Three months ago, the boy moved to Seattle without knowing anyone at all. He had spent the summer delivering pizza and bussing tables while living with his parents at home. He saved enough money to survive for a few months while figuring out what to do with his life.
But this was the fall of 2008. The housing crisis had just hit and the wheels of the national economy were beginning to fall off. He applied for every job that he could find. Office jobs and restaurant jobs. Coffee shop jobs and valet parking jobs. Telemarketing jobs and casino security guard jobs. He didn't hear a word.
But he also had known what it was like to serve people. During high school, he had worked in a restaurant and grocery store. In college, he work-studied, keeping time at swim meets and setting the stages for visiting authors and musicians.
For him, though, the money that he earned had been extra, since his parents paid most of his serious bills. It was different for the people who he had worked with, many of whom were older and had no college degree. Others had earned advanced degrees but could find no work to which apply their skills. One woman held a doctorate in English Literature. She had written her dissertation on Ezra Pound. She spooned garbanzo beans into plastic containers.
At the time, he had felt sorry for her, sure. But mostly he hadn't given her much thought.
Online, he learned that more than forty percent of the nation's resources were controlled by the top one percent. Thirty million people had no health insurance. Fifty million were on food stamps.
Had it always been this way? he wondered. Or was this something new?
He sent in an application to the union on a whim. He was invited to interview the very next day.