Less Pie

    Had my former employer been more of a parent and an attentive businessman, I never would’ve written GREEN VENOM. But he wasn’t. So I did. Read GREEN VENOM. It’s terrific! Available through Amazon Kindle.

    Will our current despondency bring forth new versions of restoration farces? Aren’t the conditions ripe for mocking?

    Or have we now reached a period whose circumstances prompt responses more pointed than ridicule?

    The other day, I happened upon a job action. Outside the establishment, rank and file protested against management’s demand of greater productivity for lower wages and fewer benefits. Mind, the operation was profitable. In fact, somewhere near record profits. The board wanted more. More blood squeezed from turnips would satisfy shareholders who’d then acquiesce when the board exacted its own higher salaries and fatter bonuses.

    It reminded me of my Reporter Dispatch newspaper days. Twenty years ago a similar circumstance in a different place. Before the wholesale shredding of the labor-management compact. Or maybe at the start.

    The XYZ Company manufactured good widgets that sold well. Profits were solid. The workforce made good wages. The situation was so harmonious the enterprise even paid its taxes without complaint. Imagine that!

    Ownership changed. We scoff at paternalism now but local oversight assured community involvement. The familiar and clubby sold out to a distant dynamic presence. Possessed by vigor and no regard for the past, the now ascendant MBA’s discarded human business practices for greater yields at any price.

    A note: the arrivistes belong to my cohort. The echelon succeeded may not have known every single employee but they “knew” them. The new bunch only saw numbers. They only asked how could those numbers dance better? Faster? Requests which grew into demands were made. Mostly clawbacks, the kind that erode middle-class standards.

    Now, this incident was getting zero play in the R-D. By then the paper had undergone its own shift. Fewer and fewer “reporters” filled the newsroom. Extremely few were scholars but guildsmen made wise through experience and immeasurable human interaction.

    By today’s standards continual insensitivity and harassment ruled their office comportment. But those adults gave as good as they got. Failure to hold one’s own meant banishment elsewhere. Like into a real job. And if they ever suffered personal tsuris, these crises rarely intruded upon deadlines.

    More and more reporters were retiring, to be replaced by “journalists.” No. Real live ones. Degrees plumped their titles.

    Journalists today invite a lot of headshaking. Or romanticizing newsprint past. The Front Page comes to mind but shouldn’t the model always have been James Stewart’s P.J. McNeal from Calling Northside 777?

    Instead, too many journalists idolized Woodward and Bernstein, reporters lucky enough to cross paths with Richard Nixon at his most Nixonian. Not the actual Washington Post bylines. Their cinematic representations. The film version of All the President’s Men had the same relation to daily newspaper work as The Paper Chase did to first year Harvard law.

    Real? No. Artistic license? Yes.

    Since so many newcomers got caught up in the romance, increasingly the quotidian got overlooked for the scandalous. Or what could be pumped up into scandal. Because scandal is sexy. In truth, there are few incidents sinking to the “scandal” claim.

    So plain-Jane stories involving the squeezing of American labor as it occurred never found column inches in the local newspaper. Maybe those revelations set off alarms in conduits catering to blue collar membership. That was preaching and yelling fire to the choir.

    Two best things recommending reporters over journalists? Other than the formers’ often fanciful turns of phrase? The editors themselves also had risen from newsroom depths. Reporters also often started from someplace other than a newsroom. Rare was the reporter who lacked outside, real world experiences.

    Not the orderly world either. Wasn’t Bat Masterson a Wild West marshal before becoming a New York newspaper columnist? One of the better deadline boot camps alive! Before landing in the R-D aerie I myself pulled shifts on an auto assembly line.

    Remembering the R-D newsroom staff, it’s no exaggeration saying scant few of them had performed much physical labor, much less any of the backbreaking sort. My erstwhile colleagues occupied a soft-hands demographic.

    College educated and pointy-headed. But even those J-school diplomas left some truck-sized gaps. I had an editor who considered “tweak” an adverb. He blue-penciled my copy?

    Needless to report the R-D missed getting ahead of what became a seminal suburban story because no one bearing foresight grasped its ramifications. They weren’t intentionally blind. At least not most of them. They just failed deciphering what plainly transpired before them.

    To heap on obliviousness, the R-D also failed recognizing the Central American infiltration. Immigrant groups whose presence had been asterisks multiplied exponentially almost overnight. One day street corners were blank. The next Guatemalans or Mexicans clotted those intersections.

    Unlike earlier Latino migrations, or as we called them, “the Spanish,” Puerto Ricans and Cubans had arrived and ingratiated themselves imperceptively. Okay, out of sight confined in neighborhoods they made their own after crowding out Anglos.

    Where did these mestizos come from? What were they doing in Quarropas? What did it mean? Left to the R-D local residents knew nothing about the people they’d eventually underpay for coolie tasks. Thankfully Quarropas sits in New York Times coverage area. One of its bylines understood how the story of his or her underpaid, overburdened nanny might make for curious filler.

    Without the Times, Quarropas residents never would’ve learned the R-D literally missed a major development blocks from its own newsroom. Or that homeowners with household projects could find Mexicans at Home Depot and employ them for pittances.

    Haven’t we reverted to exploitation? Gladly. All those labor laws and union movements which propelled the country by expanding the middle class belong in museums. There with secondary school electives such as Latin or ancient Greek, and the mandated civics course.

    Latin or Greek, not ribbed or lubricated, became the first choice wholly my own. This teen’s first step toward adulthood, if not maturity.

    The only Latin memories I carry stem from our mentor’s dissolving into wracking sobs upon learning of Bobby Darin’s death. Apparently at her students’ age she’d been the singing idol’s No. 1 anonymous willing vessel.

    It took years before I reconciled that 30-something woman desiring her younger self to have splish-splashed with Mack the Knife.

    Civics itself could’ve been nothing else than a necessary bore except Watergate was boiling. Some Nixonian high crime came to light. It angered our teacher. Another 30-something, he carted in his stereo and substituted that day’s lessons by playing Doors albums for all his classes instead. Explaining the switch, he simply intoned, “This will be useful.”

    The future is uncertain/And the end is always near …

    So today no ancient languages, no debating citizens responsibilities, less inspiring music. Which is why, Occupy Wall Street notwithstanding, our time lacks necessary rebellion. What we’re allowing is criminal. More damaging than any earlier Oval Office misconduct.

    It’s good the values harangues continually polluting the last three decades have faded. Our deeds speak for themselves. Badly for us.

    I wish another age bracket fostered this decline, but it’s my cohort. We’re running the show now. We’ve been taught better. We really should know better. We really should be better. After all, while too young for civil rights marches, we could rally for Cesar Chavez and did sign his United Farm Workers petitions.

    Having had sacrifice and ambition drilled into us, we’ve practiced little of the former. Frankly I laugh at all those homeowners underwater. They bought more house than they could afford, hoping what was already overvalued appreciated further. But as investments sometimes do their values dropped. Although lenders negligence extends to questionable loans, those institutions never held guns to borrowers’ heads and forced them to accept money.

    Yet those screaming the loudest for government redress had been yelling the most about how that same devil government ought to infringe less. If our country had any grand sense of irony, shouldn’t we all love how blood-in-the-face Tea Baggers have become so specifically selective regarding who suckles from the national sugar teat?

    Anytime I hear some tricorne wearing, musket-totin’, Constitution-mangling baboon let his mouth lap his mind, I know that for every protestation demanding each of us make his or her way or fail, they’d be first piled along the wayside. The hardier the self-sufficiency bellow, the less capable the individual.

    There’s plenty to be said for assistance. Without it nobody would’ve achieved anything.

    Which is why the behavior of the wealthy is so galling. I guess since schools have eliminated foreign language requirements fortunate people don’t know noblesse oblige. Or plainer, never heard the maxim much is expected from those who’ve been given much.

    Forget some affluent moron moaning about his puny tax rate. Today’s complaint from the rarefied set is why they must cough up a fair share at all.

    Most Americans share my sentiment. We aspire to wealth, but don’t begrudge it in others. Who doesn’t want Trump money? Though not his hair. Nor smallness of his spirit. If riches are unavailable, then a modicum of comfort usually suffices.

    With “Every man a king!” Huey Long exhorted many. But we’re generally more modest than that. After all, for all his gold King Midas couldn’t eat.

    Many of the new rich lack their predecessors’ understanding of humility. Rare is the Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg who donates generously.

    Instead aren’t we inundated with gold-plated boobies? People who derive a cheap celebrity just by having lots o’cash or proximity to it? (That is as opposed to empty celebrities who’ve debased glitter notions by merely being famous through their “fame.”)

    They have boodles and desire acquiring more because … well, I don’t know. Must be lack of esteem. Maybe meaningless, conspicuous shiny stuff compensates for being hollow.

    The slowing world economy may dump that topic into uncomfortable play. Our classes are becoming more remote. Can the highest even see the masses milling below?

    All things considered, Americans are pretty docile. Given the price of consumer goods vs. workers wages, the increasing costs of benefits vs. sliced entitlements, and the matter of who pays and maintains our society’s standards vs. those who shirk and profit most from such safety, why aren’t those of us bearing the heaviest burdens manifesting our displeasure a la everywhere else where disproportion has become top heavy?

    Have reactionaries lied so often, so loudly, that we can no longer distinguish the truth before our very eyes? But then in our America we bait and switch the truth like its a sale item. Strange how the credit for modern advertising goes to Edward Bernays. Better him than Joseph Goebbels. Better Bernays than the truth.

    How soon until the morning comes when some hourly employee, his wages frozen or slashed, his benefits reduced, though his bills constant, finally erupts? Forget the torchlight and pitch fork parade. No hereditary royalty, therefore no castles in America.

    Bombarded by facile dispatches pumped into vital news as we are, if somebody hasn’t gone dark side yet I can’t imagine what will set him off. But say that moment arrives. Our knight won’t settle his grievance with a gun. Arms signal premeditation. Who packs heat just because it feels good? Other than the inadequate among us.

    Tipping into justified rage, he’ll cross one of our more vaporous voluptuaries. An otherwise nothing incident entangles these two.

    Where before the precipitating instance would’ve been brushed off as a nuisance, it becomes a flashpoint. One that lets the aggrieved react primitively. Or as a headline will blare, “Savagely!”

    At the subsequent trial, after plenty of off-the-wall speculation, the defendant won’t hide behind his Fifth Amendment rights. He takes the stand, wanting to make himself clear. Being judged by his peers is the best possible situation. Don’t the wealthy habitually move heaven and earth to avoid jury duty? Isn’t it beneath them?

    Speaking for everybody who’s been given a choice between the short stick and no stick, he’ll say about the victim: “The guy already had plenty. But he wanted more. So he tried stealing mine. I took it back.”

    A cut and dry case