Work Ethic This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   I work at a small Vermont inn. I do various things: dishes, lawn work, waitering, food clean-up, bell-boy work, etc. But, by far my favorite role is that of a dock boy. Because the inn is on a lake, we maintain several small docks, a sailboat, a couple of paddle boats and canoes,and a small flotilla of outboard motor powerboats. Now this may all sound grand but it really isn't. The sailboat will barely hold two people, the canoes are pretty roughed up, and most of the powerboats and rowboats have one or more problems.

In its heyday the inn was a booming Jewish resort that had a shoreside bar and over forty boats. I think I like the docks the way they are now though. If the boats weren't 50 years old and plagued by slow leaks and cantankerous old motors, I wouldn't have any work. I always make sure that all the guests have paddles, the spiders eat some of the mosquitoes (and small mammals), and hey, someone's got to bail the water out of the boats. And to tell you the truth, I kind of enjoy working on the old motors, sitting out on the docks helping children catch fish, and I enjoy being nice and courteous to people, smiles are very rewarding. There's nothing like mowing the lawn and suddenly hearing a little pre-pubescent voice enthusiastically yell, "Hey, dock boy! I got one, I got one!" Of course being called dock boy by someone who should be calling me Mister can get kind of annoying. But the kids get a kick out of it.

Anyway, I'm writing this about a man I met at the inn not too long ago. His name was Mr. Rivlin. As he explained to me, he had been coming to the inn ever since he was a child, which, considering that he was about 85, was quite some time. Mr. Rivlin had come to the inn with his younger brother who seemed to me to be a very busy and self-important gentleman.

The way that everything started was like this. One morning, an especially busy one, my boss told me to go out and set up a family with a boat. Enthusiastic to get out of the 110-degree kitchen, I went out to help them. When I was done, a gentleman, Mr. Rivlin's younger brother, asked me if he could take out a powerboat. I told him no problem. He told me that he would be back with his brother. My boss told me that they couldn't take the boat out because they were all reserved.

When I told the younger Mr. Rivlin that I was sorry, but all the boats were reserved, he wasn't too happy. So instead he settled for a rowboat. He asked me if there was a chair which his brother (who had barely made it down to the dock without falling) could sit in. We also put a life jacket on him so that if he fell off the dock he wouldn't drown. I began to wonder about all this. Well, after fifteen minutes of fussing, we had the older Mr. Rivlin sitting on the end of the dock fishing while his brother rowed off into the lake to do the same. After asking Mr. Rivlin if he needed anything else, I went inside to finish the dishes.

After twenty minutes I decided to go out and check on the old guy. As I walked out to the dock I saw that he had barely moved. I noticed that his minnow had began to swim his bobbin in toward the shore. I mentioned that he might like to cast back out into the lake. As he replied, I was surprised how much trouble he had speaking. After seeing that he couldn't even reel in his line because his hands were arthritic, I offered to cast his bait for him. I did and he thanked me. I wondered what would happen if the guy actually hooked a fish. I started to think about him and get mad at his brother. He could barely move. He couldn't speak very well, even though his words were thought out and intelligent. He couldn't do much but just sit. This poor man was completely debilitated. He was given no choice. He had been forced into the role of a spectator instead of a participant in life.

When twenty minutes rolled around, I went outside and brought a blanket, since it was about 50 degrees and poor Mr. Rivlin was probably freezing. As I again cast his bait out for him, I noticed that he was covered in bruises and cuts, from the way that they were placed I could tell that they were from falls and collisions. He asked me where I was going to college and told me about his home in Florida, and his wife, who had died less than a month ago.

When I went back into the inn, I asked my boss if she could keep an eye out for Mr. Rivlin. She said that watching him wasn't my responsibility, work was. I went back to work and started thinking again. There's not much else to do when you're mopping the floors. It's a pretty brainless job. I realized that I liked Mr. Rivlin; he was polite, intelligent, and concerned about others.

I checked on Mr. Rivlin several more times. I noticed that he had a new minnow on his hook one time. He told me that his brother had put it on for him before he left for town to go get some lunch and a newspaper. What a great guy, I thought.

Eventually, Mr. Rivlin's brother came back. I know that because I was at the docks checking on Mr. Rivlin when he returned. He thanked me politely and asked if I could help him get his brother off the dock, which took two of us. In the process Mr. Rivlin (who probably weighs about 120 pounds) swayed back and forth so heavily that we had to carry him to the stairs. I held Mr. Rivlin's arm and hand all the way back to his room, where he sat down with his cane across his lap. During the whole ordeal I talked to Mr. Rivlin the way I would to a young child. I assured him, joked with him about how angry I'd be if he pushed me into the lake, and kept on agreeing with him about how shaky the dock was, and about how stiff his legs were from sitting so long. I thought it strange and tragic that he had suddenly changed from a proud, old man into something resembling a young child. I thought it odd that someone who was five times my age could somehow come full circle and return once again to a child's mind.

On my way back to the dock from the Rivlins' room I ran into the younger brother, he thanked me. He also told me that I really shouldn't have helped him so much though. He didn't want to see his brother end up as an invalid. I restrained myself from telling him that not only was it too late, but also that, even though his brother was an invalid physically, it was a lot better than having his humanity invalidated like some people.

I saw the Rivlin brothers that night as I was waiting tables. I stopped to ask them how their meal was and to wish them goodnight. The older Mr. Rivlin told me how excited he was about going out in the boat tomorrow. He also graciously thanked me for helping him off the dock earlier. I noticed that he was having a hard time remembering some of what we had talked about.

Fortunately, the weather was windy and cold the next day. The younger Mr. Rivlin told me that they had decided not to go out onto the lake after all. That was a relief. I hadn't looked forward to the idea of getting into an argument with the younger Mr. Rivlin.

I saw Mr. Rivlin again about halfway through the day; I had been weed-whacking. He stopped me from the porch of his room to tell me several unconnected and confusing things. I worried about his mind, the words "senile" and "Alzheimer's" flashed through my head. I also thought about how terrible and undignified it would be to be crippled both physically and mentally.

As I was preparing to go home, the younger Mr. Rivlin told me that it was very important that I go see his brother before I left. Well, that was that. The old guy was going to try to lay a tip on me. Why'd he have to go and do that? I hate accepting tips. You have to stand there and act surprised even though you saw it coming, and then, even worse you have to be gracious and refuse it even though you really want it. I have to go to college, so of course I want it.

This was exactly how it went with Mr. Rivlin. I walked into the inn's lobby. As soon as he recognized me, his hand started snaking toward his pocket. When I told him that it was okay, really he didn't have to do this, I saw the strangest look of bewilderment and hurt in his eyes. I think that he actually thought I didn't want his money because I was disgusted by him. I accepted his tip and thanked him. After the standard niceties, I left. I really felt awful.

The next day I needed gas for my car. As I opened up my wallet, I took out the ten-dollar bill he had given me. With a sort of fatalistic tinge I said, why not, and handed the money over to the cashier.

Later as I was driving on a warm, sunny, curvy back road, I realized something. Maybe Mr. Rivlin wasn't so incapable of living life after all. Maybe he could be more than a spectator. Maybe he could still participate in the sort of living that we all take for granted. By giving me that tip he had helped me; I owed him. He gave me a small means by which to accomplish my dreams and live my life more fully. I felt much better; he'd done something very honorable. In my eyes he still had his dignity. But instead of speeding up, I slowed down. I wasn't going to waste any bit of that gas that he'd worked so hard to give me. 1


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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coly33 said...
Jan. 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm

wow tht was great idk y anyone else didnt comment on this story its really moving and inspiring!

:)

 
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