My most memorable MLK Day

January 14, 2007 | By | 1 Reply More

Martin Luther King Day never meant that much to me. I grew up in a school district where I was a minority. I was an (epithet for white), I was a (epithet for Polish descent). I was a (epithet for German descent). I was a (epithet for culturally Jewish). I was an Atheist (apparently an epithet unto itself). I was a dumb boy (the minority gender). I was the smallest kid in my class until I was 16, and started to top some of the girls (in the vertical sense, you dirty-minded rurals). As a small, blond, blue-eyed, unathletic teenager, I was typically also mislabeled as (multiple epithets for homosexual). It seemed natural to be picked on because of my minority standing.

When I was attacked, I passively resisted. They usually got tired of hitting someone who didn’t fight back, or even teasing someone who separated words from meanings. Inaccurate descriptors didn’t hurt me because they didn’t stick. Accurate ones I accepted with dignity, if not necessarily honor.But my most memorable MLK day was over two decades ago, and had little to do with race or politics. I was practically grown up, less than a year out of college with the proverbial couple of fancy college degrees, and was working feverishly to install a robotics system in a rural factory. Literally with a fever. I’d been working alternately all-nighters and short-nighters for a week. When a security guard had spotted me napping on a roller conveyor, word spread. Everyone knew how tired one had to be to find that surface acceptable! The entire factory was shut down for the first two weeks of January to let us install the system we designed.

At dawn on MLK day, the assembly line started to roll, our new system began to run, and the problems started to flow. I literally had no voice left, and had to give many people instructions. I hung a sign around my neck reading:

Listen Hard

(Happy MLK Day)

To my surprise, no one in the factory was even aware that it was Martin Luther King day! There were many mothers of grade school children working the line, but apparently recognition of this holiday was mostly an urban thing.

Fortunately, my brother was working with me. This robotics company was small enough that nepotism was simply a way to get help fast. Our sibling relationship is stormy, but we have a near-telepathic ability to communicate. I had no voice, but I could whistle and point. We quickly worked out codes so he could assist me. Things like, “Check the voltage” and “Pull the cable” and “Stop the assembly line, now!”

Aside: This latter one got me in hot water, but it prevented injuries and damage. I was eventually forgiven by the VP in charge of letting our company do the job. But this individual screamed at me till he was red in the face several times that day. I think he couldn’t get over my not hollering back, even with the sign on my chest. No one in authority had ever screamed at me before, but I had developed a thick skin over the years. I did threaten to quit (in writing) and walked away the third time he exploded. Then he calmed down, or maybe just expended his wrath elsewhere.

Anyway one whistle code for my brother became “Please come and explain MLK day to yet another person.” I no longer remember the code, but that day is inexorably tied to Martin Luther King Day in my memory.


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Category: Bigotry, Communication, Culture, Whimsy

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

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