'Lunch Bucket Paradise' -- Working People Never Had It So Good

In this second excerpt from his novel, East Bay author Fred Setterberg describes the new economic power of the blue-collar denizens of 'Jefferson Manor' his proxy for the San Leandro neighborhood of his youth.

(Editor's note: Last week East Bay writer Fred Setterberg allowed Patch to of  "Lunch Bucket Paradise," a fictionalized account of his youth in San Leandro's Washington Manor -- Jefferson Manor in the novel. In this second excerpt, the residents of Jefferson Manor had been beaten down by the Depression and bloodied by the war. But by the early 1950s, they could outrageously imagine themselves becoming homeowners)

 The salesman claws the air and urges them closer. He stands astride a 1951 Ford pickup truck polished ostentatiously to a charcoal gloss. On the collapsed rear flap of the Ford, he fans a dozen mimeographed maps to the fifteen blocks of empty lots.

Young couples gather around the floodlight—all of them, outrageously, expecting to become homeowners.

Within their grasp is a new house with three small, square bedrooms, a one-car garage, the promise of a sycamore blooming someday out front by the edge of the postage-stamp-sized, golf-course-green lawn.

Working people never had it so good.

Several men form an inquisitive horseshoe around the pickup. They still wear their oil-caked work clothes and they chat among themselves, assuming a parity of experience and means, the stuff of neighborliness; and then they suspiciously demand to know more from the salesman about the availability of thirty-gallon water heaters—difficult to obtain after the war; the wattage of future street lamps; the benefits and drawbacks of inclusion in the regional sanitation district. They possess ample credit thanks to the GI Bill and the FHA, and as much work these days as they desire. But they have to ask questions. Twenty years earlier, working people had never had it so bad.

The conversation’s escalating energy, its heat and zeal, bring to mind a recent illustration in Time magazine. A half-page, black-and-white diagram expounds upon the promise of atomic power—the path of speeding electrons whirring around the fundamental neutron, the implied force of the ordinary. Every man and woman gathered around the pickup truck knows from experience that they shouldn’t hope for much, but they cannot help themselves. A slender gold wedding band glimmers from the salesman’s ring finger. You can’t help thinking: if this character worked in a machine shop or on the factory floor, he would have risked having that ring and finger ripped right off.

One man slips both hands into the frayed pockets of his Ben Davis work trousers, clips his thumbs around the belt. Another allows his knees to sag into a boxer’s stance and juts out his jaw.

The salesman’s canine persistence reminds folks of the bankers and nervous mortgage men who showed up at their families’ farms during the Depression— the accompanying sheriff’s deputy morosely rocking on his heels at the far end of the porch; then the fancy stranger would extract from his briefcase the official papers that would turn out to be a foreclosure notice or another court order to vacate another parcel of their property.

Now the world has turned upside down, and the sons and daughters of the dispossessed are shaking the soft hand of the fellow in the white shirt and tie, more than equals. The power of the ordinary. They might even buy his house.

(Heyday Books, in Berkeley, which published "Lunch Bucket Paradise," has offered San Leandro Patch readers a 30 percent discount off the $15.95 cover price. To order call 510-549-3564 (extension 304) or email orders@heydaybooks.com. Be sure to mention "PATCH" to get the discount.)

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