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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 2nd, 2007 - 02:35:08

�Who stole my orange?�
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Feb 2, 2007, 02:33

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�Who stole my orange� is the plangent cry of Mike Wong, my computer technician as he bangs a hand on my desk. I don�t take it personally because I know he�s making a point. �Only two year ago I could buy four oranges for a dollar,� he says. �Today, one orange for one dollar. Who stole my orange? Where did it go?� �Down the rabbit hole,� I answer, �with pension plans.�

The question Mike asks could be answered fully by the record of the Bush administration. Huge annual deficits, huge tax cuts to the super rich. Pork barrel projects like the Department of Homeland Insecurity, trillions missing from the Pentagon right before 9/11. A systematic transfer of wealth from the have-nots and have-some to the have-mores, as spoken by our Commander in Thief. All as inflation silently spirals upwards, takes money from your pocket and food from your table. Am I ringing a bell? Who stole Mike�s orange?

Mike, bless his soul, who has pulled more viruses out of my computer�s guts than I care to remember, knows the value of a buck or even a penny. Mike�s first job off the plane from China was sewing broken or lost buttons back on shirts in a Chinatown laundry. He got three cents a button and burned his fingertips on the hot broken buttons fresh from the dryer. When he finally asked for a raise, he got pushed up to four cents a button.

But that�s not what Mike left Mao�s China and the Cultural Revolution for. As a boy, the Red Guard decided his parents were bourgeois and needed reforming. Pop was a cab driver and Grandpop had a little shop in the city. So they were sent to a farm to learn the peasants� ways. And Grandma and Mike were left behind to raise his siblings. Mike cooked and stood in for Pop and Grandpop. His parents were gone for nearly a decade. That�s a long time to babysit. When the folks finally came home, Mike decided it was time to go.

An aunt from New York sent Mike a ticket to the American Dream. He took it with 20 bucks in his pocket and went to the Big Apple. He also took seriously the values of hard work, respecting elders, caring for family and country, and how a country needs to care for people, and knowing how a revolution can be cruel as it can be liberating. Yet, Mike came to terms with Mao, but he�s still bugged at someone, something here that keeps stealing his oranges like clockwork.

For instance, Mike�s next job was in a dry-cleaning shop. He was moving up in the world, cleaning, pressing, then moving to the counter, taking name, address, apartment number, when you need this, etc., learning English, and deciding he�d better get his butt in school. He couldn�t do this forever if he wanted a life. He could be back in Shanghai reading the Red Book in a sweatshop or in some province picking potatoes.

So Mike at some point enrolls himself in night school, as he works all day, gets his GED, lives at his aunt�s in Jamaica, and then gets himself into Queens College, part of CUNY (City University of New York), my alma mater (my branch Brooklyn College). And Mike decides, given his natural aptitude for math to be a math teacher. What nobler calling? In fact, before his two-week break from college, he lines himself up to be a per diem substitute teacher in a Queens junior high school. He says he couldn�t believe the students.

Hard as he tried to make the formulas, the spindles of numbers and signs interesting, and Mike can tell a good story, I�ll tell you, this is one of them, nothing, zippo. Mass Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the same I experienced trying to teach English lit in the early 60s in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, remembering the Friday JFK was shot, and I rode home on the bus with the kids, and thought about what had become of our world. But I digress.

I�d come home exhausted from trying to keep six classes of 35 kids a day pointed at the blackboard not out the windows, up someone�s skirt, at somebody�s boner, or saying Shakespeare was a faggot. You think I kid. I kid not. But I loved them all. I was just like them in high school in Brooklyn, and sooner or later I got to them. But they wore me out. By the end of the day, I went home, napped for an hour, got up and marked papers. I said, was this for me, not. Mike said, was this for me, not. So he changed his major to computer science when he went back to Queens College and became the ace he is today. And I became a writer, whatever that is.

Mike, in addition to repairing computers in the evening and weekends, now works full-time for a major international finance corporation, doing security on their computers. Thus Mike knows more than he can or will ever tell of the bookkeeping anomalies he has discovered, because Mike wants a life. He quips, �Chinese say, keep your head down, turn your eyes, say nothing.� He also comments that the boys swiveling in the armchairs in the upper floor executive suites take hours for lunch and take home the mammoth share of the profit pie for dessert.

Mike did get a raise recently and it was less than the increase in the cost of living. Now Mike has some difficulty with English pronunciation, even though he makes himself very clear. So his underpayment makes him de facto part of a working underclass. Yet, when it comes to simply using his brain he�s in a class by himself. In fact, the company offered to transfer him to their Asian branch to manage security. The compensation unfortunately did not warrant him ripping up his roots and his family again. So he politely bowed out.

Nevertheless, head up, eyes wide open, Mike is the guy who married his childhood sweetheart who came from China. They brought two beautiful kids into the world, smart as tacks. Then Mike brought his parents over and his brother, who became a research scientist at a major New York Hospital. His brother has the same issues with being undervalued. The projects he�s working on demand top flight talent. He has it, but not the compensation to match. So it goes.

The family lives in a modest house in lower Spanish Harlem, in a row of houses built and subsidized for minorities by the state. Mike found out all about it, got the applications, filled them out, submitted them, waited a couple of years while living in Brooklyn, and finally got the chance to make the down payment and move the gang in. He finds the city more stimulating but more expensive.

Thus, this time with a smile on his face, he repeats, �Who stole my orange?� and bangs on my desk again. He likes the effect. He says, �I go shopping for food, I pay more. I heat the house, I pay more, I buy gas I pay more. Everything seem to go up. Then on TV they say no inflation. Baloney.� He laughs. Good thing he�s got a sense of humor. It�ll save his rear here.

So America, could you have a better guy fixing your computer, at less than a third of what the guys in the yellow pages charge. He says he likes my writing. He doesn�t like ripping people off. Could you want a better neighbor? Could you want a better citizen? Reads the papers, watches the news, goes to the Internet and gets the big picture. He is more savvy about government, politicians, corporate finance, malfeasance, and the fact that somebody stole his orange -- most likely our homegrown Mandarins -- than 90 percent of the native born Americans I know.

Maybe it takes living through revolution. Maybe it takes hardship. Maybe discipline. Maybe it takes passion, concern for the whole family of earth. Who knows. It�s a mystery. Meanwhile, ponder the paradigm. �Who stole my orange?� And I hope your �orange� is not a health plan or pension, or worse, a son, daughter, husband, wife, or loved one stolen in one way or another to pay for Iraq, Afghanistan or the great wherever we�re trying to conquer. Have a nice day. And Mike, you�re the best. I think we just picked up another bug from a disgruntled reader. Call me.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at

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