I had been working much too long on this job. I guess things could have been worse. I certainly wasn’t doing hard labor. But going door to door asking questions as a representative of the federal government wasn’t the most satisfying position either.
It was August. It was hot. I had to wear a tie.
“Hello. My name is Bob Perks and we are doing a survey in this neighborhood…”
“I’m not interested! Good bye!”…slam, lock.
You can’t imagine how many times I heard that. I finally caught on and began with “Before you slam the door, I am not selling anything and I just need to ask a few questions about yourself and the community.”
The young woman inside the doorway, paused for a moment, raised her eyebrows as she shrugged her shoulders confused by my rude introduction.
“Sure. Come on in. Don’t mind the mess. It’s tough keeping up with my kids.”
It was an older home in a section of the valley where people with meager income found affordable shelter. With the little they had, the home looked comfortable and welcoming.
“I just need to ask a few questions about yourself and family. Although this may sound personal I won’t need to use your names. This information will be used…”
She interrupted me. “Would you like a glass of cold water? You look like you’ve had a rough day.”
“Why yes!” I said eagerly.
Just as she returned with the water, a man came walking in the front door. It was her husband.
“Joe, this man is here to do a survey.” I stood and politely introduced myself.
Joe was tall and lean. His face was rough and aged looking although I figured he was in his early twenties. His hands were like leather. The kind of hands you get from working hard, not pushing pencils.
She leaned toward him and kissed him gently on the cheek. As they looked at each other you could see the love that held them together. She smiled and titled her head, laying it on his shoulder. He touched her face with his hands and softly said “I love you!”
They may not have had material wealth, but these two were richer than most people I know. They had a powerful love. The kind of love that keeps your head up when things are looking down.
“Joe works for the borough.” she said.
“What do you do?” I asked.
She jumped right in not letting him answer.
“Joe collects garbage. You know I’m so proud of him.”
“Honey, I’m sure the man doesn’t want to hear this.” said Joe.
“No, really I do.” I said.
“You see Bob, Joe is the best garbage man in the borough. He can stack more garbage on the truck than anyone else. He gets so much in one truck that they don’t have to make as many runs.”, she said with such passion.
“In the long run,” Joe continues, “I save the borough money. Man hours are down and the cost per truck is less.”
There was silence. I didn’t know what to say. I shook my head searching for the right words.
“That’s incredible! Most people would gripe about a job like that. It certainly is a difficult one. But your attitude about it is amazing.” I said.
She walked over to the shelf next to the couch. As she turned she held in her hand a small framed paper.
“When we had our third child Joe lost his job. We were on unemployment for a time and then eventually welfare. He couldn’t find work any where. Then one day he was sent on an interview here in this community. They offered him the job he now holds. He came home depressed and ashamed. Telling me this was the best he could do. It actually paid less than we got on welfare.”
She paused for a moment and walked toward Joe.
“I have always been proud of him and always will be. You see I don’t think the job makes the man. I believe the man makes the job!”
“We needed to live in the borough in order to work here. So we rented this home.” Joe said.
“When we moved in, this quote was hanging on the wall just inside the front door. It has made all the difference to us, Bob. I knew that Joe was doing the right thing.” she said as she handed me the frame.
It said: If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep the streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Martin Luther King
“I love him for who he is. But what he does he does the best. I love my garbage man!”
Source: Bob Perks Copyright 2001. Used with permission