Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Coworkers Continued: On Moral Classification

Jacob lives with a sense of desperation. You always know when he’s working nearby because he grunts and pants with every exertion. His passion comes from knowing what it means to lose everything.

One day, during high school back in Kansas, he was working on a racecar when the gas tank exploded next to him. He got third-degree burns over most of his body (his skin still has a boiled look) and he went blind for a year. Not long after recovering his vision he and his dad got caught up in some kind of anti-establishment stand-off. They both went to prison for seven years.

Jacob lost seven years of his prime but it did improve his decision-making skills. Scrawny when he went in, Jacob came out of prison bench-pressing 325 pounds. While in the prison he had the best job, right next to the women’s prison. When they came out to dump the garbage all the women would strip and put on a show. Jacob had a cross-fence love affair with one of the women.

Other than that, he didn’t have much luck with women. After six years of faithfulness, his girlfriend from his former life decided to leave him. A year later, he got parole and was placed under house arrest. Once, when the monitoring system was down, he traced out his boundaries and found he could make it to the porch of a girl down the street. She would throw parties and invite him so he would stand in the doorway with one foot outside on the porch.

Despite his sullied past, Jacob is a perfect gentleman. He is always thoughtful and always the first to act. When someone’s struggling, he’s right there to help. That’s Jacob.

Ronny is a safety specialist. He’s middle-aged and he knows the best years of his life are behind him; now he just tells stories about his glory days. I’ve passed quite a few long days listening to Ronny ramble. It all starts with the fact that, in 10th grade, he could throw a 93-mph fastball. No one could test him – he was a god at 16 years old. He got all the girls and whatever else he wanted.

Ronny’s superstar trajectory quickly carried him to the major leagues. He signed with the Chicago Cubs, but soon after the god-complex caught up with him. He got high on speed and crashed his Corvette. The accident broke his back and he never played baseball again. He can walk, but without baseball I’m not sure he cares about walking. It’s been over 20 years and he still can’t go to the ballpark or watch the game on TV. Like Jacob, losing everything taught Ronny some humility. He now dedicates himself to helping other people. He volunteered after the Oklahoma City bombing, Sept. 11, the Challenger disaster and Hurricane Katrina. And he always brings us stickers for our hard hats. That’s Ronny.

Joe Boutte is less of a lesson-learner. He’s done his time, too. When he got out of the Army he joined a gang, shot someone and got himself locked up. He talks about the incident like it was a speeding ticket. Joe doesn’t really have any moral inhibitions. He’s faked half-a-dozen family deaths to get out of work.

When it comes to women, he’s even worse. He once burned down an ex-girlfriend’s trailer. Just because. Right now he’s dating five different women. Why five? One for every day of the work week. A different woman brings him breakfast every day. He’ll sleep with as many as three of these women in one night, and the last stop is always his wife. No remorse. At first, my Puritan-bred self was shocked and appalled at Joe’s indiscretions. Eventually, I learned to see his better side. The amazing thing with Joe is that, despite being a moral vacuum, he’s still courteous and helpful in the shop and he takes pride in his work. That’s Joe.

Kelly is my lunchtime chess partner. He learned to play during a short stint in prison. He got locked up when a domestic dispute brought on a series of ill-advised decisions. It started with a shouting match – then it became a one-sided boxing match – then Kelly took all the things he’d ever bought for his wife down to the pawn shop. A few convictions later, Kelly is learning to play chess. And sure enough, he’s as short-sighted on the chess board as he is in life. That’s Kelly.

I’ve run across a few other stories worth sharing and I guess this as good a place as any:

There was the lift-boat captain who had seen five of his friends die. Every story ended with him washing their intestines out of his hair.

There was the cook whose brother stole $60,000 in quarters, bought a Cadillac, showed up at his house and went partying till the cops found them.

Then there are the far-fetched stories about the old oilfield. The old hands love to tell stories about how they used to go on six-month hitches, never sleeping and surviving on nothing but barnacles and Bud Light. Then they would come back and do it all over again. If Paula Cole is still wondering where all the cowboys have gone, here’s her answer.

It’s about how we judge people. Are you going to call Joe a toad because he keeps a spoogie for every day of the week, shot a man once and set fire to his ex’s trailer? Right off, you have to wonder what the point is. I don’t know about you, but I’m not an usher at the pearly gates. Immorality is between a man and his conscience, his victims and God.

Judge when it is pragmatic to judge others. If you are hiring at Chuck E. Cheese, you have to evaluate your applicants on their patience and exuberance. If you are giving a man a loan, you should evaluate how trustworthy he is.

Understanding people is always wise, but “good” and “bad” are never helpful. Those two bins will only hang you up. With the “good” bin you will wind up giving people too much credit when they haven’t proven themselves. With the “bad” bin you will wind up condemning people and missing out on their redeeming qualities. Learn to draw the line between understanding and judgment – it can make all the difference.

Desmond Rawls is a senior in the College and is taking a year off to work as a mechanic for an offshore oil company. He can be reached at Wheelie appears every other Monday on

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