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Wednesday, July 18, 2007 02:22 pm

The people’s work

How the governor and one of his constituents take care of business

Untitled Document She lived in the four-room house her father built. She had been away from home only once, 37 years ago, one year in college. She came home pregnant. The baby’s father did not step up.
Sara’s mother’s dementia started the year Sara returned from college and ended 10 years later; her father’s ended Wednesday. The undersized living room in the house her father built had served 35 years as a hospital room. And there was Frankie. At first they said Frankie was autistic, and then schizophrenic, and then it was reactive attachment disorder, and finally they settled on bipolar disorder. In the 34 years of back-and-forth diagnosis there had been school expulsions, lawyers, city jails, doctors, hospitals, and the always expensive medicines. She’d worked a job with insurance benefits right after Frankie was born, receptionist for an accounting firm. There was talk of a promotion, but then Frankie and her mother needed full-time care, so Sara went home . . . and then it was 36 years later. 5:30 a.m.: Not much sewing to do this morning; enough time for a short story. She read Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily — and finished the quick story and a cup of tea at the same time. In Chicago, the governor slept in. 6 a.m.: She did today’s sewing outside, on the stoop, by the early light of the mid-June day. The governor slept. 6:15 a.m.: Frankie was awake. Sara saw to it he took his medicine; she fixed his breakfast and reviewed the day’s schedule. She’d check in at lunchtime. If he felt up to it, he could go to the grocery and get milk. She gave him $3. The governor blow-dried his hair. Sara Jenks applied her lipstick and left the bathroom mirror without a second glance; she was presentable. 7 a.m.: She made minimum wage pressing clothes at Wheeler’s Dry Cleaners, and she kept the money she made doing minor alterations on customer’s clothes — money off the books. She got by — until today. The governor blow-dried his hair. Noon: Sara ran home to check on Frankie. The governor’s makeup gal applied his foundation.
All through her parent’s illnesses and Frankie’s troubled times, the Wheelers had let her work whenever she could get away. They had been losing money since the governor increased business fees four years ago. The Wheelers were in their eighties. They were calling it quits — after today. 3 p.m.: After work, Sara stopped by St. Pat’s and put a dollar in the donation box. The governor puzzled over which $300 necktie to wear. 4 p.m.: Sara fixed Frankie’s supper, saw to it that he took his medicine, and left to catch the downtown bus. The governor’s barber arrived. 5:30 p.m.: Sara and two other day labor workers started cleaning legislators’ offices. The legislators had taken roll call and immediately adjourned — $40,000 well earned! With no one around, the cleaning crew finished early. They would never return; starting tomorrow, the work would be done by a company owned by the senator’s son — for $350,000 a year. 10:30 p.m.: Sara collected the day’s $56 pay and walked the five miles home. The governor had his housekeeper oil his blow dryer. Workday tomorrow! 11:55 p.m.: Frankie was asleep on the sofa. Sara read The Good Anna, by Gertrude Stein — and then read the foreclosure papers and the letters from the IRS one last time. Her bills were insurmountable — all told, $5,822. Then she very slowly packed everything she owned into two battered suitcases. The governor slept. Workday tomorrow! 5:30 a.m.: They would turn off the water and electricity at 7 a.m. Sara took a shower, dressed, and did her lipstick; she was presentable. She went to the funeral home and said a long goodbye to her father. Then Sara Jenks left from the back door and started walking with two suitcases, a sewing bag, and Frankie — where, she knew not. It was 10 a.m. 10:05 a.m.: The governor’s plane landed; he’d stay an hour, and fly back out. Travel cost: $6,000. In Chicago, the senator’s wife bought a new summer wardrobe with her recent $50,000-a-year state-salary increase — clothes for her trip to Paris after next year’s $50,000 pay increase.
11 a.m.: Sara walked and daydreamed her own version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. She was in a bookstore; she worked there; she was discussing Irwin Shaw’s Act of Faith with an old man in a tweed jacket. 11:05 a.m.: The governor’s limo, speeding to the airport, hit an aluminum can, which bounced Sara’s way. She picked it up and put it in her sewing bag. Sara had a new career; the governor had brought yet another new job to the state. As he often says, “Productivity is not to be confused with time spent in an office. If you wanna help the people, ya gotta get out and meet, mix with, get to know the people.”

Contact Doug Bybee Sr. at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net.
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