King’s Survey: Pushing

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Hey, Milton.

—Mr. King. OK if I clean up here?

Please, Milton: call me Abe. Mop away. I’m on my way out.

—Abe. Mr. Abraham King.

How are you, Milton?

—Oh, the usual. It’s Thursday. That’s good.

How long you been here now?

—Twenty-seven years. My uncle got me the job. He was here for thirty-three. We overlapped the last four.

That’s a lot of institutional memory.

—My uncle, that’s my mother’s older brother, was here when the building opened. I was part-time for a few years. This has always been a good school. The kids are good.

I’m guessing this is a decent place to work.

—The benefits are good. The pay is OK, but the benefits are what keep me here. My nephew does security at a private school. There, they outsource everything. My wife needs lots of medications. Still costs a lot, but this school is better than most with the insurance.

How long you been married?

—Twenty-nine years. We have a daughter. She went to South Hudson. She’s an accountant now. Expecting a grandchild.

Good for you. Something to keep you busy in the coming days, for sure.

—Yeah, well, I have to stay busy. Don’t want to retire.

So what do you do with your spare time?

—I’m happy with a Yankee game and a beer. Giants in the fall. Knicks in the winter. Once in a while I read.

Oh yeah? What do you read?

—I like American history. The Revolution. I really like reading about that.

You don’t say. What is it that you find compelling about the Revolution?

—Those guys were pretty impressive. Smart. They had courage. And they made this thing that has really lasted.

Well, as you know, those guys had shortcomings. And this thing they made shows signs of fraying.

—Yeah, I know, I know. But who doesn’t have shortcomings? And what lasts forever? I think people expect too much.

Why do you think that is?

—They want too much. And they fret too much chasing what they want. And then they get mad when the gears of their lives get all jammed up. People should appreciate what they have.

I can see that. But a lot of people are getting less these days. Like your nephew. They make a living, but it’s harder. As you pointed out, he’s not doing as well as you.

—That’s true. Then again, what I have didn’t exactly fall into my lap.

A lot of people have more than you and have worked for less to get it.

—I may be looking at one of them.

You might.

—But I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. There was a time when I might have. But not anymore. I don’t see the point. It’s the expectation that life is fair that gets people in trouble.

Well, if that’s true, it’s those guys you admire so much who have made the mischief, no? You seem to be saying that the American Dream is the problem.

—Am I in class now, Abe King? I don’t have all the answers. Making it up as I go along. This is where I am now.

Understood and agreed, Milton. Sometimes I have a little trouble turning off the teacher switch. Sorry about that.

—It’s all good. You have a good evening now, Abe.

Thanks. I’m going to work on that. Or maybe not work so hard on that.