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    BWS Stories - "Get a Job"...Career Choices

    "Get a Job"...Career Choices - Climbing the Corporate Ladder

    Barbara Davey is vice president at a major teaching hospital in the NY-metropolitan area where she is responsible for public affairs, patient relations, pastoral care and fundraising. Her short stories and essays have appeared in such publications as Chicken Soup for the Soul, A Cup of Comfort, and Rocking Chair Reader, as well as her own book, Does God Have E-mail? She and her husband, Reinhold Becker, live in Verona, NJ, and she may be reached at

    Climbing the Corporate Ladder

    There’s a small factory in the suburban town where I live. It is the only “industry” in the entire area. A discreet sign placed outside the brick building identifies its sole product as flags, and proudly claims to be “The Flag Maker to the World.”

    Whether it is or not, will probably never be disputed, but as a child, I can recall how proud I was that this tiny factory somehow brought the entire world into our neighborhood. But it was not the finished products, the colorful rectangular pieces of cloth and vinyl, I had identified as our sources of global pride. Rather, it was the labor force, those wonderful women who sewed the flags. They brought an international flavor (all their own) to our tiny town.

    Years ago, it was the female immigrant from Central Europe – women from Italy, Poland, and the Slovakian countries that provided the expertise behind those sewing machines that transform ordinary pieces of cloth to visible representations of “every nation under God.” More recently, this miraculous labor force hailed from places in the Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Latin America. With the fall of the Berlin wall, a wave of “new immigrants” arrived from areas in Russia, like the Ukraine, Odessa and even the capital city of Moscow. But while the workers themselves were continually undergoing a metamorphosis, a constant remained -- their transportation to and from our suburban town.

    Ironically, those who worked in the flag factory could not afford to live nearby, so they rented rooms or small apartments in a nearby city. At the same time, those who lived in town, including me, discovered that the immediate area offered no “appropriate” employment opportunities so we traveled to the city to establish what we defined so staunchly as “meaningful careers.” In our minds, our mothers and grandmothers had paved our way by providing the “sweat labor,” a generation or two before, affording us the opportunity to “dress up,” work in climate-controlled glass sky scrapers, and climb the ladder of “success.” One bus route, whose station is located across the street from the flag factory, would bring these two groups of women together each morning, if only for a moment. As our town was the last one on the bus route, once the flag factory workers had safely disembarked, the bus would reverse its direction, and make its way back to the city.

    Every morning, as the early bus pulled into the station, I studied the scores of factory workers, wearing colorful clothing, and carrying satchels of pungent food. The bus would depart, and this group of women would cross the street and prepare to take their places behind huge sewing machines. Then, another group of women, including myself, would board the bus, taking the very same seats vacated only moments before.

    And it was the convergence of these two groups of women that never ceased to amaze me. Sporting designer label suits, sophisticated haircuts, and leather briefcases, this second group bore little resemblance to their immigrant sisters. Almost silently, I would board the bus along with these professional women. What seemed so ironic was for all of our fancy fanfare and external appearances; we seemed empty as we traveled in an isolated bubble. Rather than conversing with each other, this time was reserved for checking palm pilots, adjusting Rolex watches and responding to cellular telephones.

    But I often noticed these women casting furtive glances out the window at the factory workers as they struggled with their parcels and satchels, almost longing for that face-to-face contact the immigrants so casually displayed. Rather than reaching out toward each other, these career women seemed almost afraid to “get that close” to anyone -- even their own colleagues. In their minds, it was almost as if they had struggled so hard to climb that proverbial career ladder, one false move would result in a slide backwards, and they would be relegated to the only type of work that their mothers or grandmothers were qualified to perform.

    And around the career women, the factory workers had a similar reaction. When the bus pulled into the station and the so-called professional women were waiting to board, the immigrant women would suddenly “lose” their voices. While moments before they were joking with one another, they would suddenly become silent; disembark from the bus, casting their eyes downward, as if they were somewhat embarrassed to be seen in their colorful clothing, conversing in foreign accents. These women, too, seemed to cast furtive looks at their Americanized sisters, with almost a longing to wear the sophisticated clothing, hairstyles and accessories. I often thought that the bus driver must think that this particular stop offered a microcosm in the study of human relations.

    One day in late May, I happened to walk past the factory at noontime. It was a working weekday, but I had opted for a long-deserved vacation day. I noticed a group of the workers were outside enjoying their lunch on several rather rickety picnic tables. One of the women was celebrating a birthday, and as several of her coworkers feted her with songs in her native language, others were serving slices of a huge birthday cake, while still others strung colorful paper lanterns in the trees over the picnic tables. During the singing, a bus happened to pull into the station. An elderly woman disembarked carrying a baby in one arm and a bundle of food in the other.

    The “birthday girl” ran to the old woman, and, with tears of happiness kissed her, and scooped the child into her arms. Now with the grandmother and baby in attendance, the party continued. Not long after, the women collected the remnants of the celebration, and prepared to return to work. The old woman and child boarded the next bus back to the city, with promises to continue the celebration that evening.

    Later that same night, I happened to pass the storefront window of one of the most expensive restaurants in town. Sitting alone at the best table in the house was a sophisticated woman, who had just returned from her “dream job” in the city. I had recognized her as one of the women I held in deepest adoration. Unlike the rest of us, she rarely used the bus for her commute to the city. Her preferred mode of transportation was a private limousine, and I was certain that expense was picked up by her company.

    As I glanced through the window I noticed the jacket of her designer suit was carefully draped over the empty chair across from her. As the single candle flickered over her chocolate mousse and the waiters sang “Happy Birthday” in three-part acapello, I thought I noticed a tear forming in the corner of her eye. As I turned away, the last bus for the day turned around, and headed back for the city. Watching it disappear into the night, I remembered there was another birthday being celebrated that very same evening the other end of the route.

    And I remember thinking for the umpteenth time, wouldn’t it be a wonderful for everyone if those two worlds of women could meet somewhere in the middle…..

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