Shoulder to the Wheel

Three Augusts ago I resided at ease in suburban splendor. So much so I took several vacation days to visit Kewpie in Miami. She’d been laboring on film shoot. Warren joined us.

When she wasn’t eye-rolling on-set shenanigans or prima dona outbursts, we treacherous three gamboled along South Beach. Had I known my carefree days were short, I would’ve behaved way more carelessly.

Hmmm. Just might suggest that as my epitaph.

Two years ago, Quarropas, the old hometown, remained somewhat recognizable. That was if a long-time resident squinted. By this time last year, it was less splendiferous since every soul making that loaded word “home” a desirable refuge had died away.

August 2014 marks my first year in Las Vegas.

After mother died, I decided to sail away, land somewhere, then burn the boat. With her departure no one and nothing else existed to anchor me in Quarropas. As I’ve mentioned before, that particular part of Metropolitan New York is expensive. Not so much when salary is commensurate with expenditures but being suddenly reduced to half the old wage made my continued viability there tenuous at best.

Until my career dissolved through my erstwhile employers’ susceptibility to cocaine and alcohol, I never knew how much I’d invested in my job. A gig that never enthralled me, I nonetheless gave working at Mugwump the effort it deserved. My view reflected the staff’s. Too bad management never shared our devotion.

Maybe a year and a half before Mugwump’s cataclysmic fail, our old employer had an opportunity to sell. Obviously the business then retained vestiges of salvageable viability. They had a buyer, one who sniffed blood and solicited them.

The suitor didn’t offer much but why overpay for a puffed-up property verging on shell company status? That firm had established its reputation drop by drop across decades, and in just several years lost it by the bucketful.

Somehow our boss Blowhard ignored the obvious. Letting Loca and Fea, his know-nothing, uncaring daughters operate the business instead of elevating skilled and conscientious employees, all in the wrongheaded pursuit of keeping everything in the family, destroyed the very entity he’d hoped to sustain.

What an imbecile.

The late rescue attempt was the second chance Blowhard missed salvaging some part of his legacy. About five years earlier, Esme, his last and best associate deduced a different version of the apparent.

Seeing no capable successors, Esme forced an issue of partnership. She opened her gambit by asking for plenty.

Quite adept in his field, the boss lacked any negotiating acumen. Loca and Fea backed his outrage with their own. Their scorn was simply selfish preservation. Had the old man acceded, among Esme’s first stipulations would’ve been his daughters bouncing against the curb. When the pair weren’t nuisances, they dragged productivity and the bottom line.

Useless, unsuited and unskilled for employment elsewhere, at least both understood the sinecure their father provided. I suppose the old man did, too. What else could explain him twice preferring an eventual 100% of nothing over retaining any percentage of something? Unworthy as both were, Blowhard couldn’t abandon his girls. Of course turning that around, dope and booze having frayed their own ties of obligation, Loca and Fea would’ve jettisoned him at light speed if it benefited them.

These days, I recollect frequently on that avoidable death plummet. Those two girls couldn’t have done worse if they’d sat down and planned. Instead, both disrupted a lot of futures through mindless neglect. Seen from outside no doubt it astounded; inside, though, presented a horror show.

I imagine Loca’s farewell blanketed the staff. While assembling forms for the one benefit none of us ever wanted – unemployment – she expressed envy at the fact that we’d “at least get something.” Meaning getting barely half of what we’d previously earned. That’s always made me boil. That we should somehow have been grateful for receiving pittances for acts wholly her family’s fault.

Loca envied us because wanton drugging had rendered her into a liability. One who couldn’t be listed as a corporate officer but as a contractor; the comptroller whose financial fast-and-loose fixed her with an IRS lien. As a contractor she was self-employed. Such self-infliction denied her the staff’s slight respite. Good.

Fortunate that employee unemployment fund contributions are automatic deductions. Given half a chance, Loca would’ve embezzled and blown those, too.

Before, I’d worked to live. Now, I must live to work. Sad, but true.

Adrift in my early 50s, I know the score. Raw numbers are against me. That’s why I relocated to Nevada. Lower cost of living? Certainly! Better though, rock-bottom real estate prices. Paid out of pocket for a home here. That amount wouldn’t have covered a down payment in New York. Also, now that my position of 24 years is dust, any mortgage I could’ve scored would’ve had closer similarities to a shy’s vig than any fair borrowing rate.

Moreover, attaining a replacement position comparable to my former slot was highly unlikely. It took a much younger man two decades to achieve my former height. Who could expend another 24 years to surmount the same peak?

Knowing I must now live to work, why not do so in a locale requiring less effort? I’d already busted my ass and wound up with the same empty bag with which I’d started. Experience alone excludes a repeat. I leave arduous ascents to those just beginning their career climbs. I also leave them stupefying, nonsensical requests made of employers everywhere upon fresh new hires.

If there’s any laughable part to my plight, it’s when some English mumbling Desi phones and solicits me for continuing education courses. I haven’t needed further education since 1982. I only require training. The difference? More education would needlessly drain my wallet of thousands through loans or direct payments. Why fatten a diploma mill’s profits?

Moreover, other than viewers watching Fox News for its news – as opposed to viewers in on the joke and watch for stupefying entertainment – who is unaware most online courses are only good for inflating egos? That the “sheepskins” bestowed have the same value as Czarist Era railroad bonds.

Given that I’ve worked longer than most of the human resources knobs and middle-management seat-fillers have been alive, me and my gray hair and my knowing upon which side the bread is buttered and who’s doing the buttering is imposing and an imposition. What “superior” can stand being intimidated by a subordinate? Especially when both are aware the latter has it over the former?

All I seek is a steady position. I leave any glory for the glory hounds, but when possible intend absconding with all the comfort and happiness at hand. For me prestige is unnecessary. Dignity is essential.

Of course the above are truths I keep quiet during job interviews. Today’s interviewers just wouldn’t understand. In our current America it’s become all about craven acquisition. Avarice. Before, satisfaction sufficed.

Growing up, materialistic parents didn’t raise me. Perhaps that had to do with their own development occurring during the Depression. Then, affluence and conspicuous consumption were distant seconds to eating regularly. Being around them made me a member of the Clean Plate Club.

By my birth, mother and father had loosened sufficiently so that discretionary expenditures and minor justified frivolities weren’t guilt-inducing outlays. But let it be added, their “nice” purchases were durable, though their vacations hurried and all too brief.

Nonetheless their base priorities were correct. Life was to have been enjoyed, not merely endured. A state into which American workers seemingly have regressed.

Perhaps I noted it in my old profession. Surely I did. Wasn’t I glad my career had begun during an earlier, less take it or leave it time? The same conditions workers had succeeded escaping, their successors gradually restored. In fact were made grateful to reenter.

Then, mistakenly believing myself above and beyond the regression below, I only felt gratitude that an earlier birth had spared me resumed depredations of old habits. Ah! If only I’d known my alcoholic, cocaine-abusing former employers lacked any sense of their privileged circumstances.

The exploitive aspect glimpsed in New York is far more prevalent in Nevada. A right to work state, a phrase which must translate into “employers can screw employees without any grease,” ordinary pay is barely commensurate with basic costs and benefits are spotty at best. Only employers would call these conditions an “opportunity.” Yeah. The opportunity to screw somebody without using any grease!

Of course the locals are almost to a man or woman behind the eight ball from the get. First, they attended Nevada schools. Plenty of sidewalk know-it-alls but a paucity of Rhodes Scholars.

Second, who’s around to encourage them towards excelling rather than just make-do? Or worse, get-by. Nobody.

Third, isn’t outsized gratitude for being marginal imposed on Nevadans from the jump? Perhaps because of the hospitality industry’s overwhelming presence, the servility, the sense of needing to be servile, weighs heavily here.

I suppose if one has lived on his or her knees for lifetime, what else is known?

That stated, anyone with a modicum of sharpness can differentiate non-Nevadans from locals; migrants from other Western states who’ve settled here from the locals; the West and East Coasters from other settlers; Northeasterners above all others. The last group, when we come across one another, may resemble parched trekkers who’ve lucked upon an oasis.

Someone, someone else originally from the Northeast visiting, pointed out the above. We have distinct traits. For better or worse, these distinguish us. Unconsciously, I guess, sharp knives seek out the same drawer. Nevada employers should do the same.

Not bragging or boasting but just stating fact, the vast majority of us come from hustle and bustle backgrounds. What many of the locals find rapid and difficult, is our normal day. Reminds me of when I left Quarropas. I had a repair shop give my wheels the once-over before skipping town.

Shooting the breeze at payment, I informed the manager of my destination. He chuckled. He told me his shop had engaged a new mechanic from Las Vegas. The new hire was qualified, yes, yet the shop’s pace tasked him. It was too fast. Or that he suffered a case of “the slows.”

Having had my car regularly serviced there, I didn’t bother looking around. The place was busy, sure, but not frenzied. It wasn’t even hectic. The manager and I laughed, then hoped the new grease monkey made speed when business increased.

There’s no same urgency in Nevada. Precision is absent, too. About the first, it’s CP time that edges into mañana time, a k a Ese Hours.

When I first arrived, there were some tasks needing doing. Carpet. Window shades. Cable installation. Each a simple deed which became a head-scratcher.

Despite a fellow coming in and measuring, and putting aside the installers arriving hours late, the carpet required substantial, um, “field adjustments.” Carpet color aptly masks the additional strips.

I’d grown up measuring twice so I only must cut once. My place has a window requiring a specific rather than standard length. Took the shades’ measurements to the curtain and blinds shop. A clerk made the cuts. I brought the Persians home. They were short by half an inch. Naturally I thought I’d measured wrongly. So I re-measured the length and then the fixture itself. I’d been correct. The sun block had been improperly sawn.

The cable guy must’ve been the biggest knucklehead of all. Forget reciting the password necessary to establish Wi-Fi connections. I wrote it out for him. In capital block letters. Any clearer I would’ve used crayons. He still misspelled it.

For the longest I typed capitals and lower case letters to no avail. Imagine my stupor after my phoning him and his telling me he’d mistaken an “I” for an “L.”

Bad enough the local cable provider charges ass-rape prices for fewer selections than received on New York dials, but its personnel can’t decipher eye chart letters.

Yet it goes to follow: you get what you pay for. Scrimping on the frontend always shows up on the backend. Never fails. The locals are accustomed to it, I imagine. After all they know nothing else.

But the meandering here is so prevalent one must acclimatize to it like summer weather. Shop clerks are mere steps from being automatons. Nevada workers are such tools.

It’s tough writing that on Labor Day. But workers throughout the country, not just Nevadans, have permitted management to claw back many life-improving achievements in labor. Here, though, what’s been surrendered and what’s been re-imposed are stark compared to the East.

The simplest transactions, the ones performed with metronome-like frequency, assume brain surgery precision. Buying a newspaper demands the SKU be scanned. Couldn’t just punch a buck into the register and be done with it?

Understandably Nevadans are so afraid. “For cause” is enough to be fired. No more process. Simple arbitrariness now serves. So to avoid that as much as possible why not adhere to zombie procedures? Who’s ever gotten sacked going by the book … much to the frustration of customers in a rush?

If Fritz Lang and Charlie Chaplin were alive, and visited present-day Las Vegas, each director would recognize one of their respective masterpieces. For Lang, it would be Metropolis; Chaplin, Modern Times.

Their realizations would be apt. The movie titles, though, as applied to Las Vegas could be regarded as misnomers.