Signs of the Times

I was happy to run into my buddy Joe Two-Pack about a month ago. Joe back in the 1970’s was better known as Joe Six-Pack. After decades of concessions that happened to workers like him in the industrial sector he is now down to Joe Two-Pack. Joe spent 28 years at a factory that has now closed.  The place had several owners over that time and so now Joe is left with stolen pension years and a puny 401K fund a few of the owners set up. These employers paid in 1% of Joe’s pay (which was barely two digits an hr.) so it wasn’t much money. If Joe and his fellow worker put in at least 15% of their pay these owners would have put in another 1%. Needless to say none of the workers could pay to contribute especially since they were paying a good amount of their health care costs.

I bought Joe a cup of Joe and we sat down to talk. Joe was a proud man and the same day the plant closed he stopped at the Employment Office. Joe had never been laid off or collected unemployment but had paid into the system all those years. He wasn’t at the office asking for any “entitlements” just a job. Joe had a background in quality control but that field is as outdated a skill as hat blocking. Americans had gotten use to cheap Chinese goods and no longer care about quality as long as a product is cheap enough.

Joe wanted to know where were the 200,000 jobs that the fracking and shale industry was going to bring. The Employment Office worker, Bill said, “That was trimmed down to 20,000 and that is even a lie. That was just a bunch of B.S. for the regional business chambers to help promote this dangerous industry that is going to either end up poisoning our water supply or killing us all in an earthquake. Joe then asked, “Where are all those green jobs I keep hearing about?” Bill replied, “That’s a good question that I have no answer to.” Bill stated, “Joe you’ve got a problem. First off you’re too young to retire and don’t have enough in pension anyway. Then being in your fifties no one wants to hire people who are that age. The other problem is that employers don’t like to hire people who aren’t presently employed.” That last statement seemed pretty weird to Joe but Bill assured him it was true.

Bill gave Joe the name of a man to go see that was in charge of the hottest growth industry in the valley and soon to follow the rest of the country. Joe called this guy named, Frank and stopped by his headquarters to learn more about the job opportunity. Frank explained, “This is not a job because with our poor economy it is a career. It’s a career my family has been doing for three generations in the Mahoning Valley.” It turns out the job could be considered a green job as long as you don’t smoke and it also involves the great outdoors. It also has the advantage of being a day shift job (unless the employer wants you to do it after dark while you are wearing glow in the dark clothing). My curiosity was getting the best of me so I asked Joe, “What kind of job are you talking about?” Joe replied, “It’s a job holding signs near busy intersections.” He continued, “The signs are advertising sales at stores that are going bankrupt. Frank has held signs for two recent furniture stores that closed, Border’s Books, Linens’ N Things, Sofa Express, KB toys, Chi-Chi’s, Drug Castle, Bombay Company, Revco, Rexall, Value City, Circuit City, Zayre, Carlisle’s, Hills, Ames, Stambaugh Thompsons, Phar-Mor, Strouss, Olds, Pontiac and Saturn dealerships.  Frank’s father held ones for; Brown Derby, Red Barn, McKelveys, A&P, Loblaws, Kroger’s, Lawson’s, Treasure Island, Islay’s, Lum’s, Sambo’s, Lustig’s, Western Auto, Best Products, Chess King, Richman Brothers, Thom McCan shoes and Hartzel Rose & Sons. His grandfather held signs for; W. T. Grant, S.S. Kresge, G.C. Murphy, Woolworth, Studebaker and Hudson. Now that the economy has worsened Frank has expanded the business to hold signs for house foreclosure auctions, sheriff sales, car repossession auctions and storage unit auctions.” Joe then told me Frank had offered him a job and he had accepted.

I gave Joe a call just the other day to see how he was doing. He told me he was working seven days a week and his feet were killing him. He also complained about having some breathing problems between the cold weather and being exposed too so much car exhaust. Joe has always been a hard worker and had an inventive mind. That made me ask, “How are you going to further expand on this growing job sector?” He replied, “I’ve come up with several ideas. The first is that the economy has gotten worse for the whole country so now that I have sign holding experience I know I can be a snow bird and head for a warmer state to do this in. I also think that because so many workers are getting into this field I could organize them and easily convince a union to sign them up as members and maybe I could get a union representative job. I am a little worried as some of these businesses going bankrupt are ignoring us sign holders and just sticking signs in the ground along busy roads. It’s just another form of out sourcing  jobs.” I told him that he is probably right that such a thing will put a damper in the sign holding businesses growth.

He then talked about going in another direction and taking further advantage of the terrible economy and opening up a print shop. He then could print these bankruptcy and foreclosure signs and the sale info and direction papers sign holders hand out (are you listening about this new printing opportunity my brother in arms Mike and the crew of Steel Valley Printers?). Joe added,”With a poor economy comes more job losses and then with no jobs more crimes. That tells me I could also print up that glow in the dark yellow crime scene tape the police departments use.” I’m now seeing companies that helped you market and expand your business are now offering a service to help you go out of business. I am left wondering how many more signs it will take to figure out that this capitalist system just isn’t working out for the 99%.

Signs, Signs Everywhere a Sign

Brenton Wood: Give Me Some Kind of Sign

“The more I understand the monied class, the more I understand the guillotine.” – George Bernard Shaw



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6 responses to “Signs of the Times

  1. Anthony

    A great piece of writing! Humorous but, not laughable.

  2. elecpencil

    Thanks Tony! The laughter only hides the tears for what is happening in our country.

  3. Mike

    Thanks for the plug, Jim, but printing is about as dying an industry as they can get. I’d rather pursue my music and rale against these bastards and their selfish vulture system.

    You should turn this piece into a short story; it sure sounds like the same thing that happened to you.
    brother Mike

  4. elecpencil

    brother Mike ~ You get an A+ with your music from me! Joe Two-Pack is based on me. I was thinking about what would be my job choices if my plant closed down in 2012. I thought it was time for a fiction piece that well could be true. ~brother Jim

  5. Eric P. O'Neil

    You had me going! Very well crafted. Good job.

  6. elecpencil

    Eric ~ Thanks Eric! I really appreciate it coming from a brother Joe Two-Pack.

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