‘I Was a Teenage Janitor and Cleaner of Pots and Pans’

If you are anywhere near my age, you will remember the 1957 teenage horror films I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and  I Was a Teenage Werewolf, that starred Michael Landon of Little House on the Prairie fame. Well, I was a teenage custodian and cleaner of pots and pans, and I am thankful that I had these jobs.

Newt Gingrich lit the audience on fire and may have sent Juan Williams back to NPR with his remarks at the South Carolina debate. Here’s how Williams started his question which was a response to remarks about poor children and their lack of a work ethic:

Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

Williams implies that Gingrich was only talking about “black Americans.” There are a lot of white Americans who are poor. Why is it that when someone talks about poverty, it’s an insult to blacks?

People like Williams have drummed into the heads of black youths that certain jobs are beneath them, and for them to work at those jobs means that they are being put down by whites. I work in an area where there are a lot of black families. Some of these kids work in fast food restaurants probably getting minimum wage. I went into the local Verizon store where there were four black employees helping customers with technical problems. These young people know that to succeed, they need to work, no matter what the job is.

When I was growing up, it was expected that we worked, no matter what the job. I worked in a grocery story. One summer I washed pots and pans 8 hours a day, six days a week. When I was in college, I worked two jobs. One was at a gas station. When I graduated from college, my transportation was a bicycle. I used it for work, grocery shopping, and carting my dirty clothes to the laundry mat. In graduate school, I worked as a custodian.

I learned something about unions when working at Kroger in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was unionized. Because full-time workers got paid more per hour than part-time workers, the store got around this by hiring two part-timers. Because of these union regulations, I was limited to 4 hours per day, 16 hours per week. Full-time employees worked exactly 8 hours per day and no more.

When I moved to Florida, I worked for a grocery store chain that was not unionized. I often worked 60 hours per week. There was no union official telling me to slow down or limiting my working hours. Because I worked harder than anyone else, didn’t complain, and did a good job, I was offered the assistant manager position at a new store the company was opening.

A lot has changed in 45 years. Some jobs are beneath American workers. It’s not just young people. Even some adults look down on certain jobs.

It’s these early, low paying, and dirty jobs that prepare young people for better jobs. I learned that I did not want to work in a gas station, wash pots and pans, mix concrete, stock shelves, labor as a janitor any longer than I had to.

In the same debate, Rick Santorum said the following:

It’s very interesting, if you look at a study that was done by the Brookings Institute in 2009, they determined that if Americans do three things, they can avoid poverty: Work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children.

Liberal political policies contribute to the denigration of work, low graduation rates among the poor, and out-of-wedlock births. Government programs – initially well-intentioned – subsidize all these conditions in the name of compassion and “social justice.”

Thomas Sowell, a black man who grew up poor, understands liberal do-gooders and how their policies hurt the poor:

The anointed want to eliminate stress, challenge, striving, and competition. They want the necessities of life to be supplied as “rights” – which is to say, at the taxpayers’ expense, without anyone’s being forced to work for those necessities, except of course the taxpayers.


This is a vision of human beings as livestock to be fed by the government and herded and tended by the anointed. All the things that make us human beings are to be removed from our lives and we are to live as denatured creatures controlled and directed by our betters.1

 Juan Williams and his fellow-liberals consider such a view as “insulting.” The people who struggled their way to the top view it as necessary for growth and maturity.

  1. Thomas Sowell, “Human Livestock” in The Thomas Sowell Reader, 22. []
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