. It's going to be me or some other unarmed guard. Meanwhile, those people at the top want to cut wages, without thinking that they should question the amount of money they get paid. The raise they proposed would have changed my wages from $8.21 an hour to $8.96 an hour, after working here four years. That's not just low. It's insulting. It's a decrease in wages when you take 3% inflation into account.
If you have some guy who's not making a living wage and he's standing there next to a painting that's worth $70 million, and he's got a wife and kids at home who are eating macaroni and cheese, one day that guy might think, 'Man, why am I doing this?' and then he'll look at that painting and think, 'Man, that thing's my ticket out of here.' Now, that's just one reason why you should pay people the value of their labor. That thought don't run through my mind-far from it, okay-and I don't know anybody whose mind it does run through. But, if Harvard wants people who care, then treat us better, not worse.
The cost of living in this area is so high that the city of Cambridge pays its workers a minimum of $10 an hour. The City is demanding that Harvard do the same, but Harvard continues to pay substantially less. They pay as low as $6.50 over at the Law School Dining Hall. That's wrong. It's a scandalous disregard for human beings and their livelihood.
I don't got a lot of money and I don't dress fancily. I didn't go to Harvard, but I was taught that you should be truthful and that you should have some honor as a human being. If you are a man without honor, then you are nothing. Those are not empty words to me. To think that all people should have a fair and equal shake in life is not some empty rhetoric to me. When I see people in a position of power treat people who are powerless with an absolute disregard for their humanity, it is insulting, it is unfair and it is a scandal that brings disrepute on the institution.
I think that that attitude reflects badly on us all. I don't even know if President Rudenstine knows about this. But if he does know, then he should stand up and show by example the things that he says that this university stands for. It's not what you do to the most powerful person. It is how you treat the least powerful people that determines whether you have honor. If you treat the weakest people decently, then your name will live forever. If you treat them badly, history will spit on you and rightly so, and that's what I think.
You can get angry at Harvard because of the power they have. The mythology that we always have is " What Harvard wants Harvard gets." Whether its in the community, in the state legislature, or their purchase of land in Brighton or Allston. If you criticise Harvard, ther is a sense that you will be taken care of.
That's the sense. Again, there's no fact. You see, I work on an eight-hour shift. And technically, I'm on Harvard's time even at lunch. We've been told that like the living wage rallies at Holyoke center, don't be down there. If you're down there, you're going to be noticed, and then people are going to check your time cards. "Did you punch out for that time you were down at the rally?" Yeah. This was passed down from a union member, who heard it from a management team. Again, Harvard is pretty flexible, but if you step over the line, they're not going to be so flexible. They're not going to be so flexible. They're going to start going by the letter of the law, and on your time card, they'll expect it to be reflected, that you worked for seven and a half hours, and that for a half hour, you were down at the union rally and you're not going to be paid for that. And you can't fight that.
Custodians here are the lifeblood. They have master keys for all the buildings. You got to trust the custodians. The professors trusted me with their lives. And they had a right to. I would never touch anything or take anything. But that's not always the case if you go with UNICCO or someone else. You really can't. If the guards get forced out, that's going to change. And again, this is the new Harvard. There was always, at least to me, a sense of loyalty that you worked for Harvard. That was bread and butter. And it's not always about overtime when you get called at three o'clock in the morning because the steam went down. Management people sometimes think, "well, you're getting paid for it." I got paid to get out of a nice warm bed at three o'clock in the morning because someone else has no heat. I do that not because of money. I do that because I work here and I accept responsibilities. That's my job.
At Harvard, there's a code of conduct, and one of the codes is participating in things that are against the University. Like, when there were those protests in the 80's about Harvard's investment in South African apartheid, they didn't want us going anywhere near there. There were students camped out there for three or four weeks.
When I used to pick up my keys, they would say, "Don't get into contact with them, don't have a discussion with them, you know, ignore them." Ignore them. That's it. They didn't want you giving them help, even though it wouldn't have been help. The press was going to be down there. And that's another thing-they don't want you talking to the press. What I'm trying to say is Harvard takes its image very seriously, very seriously. And we can joke about it, but they don't joke about it. See, it's not evil. It's just they are a well-oiled machine. They know what they're doing. You always hear these stories, you always feel frightened that perhaps there'd be some backlash or something if you were to be critical. The overall feeling is that if you don't seem like you're on a team, there can be other supple treatments, you won't get favorable treatment.
Some of my work involves cleaning the steam pipes. It's back-breaking work. Even when the steam was off it's be 85 degrees, you be down there. It's considered bull work. You take a sledge hammer, knock the bolts off. You pull the collar, you wrestle it, really, and I mean it. You have to have fourteen inch wrenches and then you clean it with sand cloth and graphite grit, and then put it back. One joint could take two to three orfour days. And that was like going six and a half, seven hours a day. Yeah. [Laughs]. I didn't really like that job. If they weren't strong when they got the job, they would be soon.
There's one reason I've got hope, and I'll tell you why. I've got something I love-I call it my Picasso Project. It's a two-part project, and I've been working on it five years. The first part is a book I'm writing about Pablo-Pablo Picasso. The second part is a one-man play about Pablo. I've written it and I perform in it. I perform at parties, mostly, and at assisted living homes, though I'm working on going to off-Broadway, Tokyo, London.
I'm sixty-three now and I'm really busted. I literally have no money. I make nine dollars and forty cents an hour and I'm in debt. My daughter-she works as a clerk in a clothing store. She makes more than I do. Working overtime is how I survive. Five years without a raise. We got a $200 bonus once. I did the math and it amounted to three cents an hour. But my job-get this-my job is guarding millions and millions of dollars of art.
At this point, and at this rate, I'll work forever. I'll never retire. And if for some reason I really had to retire, I literally would have to move to Indonesia. I'm serious. All I would have is Social Security-about ten to twelve thousand dollars a year. Now, if I sell my book, I just might get to work a few years short of forever. My debt, see, is all debt that amounts to money spent on the project. The project is how I'm preparing for my future.
I grew up in a small town in central Ohio. Mostly I was bored and frustrated. I had no real sense of who I was. I drank too much. I went into the Army. I tried the San Francisco Art Institute. I flunked out. I dropped out of several other colleges. It wasn't until I went into the real estate business with my brother that I finally felt settled. I was happily married with one child and another on the way when it all sort of came to an end. What happened was I fell into a depression, fell into a state where I couldn't manage the business, and one day, it all just broke, fell apart-I lost a half a million bucks that day.
It was a crucial event in my life, though indirectly, it would lead to a very positive change. Because it was after that that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with ADD-Attention Deficit Disorder. Now, short of having two kids, this was the best news I ever had. I'm sure now that it seriously affected my sense of self. I was furious at given times in my life. At intervals, I was depressed. And now, my doctor was explaining that much of that may have been due to this disorder. I take four pills a day now, and I'll tell you, I can focus.
Most importantly, it's affected me in that sense that I've been able to create. I live in New Hampshire, and that's where I do my work. I've adjusted my schedule so that I can cram a full workweek into three days here at the museum Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I stay at a friend's house Monday and Tuesday nights, and Wednesday after work I'm back off to my place in New Hampshire, where I spend the rest of my week working on my manuscript. The book's not complete, but it's getting closer, and it's given me something to feel quite good about.
You know, I am grateful to have a job, but this job ultimately has very little value to it. I still occasionally get exhausted or fairly depressed, and I'm still furious that I'm underemployed. As I said, I'm broke and in debt and I may never retire. But what helps is that I'm actively engaged in my future now. Of course we need better wages, and of course Harvard can afford it-maybe some administrators would have to drive a sedan instead of a Jaguar.
It's such a different fate so many of us have. These students just had the good luck to be born of these people who had some brains. It was all an accident. It's like one of the lines in my play where Pablo says, I am here now, though I have no responsibility for why I am here now. He understood that he never chose to exist. After he was put into existence, it was his choice whether to live or to die, and ultimately, he chose to will himself out of existence.
We are accidents. Pablo felt that keenly, and so do I.
What I can say about Harvard-Harvard is a big, big institution. Before, when I first started at Harvard at 1988, Harvard was... they still are a good institution, alright? But for the custodial services, they don't treat these people fair enough. I don't know if it's because the union we have here doesn't have power to fight for us. Even if Harvard doesn't want to give us too many things, but if the union fight, maybe we can have something. You know there is a competition outside, with UNICCO, White Glove. We make more money than them, but they try to cut the money.
They don't want to give us a raise. Now, the with the new contract, I'm not going to have a raise for three more years/ I mean that will be like eight years no raise. It's not fair. Working for a company for eight years no raise. How much money they have right now? $14 billion? [Laughs]. This $14 billion, they don't tax it. It's just foolish. [Laughs]. Maybe the interest they have on this money is like $1 million a day.
Who make the University work? If we don't treat the students good, are we going to have a University here? If the students aren't happy, they don't come here and then there's no University. They don't think about how the people who do the worst job, the hardest job, get the least pay. Yeah. That's myself, that's not fair.
What I have in mind, I cannot stay here. Oh yeah. I'm looking for something outside. Something better than this. Because I cannot just stay here. You know, I have nowhere to go here. I take some classes here, but I take classes outside too. The last few semesters. I don't say I'm going to leave this year, but I have this in mind. Yeah, I cannot stay like that. No. So I study to be a certified technician in A-Plus. I'm studying for the exam right now. I take a class in networking too. Better money. Sure. They start you at $18/hr. I have to do something. I can't just sit down here. I'm working on it now.
After I get certified. I realized that the custodial services, this is the department that they don't treat them so good. I love to work for Harvard. Yeah. But the way they treat me, I can't stay like that. The reason I like to work for Harvard is because I can go to school for just $40. I like that. But you don't get paid. You work for one company for eight years, no raise? No. When I'm doing something, I like to do it good, too. Oh yeah. I work hard to get stuff done. If I have something to do, I get it done, it's not like you come back and say it's not so good, it's not like that. I try my best to get it very good, and when you come back, you have nothing to say. Yeah, this is the way I am. That make me suffer a little bit too. Yeah.
I've been at Harvard for 12 years. No raise in the last five years. I make $8.97 an hour. Like when you check for the Christmas. They have one week off. The people who work in the office. All week off! They only give us the Christmas and half-day on Christmas Eve. That;s it. They get all week off. You didn't know that? This is the union fault, local 254. Yeah, that's the problem.
I'm from Haiti. But I am a US citizen. I came here thirteen years ago. Since I been here, I work here. I work at Harvard for twelve. When I first came, I used to work in Lamont Library. That wasn't too bad over there. The I go to school at night. But just after that, they started giving over our buildings to outside contractors. No raise. They tried to keep you not too high, so they could compete with the outside contractors.
At that time, I was thinking Harvard is a good university, and the richest, biggest too. And then why they try to do that to us? And since that time, I didn't think too good about that. And that's the reason I started to take some outside classes.
I live in Malden. I work two jobs. For twelve years I work two jobs. When I get off here at 2:30 PM, it's not easy for me to make the eight hours, you know? I work 40 hours here. This week, I worked 52 hours at my second job. I work seven days a week and overnight on Saturday. I start work on Saturday at noon until 6AM the next day. Eighteen hours in one day. And then go home, sleep for a few hours, and go back to work that day, Sunday, at noon again 'til PM. I've got Saturday and Sunday off here, but those days I work at my other job. [Laughs]. And I still go to school too. Like on Saturday, I used to have two classes on Saturday, from 10 till 2 at the Technology Center in Boston, and then 3 till 8 at U. Mass.
The other job is UNICCO at Hynes Convention Center. I've been over at that job for 12 years too, and I get about twelve dollar over there too. The reason it's like that is because they still give you raise over there, at UNICCO. Even if they give you thirty cents every year, that's something. At first, I was making only 10 dollars there. If I keep this job for three more years, I'm going to make more money there than over here. There we do clean up too, but I do set-ups for conventions-big stages.
I have two kids and one husband. My daughter, she's going to private school in September. It's about $250 a month. More than $2,000 every year for my daughter. She's going to Kindergarten. My son is going to be ten in July, and he's in public school. And my wife, she's still going to school too. She's studying to be a nurse. Well, that's big-time. She works not too much-24 hours, sometimes 32. Because she's got to take care of the house and the kids and study and all this stuff. She's a nursing assistant now.
I don't sleep too much. I went to bed every night sometimes after 12, sometimes even after one o'clock AM. I wake up about 4:30 AM. Now I have a car, so I can wake up at about 5 o'clock. I'm here by quarter of six. Hey, and one more thing: sometimes, I just went to bed, one o'clock or one thirty, and they call me to come here at two o'clock in the morning, two-thirty. Something happens here, some flood, some bathroom overflows. They call me over. And they don't think about what you do. Because I drive, I have to do something like that. That's why I try to stop this thing now. It's tough. The money I'm making is not enough. I have to get another job to support my family. If they give me $15 an hour here, it would be OK. I could survive. The reason I am doing two jobs is not because I want to be rich. Because this job is not enough for me to pay the bills. [Laughs]. Well. That's it I think.
It's very difficult to live on these wages because of the rent. I started here as a young man, 25 years ago. When I started, the wages was fair, but the last ten years, it's been harder. Inflation has gone up but wages not as much. Fifteen years ago they brought in the part timers, see and they try to put in two part timers instead of one full timer. So they don't have to get benefits. They in business, you understand? Who own Harvard? I don't know who own Harvard. But I love to work here. That's from my heart. I love every day of it. I do my job honest. Most of my people do the same. Compared to other universities, I think Harvard is the cheap one.
I came from Portugal in '74. I worked first six months in a factory, then I came here. Everyone loves America and I am one of them. I came when I was 25, married with two little girls. On the first day I came here, that's when I knew that's where I am going to work, enjoy, retire. I was a farmer back home. For a while I had two jobs to help my kids with the education, and with the down payment on the house.
I always worked part-time for myself painting, too. I used to paint for Professors, secretaries here, but then I had a heart-attack and six bypasses. I been here 26 years. Since I was 25 to 46, I always was working two jobs, until I got a heart attack. Now the second job is off and on. Like in my country, the man works, the wife stays home. It's not much cash flow but we survived on the farm. But over here, the rent's so expensive. The rents are over $1000. The minimum wage is ridiculous. I own a house, a duplex, and I have a tenant. My wife make more than I do. She works as a custodian at MIT. You know, Greg, you don't make much but you don't have a choice. If I quit my job, Harvard would be happy. I still need another fifteen years, though. I'm only 51.
I work a thirty-five hour week, and that's what you need to work at Harvard to get benefits. But I know people in Widener who have been casuals for two years and haven't been moved up to full-time, which Harvard is required to do. But it seems like anything that has to do with a penny at Harvard seems to take very long.
You can do anything you need to do with the money they have. They're very slow for a college that is supposedly so efficient. I mean, if they have the best people coming out of the college, the best Presidents, the best employees, the best CEO's, FBI and CIA agents coming out of Harvard, I think they might have the potential to do it, why aren't they doing it? Why can't they hire people full-time when they're entitled to that? They keep them part-time because
One of the benefits of going to Harvard is that you get to go to school. Great. Thanks you. Much appreciated. The pay isn't bad. It's not the best, but it's good. I go to the Extension school, and sometimes the real students look at you like you're poor when you say that. I just don't have the money to go four years without working at a full-time college. I just can't do it. And then they look at you like you get to go to Harvard because you're an employee. But it's the same professors that taught you, the same homework you have to do.
Sometimes what Harvard does is not all that moral. Why don't they take some money and give a billion dollars to the homeless. They should do more to help out their community. they own half the land in Cambridge, why don't they do something with it? Also, it might end up making them some money, because if they gave a billion to the homeless, then other people would notice, and they say, "Hey that was a nice gesture, I'll donate money to Harvard." They're good people, they do good things with it. See, a lot of the part-time people get screwed. They hire you for 17.5 hours because if they hire you for more, they have to give you benefits. Why, instead of hiring two part-timers, with no benefits, hire one full-timer with benefits and help out their family.
There's enough money here in this city if everyone says let's spend it here, make it better for everybody. I wouldn't donate money to someone who would just keep it in their bank account and not use it. That's the way I feel. Why not give some money to a State University? Those colleges are always asking for government help.
If my boss tells me to do something, I want to be able to do It. That's my honor, I want to be proud. I go to school so I can get a promotion, maybe be a plumber, but I do it for my honor too.
I live in Dorchester. And I was born in Cape Verde. I came here almost twelve years ago. I started working at Harvard at Mather House for UNICCO. I worked eight years for UNICCO. And then I've been working for Harvard for four more years. At UNICCO, you don't have the benefits. UNICCO is a business company. It doesn't care much about you like Harvard cares. With UNICCO, you might be able to work today, but if you're not able to work tomorrow, hey, forget about it, they'll get another person to replace you, they fire you, like if you sick. They don't care about it. And if they give you a job that's too much, you can't complain. You have to do that. At UNICCO you have a lot of headaches. They used me. I feel they used me.
I don't why, but they tell me we don't need a uniform here. I don't know what the reason is. It's cool for me, though. I don't have to wear every day the same thing. But the students, for example, if we're in a class, the students sometimes be afraid. A couple of time, they ask me, 'can I help you?' or something. Because probably I look like suspicious or something. And I say, no I work here. And they say, 'oh, I'm sorry.' Anyway, being in school is always good. Learning is never bad.
You put on the uniform, and you become a different person. When you put on the uniform, people recognize you by the uniform. I worked for UNICCO for eight years. Every day I have to wear the same thing. I bought clothes but I never had time to use them. I can't be the same person. I be different. When I dress in uniform, they never recognize me. And the other way too. Once, when I was in church, I walked right by a guy I work with, and he didn't even recognize me because I was in a suit.
My responsibility, you can say, is the whole thing, the whole building. We are responsible for the whole thing. My job is maintenance technician, so we do everything that matter. Whatever they tell me to do, and I'll do it. Everyday, I know what to do.
In Cape Verde, I was a manager of night clubs and restaurants. I was full. I was busy. It's stress. You deal with drunk people and stupid things like that, they throw things, they tell you whatever they want to say. It's different lifestyle. When I came here, I said "I'm gonna start new." I used to be the parking valet at this nightclub, that was my second job, but I just quit two weeks ago because I'm now going to start school, and I have to paint my house and do some electric work. Also I have family, and when I was working seven days a week, I didn't even have time for myself. So I said that's enough.
Always I have two jobs. From the time I come here. I have a lot of family, and I have to support the family. The money I make at UNICCO wasn't even enough to pay rent, to pay all the bills you have, and support the family. I have to work two jobs. At UNICCO, I was working more than 80 hours a week. I didn't make too much over there. I was making $8 an hour. Now I make $12.50, bit still, I always need something on the side to do. There's a lot of bills to pay.
I've been lucky with that. I have no complaint with that. I've heard of people humiliated by students, but not with me. Because I know what I am. I am employee, I have to be employee. But I never touch nothing between the two groups. Besides, respect, the most thing you have to do is respect. Give respect, and you get respect. I have no complaints. At UNICCO, I heard it happened with a friend of mine at Mather House, and another at Courier House, and I think they talked fresh to a student, and they got fired. I never go far away from my limit.
You be excited about working for Harvard. When I started working for Harvard, it's like you get a different life, a new life. My first check from Harvard was different. Totally different. I just got that check and I just kept looking at it. It was very interesting for me. I still have that check. I haven't thrown that away.
I have six kids. I have four in Portugal, one in Cape Verde, and one here. I can't send more because I don't have more. And I got a mortgage. I spend a lot of money every month. I spend more than $2,000 every month, more than that, between me and my wife. My wife works a lot too, to live a normal life. But we have no money, if you look in the bank. It's always gone.
I live in Dorchester. It takes me more than an hour to get home. I take the subway, then the bus, and sometimes I get off the subway and I wait over an hour for the bus to come.
Last year, my family died, a grandparent. I didn't get no day off. When family die, only father, mother, kids not grandfather. They don't give you three days off. I'm diabetic, you see. They have somebodys working 10 years, no benefits. I don't know what they do if they get hurt. I remember when I was here one year, I fell in Holyoke, my feet and back was very bad. The doctors, they tell me to wait at home one or two weeks, before I go work, so the next week, I get a paycheck for $72, for one week.
I started working at Harvard three years ago. I used to only get 20 hours work each week-now they give me 22.5. Twenty-two hours can do nothing for me. I have three kids. I have to pay for food. Before Harvard, I was cleaning for the MBTA. My husband has contract with one white man, and they give him contract. I worked ten years with my husband cleaning. The cleaning is difficult. Sometimes I don't speak English very well. I have three jids, one in college, one in High School. Little one in second grade.
I apply to do 25 hours a week, they don't give it to me. I apply to do 30 hours a week, they don't give it to me. I apply to do 40 hours a week, they don't give it to me. I don't know why. I apply for these extra hours. They don't give me. Harvard is no good. B.U. pay people full time $15 an hour, and part time $13 an hour. Here, when they give you a raise, they give you 15 cents or 20 cents. It's good the students make the Living Wage Campaign.
My kids are 14, 19, 8. I been here, since I came from Haiti seventeen years. Boston is good for me, to have the kids, better than Haiti. Some people have the money. Some people they don't have it. My husband does receiving at Macy's. My husband helps me, and now my daughter works in the security, and that gives some money too. She is in college. This is just some extra money.
Custodians do a hard job sometimes. Some people, they don't say hi, even if you say hi. I don't care about pay. I care that if I'm working for you three years, you give me the job I deserve-a full time job. When that happens you complain to the union, but they say they can hire whoever they want.
You want to know about regular working-stiffs? You want to know what kind of life I lived for twenty-three years working in that place? Twenty-three years... It was nothing that I planned. It was nothing that I set for a goal. It was just, get a job, so I got a job. Things in the workplace now are so different than they were years ago. It's not fun anymore. It's not enjoyable. It's a scared feeling and an unstable feeling in the workforce now.
I sometimes think they'd like to replace me with a monkey making $5.25 an hour. And you know something? They probably could. Yeah, anyone can do my job. It takes no real skill. In three months someone could know what they're doing. See, no one stays at a job more than a year these days. I personally believe they design it so it's not worth it. They make you so miserable that you never even last in a place a year to get a week's vacation. I feel like they want me to leave. It's not even about personality and whether they like you or not, it's about saving money. And I cost them a lot of money. I cost them thirty-nine paid days off a year, four weeks vacation, three personal days, six sick days and a medical plan. They'd be happy to hire some kid, and that way they wouldn't have to pay his insurance or anything unless of course he decides to stay for more than 6 months. I feel like I have no choice. I feel like I have to stay here. In today's day and age, with my skills, which are none-and not to put myself down, because a lot of common people used to survive by just working-but in today's day and age, you can't do that anymore.
I rent my apartment, and rent's gone through the roof. I used to know a lot of people around here, but they left. They're not around anymore. I mean, I kind of feel like a leftover in Cambridge. I kind of feel like the last man on earth. My friend was asking me, 'You ever get the feeling you just don't belong here anymore?' Like it's just a whole new regime of people that have come in. So I'm moving too. Next month. I just can't afford Cambridge.
There's always going to be garbage collectors, plumbers, there's always going to be people like that. The problem is, nowadays, that kind of labor's almost considered minute, below standards. Like, you could work at a place twenty-five years ago, build yourself up, and you could say, I'm a janitor. I've been here for twenty-five years. I make sixteen dollars an hour. You can't do that anymore. I unloaded from a truck probably every book you ever read at Harvard. But you know, hard work, honesty and reliability really don't stand for shit anymore. Those are three of the things I have. America's not designed that way any more. It's designed like you work a few months, three months, five months, we terminate you, we hire you temporarily. It would be really, really stupid for me to quit-I'll never get four weeks vacation again. Took me ten years to get that.
I grew up in Arlington. Arlington public high-regulation school, I was a regulation student. I passed. No one in my family was ever a student, except one cousin that's a doctor and he's a lawyer and he's this and he's that, and he went to Yale, you know, and he's very, very, very successful. Whether that makes him happy I don't know. I just know he's the only one in our family that went to a major Ivy League school. Not me. I don't even know any of the professors here. I have no concept of what they do for a profession. I'm doomed We're doomed. You know this cloning thing? Me and the people I work with-we're not intelligent enough to be cloned, but we're not stupid enough to be cloned either. We'll be disregarded. They need the smart people, and then they need a bunch of six-foot-eight, 290-pound guys that just lug things around and take out trash. Well, I don't fit into either of those categories. That's pretty scary. It's just bizarre. Sometimes I just think America's just getting too smart for its britches, too successful, too powerful. It's a funny way America is.
That's what's sad about America. I mean, an average all-American person can't survive. I mean, a regular person. I don't want to go back to making $5.25 an hour. The jobs out there are all either for really technical, highly skilled people, or they're really, really down in the bottom of the barrel McDonalds jobs and CVS jobs. It just seems to be getting farther and farther apart now.
Working at this place-you were never going to get rich working here, but, to be honest with you, who wants to be rich? Those people are miserable too. People are people, you know what I mean? They got the same headaches, the same problems at home. But yeah, it just used to be a better place to work, emotionally. And my heart really isn't in it anymore, if you know what I mean. It's good to talk about this. It's like somebody actually wants to talk to me. I feel important. I feel like I matter.
I started with Harvard about a year and a half ago with Building Services. Our department does mostly in-house construction stuff, putting' in keyboard trays, puttin' up shelves, stuff like that, rearranging, moving stuff around, just small, little maintenance stuff, but we're also affiliated with security, the mailroom, the shipping room. I'm the on-call guy, meaning 'we need help here, we need help there,' I take care of that type of thing.
I'm the all-around guy, whenever someone needs a hand, my boss will page me and send me here or there. Most of the time, it's just, it's little missions-put up a shelf, put together a cubicle, you know. So my set position, I don't know what I call it, to be honest with you. I love it. Somebody might order shelves, I put 'em together. I actually like working with the tools. You know the most difficult thing about this interview is trying to describe what I do, I mean, how do I describe it? I cover for people, essentially. I mean, how do you describe it? I please people? [Laughs]. You know, please them by helping them?
I was brought up in construction. My father worked construction. I went to trade school after high school, worked for many contractors. Again, I don't want to make myself look like a hero. Most of the big work is done by contractors, I just do the little things, nothing too strenuous. I don't want anyone to read it and misinterpret it, like 'wow.' I don't want anyone to be thinking I built Widener. [Laughs]. The professor needs a keyboard tray installed, that's what I do. It's nothing, it's not like I sit behind blue prints and plan these big things. But everybody is important.
So I fix this, put this in, you know, I kind of enjoy it. Like I say, our facilities, are versatile-were affiliated with the mail room, the shipping room, stock room-it's a very blue-collar job.
I've made friends with a few students, and lookin' at me, blue collar, you wouldn't think I would. This is what you hear. They might be thinkin', "he just know blue collar stuff," and some of us might look at the white collar people and go, 'well, they got to be educated, they got this certain upper crust thing. Not me, but other people judge people just by walking by them. You know, 'he must not be too smart,' you know, you hear that stuff. But I just don't care.
It's like I always said, when I was a kid, I was brought up to be fair. And you always think, 'well, if I;m a fair person, everybody else is. But the world doesn't work like that. People you've been fair to for years will screw you in the ground the first chance they get. If you gave them your last piece of food, and they make millions of dollars, and you're starving, they won't give you. That's the sad thing. But still it doesn't stop me from trying to be fair with people.
Why should it make me bitter? To me, it's not worth turning bitter, even if all the morals your parents brought you up with go out the window. Out of everything you get from your upbringing, whether it was gifts on your birthday, Christmas, the things that when they're long gone, the things that are going to stick inside you is the stuff they taught you. That's probably the most precious gift. Now I'm not saying I'm right. I never say I'm right. I just, this is what I think; I could be wrong. Some people just feel, 'you take whatever you can get.' I know myself, I was brought up, 'you got a little bit, you give a little bit.' It's the difference between giving someone a chance and using them-that's the difference.
I'm a songwriter and a performer, actually. Oh yeah, the music business, it's my life's dream since I was six. I'm thirty two now and I would just end up in a snake pit if I tried it now. But, like the Beatles, when they started out, they were poor kids.... With the songwriting, I used to get up in the morning at 5:30, leave for work at 6:30, get here 7:30, work, do my job, go home, eat dinner, write, and I'd be up 'til ten or eleven. It's a lot of work, but you can't really think of it as a job.
I did some shows in England in the early 90s. That was definitely the highlight. I've been influenced by British rocks groups since I was a kid, so it was a big deal for me to go over. When you're a kid, you want to be a singer, but there's a lot of pressure involved. Everybody wants to be on stage, but some of us don't mind being behind the scenes. It's a complex business, but it can be fun. Actually, at lunch time, in the good weather, I just go out in the yard and write. I just sit there and write.
I'm a reader. Foreign Affairs Newspapers-believe it or not. Biographies. I read the same biographies a number of times. A lot of people I work with are well-read, they're educated, well of course, they work in a library, but there's a lot of writers too. One kid used to be a hell of an artist, he could draw incredible pictures. His mind's eye was just very keen. He could find something great about something really plain.
You got to fantasize a little. Like love songs-people like them because they take people away from what they're going through.
I don't need that much money, other than a roof over my head. When I was working as a printer, I was making $20-$25 an hour under the table. Now I'm making $7.50 an hour to starve. This way, in court, I could plead insanity, because I wouldn't even do this work for $15 an hour. You know, dishwashers work very hard. Pots and pans and cleaning up. But, you gotta do what you gotta do.
As a rule, my hours are from 10:30 to 10:30. I work four days a week. Friday I come in at nine and I work 'til four, minus a half hour for lunch. This is my only job, because I'm supposed to be collecting social security for my knees, my back and my eyesight. But I'm also a person that does religiously three hundred pushups a day. I usually do fifty at a clip, because as you get old, you get a little flabby behind the arms.
On my spare time, on Sunday, I belong to what we call Cathedral on the Common. We have a mass at St. Paul's Cathedral, right across from the fountain at the Boston Commons. I go there and I help out with mass. Sometime I read the gospel. I also bring the cross out, it's a big cross, made out of wood. It's just that I like working with the homeless. I like working with people who either made bad decisions in life or else the government wasn't very good to them. It's usually some sort f situation. Usually on Monday, we feed the homeless from 12 to 1, and then we have a Bible study and then we have an AA or NA meeting. It keeps me busy, and you know. I just try to give back a little bit.
My father was in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. They named a square after him in my hometown. But it was sad because he was always away, in the Army. He went in during the second World War, stayed for the Korean war, and got his teeth in Vietnam too. So I tip my hat to 'em. I tip my hat to 'em. Good guy. I miss 'em. He was probably my best friend at the time. I had three brothers in Vietnam at the same time, and my father, too, so I was the only one who stayed behind.
I'm from a town named Chelsea. The population, when I was a kid, well, there's a lots of drugs there. See, let me explain-for lots of years I had a drug problem. Of course, now I've been clean and working as a drug councilor in the program for five years. Now I work out an awful lot. Religiously, really. I do 300 push ups a day. I feel better physically than I used to. I became a born-again Christian many years ago, during rehab. So I've made some positive changes over the years.
My youngest is 29 years old, and her husband works for the Post Office, the MBTA, and my daughter has one child. And she works full-time, and they take turns baby-sitting for her girlfriends, and they still get food stamps. I don't think that's right. That two parents working with a child, especially a postal job where you're supposed to be making decent money. Things like that hurt me. I just don't see myself staying in this job.
But the students actually have not been really snotty. The students that I've been in contact with have been very warm. The fact that they're going to Harvard, and that little prissy attitude and shit like that, that goes with the territory too. I'm sure, though, they look down their noses at people like me.
If you work in retail, like I do now, like if you're selling food, like we do in Loker, you make an average of $7 an hour to start. I'm the Lead, that's my job. In other words, I act like a manager, but I don't get paid like a manager. If the manager's not around, I'm like the next person to come to if there's a problem. My function is to make sure everything's properly done, make sure everybody's at their stations, make sure everybody's doing their job right. As the Lead, I make almost $15 an hour, so it's not that bad. Like a lot of the other employees make like eight dollars. It's just by doing this job, I just feel a little better about myself. I will have been here ten years in September. I started here as a part-timer when I was in high school.
It's expensive in Cambridge. They had rent control but they did away with it. I see a lot of workers here, and they make like eight dollars, and they have three, four kids, I don't know how they do it. I have a decent lifestyle. I get to go out, you know, but that's because I also have another part-time job. After I work here, I do like three or four hours a day. The reason I work another job is not 'cause I really need it. It's just sort of like extra money if I want to go on vacation or something.
I'm also the union rep here, local 26, hotel and restaurants union. In case there's a problem between the manager and an employee. We go by the contract. Any time an employee feels they're being wronged by a manager I'm the one that goes and handles the problem. Our manager, she's very reasonable, she like talks to you the right way. Past managers have been a problem, they'll talk to you and like, belittle you.
My parents were really hard workers. They had five kids, us, and my father was the only worker. Back then you could do that on one worker. My mother didn't work because she had to take care of us. They actually had a better life there than they did here. My father had his own business over there, and he had to come here and work for somebody else.
I was actually born in Portugal, too, and I came over when I was two years old, and I been basically in the neighborhood for the last thirty years. So I'm kind of a native here. I live by myself in Cambridge, but that's only 'cause I got lucky-see, my brother in law owns the apartment. [Laughs].
The City of Cambridge has a Living Wage, but Harvard still pays less than $10 an hour. That doesn't go. That's weird. They said technically only 3% of Harvard workers are under $10 an hours, but I wonder if that's true. I'm one of those stupid 3%. After working for five years that bothers you. We have managed to live in Cambridge, my family. We have three kids. One is in college, and one is about to be in college.
We are already living under the bracket. One would like to, you know, love to own a house. It is very hard to live in Cambridge, but the city helps you a lot. Like a family under the certain bracket, like $38,000 or something, they help you a lot, the City of Cambridge, providing you with decent accommodations, but for rent, not for buying a place. We really would love to buy a place, like you say the American Dream where you need to have a house of your own. It's hard. We never ventured into that, not until my kids are out of school, we wouldn't eve think of that. We are glad city takes care of hard-working families. I live in an apartment the city has provided us, a three bedroom, we pay $723. Otherwise, living in Cambridge is absolutely out of the question. You can't find any place less than $2,000 if you have three kids.
I always lived in Cambridge, but I was born like seven seas away from here. I was born in India. My in-laws were here. They got settled here. Migration was on our minds all the time. We were just waiting for the right time. That only happened actually like five years back. This is my first job in the US, and this was my job in my home country-food service. So I always was in food service. So getting into food service here was no problem. The work was familiar. This was my profession all my life. Otherwise maybe I would have just run away. People don't stay here long. They come and they go. It's constant. Managers have to train new people all the time. There are very few people who have been here for a long time. They do offer you some opportunities, like I could get into management positions. But I still want to keep out of it, and learn more about working on the floor. My wife and I work for the same Harvard service. Food is the one thing we get at this job. [Laughs].
Compared to India, this is very difficult to compare a third-world, undeveloped country to America. Like it's very hard for an American to understand how a person can live on only $200 a month. Nevertheless, it would be very hard for you to understand that how funny it would look if you were to get haircut in Pakistan for fifty cents, and you would not only get a very nice haircut, but you would be giving a fair tip to the barber also. So you know? So you get low wages, the basic A B C's are also very cheap there. You can buy a sack-and I don't mean a twelve-inch sack like here that's not a sack, it's very funny [Laughs]-I mean a sack is like a forty-kilo thing, that is a sack, I mean you can buy a sack of a-class oranges, for it's so silly to compare, for like a couple of dollars. So you know? It's really hard.
But nevertheless, the freedom, the general freedom here is good for me. I have daughters. I am a liberal person. This is the land of Liberty, so it's no problem whatever kind of views you have. The kind of economic and life opportunities for a girl child here can not happen anywhere else in the world. So we had the green card and had no hesitation. There can't be a better place than America to raise your kids.
I think it's really appalling. Harvard is the richest school in the world. Since this Harvard President has come to today, the figures, the assets they have now are. It is amazing. It is incredible. It is great. When then is the problem? It is great. Harvard is great. It's great to work for Harvard. What's the problem then? The basic wage here-why is it below the poverty level. What's the problem? Money is not the problem. This is the question. Money should not be the question. If the City of Cambridge can do that and give its employees that starts at ten dollars an hour, so Harvard can do that ten times better, but it should do at least that. They have such a good name. Why can't they do it. What's the problem?
Over the last five years, I'm still under ten. It's nine-something. I even don't remember. But the point is, maybe if I stay for another two years, I could reach ten. I have a union but I'm not sure which one.
I think anybody would agree with me. I'm one of the people that is very moderate. The rest are much more outspoken. It is difficult to pay the bills. You've got to know the whole system. Like we survived. There were reasons-like I had my family already settled here. Otherwise, for a newcomer it's kind of impossible. The City of Cambridge helps you find a place to live, but they have lines, queues for like four and five years. You've got to be in the line. You can apply for subsidized housing, but you can't enter it instantly. It takes very long. Most of the people, they can't survive for that long. They just leave. They get out of the city.
I'm in charge of the evening crew. I come at two and close at ten. I am the evening Lead person. I cook, prepare and plan. Clean it up. It's a very busy job. It's a lot of responsibility. In the evening shift there are only two of us, me and my teammate. So we do it all. Everything is done by yourself. It's kind of an independent job. You've got to do it yourself, from A to Z.
Everybody else thinks Harvard is great. It is great. But there's so much still to look after, to be corrected. There are so many things. It's true. When I was coming to Harvard, I knew what I was going to be. Nothing was surprising for me.
At Harvard, education is secondary. Selling utilities and managing real estate, and of course the famous Harvard portfolio. When you first came to work at Harvard, you were proud to work there, it was a good job, you were proud of yourself, and you were actually indoctrinated in an atmosphere of a family concept. And it was-it was like one big family, people would help each other. You would hold fund-raisers if someone got hurt, you know, things of that nature, and now it's become, you are a non-entity. You are just another body completely. Without question.
Over the past twelve years, we've filled out three different surveys about being employees. The first two surveys we never heard any results back from. And everybody you spoke to couldn't wait to fill it out and send it in. We had supervisors actually come up to people and kind of suggest that they should pay attention to how they answered those questions. In the sense that your future could depend on it. People couldn't wait to fill these surveys out as a retaliatory avenue, and the first couple they allowed you to include remarks on additional paper on the back. I wrote out six pages, which was the norm. Three to six pages was the norm for most people. The survey was done by an independent company out in California. The only thing we heard back was a letter from Sally Zeckhauser telling us that a lot of people replied and that surprised everybody, and Sally went on to tell us how great Harvard was. She tells us that after we've been negotiating our contract for the last year and a half, with one of the most terrible pension plans of any major employer in the Boston area.
So this is the attitude of the current administration as opposed to when I first came here. And you did feel like it was a nice place to work, and you had a feeling of camaraderie. And Harvard was a decent employer back then. But the pension plan is the one thing that's gong to be addressed come hell or high water. I was on one wildcat strike at Harvard, and it did work, and whether there's going to be another one I don't know. They have independent outside contractors come in and rebuild some offices, but you'll never see management contracted out. See? That's the difference.
The ineptness of the current management is incredible. There isn't a manager there that's a tradesperson. There's not a working foreman in the place that'a minority or a woman. There's only one person in middle management that's a minority.
See, work is a self-inflicted wound. It just is. I get home from my second job around 11:30 PM. In bed around midnight. I'm up again before 4 AM so I can be back here in the morning. See, I am oppressing myself. And that's not normal, I know. It's just a rhythm-that working. Same old, tired, same old. It's just a rhythm.
But you got to refuse to give in to that hurt. And it's so easy to fail. A lot of people, they hurt so bad they go to the barroom first. People on drugs and cocaine and crack are trying to escape-get away from reality. But you got to refuse. Some people just turn to the drink, the crack. I could get me a bottle of JB scotch, let it roll off me like water off a duck. People do that to soften the blow, you know, but I refuse. It's just self-inflicted. See what I'm talking about? It's self-inflicted.
Happiness, I know-it's got to stem from something outside this working. I know I got to have something else to make me happy. I know you got to have your pleasure, but there's only 24 hours in the day. See, one thing I used to do for pleasure was go to the movies, but I don't even do that any more. I know a normal way of life is eight or ten hours of work, then you go to a ball game, you go to a girlfriend's. It's not normal the way I work. It's too much.
I started working like this in 1959. Workaholic-that's it, man, I tell you. See, I work here from 6 AM to 3 PM, then I get three hours off, then I work 6 PM to 11 PM at UNICCO-that's another cleaning company. A psychiatrist who sees a person like me would say I'm escaping. I just call it a depression state of mind. It's just a depression.
I'm depressed now and I was oppressed before. See, I was born in Alabama back in 1935-long before King came. Segregation was a tradition passed on since slavery times, and it was just programmed to be depressing for blacks. I was fed up about the back of the bus, black toilets, white toilets, all that. I was fed up working at a restaurant, washing dishes and having to eat my meal in the dish room. You feel like less than a human being. On top of that, my family was always arguing-family squabbles all the time, so what I did was I ran straight away from home.
I was thirteen. It was three in the morning. Everybody was asleep. I just got paid that day-fourteen dollars cash. Grabbed my coat, a jar of water, some cinnamon rolls, a skillet so I could cook on an open fire. Then I jumped in one of them boxcars. No, I didn't know where I was going.
For a year I didn't even tell my parents where I was. I later found out my mom and pop were down home looking for my dead body, thinking I drowned-gone down in the quicksand. A whole year of them thinking I was dead? See, I was trying to hurt them, but I hurt myself, and I always regret it. Because I still feel guilty about running away. Makes me feel like I been running for fifty years. Well I'm sick of running and I'm tired. And it's time I moved back home.
I found some land down there I can build a brand new house on. I won't have to work no more. I don't know how many more years I got, but I'll probably find me a wife and move in down there. I came North to work. And I worked hard and I done well. I made money. But I miss home and it's time to go back. I been a busboy, a factory man, a cook and a custodian. I was a valet in a white motel and I was a valet in a black motel. I was a dishwasher. Back then we didn't have what you call 'automatic' dishwasher machines. I was the dishwasher. You know, I'm homesick, I think. I feel this hollow void here. My mom, she's 91 yeas old. She's starting to forget things. She's in a wheelchair. My brother called to tell me I better get home soon.
I can build a house because I got money saved. Well, I been working so long-I suppose I could die of a heart-attack tomorrow. A lot of people, what they do with their money is they buy junk they'll never need. They got the credit card and they pile up all this junk around them just to fill that void.
Yeah, I could retire with my money, but that money ain't doing me no good until I find a good lady to share it with. Usually people try to find a woman to take the pain out, you know, but that ain't what you call the answer. Though maybe I could find me a good little woman still.
You're going to have hurts. You can't avoid it. You a wanderer. I'm telling you. You get the lonesome feeling, you grit your teeth and you have tears, but you push through it. It hurts so bad sometimes you don't want to think about it.
This here's just a job. It's just custodian services. And it's not what you call 'loving it.' It's a just a job that I'm paid to do. And your work is full. There's no what you call 'idleness.' It never slacks up.
And at Harvard, like they say, you don't get richer. Everyone knows that. The pay raises here are lower than the three percent rate of inflation, you know. And even though I get five weeks vacation, I only take two because they ask me to work. I could ask them to pay me for that vacation time, too, but I don't want to. I don't need it, really.
I do anything the staff needs. Wash the dishes, tea cups and saucers, get more muffins and Danishes for meetings, clean the stairs, lock the doors, set up functions-anything the staff needs. Carry someone's books upstairs, bring someone's boxes downtairs, clean this fireplace, clean that fireplace, get more Xerox paper, toilet paper, anything the staff needs?
Some people who've had this job have moved on to bigger and better things. One guy went on to be a wizard computer programmer. Me, though, I don't know how much I want to be in the spotlight and all, being a blue-collar worker and all.
I think if I had put a little more discipline on myself, I could have been very successful at Harvard. I could have been a supervisor or something [Laughs]. Everyone's got their downfalls and shortcomings.
You know, I used to blame my school. I was in this support program once, for my own problems, and I used to stand up and say, 'I am a product of the public school system. I am a product of my schools.' I used to blame everything on the schools. But I can't continue blaming everyone for my problems. At some point, I have to take responsibility for myself.
At 21 I had no discipline, and I didn't have the knowledge how to discipline myself, so how could I be expected to get out of the situation I was born into? In the ninth and tenth grade, I didn't see education as all that important. I didn't know what a guidance counselor was until I got to the eleventh grade. I come from Mission Hill, across the street from Harvard Medical School. We lived in the projects. My mother, she raised four boys by herself. Kids who were strung out on drugs, they had to get money to buy the drugs, so they preyed on people who roamed through the neighborhood at the wrong time of day. A lot of them are in jail. A lot of them are struggling because of their past. Some have straightened out but they have criminal records. Some of them are dead and gone. Time waits for no one-that's what I say.
My mother was too busy working to make sure we did our homework and things like that. And basically, I just got caught up with other kids. Never been arrested or anything, and I didn't hurt anyone myself.
I had to take care of my brothers. It wouldn't have been an easy task to make it out. But I've seen kids who've done it. No, it's not an easy thing to do, and that's where discipline comes in again. How do you carry yourself, or what do you do with yourself when there is no parent around to tell you what and how to do? Kids will be kids. You have these role models who are doing things that look fun, but it's not fun when you reach their age. It is no fun at all. I suppose it's possible to get out, but not easy.
Yeah, I ended up picking up alcohol. Became somewhat of an alcoholic. I don't drink the stuff now. I been off the stuff for twelve years, though. I guess there was some sunshine at the end of the rainbow. I'm just so grateful to get up off of it, because it was miserable. I was still able to go to work every day. I was still able to keep my job, but I was miserable. I was drowning myself. My personal life-it was chaotic, upside down, I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel.
I got credit card debt. These credit cards now let you buy so much. The trick is holding on to it. I got eighteen right now in debt-eighteen thousand. Most of that goes to my car-I need a car. On top of that, the relationship I was in didn't work out, so now I'm in between homes, staying with friends who are letting me stay with them.
I don't want to file for bankruptcy because I enjoy my good name. Like when I went out to buy a car, because of my good credit history, it was like buying a piece of candy. I could walk out of there with any car I wanted, and that makes you feel good. See, rent control forced me out of my apartment a few years ago. I received a letter in 1995. It said in six months my rent would go from $350 a month to $950. So I moved out to Mattapan. That's a far commute, and I need my sleep, so I need to have that car.
But you know, I guess these are the prices you have to pay when you become an adult and you don't go get an education, you know, and you become a blue-collar worker for the rest of your life. You're gonna have some struggles. You might have some good moments. And you might have some bad moments. But I don't have an education to bounce back.
I'm a parking monitor-it doesn't sound like much but that's what it is. This job doesn't pay enough to survive, no. To live comfortably. To be able to pay the rent, buy the clothes that you may need. To have that vehicle. I don't have a family-it's just me. And I'm managing. I still got the credit card, so I can still go out there and buy whatever I want. The only hard part is paying for it. [Laughs]. I ask myself is it to late? For something better, you know. No, it's not too late. At the age of 40, there's still room for advancement. What, where and how, I don't know yet.
I work for the richest University in the world. I'm a parking attendant. I guard that lot, but I have to pay for a spot in that lot. $410 a year to park there. I don't have that kind of money. We park staff, We park people when they come for commencement, We park people when they come for activities, we park people who come to school here at night, we park students, we park faculty. But the funny thing is, really, we can't park ourselves. If you could make me understand why our society is run the way it is?.
It's a lot of stress-all these things. Yeah, I'm stressed. I got a 17 month-old baby. I got to take care of that boy. I need to get some money for Christmas, so I can get some gifts for my kid. I need to take one day at a time, just try to get through this. I'm just hoping my retirement years don't get so bad.
I worked here twenty-two years. So in three years, I'll get that Harvard chair. See, after twenty-five years, you get a free Harvard chair. After fifteen years, you can get a free course?.
I'm from Haiti. I have four children, 2 boys, 2 girls. I live in Malden now. The money we make doesn't go far. Sometimes I work as a taxi driver. I work 2 jobs. I finish at 4:30, start another job at 5:00 as a cook. I come home at midnight. My family don't like it. My kids don't like it. I quit the job because of my family. But now I look for part-time job, maybe cleaning.
My family, they see me every weekend, but that's it. I speak to them on the telephone. When I wake up in the morning, they're still asleep. I have to be here at 8:00 a.m. Usually I work a 76-hour week. My husband works at 3:00, when the kids come home. The first one, my son, he graduate high school this year. Next one, my daughter, she graduate next year. Another boy, 13, girl 10. If you want to take care of your family, you better work two jobs. One job can't take care of nothing. Some nights I get 3 hours, 2 hours, 4 hours of sleep. Not enough time to enjoy the family and kids, that's bad. And a parent can't control a teenager, like a 17 year-old girl, when you have two jobs. You know, no parents are ever home. And then the kids can get into trouble. That's why I quit the other job.
I've been at Harvard twelve years. I've had two jobs the whole time. With the new contract, we only get a raise, about thirty cents, every one year. Harvard ain't going to give you nothing. The union is not strong enough for Harvard. If you don't have a union here, Harvard ain't gonna give you nothing, believe me.
I got this job in 1930, November seventeenth. I remember the day. I was eighteen years old. I was a kid. I didn't even know what I was doing. But I learned how to operate that press in three hours, you know, and ended up keeping that job for seventy years-seventy years straight I set type. I became a first-class printer. I could set a page of type in an hour and a half. And that's going like a son of a gun, because I had to set each letter-little metal letters. Sometimes I'd set type for days. Gutenberg invented that system in 1450, and you know I was still using it. Seventy years I used it. I stayed there because I just simply loved it. I grew up there. I could make that press talk. And I did good work. I quit last year, and now I'm ninety. But, you say, 'why did I stay?' Well, I grew up in the place, as a boy to a man. I couldn't walk out on them. That was my place in life. I felt this was my home.
Where I live, there's a cedar tree over by the river. I remember when it was up to my chest. It's grown. I go look for it now when I go walking. It grows slowly. It's about eight feet tall now. It's good to see it grow.
My three brothers are gone. My brother Harry was a natural born devil-you could tell that as a kid. He drank and gambled his money away. He drove an oil truck-made three times what I made. Me, I don't bet. I enter lotteries at the church, but that's all. My health is a gift of God.
I took a bad fall once-three years back. You know when you fall, you really smash down-the whole body. Oh. It was bad. It was 3AM. When I get up now. I need to sit there a while. If someone yells 'fire' I can't just get up and go anymore. I need to sit there first. I wait until I adjust, and until I can make out the numbers on the alarm clock. Then I get up and go. If it weren't for this hearing aid, I'd be totally deaf. I think my hearing's going.
But Cheltenham-that was my type. And we never changed the type or the size, because it was too expensive to use another type. Now, they have color printers and hundreds of types on home computers. Just incredible. But I don't even want a computer. I'm old fashioned. I don't even have a charge card. I'm living in my own heaven. Yeah, Cheltenham was my type.
And each letter had to be set by hand. I did that forever, up until 1985, when the technological advances became so great that the presses just stopped.
Now I was so used to it there, and they liked me there, so even
though I couldn't set type, they kept me as an employee, but doing other
things-stock room, sales desk and museum admissions, mostly. But
eventually, they kept encouraging me to cut my hours back more and more.
They told me they didn't need me to work so many hours. Gradually, I went
from forty hours a week to thirty, then to sixteen, then to twelve, and
then finally, by the time I was eighty-nine, just four hours a week-I came
in nine to one Monday mornings to count the stock and count the money. And
by then, by the nineties, you know, it was really like we were nobodies.
Finally, I came down the stairs that Monday and I said to Maria who was
working at the desk, I said, 'Maria, shake hands, I'm leaving.'
She said, 'What?'
I said, 'I'm leaving. Today. I quit.'
She said, 'You can't quit.'
I said, 'You're going to work alone.'
Then I went down and I told the bog boss I was quitting. I said 'Jascha, I'm leaving.'
He said, 'We'll throw a big party for you.'
I said, 'No you won't. I won't be around for no party. I don't want no party. I'm walking out the door and that's it.' And I just walked out. Called it quits. I'm not the kind who looks for pats on the back. I do these things because I'm able to. When I do a favor for you I don't expect no payback. I didn't want no party. I didn't feel free with them people. Them new bosses.
I became a first-class printer. But, you say, 'why did I stay?' I grew up in the place, as a boy to a man. I couldn't walk out on them. That was my place in life. I wasn't going out in that crazy world where all my friends were working. I felt this was my home.
I've been asked, 'Why did you stay there.' Well, I was loyal. I appreciated the job, and I grew into the job. When I got the job, Professor Ames spent over $800 on a new printing press and new type for me to use. They created that job for me. They couldn't give me enough work. It was a challenge to me. I was proud of my work. That was my place in life. And friends of mine from high school would gripe about the place they worked and the boss, people they worked with. I said I don't want to get involved in that rat race. I'm secure here and I was essentially my own boss. I have liberty, vacation time, sick leave, and I could take a day off if I wanted, and they wouldn't protest. I knew I wasn't getting the money I should. But now I'm getting the benefits I deserve now, because I was hired there before they started changing everything-I get pension, health benefits. No regrets. I loved working there. I fitted in there. I was happy with the job, so I stayed.
I printed whatever the professors in the museum needed. I printed The Genus Epidendum, a 270-page book about orchids. Whenever there was a display set up, I printed the labels for it. Like in one room of the museum, it's all birds-it's filled with labels, a thousand of them. That was extra work, overtime-the labels for all those little birds-and it took me from over the course of three four or five years for a total of. That took from 1930 to 1935. We have a beautiful room filled with glass flowers, you know, and I printed all of the labels for the flowers as well. The flowers were for study, so students could see all the dimensions of them. Four hundred and seventy-eight flowers and their labels-and they're all still there. For two years, all I did was print those flower labels. All the labels in that building I did. I hear the museum director wants to change the labels-put new ones in, I hear. Well, I don't want to see those labels change before I die, because I take pride in them being there.
A lot of the words I dealt with were Latin words. I can't tell you all these fancy names in Latin. But I know I had to put my mind on what I was reading to spell right. I remember the Professors used to read Latin to each other to proof read the documents. When you read Latin right, you know, it's like a musical story. It was nice. It was so nice, in fact, that the one listening would often fall sound asleep.
I started work at 41¢ an hour-$15 a week, $65 a month,. And that wasn't too good-the pay was never too good here-but the depression was on, so I was lucky to have that. Fifteen dollars a week in my pocket was fifteen clear dollars. I paid eight dollars a week for my board at home-that left seven for myself. No taxes, nothing. Clear money. And it bought you a lot. But we were living in another age. Very simple. My wife and I lived off that. At Harvard, they grudgingly give you pay raises.
But Harvard is the wealthiest University in the world and the cheapest. They add more work to a guy. They lay off so many, I'd say no one's job is safe who works at Harvard. For example, they let all the guards go and replace them with an outside company-they don't make as much money and they don't get the benefits. And they can't work more than seventeen and a half hours a week because then the University would have to pay them benefits. It's a rat race of futility. I was working for a millionaire-Professor Oakes Ames. Yet I didn't even have a car. Finally, at the end of it, I made enough money to buy a car and go on vacation with my wife. But we lived lean for a long, long time. Gee Whiz, we lived pretty tight for a while, until I got another job. I worked on the side, on weekends and on holidays. That's really how we could go on vacation, stay in a motel, buy a car. It was that second job that allowed my wife and I to live comfortably.
But I survived. I made enough money to live on. I was loyal to them, though they never repaid it in actual salary. And I never really demanded it. It was my own fault. That second job was one reason I didn't really demand more money.
I had my wife to support. She didn't work, in part because she was deaf. She was smart, but she was totally deaf. See, I have a hearing problem too, and that's how we met. When I was four years old, I had a fever and it ate away at my eardrum and left the other one ruptured. So I went to the Horace Mann school for the deaf. And I always got to be the hero in the plays, too, because I had nothing wrong with my voice.
She was a beautiful looking girl, and she read sign language beautifully.
One day I asked her if she liked the movies. 'Oh sure, I love them,' she said. And we went to Central Square Theater. She invited me up for a coffee after the movie, and I came up and we had a whole feast. So she liked it and I said, 'How about next week?' Well, one thing leads to another, and.... It wasn't instantaneous, it was a matter of time, it was over the three years, really, but I fell in love with her. I just fell in love.
My idea was you get married, you have a woman you go to bed with. See, I was a virgin. So was she. I had brothers who ran wild, like I said, but I was Simon Pure. I was not interested in sex that way. I still keep a blue light bulb plugged in in the living room for her. See, she couldn't hear the doorbell, so when the bell rang, the light bulb would also go on. She died in seventy-seven. I have a new lady-friend now. I asked her one time, 'Do you care to get married'? She said, 'I don't.' Then she asked me, 'Are you offended?' And I said, 'No, I'm relieved.' So now we'll just continue this way as long as we live.
And I'm ninety now. I can't believe it. Jeez, I mean ninety is venerable! Now I take my time. I read the paper. I sleep late now. What's getting up for? Take a walk? Go food shopping? I'm at the slow-down stage now. I'm just glad I'm not saying, 'I only wish this, I only wish that.' I have enough money to live on. I'm in good health. And I got good friends. What more do you want in life?
There's a Cedar tree just a few blocks from my house, over there by the river. Well, I remember when it was up to my chest. I like to visit it every once in a while. Now it's much much taller than my head.... Some day I'll just go to bed and pull the sheets up over my head and that'll be it. I just live a natural life.
I don't know how long I'll stay here. I'd like to get something else. Sometimes I feel like "who wants this?" And I just wish I could turn it off. I don't have to support anyone. I live at home with my parents. But if I had to rent my own place, I would probably have to work another job. I used to work 6 to 9:30 and from there I went to school.
First thing I do in the morning, I take the trash out and the recycleables for all the buildings in the yard. From Mathews to Hollis. Matthews, Strauss, Wiggy-Wigglesworth-Weld, Thayer, Canaday, Stoughton, Hollis. Sometimes I do it on weekends, and I get paid overtime.
I used to work two jobs, from here I'd go to the other job, that was part-time, but it got too much. People start coming, they start working here, but then they leave, and that's kind of hard. Sometime I want to find something different, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I wish I could find something else but I couldn't. When there was the buyout, that's when a lot of people left. So I had an interview at this factory that packaged up sunglasses and cameras. And they said we'll get back to you, but they never did. But if they called me back, I would have gone there.
I was born in Boston, in Braintree. And I started part-time. Sometimes I wish I could get into a different department. Shoveling snow when it's heavy is hard, maybe the hardest thing we do. Waxing's easy. All you have to do is get the mop and just put the wax on the floor. I wash the floor sometimes too. The worst part of the job is the trash. The best, time to go home. [Laughs].
I get paid $8.75 an hour. But I could use more than that. We haven't had a raise in a long time. It's been frozen. They stopped it for a while. Three or four years. They took away some sick days and they took away a week vacation.
I can't afford the rent where I live. If I wanted to go out alone into an apartment, by myself, I don't think I could afford it by myself. It just get harder sometimes. More work. "How come this wasn't done but this was?" Because I don't have that much time. "What do you mean?" she says. "I give you an hour, and I told you to do it." You don't have time to do it all.
Listen-I'm fifty-eight and though I might not remember your name I remember what you eat and I remember what you drink. That's the business. And this business is in my blood. I waitressed in private clubs my whole life. My father managed a restaurant. My mom worked at M.I.T. doing the same thing I do. I've been waitressing here nineteen years. Retiring in four?.
I carry these big round trays, see, so it's a good body builder, really-my doctor says it keeps me in shape. You need to have strength. I've gotten used to it, but you know, I'll tell you, my feet hurt when I go home. I wear support stockings, and those are supposed to help, but the next morning you're always a little achy. But that's what Tylenol is for. Plus I take vitamins. And of course a little caffeine doesn't hurt.
On the whole, I like it. Yeah, the club itself is a little pretentious. But the good side is you can't just walk in off the street. That way you don't have troublemakers coming in and ordering you around-gimmie this, gimmie that! And once you've been staff at Harvard for fifteen years you can eat here. So I still have to pay, of course, but at least I can come in and eat.
The job is basically to sit at the door. I sit at the front of the library inspecting bookbags when people leave. This has been a wage job, and a point of stability in a sense. I took the job as a survival job. Some people just decide it's a dumb job, it's a stupid job, so I'm not going to take it seriously. I can't work that way. In order to stay sane, I have to do it well. I agreed to do it. I told them I would do it. So, I have to do it well. I have to be thorough, I have to keep the collection on the shelf. If I'm going to decide that the job is just too dumb, then I'll have to quit. That's the way it is.
We protect the space here. You used to get homeless people at Widener all the time. And they were well known to the guards, and certain homeless people were regarded as innocuous and were tolerated. The only problem with them was they had more bags than most people. [Laughs]. I remember one woman who was there all the time. That's where she spent her days, in the library. She was a little idiosyncratic, and she had three bags, and they were packed full of clothes, so they were hard to inspect. I think Harvard no longer lets those people in.
The other category this job entails, and it's the only one that's genuinely enjoyable-giving people directions. Being peoples' guide. We have maps, and we tell people where everything is. And it's the only thing that people are very clear that they appreciate. When you inspect their bags, for example, it's irritating, in varying degrees. Every now in then, you come across a person who realizes that the materials they need would not be there if the bags were not inspected, and they appreciate that, but those people are rare. Most people are tolerant, they're tolerant of having their bag inspected. A lot of times they're annoyed. That's the burden of the job, is that emotional response from people. You get a varied response. Sometime some guy'll strut up wearing a suit and an attaché case and with one sweeping motion put it on the desk and it pops open and there it is. He'll be there talking to another guy, and he's totally unconcerned about me checking his bag.
But the worst are the women-some of them just curl up in horror. With women, it's more intrusive because you inspect their pocketbooks, and every now and then you get a woman who clearly feels violated by it. That's uncomfortable. The choice is either you don't inspect thoroughly, or you try to be fast. I find that with most people, the intrusion is less intrusive if you're in and our fast. Some guards just back away and decide that the best thing is not to be thorough. What management wants from us impossible to deliver. They want us to be 100% sure that nothing's leaving the library without upsetting anybody.
There are, of course, uncompromisingly congenial people too, who cannot pass by another human being without saying hello, and that's nice. But there are people who do treat us like furniture. And if we do something to show that we're not, it really freaks them out. And what I do to survive is I don't challenge the people who treat us like furniture. I have the non-committal response that they expect from me. There are people who feel very irritated if you talk to them. It's as if they feel violated. Some people feel as though the person behind the desk belongs in a certain role, and if you violate that, you're violating the status hierarchy. It really fucks 'em up. [Laughs]. Some people are damaged by it.
I'm a casual, meaning under seventeen hours a week, no benefits. This business about no benefits, it's wrong, it's always been wrong. What I've done about health care is that my income has been low enough that I qualify for the City of Cambridge Network Health. The city picks up the bill. I don't know how low you need to be to qualify for that, but I know I'm well under it. When the city had rent control, the money I made as a casual would pay my rent and food, and then if I got some freelance work, I could buy some new clothes and go to a movie. But when rent control ended, I was in trouble. I went to the City Housing Authority, and they got me a room living at the YMCA, where I live now. For rent, the rule is I?m supposed to pay thirty percent of my income.
There are a number of programs with housing at the Y: Cambridge Cares About AIDS, Shelter Plus Care, The North Charles Mental Health Program, The Transitional Program. There's 128 units altogether, and they are single-room occupancy, so there should be 128 people. But I've seen people sneak back into a room that the constable had posted as claimed. Sometimes the working girls do manage to get in there, but they don't live there, they're not there for very long. There's a lot of verbiage in the lease about how you're not supposed to share the room. The room is subsidized by the Fed.
In fact it is no longer possible to live in Cambridge on a part-time job. I'm below the poverty line. [Laughs]. My mother died in August, so I have inherited money, but it is not enough to live off the income, and I will also become asset ineligible for subsidized housing. So I'll have to leave the Y, and I'll have to leave Cambridge. I haven't inherited enough to buy in Cambridge, because a condominium is a third of a million dollars, and I didn't inherit anywhere near that. One path would be to live on the inheritance for about five years and then be broke and come back here, but that seems like not the right thing to do.
I do freelance work-editing technical books, and that work comes and goes. I have been able to get more of that work lately, so I think I'll be OK. See, I was trained as a physicist. I worked for a professor at MIT. It's not as good as being a working physicist, but that opportunity is probably gone. I entered graduate school at the City University of New York-it was known as the "Proletariat Harvard." It was a free school, and it was an institution of social mobility for a lot of people. Anyway, I entered when the market was at its very worst, and the hope was that by the time I finished it would be better, but it wasn't. I was in condensed matter physics, trying to understand the structure of liquids and solids. The word was that the dumb people went to the labs to experiment, so I started working in a lab very early. After I graduated, after I got my Ph.D., I could not get a job in physics. Jobs in physics were very scarce, and I went into computers.
See, I went to graduate school in 1970, was there until 1980. That's a long story, a very long story. I went to a small college. I went to Drew, and there I was sort of a wunderkind. Almost everybody who enters graduate school, just the fact that they get in means that in the various colleges they went to they were pretty hot shit. And then you get into graduate school, and some of them are more hot shit than others. And those that are just average hot shit have a tough time. I had a tough time. My alcoholism was in flower. It was in full flower then. So I had a very hard time my first year of graduate school. To try to deal with that, the most effective thing would have been to stop drinking, but I wasn't ready to do that.
I wasn't able to see what the real problem was. The gospel according to AA is that you never conquer your problem. I'm sober one day at a time, and have been for many days. [Laughs]. My immediate superior here probably knows about this, but it's not known above that.
Harvard-Yale games have got to be the worst bunch of people you've got to deal with-intoxicated educated people! 'Do you know who I am?' they ask. I say, 'Shit, if I had a buck from everyone who told me that I wouldn't have to work here.? Some students remember you and they care, but then there's ones you'd like to forget, like the rich snobs that offer you fifty bucks to park here or there?.
Our union is being replaced by a non-union, private company. We had 85 members-we're down to 19. The guys they're replacing us with, they're scabs. They don't have no sick time and no medical benefits. That's what happens when you get rid of unions.
Harvard's trying to cut our sick days, holiday time and disability too. We can't do that. How would you live? How do you live? So I'll take 'em to court. Just 'cause they wear a fancy tie doesn't make 'em any smarter. If you let them think they're better than you, they are. My appearance-so I'm a little heavy, but at least it makes me less intimidating in court!
But you know, sometimes I feel like I'm at the bottom rung of the food chain. We know Harvard's rich. But what about the quality of life for the people? For my guards? For me? We're going on five years without a raise. In the years that I've been here, Harvard's raised $14.9 billion, but they don't seem to care how we live. It's like they don't think about us as human beings.
They're waiting for us to retire or die off, so they can out-source our jobs to a private company. There's a cheaper guard company out there they can hire called a Mac guard who makes $8.22 an hour, has no sick time, but earns vacation, retirement and medical benefits. They can use their vacation for sick time, which I think is kind of ironic, that they use their vacation time in the hospital.
It's not exactly bad times for Harvard. When I came here, they had $4.3 billion dollars in the endowment, and they now have $11.4 billion. What about the quality of life for the people? That's what concerns me. They don't seem to care how you live. Sometimes you feel like 'I'm at the bottom rung of the food chain,' but they don't give a shit.
If you go over to that new gym at the Business school, no one can use that gym except Business school people. That's ludicrous! Don't we all belong to a community? That provides functions and services for their community? It's a shame that people at the top of this corporate level don't think enough about human beings. We're all part of this family, whether they like it or not.
My son is now out of college, thank god. But I still got to live. If I were living in Cambridge or Somervile-unfortunately with the college kids and the college community-I couldn't afford to live. The rent control's gone and they're trying to charge $850 for a studio on Prescott Street and more. I mean the rent's exorbitant. So what do you do? You got to live, but when you're going on five years without a raise it's kind of a little tough. You can barely afford to pay for your child's education with that. My son went down to Rhode Island, and it was thirty-something thousand dollars.
There's respect, and then there's respecting the people that work for you. Harvard, when I first came here 15 years ago showed that they cared. Now, since Rudenstine's come, they've showed they're only a business that wants to raise more and more money. And are they benefitting anybody with the money they've raised? I don't see anybody but themselves. They're more concerned about money than they are concerned about education. Human beings mean something. This University's saying, 'we don't care if you've been here fifteen years or thirty years-we don't give a shit.' They almost don't want to see you be here any substantial period of time so they don't have to absorb any cost when you retire.
It'll be 15 years for me as a security guard this year. We haven't had a raise since 1995. They're trying to cut our sick days and holiday time, and our long-term disability. We can't do that. How would you live? I make $12/hour. How do you live? They saying they're losing money, but they continue to work these guys astronomic hours. We have a guy that's worked 78 straight days. He's got to because his wife is sick, but the question is how long before he's sick himself? Our guards are getting kind of depressed and run down on.
Here's a Harvard story for you: It all started when I was lifting a bag. All I was doing was I bent down and lifted a bag. It wasn't really a heavy bag. But there was a little grease on the floor. Nothing real bad, just a little grease. Well, I bent down, lifted the bag and went to take a step. All of a sudden, in a split second, it felt like there was a bone that was crossed in my knee. My knee was bent a little a just locked there and it hurt so bad I couldn't even put any weight on it and I couldn't bend my knee at all because it was locked up. It just felt like something was going to pop. It turns out my cartilage was torn. And I hate needles, but the pain was like trying to put needles in your knee, and it felt like my knee was going to explode. I'll never forget it.
I ended up having two operations. And for two years I was out on workman's comp. I didn't want those operations-all I wanted was to go back to work, but the doctor kept saying I wasn't ready. Then, two years later, when I was ready to come back, they told me I was terminated. So I took it to arbitration and at arbitration I was told that I couldn't even be in arbitration because I was terminated. Then I got a very threatening letter telling me to come to some building downtown. In the building it was all judges or magistrates or something. They were all in these little cubicles, and that's where Harvard's attorney was. I had no idea what I was doing, or even why I was there. Again, I just wanted my job back, but you've got to know what you're doing at these things, and I didn't.
So the lawyer asks me to pull my pants down. It was pretty weird. Based on my scars, he offered me $9,500. I said fine. 'Why so little,' the union representative asked. I told him I don't even want money, I just want to go back to my normal job. So they said I would go back to my job with my regular rate of pay. So I left. And I waited. Because I knew that it's the law that a man injured on the job is entitled to his old job when he gets healthy. I waited a long time. Months. And in the meantime, I was spending everything. Everything I had in the bank. Every penny of my savings, just to survive, just to eat. If my mother hadn't left me the house where I grew up in Charlestown, I don't even think I'd be able to survive. I spent every penny of what my mother left me. I couldn't even pay the tax on the house, and that's weird, not even being able to pay your taxes. I mean, that's when it's almost time to hang your head. Everything was a strain. I kept waking up in the morning thinking, 'I'll get my job back, I'll get my job back.' Well, I never got my job back. After some time they offered me the lower-paying job I've got now. I used to make $11.92 and now I'm down to just about $9.90. I lost all my seniority-all my earned vacation time and all my retirement money. Nine grand just disappeared and no one can tell me where it is. That's definitely illegal. Everybody that spoke to me said there's no way this is legal. But it happened. I always worked hard. It was sickening. So at that point I didn't have a job and I really needed money. I'm sure Harvard doesn't need my money. They're certainly not low on it.
No one can believe it happened but it happened. I still can't believe it. Everybody knows I got screwed. But I can't afford an attorney-it would just be a another bill, and I'm not going to put my house up to get an attorney. So that's where it sits.
It's like I been raped by Harvard, you know what I mean? That's just what I feel like. I feel like they swept the dignity right away from me. I don't think it's the bigger people at Harvard. I'm sure it didn't even reach the higher ups. It's probably just the supervisors. The President would never have time to deal with this stuff. I would think he's well-educated, and he's up there on a different level than I am. We're talking about a custodian and the President of Harvard. So it's almost like there's no one to face. It's like they just assume step on you as look at you. And me, I didn't step on anybody's toes as far as I know. I just did my job. I didn't do anything wrong. All I wish is that I didn't ever get hurt.
I feel comfortable here. I know the people here. I'm forty-six now and I didn't get any younger after the injury. And at my age, it gets harder to start working at a new place. Then my boss asks me, orders me, really not to talk about my case during work hours. Imagine that, he was actually trying to tell me to keep my mouth shut. He just said, 'I suggest you don't get into that.'
I was so bored when I wasn't working that all I wanted was to come back. It's funny, just to come back to work I was so happy, just to come back. But then I came back and I found out I really wasn't wanted. And I was thinking to myself, 'what else can I do?' It's tough. At my age, at mid-life, do I stop doing what I'm doing now? I just been working at Harvard for so long. It's hard to invest so much time in a place and then you come back and find out they don't want you.
I'm saying, 'why has this happened to me?' I didn't do nothing wrong or anything like that. I was picking up a bag of trash. The day sticks out so much in my mind. But you know, it was degrading, very degrading. You know, you think you're going back to work and then you don't. And then at the same time I lost both my parents and Harvard doesn't even care. I can't say 'Harvard' or 'they,' because I don't even know who 'they' are. I don't even know who did this. I'm sure somebody made the decisions. It's just that they got this way of getting around things. It's like they're above the law.
All I've got now is a pain in my knee. It hurts. It's like pins on the inside of my knee, trying to stick out. They told me I'll have arthritis sooner or later because of it, too. I don't want to take all your time, but I've got to say one more thing: It used to be a proud thing to work at Harvard. I want to be proud to work here. I work hard. But the money they pay makes it hard just to live. It's sad what Harvard does to a lot of their workers. I don't even think Harvard wants us to live. You know, why is every book about Harvard, why not on the people who work here?
Everybody has really felt the effects of downsizing. They wouldn't call it that here, but that's exactly what has happened; people who have quit or have been fired have not been replaced and everybody's working at breakneck speed, twice as fast, to do twice as much work with half as many people. And there probably will be more downsizing, more cuts. I just don't know how secure my job is. Right now I'm totally in doubt.
We need the adequate number of people. I know that employers are trying to save money. We can't fight that. Everybody wants to save money. But I think I'm worth more. I really do think I'm worth more money. What they do is they burn people out, their resistance gets low, they get sick, and then they're out, and then there's still less staff. Sick in both senses-you're sick mentally and your resistance goes down, and then the common cold knocks you out.
My background and my family raised me in a way that taught me the ethic of work. I'm from the Caribbean originally. We work hard-we just work hard. And you know, it's not always about the money-it's about fulfillment, it's about just doing your honest day's work to provide for your living and your family, but since I need more money, I do things on the side to enhance my income, like I have a small painting business which I run from my home, and you know, I like it. I feel some sense of accomplishment because that's something I control.
I went to school at U Mass and I came within one year of graduation, and then I had to drop out of school because of money. Then I got married, I met my wife through church, and the kids started coming and it became really hard to go back to school, so now I'm trying to do it slowly. I've taken about six classes so far at the Extension School. I would like at some point to get a degree from here. People should do things like that, you know why? Because when you're stressed out, you need to do something. For some people it's exercise, and for me staying busy is it. But I have three kids, and I know that they need me around too and I try to be there as much as I can for them. My kids are young-eight, five, and four.
I have always been a lover of knowledge. I love to learn. I don't go anywhere unless I have at least one book. That has helped me be able to cope. Knowledge allows you to better reason with people or sympathize with people when they're going through different things. That has probably hurt me on my job, because this is not an environment where you really have time to feel for people. You know, you get the job done, in and out. This is a whole different era where in. It's mechanized. People are disposable. You plug in the man and plug him out when you don't need him. I find that that has hurt me.
I think many people are not optimistic about their future. And because they're not, they're not willing to give a hundred percent. They're not willing to be committed to something that's not committed to them. People just don't feel like they're part of the organization. They're here to get the job done, to perform, but they don't feel like part of it. That doesn't just happen overnight, and when things like that slowly evolve and happen, you have a lot of work to bring it back. That's a big job. It costs money to bring it back. If you're trying to make money and at the same time doling it out, it's not cost effective. It's not considered good business to be losing money, unless of course you convince someone that you're really going to benefit from it, and I think you really would.