October 9th, 2008
Another morning started on The Ridge. Dad's been up for two hours already. He's made coffee. Taken care of the dogs. Got the paper. Hauled in armloads of firewood. Taken out the trash. Driven to work and started his shift. He's probably well into his day of programming his machine, drilling holes in big steel plates, breathing in dirty shop air. Earning a living to make ends meet. Something he's been doing for 37 years.
An incredible feat these days. So much time, dedication, sweat, blood and energy given. A lot of life spent working at one place. But up north that's the way it goes. Young men got into decent-paying, hard labor early. They had mouths to feed. Houses and cars to pay for. And they earned and saved because credit was something they didn't believe in. Pay as you go. That was the motto. And so, men like my Dad worked off their asses at jobs that beat them to death. The lumber mill. Paper mill. Steel mill and quarry. Today, there is the steel mill and the quarry. But they are fading fast. Unable to keep up and thrive in the global economy because of inept leadership and shortsightedness. Things that are not the fault of the men doing the actual work.
I receive an email from my Dad.
"Things are really slow at the Funny Farm and next year looks even worse. You would think a place with all the knowledge, space, know-how and fancy new machinery would take in more work than just relying on the few customers that they have left. Probably never see retirement from that place. 10-11-08 will be 37 years...wasted."
He's right. The Funny Farm, as he calls it is doing what other businesses are doing. I know because prior to moving to the metro Detroit area, I worked up north at a manufacturing company that was slowing in sales and going through a restructuring process. Their new organizational tactics were aimed at retaining, and catering to, their best big-dollar customers, while giving new, smaller customers less attention. The upper management, of course, would argue this point. Mostly to cover their asses. And they would most likely say, Every customer is important to us here at ABC Manfucturing. While that may be true, it isn't as true as it used to be.
But men like my Dad are still showing up every day. Putting in the same time, dedication and effort, but they are losing their jobs. Losing faith. Feeling little satisfaction in the fact that they've spent most of their lives working for a company that doesn't seem to give a rip about what their workers think. I guess that's bound to happen in a place divided into the Haves and the Have-nots. In a place that believes in trickle-down economics. Where the crumbs of the rich fall to the poor. If there are any crumbs left at all the way those with power and money seem to gobble up as much as they can. More than they need.
Maybe it's time all of us went on strike. Yes, we've worked hard. Put in our time. Done more than what's ever been expected of us. And so, it's time for a little retirement. We kick back, ration what we have, learn to fend for ourselves, and refuse to participate in this upside-down world until those in power and in charge start listening to us. They're the ones that have messed it up. They are the ones that have us in this mess. They are the ones leaving us hollow and empty at the end of the day.
Yes, each of us are responsible for our own. We must take responsibility for our action and inaction and do the best we can. But what can we do when our best is not enough? When all we've worked for disappears because of the greed and disconnectedness of the people at the top?
Maybe we need a do-over. Clean the credit slate. Balance the citizen accounts. Let people keep what they've earned, but also let those that have been busting their asses with nothing to show start from zero. Begin again. No freebies, no hand-outs, but help to those who've help make this country great. Not a great superpower. Not a great wealthy nation. But a great place to live. Where freedoms can be exercised. Where people care about one another. Where we are thankful for being able to wake, feel the sun, and start another day.
Fantasy, I know. But what's a writer to do?
Dad's still at it. Moving around hundred pound steel plates. Drilling. Programming. Drilling some more. Looking forward to lunch, no doubt. His big fifteen minute reward during an eight hour day. He will eat quickly. Call my Mom. Ask her how about her day.
Is the wood stove still going?
The dogs behaving?
She will tell him. Fill him in. And the sound of her voice, and knowing that all is well on The Ridge, will comfort him. Be just what a man needs to get him through the day and get him home. Because even on these days when our jobs and leaders are leaving us dried up and empty, we still have the courage to keep on keepin' on.
(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)