Workers and Widows

Would you believe that right after I posted about receiving no calls, my phone rang? Now, they didn’t tell me I was amazing and they had to have me; they only called me back because of the borrowed respectability of DD’s reference, a good friend from college who works there now and kindly put in a good word for me.

Today I went in for an interview. A four and half hour interview. I actually really enjoyed the whole thing, although I did require a nap after fighting traffic home. I’ll probably gush about the company in a later post, (perhaps after I hear back from them. . . ) but for now I want to talk about other things.

In the car, I listened to a segment on Lawyer’s Guild about one of California’s Ballot initiatives, namely Prop 32. It’s been campaigned as “Stop Special Interest Money Now!” but callers on the show suggested that rather than stopping special interest money, the legislation would only take away power from the unions to efficiently gather money from workers to support campaigns and give a voice to workers. Now, I don’t feel entirely clear on how giving money to a campaign gives a voice to the giver, I don’t think democracy should mean paying to have a say, but apparently it does. And this legislation keeps unions and corporations from giving directly from the institution, but doesn’t keep owners of corporations from taking their share of the profits and then giving millions as a private citizen. The callers suggested that if this law were in place when folks were campaigning for 40 hour work weeks and other rights for workers, those laws wouldn’t have been passed.

Biblically, should we care about this?

For other reasons, I was reading this passage in Deuteronomy today. Chapter 24, 14-22
“You are not to exploit a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether one of your brothers or a foreigner living in your land in your town. You are to pay him his wages the day he earns them, before sunset; for he is poor and looks forward to being paid. Otherwise he will cry out against you to YHVH, and it will be your sin. Fathers are not to be executed for the children, nor are children to be executed for the fathers; every person will be executed for his own sin. You are not to deprive the foreigner or the orphan of the justice which is his due, and you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and YHVH your God redeemed you from there. That is why I am ordering you to do this. When harvesting the grain in your field, if you forgot a sheaf of grain there, you are not to go back and get it; it will remain there for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that YHVH your God will bless you in all the work you do. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to go back over the branches again; the olives that are left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes from your vineyard, you are not to return and pick grapes a second time; what is left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am ordering you to do this.”

I think the rule in America is you must pay every two weeks. But this passage calls us to pay wages daily. Whether we follow this specific or not, the call that we are not to take advantage of workers is clear, and we have a responsibility to care for not only our neighbors, but “foreigners living in our land or town,” to see that they are treated fairly rather than exploited. Making this happen is very complex in our enormous and confusing system, and preserving a diversity of voices in government is a big part of legislating protection for poor or immigrant workers. If you’re voting in California, look into this and other initiatives at http://ballotpedia.org/

Going back to the passage, it continues to talk about Reaping and Gleaning. When my mind wanders, I think about this concept and am fascinated by the repetitive admonition not to harvest every last bit from the fields. What does that look like in the modern day, when most of us aren’t very connected to farms?

I imagine that with cash, you could see change as a way to connect to this idea. For any purchase you make, less than a dollar comes back in coin. If someone asks for money, giving them the change in your pocket is like leaving the edges of field. (Kind of.) Now that I swipe for everything, I don’t often have change. I’m trying to figure out where in my life I can leave grapes so that they can be eaten by others.

An interesting project on kickstarter this week is The Gleanery, a group in Putnam, VT who has built relationships with farmers to take their unsold produce, which might otherwise become compost, and help it find mouths. “We are looking to purchase a commercial dehydrator, freezer, prep tables, smoker, pressure canner, food processor, and an ice cream maker: the tools of Gleaners,” their campaign explains. These aren’t the tools of the biblical Gleaners, who probably took as much as they could carry, likely enough for that day. . . but in the modern complexity of food systems, I would like to support an effort that works locally within a community to keep good food from going to waste, and feeding people in a way that is so much better than slopping “food” out of Sysco buckets onto plates, the way many camps, cheap restaurants, and soup kitchens do.

What do you think?

Leftovers are new again

I moved to Los Angeles last Saturday, and am searching for a job. It’s both disheartening and uplifting, as no one has called me to say “You’re perfect! I want to pay you!”, but I’m starting to believe these cover letters I’m writing, and getting more bold in saying “Look, I don’t have a line of boring linear experience, but I’ve done some pretty neat things and I’m a bright young thinker who’s eager to please.” My frugality these past months has allowed me a few weeks of freedom from anxiety as I search, and I’m amusing myself with the process. Last night I dashed off an unlikely application in which I called myself an ethnographer of modern life, sans pith helmet.

The rest of my time is spent in the kitchen, making banana pancakes, lemon-artichoke-feta pasta, and crazy tropical beet salad, with dried papaya and banana chips over spinach and pickled beets. I made fresh challah with the most marvelous (secret) recipe, although the apartment had no measuring tools or even mixing bowls unpacked, so it wasn’t quite as wonderfully light and moreish as usual. This caused a third of each loaf to be left over, and I didn’t cover them, so I had a cutting board full of hard bread pieces last night. 

By the time the others woke at 6:30, though, all those remnants were already soaking in a french bath of bread pudding goodness. I was impressed at what 45 minutes on 350 with 

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

can do to some hard, dry leftovers.

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The bread pudding, which I explained as a sort of french bread casserole, turned out beautifully and fueled more than one med student through their morning lectures on various rashes. I hope I have done my part today helping some future patient with Targetoid Hemosiderotic Hemangioma.

Nostalgia Redux

As Pesach approaches, I’ve been feeling extra nostalgic for my time in St. Louis. Just a year ago, SJ and I sat on this fire escape, washing and checking endless heads of Romaine lettuce for the seder, preparing small mountains of vegetables to be sauteed and roasted, and enjoying the sunshine. I already knew, even as I lived through it, that I would look back on this as one of the best times of my life.
Even so, I couldn’t be happier to be spending this Pesach in Jerusalem, where the grocery stores are advertising special deals for a holiday I actually celebrate, where the city arranges while-you-wait blowtorch kashering and biur chametz stations on street corners, where “chag kasher v’sameach!” has already been the standard greeting for at least three weeks. There is an indescribably comforting camaraderie in being surrounded by thousands of people who are all, at this moment, making the same preparations that Jews have made at this time of year for hundreds of generations: cleaning and purging the house of all chametz, cooking for the seder, buying wine and matzah by the crate, and then, in one mad dash to the finish line, searching the house by the light of a candle, burning the leftover bits of bread, preparing the charoses, checking pounds of lettuce (or grating pounds of horseradish), setting the table, arranging the seder plate, and, finally, with a deep breath, lighting the yom tov candles and sitting down to a night of storytelling and good food. There is nothing, but nothing, quite like Pesach.

Only in Israel

I can’t believe that in all this time, I haven’t written about a single Only in Israel moment. My roommates and I moved to a new apartment today, an experience which, if nothing else, supplied us with a wealth of classic, oddball Israeli anecdotes. But this one takes the cake: this morning, the moving crew arrived at 7 am. We showed them which things needed to be loaded up and moved, and they started hauling furniture, appliances, and boxes down to the truck. After several loads, the guy in charge finally thought to ask: “So, where exactly are we taking this stuff?”

Reddish

I’ve been enjoying perusing the line of an industrial design studio in Israel called Reddish. I like their menorah, made by uniting intriguing solo candlesticks in a minimalist frame.


They have similar projects which tweak old or mismatched materials, bringing them to a higher level, like their playful planters, which use a round glass full of soil within a typical drinking glass to mimic the experience of growing a seedling from an avocado seed.

Another cheeky project? This picnic dress, complete with terrycloth waist.

Nihilophobia

When Don began a transaction today with “How are you feeling, Laura?” I didn’t immediately connect that this was the same Laura who Jessica told me was mugged in the parking lot while I was in California last week. 

Apparently, she was loading her groceries into her trunk at about three in the afternoon when someone snatched the purse resting in the child seat of her shopping cart. Instinctively, she grabbed it back, slipping her arm through the straps just as a getaway car pulled up and the thief jumped in, dragging Laura along as they hit the gas. She was knocked off her feet and pulled, her body scraping the parking lot pavement until she was able to let go of the purse.

Today at the bank, the large bandages on her hand didn’t manage to shield her swollen yellow fingers from view. She had trouble signing for her withdrawal because the pen wanted to rest where her stitches were, though in the end she managed a brave if garbled signature. 

Our manager Brad, former bouncer with a robust brotherly instinct, offered to walk her to her car, but she declined, saying she needed to learn to stop being scared. I protested that after my window was broken in, I had people stay over for several months, and it was a long road of fearful window avoidance, but I’m not scared anymore. I argued that it takes time to get over things, and in the meantime, she should do whatever she needs to for her own emotional well-being. She didn’t end up  taking Brad up on his offer, but I was glad she had the chance to talk about it a bit, and that I got to tell her that she shouldn’t feel crazy or weak for being scared after an experience like that.

I remember hating knowing that I was paranoid. I was in a study about eating habits shortly afterwards which administered a questionnaire which dealt, in part, with changes in my emotional landscape. I admitted that I sometimes freaked out when I was alone at night because I thought a hand would come flying through the glass, that I felt scared and reacted irrationally, knocking on my neighbor’s door and asking to spend the night when the wind made too much noise. But the girl asking the questions essentially said she wasn’t going to record it as abnormal, because those things are normal after a traumatic event. Just having someone say “This is a normal reaction to what you experienced,” was incredibly relieving. 

Well, wouldn’t you know that after my neighbor and I carpooled home and pulled into our shared driveway, I should look up and notice that the upstairs door to my house was wide open. “Uh, Don. . .” I started, and he turned from his own door and followed my gaze to the dark hallway falling away behind the open frame. He lumbered back up the steps to his truck and loaded his gun. I called my roommate’s sister to see if she recalled leaving the door unlocked while house-sitting. When Jenny said she didn’t remember anything about the door, I wanted to throw up. I asked if I should get a maglite from my car, but Don already had one in hand. I followed him from room to room in the darkened house as he checked all the closets and we secured the doors. The tools were all still upstairs, but I feared robbers were more likely to seek electronics and was expecting the blow to come once we got down to the living areas. I waited in the hall while he checked another room and wondered whether that position made me a more likely target. What would happen if someone was in the house? I imagined the safety I felt holding my cell phone was probably false, since cops can’t apparate and it’s an awfully small bullet-stopper. Living in an enormous house is definitely a drawback when trying to “secure the premises,” and I was thankful to have Don (and his gun) going ahead of me. 

When we finally got downstairs, my laptop and camera were still haphazardly placed on the desk, and everything seemed the same as I left it. None of the 6 outside doors showed signs of breaking in. The only explanation seems that the upstairs door was unlocked the entire past week and finally blew open tonight in the high winds. (The same winds that are now causing all manner of strange noises as I type this in my otherwise silent bedroom.) 

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This is particularly unnerving as our profile grows larger; two front page newspaper articles this month have made us small-town celebrities. The first, appearing on New Year’s Day, was juxtaposed with an article about a small child who was stabbed the previous night on our same street. “An MF man was arrested today by local police after he stabbed a 4-year old following a night of drinking. Gregory Cheslesky II of 201 N. 5th St., is being held in the county jail on charges of felonious assault, aggravated assault, contempt and failure to appear. No bond has been set.” Don also tells me that in December there were 4 break-ins on our street. (He’s the only neighbor we know on a first name basis, but he keeps up with many others living nearby.) 

So many things make me wish I didn’t come home after dark every day.