Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I got a great freelance job out of the blue the other day and spent that evening with a security guard hired by a Detroit neighborhood association to patrol its streets at night, responding to resident safety concerns because the police don't. When I meet him he is obviously wearing a bulletproof vest. After stories of crackheads stabbing him with screwdrivers and evicted tenants setting fires in alleys, we fall into a customary silence. Most nights are long and dull, he admits. I consider asking if he ever listens to books on tape, but then think better of it. "Is this what you do?" he asks. "You're a photographer?"

"No," I say. "Not really. I don't have a job right now. We have two kids and I take care of them."

The air softens. "Playing Mr. Mom? I did that for two-and-a-half years, after I lost my job." We talk about the ups and downs. His kids are the same ages as mine. "I miss it," he says. "I'm working two jobs right now. I haul concrete for a waterproofer all day, and I have a couple of these twelve-hour shifts a week." When does he sleep? When does he see his kids? When does he relax? Whenever he can, "which ain't often."

I don't tell him that I went to law school, or quit a good job on purpose, or moved to Detroit because San Francisco seemed too nice. All of these things that seemed to make so much sense suddenly sound so ridiculous. Instead I wear a mask. I pretend like we actually have something in common, which of course we do (and all that truth would just get in the way of it). "I was working at a brake plant before they moved it to Mexico," he says. "I was earning $25 an hour and I thought I was going to do that till the day I retired. Now I got these two jobs and I'm lucky to have them. Still we just can't seem to get ahead."

What would he say if he knew the truth? Someone once commended me for the sacrifices I've made. But, I think, I'm so privileged I don't even know the meaning of sacrifice.