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I Come With The Property
July 19, 2013 7:02 AM   Subscribe

At age 99, Mr. Newton still gets up and goes to work 3X a week. The company doesn't need him to do the work, and in fact the company didn't actually hire him. He showed up at age 86 on a Monday after the property had been sold. He worked for the previous owner, and he came with the property.
posted by COD (85 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have a friend who worked for Toronto Blue Jays during their peak period in the 90s. There was a guy who worked in the clubhouse who would constantly berate the bat boys and clubhouse staff. He was sort of like the lemonhead character from Adventure Time.

After 5 years there, my friend had had enough and went to his boss and insisted the pest be fired. His boss said he couldn't fire him because, "he doens't really work here. We fired him years ago and he just keeps coming in."

Apparently he'd been fired before my friend even got hired. As far as I know, he still "works" there.
posted by dobbs at 7:07 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But I don't even really work here!"
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


That was a lovely piece.

But I really hope there's a typo in this part:
In 1976 he bought a three-bedroom, $15,600 home, took out a $500 monthly mortgage, and paid off the loan in 28 years.

Because otherwise, he paid $168,000 for that $15,600 home.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I had a job at the University of Oregon doing telephone surveys. They were long, some went up to about 90 minutes. They were about peoples thoughts on environmental issues. The only people that finished them were the elderly. You could tell that they were simply desperate for any interaction with a human. Luckily our boss was pretty cool and wouldn't mind if we wanted to talk about their grandchildren for a few hours. That isn't a typo.

So going into a job you don't actually have doesn't seem all that odd to me.
posted by johnpowell at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love this.

Mr. Newton: blessed and fearless.
posted by mistersquid at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2013


A nice piece, if a little condescending at times. I feel like the Tampa Bay Times has been going above and beyond in human interest stories lately, although I can't name them off the top of my head.
posted by Think_Long at 7:25 AM on July 19, 2013


Makes me feel like such a slacker.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hope I'm as capable as him at 99, although I can't say I envy him.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:30 AM on July 19, 2013


We just went ahead and fixed the glitch....
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:31 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know it goes against everything that manager's ever learned, but you're not actually legally required to wait for a person to ask for a raise. The $200 annual bonus is nice, but jeez, 13 years without a raise that you weren't forced to give him?
posted by Etrigan at 7:32 AM on July 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


But I really hope there's a typo in this part:
In 1976 he bought a three-bedroom, $15,600 home, took out a $500 monthly mortgage, and paid off the loan in 28 years.

Because otherwise, he paid $168,000 for that $15,600 home.


Yeah, a $500 monthly payment on a 30 year mortgage for $15,600 implies an interest rate of 38%. Rates were high in 1976 (10 year treasuries in the 7s), but that is ridiculous. I hope he was able to refinance along the way.
posted by mullacc at 7:34 AM on July 19, 2013


that protestant work ethic indoctrination is pretty strong in some.
posted by mary8nne at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I'd prefer not to not to..."
posted by notyou at 7:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I feel like the Tampa Bay Times has been going above and beyond in human interest stories lately, although I can't name them off the top of my head.

The one that really stuck with me is this heart-wrenching article about preemies last year.

I have an in-law like this. He just retired a few years ago as the oldest employee in his firm. Part of me admires him, but the other part is baffled about why work was so important to him. He has a wife who wanted to travel, and kids and grand kids who would have loved to spend time with him. Instead he worked until he couldn't physically work anymore, and now he's in a home and can't do these things anymore. I'm sure he got a great deal of satisfaction out of his career, but it's definitely not how I would want to spend my eighties.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This makes me so sad, somehow. He's 99 years old--I think that he's earned the right to have life be easy for a little while, you know?
posted by MeghanC at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


When you stop applying your mind to complex problems every day, it rots. People talk about retirement, but to the extent that I do any productive work at all (hah!) I don't really want to retire. Work less, sure, but just sit home and pretend to like boats or something? No, thanks.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


In retirement, I hope to split my time between making hand-crafted furniture and robbing banks.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Good on him. If going to work is what keeps him sharp and connected to the world, then I am glad that he's still able to do it at 99.

At the same time, though, something about it made my skin crawl a little bit, because it's probably going to start making the rounds on Facebook... Not as a nice human interest piece, but as a "Hurf durf look at this guy he's 99 and still shows up for work and hasn't asked for a raise in 13 years and never complains he's a true American so don't tell me how hard you have it" celebration of the protestant work ethic.
posted by usonian at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh man, this is going to be my grandfather someday. I just sent it to him as a warning.
posted by orme at 7:56 AM on July 19, 2013


It wouldn't kill anybody to give this guy a raise...
posted by schmod at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


My grandfather had a story like this. When he retired from the Chicago stockyards at 65, he went over to a nearby lumber yard and asked for work as a laborer, giving his age as 55. He worked there for about twenty years until they went out of business, they thought he was a tough old 75 year old man when in reality he was 85. Once he was really retired he'd embarrass my mom by paying undue attention to my parent's lawn. She'd wake up on summer morning to see her aged father had walked over and was on his hands and knees in the front yard pulling up weeds.

He was one of the great natural wits I've ever enjoyed the company of, too. And believed it was his duty as a naturalized citizen to not only vote in every election but do his best to study every issue and candidate to make the proper choice. Us grandkids often talk about what his life might have been like if he had a formal education and had not been born in to poverty in a backward place fourth out of 13+ children. Imagine Mr. Newton's prospects as well.

Although I love stories like this about admirable characters, there's something about the making of a mascot of this man that does not sit well. It might be a carry over from my youth where people treated my grandfather as "cute" once he reached extreme old age (lived to 96) not respecting him for the giant he was.
posted by readery at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't realize this was posted here, but I just linked the same story into the other post about the minimum wage/mcdonalds thing. I quoted some of it there and added some color commentary but I'd like to copy over my takeaway here since it's just as good a venue for it.

===================================

In case you couldn't tell, FUCK THIS UNNECESSARY SHIT THAT MAKES PEOPLE INTO PROPERTY SLAVES WORKING UNTIL THEY'RE 99 YEARS OLD AND CONVINCES THEM THEY LIKE IT AND ARE BEING TREATED FAIRLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE A BALL CAP TO GET DRESSED UP IN.

*deep breath*. I wish there was a god to bless the Mr. Newtons of the world, but I don't see how that can really be reconciled with the whole loving god thing so many people espouse. Good luck justifying how this guy deserves to be rewarded with, literally, as little as possible and that he is in the proper place in our society based upon the choices he's made in his life with regards to his, apparently, "minimum investment" in himself.

I see my great grandfather in him. I really do. Big Paw was Native American and so dark as to be confused as African American, his grandfather was actually listed that way on the census because being African American was preferable to being Native American to many in those days. He worked his entire life in jobs like this, collecting cans on the side of the road, riding his bicycle (sometimes, if times were good, self-rigged with a chainsaw motor drivetrain) to church and to work, and died in much the same position in society Mr. Newton is in. It turns out mom and dad actually cared for him in our home, which I had forgotten because I was so little, in his last year(s) or he would have died on the street in a ditch somewhere I have no doubt.

Did he let it bother him? I don't know, I was too young to think about things like that, but my family has never made mention of him in terms other than respectful admiration of his disposition towards life and his work ethic and his willingness to help others. I remember sitting in his lap and him calling me Kudzu, because I was growing so fast. Both of these gentlemen deserve better.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:05 AM on July 19, 2013 [25 favorites]


Ugh. This makes me super uncomfortable.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that he's earned the right to have life be easy for a little while, you know?

But that's not he wants. He needs to feel useful and he wants to feel independent. If this is what he needs, and this works for him, then that's a lot better for him than making him sitting in a parlour watching daytime TV.

We have a program at my work for retired lab folk, where they can keep an office, and continue to come in, unpaid but for their pension, to "finish their remaining projects". Sometimes this can take more than a decade. Costs are minimal, a computer, a phone, some lab supplies, which minimally tax existing stock.

Our "emeritus" staff are happy. It's a huge benefit to the junior staff to have someone senior who can take the time to really go into details on things. When I was first starting in my present position, I was told to get a new x-ray fluorescence machine working with no more guidance than a manual and a few papers. The previous tech had left suddenly, and no one else knew anything about it. Nobody, except Dr. Delouie, who came in three days a week for a few hours at a time, and who just happened to have spent his career doing XRF.

So, for the excuse of getting help with this new (to me) technique, I got to know this fascinating man, a Hungarian emigre who came to Canada following the failed revolution in the 50s, and become, I think, something a bit more than just colleagues who shared a lunchtable. Dr. Delouie had about five years with us as an emeritus, before his health became too poor for him to come in anymore, but I'd like to think that they were pleasant for him. I certainly looked forward to Tuesdays knowing he'd be in. He passed away a few years ago, but I still miss our conversations.
posted by bonehead at 8:19 AM on July 19, 2013 [42 favorites]


We have a program at my work for retired lab folk, where they can keep an office, and continue to come in, unpaid but for their pension, to "finish their remaining projects". Sometimes this can take more than a decade. Costs are minimal, a computer, a phone, some lab supplies, which minimally tax existing stock.

Our "emeritus" staff are happy. It's a huge benefit to the junior staff to have someone senior who can take the time to really go into details on things.


I totally agree with you, but this thing is not that thing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


But that's not he wants. He needs to feel useful and he wants to feel independent. If this is what he needs, and this works for him, then that's a lot better for him than making him sitting in a parlour watching daytime TV.

He sweeps the carpark.... I don't really see how that is much "better" than watching daytime TV actually.

And whilst I agree that in some sense this is what he "wants" to do... its the social system that put that want there and teaches people that being unproductive is a "sin".
posted by mary8nne at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hang on there. There's plenty of 25 year olds who never work who live materially better off than Mr. Newton. That's not to say that capitalism isn't brutal for the people at the bottom, it's just to say that this story isn't evidence of how we are inevitably all screwed by the system. The article goes out of its way to point out that he could have retired comfortably years ago, and he doesn't even always remember to pick up his pay checks. People thrive with structure in their lives and regular human interaction in their old age and I'll bet their are tons of old folks hanging out at the golf course every day who are less happy.

A few years I took a 50 percent salary cut to work in a job I'd have to keep for 20 years longer to have the same kind of comfortable retirement. Of course part of me thinks its unjust that the life I want is less financially rewarding but in the end I want to be happier working later in my life than unhappy and retired.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:29 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess we disagree then. Mr. Newton doesn't have to work, financially---he has a pension and family support, and knows that---but wants to. This isn't someone who wants to retire but is trapped.

This really comes down to how valid his "wants" are.
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am fine with him wanting to work and be/feel useful. But something about this story just rubs me the wrong way.

I don't mean the following lightly, I just read the book recently so it's on my mind. In The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, Bob is given a special device which lets him see through "glamours" - spells which make people appear different.

I feel like this story has a glamour on it and I can tell there's an alien underneath but everyone else sees a beautiful thing.

I certainly mean no disrespect to Mr Murray at all. We've been discussing race and its history so much in the Trayvon Martin threads that it's really hard to not see the same sort of societal structures at play here.

Perhaps someone more articulate and knowledgable than me can figure out what I'm trying to say.
posted by sio42 at 8:30 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think the type of work is the issue so much as who the work is for. Regardless of his pension, he's still making an appalingly low amount sweeping the parking lot for a company whose product he can't afford to buy. If he was, say, doing laundry for his church, this'd be a totally different discussion.

And in that discussion, social narratives come into play, especially when what we have documenting this case is a piece of, frankly, highly ideological social narrative about the nobility of being too humble to ask for what you deserve.
posted by Apropos of Something at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I get deeply, deeply depressed if I don't have a schedule. Like, if I don't have some thing each day at a certain time where other people are expecting me to be there and notice if I don't show up, I just won't get dressed or go outside or do much of anything other than watch TV and surf the internet. I become semi-nocturnal and sleep a lot of the day, and nothing seems worth doing. And the more days in a row I do that, the more of a shut in I become, and the more it seems anxiety-provoking and way too hard to actually do anything. And it's really, really awful for both my physical and mental health. I really try not to take lazy vacations, and I try to schedule activities on most of my days off, because I'm terrified that if I'm alone and sedentary for too long, I just won't be able to shake it off, and I'll sink into long-term depression. It's happened before.

The idea of retirement terrifies me. I picture myself as one of those sad, pathetic old people who yells at the TV all day and smells funny and becomes a hoarder from buying stuff on eBay and having it delivered. And pottery classes at the senior center are not going to prevent that; I need to be needed and depended on. For those reasons, I completely understand why Mr. Newton has structured his life the way he has.

That said, I hate this "news" story. It's condescending and sort of mean, talking about how he's not really useful, but they keep him around because they don't want to make him unhappy. Plus, it reeks of the "magical negro" narrative where the old black guy shows up to make all the white people think about values and teaches them an important lesson about tolerance and caring and hard work. It's awful, lazy journalism.

But I think we can think Mr. Newton is pretty cool, and we can hope that we too can remain productive throughout our lives, and we can empathize with the need to actually do something rather than just sitting around getting old, without being patronizing assholes about it.
posted by decathecting at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


He sweeps the carpark.... I don't really see how that is much "better" than watching daytime TV actually.

He has a schedule and a routine. He gets to talk to people who like him and he gets to feel useful, which was especially important to men his age--it was, in fact, how many of them defined their entire lives, through work and therefore providing for a family.

We can say that that value system is outdated and bad, that those men should have been raised to appreciate leisure time more, or other types of intellectual enterprise. But at 99, I doubt he could change and still be happy. He's happy. At 99. That's a good thing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


It goes so far beyond him 'wanting' to sweep and go in as well.

To compare it to what was mentioned as to be completely laughable.

Mr. Nelson is not "emeritus" staff.
Mr. Nelson is not retired, or at least not what most people would think of as functionally retired.
Mr. Nelson is not mentoring others below from a leadership/mentor role. He is the lowest of the low on the employee responsibility ladder, a sweeper in a company that didn't want him.
Mr. Nelson is not benefiting the company in any measurable way. From the article: a leafblower could do his job faster and better. They consider him mostly a liability and a charity case.
Mr. Nelson is not finishing a project that's important and needs his special skills, except his own drawing of breath of course....
Mr. Nelson is not a skilled employee making a decent wage with decent benefits.
Mr. Nelson is a very, very dark skinned individual who came over from Trinidad and likely had few if any other options to choose from. While it is mentioned that some of your 'emeritus' staff are immigrants as well it sounds like they are highly skilled individuals with corresponding levels of education.
Mr. Nelson is not in Canada where, give or take, things are a bit better with regards to health care than the laughable situation we have in the US, or at least so I've heard.

I must ask if you think Mr. Newton would have wanted to maybe have a nice shirt to go with his ball cap? Or, better yet, a raise from the minimum wage so that he could do more with his time away from work or maybe pay off his house a bit earlier? If the answer to either of those questions is yes then I think you have to relate back to the question of privilege, or namely the lack thereof, and what that means to people in his situation.

This isn't someone who wants to retire but is trapped.

Kinda-sorta right in an academic discussion sort of way but really and truly it's much, much more insidious than that. That's the point I'm trying to make here. Being productive into your sunset years is a fine and great thing. Being a slave to the place society has forced into isn't something to put on a pedestal.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The guy wants to do this. He seems to like the structure it gives his life, he likes the social contact, the exercise is probably good for him.

According to the article, he could have lived on his retirement income from Texaco, so he's not dragging himself in there for the money. He has family who is willing to care for him so he's not being forced to do this for survival.

He gets paid for what he does, even though his boss says they could get a guy with a leaf blower to do the job in a couple of hours. So it's not like they are taking advantage of some desperate poor person.

His stepdaughter says he's always been a workaholic. He says he doesn't want to stay home watching TV. He has family and a church, so it's not like he's being forced to go out to work or perish of loneliness.

I'm not sure what people's issues with this are. He's a grown man with options, and this is what he chooses to do. Getting angry on his behalf when he pretty clearly seems to be living his life the way he wants to seems condescending and paternalistic.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2013 [15 favorites]


No matter, Cap'n.

He sweeps the carpark.... I don't really see how that is much "better" than watching daytime TV actually.

"The research, published in separate medical journals this month, adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be. "

- Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit.

"I could not stay here all day, alone in this house. What would I do? Watch Judge Joe Brown?"

That perhaps is the most depressing aspect of the story. The crushing lack of imagination in our society.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


This conversation strikes me as similar to conversations on International Development. "Oh those people in Africa, how can they live like that? We know what you really need." The most successful development programs are those that ask clients what they need and enable them to meet their own needs. That's what Mr. Newton's employers are doing. At time's MeFites resemble the big international development conglomerates that know what's best for you. Mr. Newton appears to be doing just fine without our opinions.
posted by Xurando at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Regardless of his pension, he's still making an appalingly low amount sweeping the parking lot for a company whose product he can't afford to buy. If he was, say, doing laundry for his church, this'd be a totally different discussion.

Are you implying that it's OK for an organization in the religion business to treat employees differently than other businesses?
posted by explosion at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2013


At my first job out of college I worked in the sales office at a manufacturing plant. There was a retirement ceremony for a African-American gentleman that was retiring after 40 odd years as the plant custodian. I seriously doubt he ever saw double digits per hour wages. It was at that function that I learned his family had owned a lot of the land that Atlanta residents know today as Perimeter Mall. They guy was worth millions. He had put 4 or 5 kids through college, was a Deacon in his church, and was respected by everybody that met him.

But for reasons that most of us will never understand, he was happy pushing a broom.

I see the same thing here, without the windfall. Was he capable of more in his life? I'm certain he was. But it is not for us to shit on his life because we don't respect it. If he respects himself and is happy he is winning at life. Moreso than most of us that hate our jobs and try to avoid it for a few minutes here on the Blue.
posted by COD at 8:45 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Its actually not so much that he is brainwashed - its the fact that the point of the article is to brainwash the reader. The ultimate outcome of articles like these is to normalize the notion that we all should work until we are 99 and that we should want to work until we are 99. Because thats what 'real heroes' like Mr Nelson do.

Nevermind that he has spent the last 20 years of his life wandering around a carpark with a broom. ....We should love work because it provides 'routine' and a 'sense of satisfaction'.

Screw that. I"d rather sit around watching movies or painting or just sitting around doing nothing in particular.
posted by mary8nne at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Human beings can adapt to anything. It's not that cute that this guy has adapted to miserable poverty. That's the problem here.
posted by zebraantelope at 8:47 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The research, published in separate medical journals this month, adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be. "

And your point is? If I had to face twenty years or sweeping the same carpark day in day out I"d probably rather be dead. Death would be a welcome release.
posted by mary8nne at 8:48 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mr. Nelson is not "emeritus" staff.
Mr. Nelson is not retired, or at least not what most people would think of as functionally retired.
Mr. Nelson is not mentoring others below from a leadership/mentor role. He is the lowest of the low on the employee responsibility ladder, a sweeper in a company that didn't want him.
Mr. Nelson is not benefiting the company in any measurable way. From the article: a leafblower could do his job faster and better. They consider him mostly a liability and a charity case.
Mr. Nelson is not finishing a project that's important and needs his special skills, except his own drawing of breath of course....
Mr. Nelson is not a skilled employee making a decent wage with decent benefits.
Mr. Nelson is a very, very dark skinned individual who came over from Trinidad and likely had few if any other options to choose from. While it is mentioned that some of your 'emeritus' staff are immigrants as well it sounds like they are highly skilled individuals with corresponding levels of education.
Mr. Nelson is not in Canada where, give or take, things are a bit better with regards to health care than the laughable situation we have in the US, or at least so I've heard.


This implies to me that only those who are well educated ("skilled employees") deserve to feel useful and productive. He doesn't have the education to mentor others or finish "important" projects. And at 99, his healthcare needs are undoubtedly covered by medicaid. He may not be providing a useful service to the company--though they note that his presence is good for morale and gives employees a feeling of security--but they are making space for him to feel useful, nonetheless. And I think everyone deserves to have a sense of purpose, if that's what they need to be fulfilled. Not just those doing intellectual work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:49 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


But he doesn't deserve to compensated fairly for his efforts?
posted by zebraantelope at 8:50 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also there are places like Sardinia with populations that are very long-lived where work and routine are often cited as important factors in this longevity:
At the age of 89, he can be found either working at a café he runs or working in his own garden, growing beans, aubergines, peppers and potatoes.

His older sister, Claudia, who still attends church every morning at the age of 99, gave an almost identical response: "You just keep working and you eat minestrone, beans and potatoes."
It's entirely possible that Mr. Nelson's work is a factor in his continued survival. Who are we to sneer at that?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


they note that his presence is good for morale and gives employees a feeling of security

You mean this quote?

"What does maintenance man Karl Holycross see when he looks at Mr. Newton? Job security.

"If they don't let him go, I have nothing to worry about."


Because you and I must have quite a different take on how that line [doesn't] represent a positive thing in the overall sense of how job security is [not] provided for and measured, here in the US at least...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


//But he doesn't deserve to compensated fairly for his efforts?//

He can be replaced by a kid coming by for an hour a week with a leaf blower. If minimum wage is not fair compensation for a commercial job that absolutely, 100% is not even necessary, I don't what job is.
posted by COD at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


This implies to me that only those who are well educated ("skilled employees") deserve to feel useful and productive.

And this is an uncharitable reading, of course that's not the case. It is the case that skilled employees are less likely to feel trapped than elderly, dark skinned, immigrant, unskilled employees.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2013


This implies to me that only those who are well educated ("skilled employees") deserve to feel useful and productive.

You mean deserve to know the truth? The post you are responding to is pointing out that as a point of fact: Mr Nelson is neither actually useful nor productive. It is merely his self-delusions that enables him to feel these things.

To me there is a certain misguided nonsense in the idea that someone "deserves to feel" a particular way or not independent of the truth of the situation.
posted by mary8nne at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because you and I must have quite a different take on how that line [doesn't] represent a positive thing in the overall sense of how job security is [not] provided for and measured, here in the US at least...

You're right. Job security is awful in the US. And most companies would have gotten rid of this guy because he's a liability long ago. The surrounding awful context doesn't mean it's any less a real benefit to keep Mr. Nelson around for employees at this company, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:55 AM on July 19, 2013


If you saw him there, you might think he was just holding up a broom. But it's really the other way around.

The... broom is holding him up? What?
posted by Shepherd at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The surrounding awful context doesn't mean it's any less a real benefit to keep Mr. Nelson around for employees at this company, though.

Because it gives them a false sense of job security? I don't follow that logic at all...

gotta jet for a bit, won't be around to respond, didn't leave in anger/huff.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2013


Well I don't feel the minimum wage is enough for anyone so I guess that colors my opinion.
posted by zebraantelope at 8:57 AM on July 19, 2013


If you saw him there, you might think he was just holding up a broom. But it's really the other way around.

The... broom is holding him up? What?


Metaphorically, the broom represents the job, which is what keeps him going day-to-day.
posted by Etrigan at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Because it gives them a false sense of job security? I don't follow that logic at all...

We don't know it's a false sense of job security at all. The higher-ups at this company clearly have empathy for their employees. They don't want to act in cruel ways, as evidenced by their quotes in the article. That makes them significantly more kind than many bosses.

You mean deserve to know the truth? The post you are responding to is pointing out that as a point of fact: Mr Nelson is neither actually useful nor productive. It is merely his self-delusions that enables him to feel these things.

Who are we to cure him of those "self-delusions" if he has no desire to stop working and he isn't harming anyone? I don't think it's misguided nonsense that the elderly deserve to feel happy and productive, and that we shouldn't take things away from them that make them feel that way. Maybe that makes me a crazy liberal, or whatever, but having worked in nursing homes, I know that self-guided routine and a sense of purpose is very important to the health and well-being of those who are elderly.

Societies are there to take care of their members, including those who aren't tangibly "useful" anymore.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:01 AM on July 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


The surrounding awful context doesn't mean it's any less a real benefit to keep Mr. Nelson around for employees at this company, though.

Because it gives them a false sense of job security?


I don't know anything else about Bama Sea Products, but judging just from how they've treated Nelson, I wouldn't say it's a false sense of job security.
posted by Etrigan at 9:02 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I know here I am never alone" seems to be the most important part.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:02 AM on July 19, 2013


Who are we to sneer at that?

We sneer here because we can.
posted by Xurando at 9:04 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wrote a long comment which my device deleted. Let me sum it up.

Those of you who are trying to devalue this man's choices, or claim that they are a product of societal brainwashing, or that what he is doing is not worthwhile- you are infuriating me.

By assuming he couldn't possibly have made this choice of his genuine free will, you are denying his agency and being incredibly disrespectful.

By assuming that he would be better off watching television, you are disregarding his freedom of choice; he has decided what makes him happy. That's his decision, not yours.

By deriding his work because it is menial rather than glamorous highly educated, you have revealed your own classism.

I'm so angry that an old man can't be happy without a binch of people trying to find reasons why his happiness isn't acceptable and he should be locked away in front of a television.

Someone said he's the "lowest of the low." Seriously, step away from your privelege. He's a human being, he's not worthless, he is doing what he wants, and if he is regarded as a "charity case" then he's probably not being exploited. It's pretty rare for a big company to keep an employee out of the kindness of their heart. Why are you trying to deny this man his happiness? Just because you don't understand it? That doesn't make it any less valuable.
posted by windykites at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2013 [34 favorites]


This reminded me a bit of the Vita Needle Factory in Needham, MA, where management has been making a point of hiring older workers. The workers express similar sentiments as Mr. Newton for why they keep working: sense of purpose and camaraderie. Some people find that through hobbies or volunteering after retirement; some find it through a job. To each his own.
posted by dormouse at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's instructive to read this story side-by-side with the one posted just a half hour later, in which a doctor talks about watching how many elderly people die slow, agonizing deaths devoid of meaning, purpose, and human contact.

In some ways they are apples and oranges, but juxtaposing them does make me think that if Mr. Newton's "delusions" make even a small contribution to avoiding the fate of a slow, lonely withering away, I'd say he's way ahead of the game.
posted by googly at 9:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


CTRL-F "stapler." No hits? Really?
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on July 19, 2013


Is it good that a very elderly man gets emotional fulfillment and purpose from a job that he chooses to come back to, day after day? Yes.

Is it true that his job doesn't pay him anything close to a living wage because of an exploitative market that systematically undervalues the contributions of people with skin color like this very elderly man's? Yes.

I don't see why all of these statements can't be true.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:51 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


CTRL-F "stapler." No hits? Really?

I posted a clip, fer chrissakes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:53 AM on July 19, 2013


By assuming he couldn't possibly have made this choice of his genuine free will, you are denying his agency and being incredibly disrespectful.

No I'm assuming no-one makes true free choices and we are all indoctrinated into a cultural status quo - but there is a kind of obscenity involved in lionizing menial work for the sake of one mans self-respect. There is nothing heroic about this sisyphean life.
posted by mary8nne at 9:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could see myself doing this someday, if I had the strength of personality.

(note: I am not from Tobago and I did graduate high school. Sweeping is kind of good for you if you do it right. The juxtaposition of leaf blowers and paid gymnasiums is upsetting to me sometimes.)
posted by amtho at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2013


Screw that. I"d rather sit around watching movies or painting or just sitting around doing nothing in particular.

I, for one, would prefer to be outside doing something physical than sitting around even if it's something boring like weeding or sweeping. I hate sitting around and rarely make it through a movie.

There is this consensus on many threads here that doing things is hard and "relaxing" is the goal. Not all of us are wired that way, in fact I think it's a minority viewpoint overall.
posted by fshgrl at 10:16 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


No I'm assuming no-one makes true free choices and we are all indoctrinated into a cultural status quo - but there is a kind of obscenity involved in lionizing menial work for the sake of one mans self-respect. There is nothing heroic about this sisyphean life.

Funny thing about freedom -- some people make choices that are different from the ones you would make.

And Sisyphus didn't walk up to Hades and say "I come with the underworld" and insist on pushing the rock.
posted by Etrigan at 10:17 AM on July 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Is it true that his job doesn't pay him anything close to a living wage because of an exploitative market that systematically undervalues the contributions of people with skin color like this very elderly man's?

He doesn't need the job to pay him a living wage, he has his Texico pension (which is probably handsome) and he's eligible for Social Security and Medicare, so he probably has plenty of money, he's just frugal and he enjoys having a purpose in life.

Mr. Newton could afford to hang out and do nothing if he wanted. He has all sorts of family who would be happy to take him in. This is not the point.

Mr. Newton prefers to have THIS job, and he prefers to live his life THIS way. That's all.

I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do with this information. I mean, it's mostly, "old man likes to work." Okay. Thanks.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


windykites maybe you missed this due to your device woes but you've made some pretty egregious misquotes in your claims, namely

windykites:"Someone said he's the "lowest of the low." Seriously, step away from your privelege. He's a human being, he's not worthless, he is doing what he wants, and if he is regarded as a "charity case" then he's probably not being exploited. It's pretty rare for a big company to keep an employee out of the kindness of their heart.

I'm assuming you meant this part of my statement above

Roland:"Mr. Nelson is not mentoring others below from a leadership/mentor role. He is the lowest of the low on the employee responsibility ladder, a sweeper in a company that didn't want him."

I mean, I don't think it's a stretch to point out that there is a difference in the fact that someone who is educated, like the doctors volunteering their time to mentor others that were mentioned above that I was responding to, have more worth to a company they work for than Mr. Nelson does. You're conflating my defense of the man and his worth, as a great employee and person with the company's complete disdain for that same person. They have assigned him the lowest possible reward despite his efforts, reliability, timeliness, and great attitude that they praise. I guess you could say they've acquiesced to his every request, namely zero raises in 20 years and a ball cap.

windykites:By assuming he couldn't possibly have made this choice of his genuine free will, you are denying his agency and being incredibly disrespectful.

By assuming a very dark skinned, elderly, immigrant black man in the American South could possibly have been very constrained in realistic options to exercise his genuine free will upon, I am being a realist and being sympathetic to a vulnerable population that is often shat upon. Classsism you say? Really?
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Texico pension (which is probably handsome)

See and I don't understand this part of the article/reading. His 'pension' is so good that it took him umpteen years to pay off his house at a shitty interest rate and he lives as frugally as a hermit but still has to get a $200 allowance from his current employer to afford the last bit of a $800 ticket to Trinidad, that he saves for and takes once every two years. That doesn't sound handsome to me.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


He sweeps the carpark.... I don't really see how that is much "better" than watching daytime TV actually.

From the article:
"I could not stay here all day, alone in this house. What would I do? Watch Judge Joe Brown?"

Judge Joe Brown, FYI, is a daytime tv show.

In other words, there's no particular reason to suppose he'd be happier staying home and watching daytime tv, since he specifically said he would not be.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:38 AM on July 19, 2013


I feel like this story has a glamour on it and I can tell there's an alien underneath but everyone else sees a beautiful thing.

While I applaud the ability and willingness of MeFites not to take a story simply on its surface merits, but to reflect on it and possibly find some sort of deeper meaning, I think that sometimes we look at something like this and find, not a true reflection, but our own fears and angers regarding old age and the society that we live in. Nietzsche on the blue: when you gaze into the plate of beans...
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:40 AM on July 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Texico pension, for 40 years of service in Trinidad. It may be a few hundred bucks, or not. A lot of the math in this article doesn't make sense.

The house thing, makes NO sense at all. None.

For all we know he's banking his money for his large family upon his demise. Hard to say. Lot's of frugal people just don't spend money.

I'm not getting that he needs this job for the money, he likes to work.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:47 AM on July 19, 2013


...you get bean juice on your happy face?
posted by bonehead at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's also stated in the article that either of his daughters would be happy to have him, fwiw.

The reality of dealing with an elderly person, and them wanting things that you might not want for them, or even feel is good for them is tough. However, to me, you have to respect their wishes. It's tough to watch someone lead a difficult life, but as long as it's not a health issue, I can't see any other alternative. The benefits you may discount can be quite important to them.

My mother works a minimum-wage job four days a week, at age 73. She has zero need to work financially, but she loves the job and the company of the women she works with. I'm sure that the job not only pleases her, but gives her moderate exercise she would not otherwise get and likely improves her quality of life. Her mother at that age was essentially immobile and suffered from a great number of health problems. In contrast, mom is still in very good shape. I'm very much hoping that she is able to continue as long as she wants to. If she gets to 99 and can still go to the shop every day, I'm sure she'll be much happier for it.
posted by bonehead at 11:15 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


He sweeps the carpark.... I don't really see how that is much "better" than watching daytime TV actually.

Have you done either of these (kind of) things for an extended period? Assuming the work environment was not abusive, I know which one I'd choose…

there is a kind of obscenity involved in lionizing menial work for the sake of one mans self-respect

This is paternalistic -- you should respect the choices other people make. To a degree, I think you're right -- the world is wide open -- he could do things, for less pay, that might be less menial and perhaps more creative. If we talk about him playing video games (MMO?) instead of daytime TV, the equation changes. If the job was working on side projects in industry research, the equation changes again.

But we aren't him. He didn't grow up with video games, and he isn't a researcher. Just because you might find spending a day watching TV relaxing, doesn't mean it's as "relaxing" to do that every day… for years. Just because sweeping a carpark seems beneath you, doesn't mean someone can't find something intrinsically satisfying about the work.
posted by smidgen at 11:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm kind of torn by this. On the one hand I get, and agree with, what everybody's saying about how he wants the stability and the independence and the human interaction of the job and it's great that he still has those things in his life and all that.

On the other hand there's something weirdly condescending about the tone of the article, and the idea of this frail, elderly black man calling everybody Cap'n and never wanting anything more than a ball cap all those years that troubles me.

Because you know who else used to come with the property, right?

And the property owners used to talk about those people, and how much they loved their jobs and the people they worked for, in ways that this kind of reminds me of.
posted by Naberius at 11:40 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Because you know who else used to come with the property, right?

No, I don't know. Who used to come with the property?

Please explain and help me understand how this pertains to Mr. Newton's employment at Bama Sea Products.
posted by foot at 12:25 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My grandpa, who lived past 100, had the same spirit of independence as this guy. He was still mending fences on his farm at 98. However, unlike this guy, he fretted about his money and was very lonely, even though he was surrounded by family. It must be very isolating to be the last of your kind. All of his age cohort had already passed away and how well can you relate to people who earn their money tapping on computer keyboards when you plowed fields with a team of horses when you were that age? Some people see extreme old age as a goal. It can be a punishment.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:29 PM on July 19, 2013


He feels needed. I think maybe the worst thing in the world would to not be needed by anyone anymore. I don't much mind if instead of working, I'm just packing brown bag lunches for my great grandchildren and then folding the laundry, but my greatest fear of old age is that I won't be useful to anybody, I'll just sit in an old age home needing other people to help me, but not being able to help anyone else.

Everyone I know who retired, though, went back to work or serious volunteer work in a part-time fashion. I don't really know anyone who's managed to RETIRE. My grandfather retired, moved to a retirement community, and promptly started putting in 30 hours a week visiting even older people in the hospital who needed cheering up and reading with low-income kindergarteners. That left him plenty of time for golf and bridge and travel, but he was also needed and useful. When about two months before he died he no longer felt up to taking the Eucharist to homebound Catholics, we knew he was near the end, as that was the last "useful" thing he was doing. My aunt and uncle just retired and have been restoring state parks. There are SO many retired people in local government, turning their energies to the community.

I hope that when I'm elderly I'm able to choose interesting and productive "work" or volunteerism, like the "emeritus" chemists above, but I'd rather work as a checker at the supermarket or do housework for some of my descendents than have nobody need me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:29 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


RolandofEld, I want to apologise for taking the "lowest of the low" comment out of context; it was unfair and careless of me.

I understand the qualms people have about the style of the article and I think they're valid.

That said, I stand by the rest of my statement.
posted by windykites at 3:58 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mr. Newton has lived a long life, cares about others, is happy, has purpose. The End.
posted by snap_dragon at 4:12 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work in a university. I swear I know of a total of like one professor who ever retired and stopped coming to work. Everyone else sees retirement as a chance to get MORE work done, now that they are freed from a bunch of bureaucratic regulations and (some) teaching requirements. My old supervisor used to come in from 10 to 3 every day before he retired, and now that he's retired he is in his office from 8am til 6pm. (I think maybe because his wife also retired and he can't adjust to spending all day with her.)

We have people in our department who are in their eighties and nineties and still do 8+ hour days five+ days a week. One of them refused to retire for about fifteen years and finally the administration persuaded her to do it by agreeing to a secret deal where she wouldn't have to tell anyone she had retired, and could keep teaching her courses and everything, but they'd just stop paying her. It took five years past that before anyone found out.
posted by lollusc at 12:42 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you stop applying your mind to complex problems every day, it rots. People talk about retirement, but to the extent that I do any productive work at all (hah!) I don't really want to retire. Work less, sure, but just sit home and pretend to like boats or something? No, thanks.

Incredibly, there are some activities humans can engage in that are interesting, engaging and complex but DON'T make a capitalist even more wealthy!
posted by DU at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2013


Even more incredibly, there are some humans who engage in work that is interesting, engaging and complex but DOESN'T make a capitalist even more wealthy!
posted by Etrigan at 9:06 AM on August 1, 2013


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