After reading the open letters and articles that address standards of living and work ethic, it seems as if all you people think you know everything about everyone just from reading first-person testimonials on this “internet” thing. This is wrong, so I thought it imperative that I give you all the benefit of perspective, from someone who’s been there.
I’m just a little older than you, though not much. I’ll be turning 153 years old next week – and that century-plus can be very important. Just like you, I moved to New York in my 20’s, looking to study typography, which I believe we’re calling graphic design these days, but I was also set on pursuing my dream of avoiding the roving bands of murderers who wandered my Eastern European country looking for people to kill.
I was lucky enough to have a distant cousin living here – I wrote to him asking for help, and three months later he replied, offering me 20 hours a week as a pickle-delivery-man AND a mattress in the corner of the home/office he shared with forty-seven other people in a 5-floor-walkup in the Tenth Ward. My parents were long dead – one from cholera, the other from the pogrom the week before – but I understood my white privilege was the only thing allowing me to leave. Others in my village weren’t so lucky.
I packed a bag with my other shirt, my other sock and a can of tuna, and set out on the two-month trip by foot, hoof and steamer. You can imagine my joy when I saw how palatial my new home was. New York was everything I thought it would be – I wasn’t instantly murdered when I accidentally bumped into someone on the street, and my mattress was without lice and fit snugly in the corner next to my cousin’s desk. I was even close enough to the window to inhale the smoke coming from the garbage furnace below, which eliminated the need to buy cigarettes.
And if that wasn’t enough good fortune, two weeks after my arrival there was a fire in the apartment upstairs and the thirty-four people who lived their came to live with us. Fifteen of them were under the age of seven and too young for real work – but even they chipped in at home, keeping a pot of cabbage boiling all day and all night. Let me just say, I find it amazing that people view having roommates as the mark of failure these days. How do you eat without everyone pitching in? How do you heat your homes without all those bodies around? When I came here, the only people living alone did so because they had typhus.
But I digress. This is about you. I’m telling you about me because from all your letters and articles, it seems that you’ve grown very entitled. My hard work in getting to New York through my cousin allowed me to start on the path, but I delivered pickles for 38 years before I had saved up enough money to take a class at the Learning Annex, which was why I came here in the first place. Sure, I achieved a great career as a typographer for an asbestos company, and today I have a pretty comfortable room at the Samuel Finkelstein Geriatric Care Center, but my long successful life came about through my own hard work and my superior immune system. While everyone around me was hacking away at night like they were giving birth through their tracheas, I was studying the masters of design and teaching myself how to read English. I worked for what I have, and you should do the same.
Because this is, ultimately, about you and the way you live your life, which is entirely my business because I’m older. I’m only telling you about myself in the hopes that maybe you’ll do as I have done: appreciate small things, resolve to work harder, and realize that nothing is guaranteed in this life. You think that just because you can’t be given a “living wage” that your life has been cursed? That just because you have a job, that this job should “pay” you and let you do things like “afford a home” or “not starve?” We never had any of that back in 1890’s New York City and not a day goes by without my yearning for that golden age of life.
And did you ever think that if you do manage to achieve success without starving to death, it will be all the more special knowing that no one helped you, that you did it all on your own? Because I’ve lived a long time and I can tell you that the greatest joy in this life is succeeding with no one’s help, and then being free of obligation to offer anyone else help in turn. Society would have you believe that we’re all “entitled” to things, but the only thing we’re entitled to is maybe someone to look at our rash and tell us if we’re going to die or not. But actually, no…even that level of health care isn’t a given. You have to work for what you want, and if you don’t achieve it, it’s your own darn fault. See? I’m even cursing now…
But look. I mean no disrespect – everyone under the age of a hundred thinks they have all the answers and I get it…I was like that once too. But everything I’m telling you is true, and you should listen. If you rely on handouts and think you deserve them just because you have a job, then you’re going to fail at life and will never achieve your dreams.
So good luck. I hope me telling you as much as I could about myself has taught you some things about how you should be living your life.