One of my grandfathers was a junkman, who dealt in paper and rags, stuff people threw away. The other was a mailman. My father went to Brooklyn College and then Michigan State’s veterinary school. He taught me many times, “I don’t care what you do for a living when you’re an adult but if you become a garbageman you’ll be the best garbageman you can be.” I grew up watching my father build furniture and fix things around the house. An early memory is he and a neighbor chainging a hot water heater.
My late uncle was an ophthalmologist and he shared a passion for woodworking with my father. He died way too young and at his funeral, my cousin’s eulogy mentioned how his father respected experts. It didn’t matter to him if you were an expert surgeon or you cut his grass expertly. If you did you job well and professionally, he respected you, regardless of how many initials you had, or didn’t have, after your name.
I was a National Merit finalist, went to Michigan, one of the few elite public universities, hold a patent (which I applied for by myself, without the assistance of a patent attorney) and have eclectic enough interests to be able to have an intelligent conversation with nearly anyone about nearly anything. Most of my jobs have been blue or grey collar. A few years ago I spent the summer doing sprinkling maintenence and repair, working for a friend. We had some customers, invariably lawyers, who couldn’t be bothered to learn how to set 5 valves and an electronic timer to start their sprinkler systems in the spring. They thought they were too smart for that stuff, but they distrust working class people, so they’d always schedule appointments so they could be home to “supervise”.
At the Detroit Autorama, the most prestigious custom car show in the world, I was talking to one of the car builders, about George Poteet, a guy who made a bunch of money marketing water filters via MLM and who has commissioned some of coolest custom cars made in the past couple of decades. I mentioned how so many of our culture’s elites would feel uncomfortable at a hot rod and custom car show. How they’d look down on George for for his interest in cars and for how he made his wealth, when in fact he’s akin to the Medicis, in his patronage of what he considers art.
The guy nodded and I said, “Wait a second, you’re a greaseball hot rodder. You’re not supposed to know who the Medicis were.”