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Sep 6, 2021

Labor Day Started Out as a Humble Little Small-town Parade—in Manhattan

A time to reflect on why even great beers smell lousy

By Ed Goldman

If today is a day off for you, please accept my congratulations. I plan to spend the day pretending I enjoy beer’s acrid taste and men’s-room aroma. Also, like so many of you, I plan to char defenseless fauna on my Weber grill. 

I bought the grill in 2017 and have yet to use it. Fortunately, except for a little rust from long-ago rain and a rebellious garden hose, the Weber is one of the few things I own that didn’t come with planned obsolescence. This is more than I can say for several of my body parts.

Edgy Cartoon

Douse the Chef

On the other hand, if you’re on the job today—because you work in public safety or public health, are in the military or in the legitimate news media—please accept my sincere thanks. Crime, fire, pandemics and the need for us to keep tabs on the world or our neighborhood don’t get the day off.

This year marks the 127th anniversary of Labor Day’s being an official United States holiday. It’s also, perhaps, the first concrete evidence that American trade unions were on the path to wielding tremendous influence in American politics someday.

Labor Day initially was celebrated as a parade in New York City, my quaint little hometown on the Atlantic coast. Since then, the holiday, and the movement that spawned it, have become a commercial enterprise that fuels the sale of TV screens large enough to fill the wall of your personal Fortress of Solitude. The come-on is that the climax of the baseball season and kickoff of the football season are upon us. Basketball season comes next. You just can’t watch these events with 14 of your closest friends on an Apple wristwatch, for God’s sake.

I don’t find the commercialization of a holiday that always had commercial underpinnings to be all that bothersome. If we’re truly doing an annual shoutout to the working man and woman in this country, why shouldn’t there be a connection to merchandise that provides him and her some comfort—like the aforementioned TVs, as well as recliners, casual-wear fashions, dual-control mattresses, home video games, golf carts and boats?

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And what about those barbecue grills and equipment, toque hats and aprons that advise guests to “Kiss the Chef”? (For the latter, I’d think twice before inviting former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to your patio party.)

Anyway, you earned them, folks! Day after day, year after year, you showed up for work, whether that was on a construction project, in a hospital, fighting fires or reporting on the people fighting the fires (TV reporters have much tougher jobs than viewers realize).

The place I’ve shown up the most for 51 years is at my desk. I’m not ashamed of my work—far from it—but I recognize, having done so in an earlier life, that it requires no heavy lifting, a custom-fitted truss or Teamster membership. That’s why I didn’t think it appropriate to give myself the day off. And if I’m very lucky, you visited me at work today.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).