My first non-waitressing job was counting candy bars in the basement of a Sears/Roebuck warehouse in Boston. Within weeks, having demonstrated my great prowess, I moved on to Twinkies, Ring Dings and my absolute favorites, Coffee Cakes.
The job was not without its challenges, the biggest of them keeping a running total of how much the stock guys and I were consuming so I could adjust the totals accordingly.
So good was I at this challenging job that within weeks, I had also taken over payroll and keeping tabs on milk sales in the cafeteria.
I clocked in at 7 a.m., except those were the days of the gas ration, when you could only get gas for your car every other day, and since they would usually run out by 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., you had to be in line by 6 a.m. to stand a fair chance.
Even so, things were going so well, what with my accurate counting, that we were able to add one more person, a stock boy who swept up the stockroom and made $25 a week more than me. Did I mention that I was also in charge of payroll?
What brought back all these memories were the pictures I saw this week of big-box retailer warehouses across America, of people like me, though they're now assisted by robots: counting and packaging, doing mind-numbing sorting, earning less than the person standing next to them, searching for light somewhere at the end of the tunnel.
But you see, I had light; I wasn't risking my life. I dreamt of a future that would involve more than counting Ring Dings and eating cupcakes. Everyone I knew did. We were part of a generation that started with very little but aimed high.
I see pictures of men and women, not so much older than I was in my cupcake-counting days, literally risking their lives to keep the economy going. I plead guilty -- I don't pack those things now; I order them. But I'll happily pay extra -- a few cents or a few dollars -- not to enrich Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos but to buy masks, protective gear, and a free cup of coffee and Coffee Cakes for the men and women who wake up every morning to make sure our coffee arrives on time.
Crises should pull us together. Viruses don't know state borders. They hit rich and poor. But we know better. Some of us are in our houses, as safe as we can be. Some of us are in warehouses, packing cookies, delivering items, driving buses, taking care of our sick. It is moments like these when I feel utterly useless. It is moments like these when each of us should reach into our pockets and into our hearts and try to help those who keep us safe.
This was a holy week for all of us. May we find in our faith the kindness and compassion to remember and to give. Stay safe.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.