Day Work

by Ed Mampel

Have you ever worked out of one of those daily pay joints?

This time I was dispatched to Fred Harvey’s at Lake Forest. I sat next to a fellow, name of Steve, in a van that was carrying a group of us, not all going to the same place.

As we get to talking, Steve bares his soul to me. When he said he had no control over his drinking, I answered, meekly, “The only way is to give up drinking and to rely on the higher power.”

I could see that Steve was a lonely and fearful and harmless soul. He was also a homeless fellow who slept out in the cold, and sometimes, in the rain, never knowing when he’d be roused by a hoodlum, or the police. “There are killers, he said, who’ll just kill you for no reason.”

I have heard of such killers who prey on drunkards in the slums, or on skid row, who kill for no reason at all. And I knew there was no cure for these demoniacal killers except through the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Certainly, to be out among these, and not being like them, was to be trodden under foot. All one could do would be to pray for protection and safety and guidance.

What was needed here, I believed, was the effectual testimony of a victorious Christian witness—not the soft, ineffectual words from one like myself.

At one time, I would have said, “Jesus Christ is the answer. Trust in Him and He will give you a new life;” but now I didn’t have that salt—the flavor and favor of God—in me, though I will always be a believer.

So I did, at least, give alms of such things as I had: I listened to Steve, I talked to him, I prayed for him, and I felt for him.

When we get to Fred Harvey’s, the woman in charge there tells us our jobs and Steve and I lose no time in getting at it.

This woman, I find, is the ordering around type, pushy, whom Steve worked for before, and knew, but I didn’t; and he tried to avoid her by getting into the work, sick though he was, hoping she’d stay off his back. But I confronted her with “What do you want done?” knowing the ins and outs of restaurant work. That’s what I was there for. The best thing to do was to hop to it. And that would make time fly. She said that I could finish what I was doing, cleaning the kitchen, shelves and et cetera, and she would get me later to clean around the grill.

So I found me things to do, useful things, and not just “busy work,” and thankfully, was left alone to do it, as is the general rule with this kind of work. But Steve was given the rough treatment, and he wasn’t feeling well, not only because of drinking, but because of anxious and fearful nights of torment and sleeplessness he had to endure from being on the streets. And now he had to endure this big Martha, who treated him like dirt, or as nothing more than a humanoid slave that obeyed orders, as she did her apprentice cook, and I hated to see it.

“Why?” I thought to the Lord, “Why can’t all people be good and kind?”

Steve, whom she took to calling “Nervous,” came back and told me, “She took the mop from my hand and said she’d show me how to mop.”

“Geez,” I said.

I knew this mousy feeling, when one would show me how to mop and I wouldn’t object to it because there was no more fight in me. It didn’t matter if we knew both the Army and Navy way of mopping, there’d always be some vain person who wanted to show off and show us up, somebody to take advantage of our weak natures. But this was one of an alcoholic’s washings, to turn him away from the bottle, or else the evils of drink would whip him completely.

“Well just go along with it,” I said. “Try to get through the day.”

And yet, I thought, “Should there be people like this who so shamefully treat the weak?” She treated her apprentice cook the same way and the girl had an impediment in her speech, so that she couldn’t answer back.

“O Lord, help me to see,” I prayed. “It is people like this who make the world an evil place to dwell in. I bet she’s an atheist; it is these who don’t believe in God or heaven that serve the devil and create hell on earth,” I thought.

The apprentice cook I took to be a Christian, because she so beautifully had the fruits of the spirit, especially that of long suffering.

Later on, before I left, I found out that yes, she was a Christian, she said; and I was glad about that.

But here is a paradox. When I was telling this woman boss not to call Steve “Nervous,” it makes him nervous; the discussion got around to religion, and she said she was a Christian. I said, “I would never have guessed it;” and she asked if I were a Christian too, and I said I was—though a very poor one, to be sure; and she mentioned how they—she and her husband—helped build their church and that she counted this job her evangelical field, and that, whenever she got a chance she would tell of Christ to others; and she received me, at least, as a Christian.

I found this out as I said to her about Steve, “He’s Jesus Christ, did you know it?” I told her that so is she Jesus Christ. She immediately went to give a testimony to Steve that “Christ can take drinking away from you.” When she asked me, “Isn’t that right?” I had to nod in agreement. As Steve wandered off into the blue somewhere, I said, “Yes, but it takes a lot of patience.”

I do not know how the world is ever going to become Christianized, but I do know Christ’s commandment is to love one another, and somewhere I read that “Wisdom is a loving spirit” which says all that wisdom can be to me; if anything’s to overcome misunderstandings, this we have got to do. Love, love, love, no matter what: How long will it take me to learn this?

The point here is to believe in the good over the bad, that maybe there is no bad at all; that what is happening is an accumulation of good that comes out of sufferings.

Steve is a suffering alcoholic who needs Christ; this woman and I need more of Him in our daily lives. And this I now believe, no matter how it appears, Christ is the victory, and good, under His banner, shall ultimately prevail. Amen.