TOPSHAM – I am getting my work shirts ready today and my tears fall upon the cloth and I iron them into the creases. The shirts come from a Goodwill store and have a few more uses in them.

They have labels like Hathaway and L.L. Bean inside and some have even been professionally cleaned before they were dropped off. The restaurant chain that I am now working for demands an impeccable wardrobe of oxford shirts and chino pants but offers no uniforms of its own and does not provide an allowance for the purchase of a uniform.

I started out in the dishwasher area and quickly became friends with people from places like Cali, Columbia, El Salvador, Jamaica and Nigeria. There are people here with learning disabilities as well as social misfits, but I like them all. The work here is hot, wet and nonstop.

Managers will poke their heads in from time to time demanding a more intensive work effort but offer no encouragement for doing a good job.

When I see their tired eyes and slumping shoulders, all I can offer is a bit of humor, a pat on the back and a smile. A few people are living out of hotel rooms until they can earn enough to move into something a little more permanent.

After a time of working eight- and 10-hour days in the pots and pans area, both of my arms grew numb and I found it difficult to sleep at night. I was worried that I was doing irreparable harm to the nerves in my arms and told management that I could no longer work in the dishwashing area.

I was offered a position as a seating host, which made life more bearable, and my former work mates from the dishwashing area felt happy for me in my new position, but I knew that they were secretly wishing for a less taxing job for themselves as well.

This past year has been tough. I have closed my floor staining business due to the recession, filed for personal bankruptcy and felt the pain of having to withdraw from college and a chance for a better job because the house needed a new roof and the brakes of my pickup truck rusted out and had to be repaired.

All of these events have challenged my views of the world. With each step down the rungs of the ladder of success I have been given a new perspective on life. I see more and more wealthy business people vying for a political role here in America using divisive and hateful language.

I hear how the powerful want to give us jobs yet pocket large sums of money as never before. I read how American businesses have over a trillion dollars in excess cash available but are unwilling to invest it for hiring.

My friends from Cali offer a tired smile and a nod of the head as an unspoken form of communication that says: “I am your friend, I understand your suffering and I want you to know that I care.”

– Special to The Press Herald