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Something special missing from Labor Day these days

Richard Carter | 10/12/2011, 2:34 p.m.
"I admit they can get under your skin. But you wouldn't say a man has...
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"I admit they can get under your skin. But you wouldn't say a man has to go as far as marrying 'em, would you?..."-Arthur O'Connell, "Picnic" (1955)

Ah, Labor Day, that last hallowed holiday of a fleeting summer sun-its golden rays warming and caressing a hardworking humankind. A splendid day, indeed, for us to contemplate the great, good fortune that got many of us-but not all-where we are.

That was in the old days, and the old days are no more. These are the new days. Just 10 short years ago this month-on Sept. 11, 2001-our world changed forever, and it will never be the same. It's hard to think of anything else as that anniversary approaches.

But Labor Day, of course, is traditionally rife with politics. For example, there's the plummeting approval ratings of President Barack Hussein Obama. Recently, only 26 percent approved of his handling of the economy, with a whopping 71 percent disapproving.

Last week, Obama stood at his all-time low approval rate of 38 percent-with 54 percent disapproval. Also notable is that he was not faring well against declared Republican candidates. The Gallup Poll had Obama behind Mitt Romney at 48 and 46 percent; tied with Rick Perry at 47 percent; just ahead of Ron Paul at 47 and 45 percent; and leading Michele Bachmann by only 48 and 44 percent. Bad news for the president.

Meanwhile, millions are unemployed, underemployed, out of work and out of luck. For countless family members, relatives and friends among us, it's extremely difficult to concern ourselves with anything else. People with jobs seem most happy about getting a day off and a three-day weekend. Think about that.

But this isn't about the politics of Labor Day. With the hot, hurricane days of August at an end, this is about the special day itself-Monday, Sept. 5-the symbolic end of summer. Labor Day was first observed in Boston on Sept. 5, 1882, and proclaimed a federal holiday in 1894. In earlier decades, the day celebrated the value of work and was cherished by big organized labor in general, and grass roots labor unions in particular.

In these new days, Labor Day means fewer picnics and more holiday sales. Fewer family gatherings and more sports on TV. Less substance and more fluff. Less good stuff and more bad stuff. Think about it.

New means reading fewer worthwhile books and listening to more rambling political speeches. New means fewer thoughts of the value of work and more attention to the concept of play. Think about that, too.

The true splendor of the day, you see, really has to do with a state of mind that prompts thoughts of things our labors have made possible. Simple things like a rowboat on a river, a bandstand in a park and a muted, melodic guitar. Can you picture that?

They came alive in the imagination of playwright William Inge. His Labor Day vision saw William Holden and Kim Novak gliding across a moonlit dance floor to the strains of "Moonglow" in his haunting holiday opus, "Picnic," a memorable 1955 movie.