Pigs on the Wing

Ben Cohen
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Pig On The Wing by Photocat62.

by David Glenn Cox

Damn it all, how I wish that I could write about puppies or a
lemony-fresh, new dishwashing detergent. My life would be so much
easier, and writing would be so much easier, as well. I could write
about how my little rusty-brown pup with his size twelve paws frolicked
with his tabby roommates. How as the weeks went by his feelings were
hurt when they would no longer play with him because he had grown into
his paws, and his yaps had become baritone barks which they would
answer with hunched-back hisses. Easy enough and true enough, but it
seems to me that we have plenty of cute puppy stories these days.

that things weren’t so, then I wouldn’t have to crack my head open to
try and make you see what I see; not to harvest pity nor to draw
attention to myself, for I’m trying to draw attention to you. These
stories are about you. I am three feet ahead of you in a dark cave
holding the flashlight, so please understand that when I say, “Look
out,” it is not for me as much as it is for you.

I got my first
job at age eleven delivering the Homewood-Flossmoor Star newspaper. I
kept it for three years. I had eighty-eight papers but they would
always give me ten extra to prospect with. I learned in the summer time
to end my route near the commuter train station. Even though they had a
paper box in the tiny ticket office, commuters running late would
sometimes shove a dollar in my hand for a newspaper that only cost a

My friends and I learned where there were holes in the
fence at the local country club, and at dawn with bucket, mask and
snorkel we’d empty the water hazards of stray golf balls. I’d say we
were ambitious young boys, though the country club had another name for
it. We would take the balls and lay them out to dry along with the
bucket. Then we would take them to the pro shop where the good balls
would fetch us twenty-five cents, and the chipped or scuffed balls
would bring us a dime.

The last summer that I had my paper route
I got a part-time job building concrete forms and tearing down concrete
forms for a company that built garages. This was an independent
contractor and it was illegal as hell to have thirteen-year-olds
working for him, but he was very kind to us and paid us the unheard of
sum of $20.00 a day! My paper route only paid $4.00 a week for two
delivery days.

My friend who got me the job warned me ahead of time, “Just do what he says and don’t pay any attention to how he talks to you.”

Where are you going with that? Do you just wear that head to keep your
neck warm?" Or his famous standard line, “If you keep doing stupid
things you’re going to make me crazy, and then I’ll shoot myself and
you won’t get paid! Do you want that..er, ah..?”

“Dave, sir.”

“Don’t tell me your name! I’ll figure that out when I write your last check!”

really was a good boss because you quickly figured out that it was an
act designed to motivate us and keep us from goofing off. After work we
would load our bikes into the back of his truck and he would give us a
ride to my friend's house and pay us in cash.

In high school I
worked at a Gulf gas station. I pumped gas and changed oil, washed
cars, you name it. Then I went to work at a tire store where the boss
would pin a twenty dollar bill to his corkboard and challenge me to see
who could sell the most tires. It got to where I would win so regularly
that he stopped putting the money up. Instead I was promoted to
assistant manager, and then when he opened a second location, to

I was having more and more work placed upon me, but
no more money was coming in, and when I asked for more money I was
refused. I applied at every tire store in town, but they hadn’t any
interest in a twenty-year-old manager or assistant manager. I worked
construction jobs. I hung acoustical ceilings and lost that job because
I worked with racists and wouldn’t hide my own views. They wouldn’t
dare fire me; they just stopped coming to pick me up as they had always
done before.

I landed a job with a railroad contractor doing
right-of-way maintenance. I was trained as a heavy equipment operator.
I operated a switch undercutter, imagine a chainsaw blade laid on its
side that’s ten feet long. It would pull all the rock and dirt from
under the switch ties and dump it into a ditch and allow the railroad
to repair the switch. I loved the job and made good money travelling
the country. In Kansas I got intestinal food poisoning and was admitted
to the hospital. That was the only time I missed work, but I was
supposed to go to Buffalo, New York a few weeks later and I missed my
flight. And when I called the office to explain that I would catch the
next one, they said, “Well, I guess that’s it for you!”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means you’re fired! I didn’t take you to raise!”

had a tendency to hire ex-military in the office, and when I applied
for my unemployment benefits their story had changed. “Oh no, he wasn’t
fired. He was just temporarily laid off.”

When I was called back
to work I was assigned to a rookie foreman, a nice enough guy with no
railroad experience and no heavy-duty equipment experience. The problem
was that he was too eager to please the railroad, which would put the
machine in peril. If the machine broke down the company didn’t get
paid. Then, when the rookie foreman would call in to the office they
would tell him to put me on the line. “You’re the senior man on the
job; don’t you let him screw anything up.”

Finally after the
third such conversation, I remarked, “Then why don’t you make me the
foreman and him the operator and stop putting me in the middle?”

was a shocked silence and then a bubbling rage, “Listen you! You do as
you’re told and you don’t question why! Do as you’re told or get gone!
But you understand this, if you let him tear up that machine, you're as
good as fired!”

The very next day we were working in Cicero
(Chicago) on mainline commuter tracks that carried forty commuter
trains a day plus freight trains plus Amtrak. The railroad decided we
didn’t need a backhoe, even though the contract called for one. Instead
of twenty laborers they brought seven. I walked, without a backhoe it
would destroy the machine.

From there I went into the parts
business, first driving a delivery truck, then working at the counter,
then as a store manager. Then I became the manager of an industrial
engine distributorship. I managed the parts inventory; I forecasted
engine sales. I handled all the warranty claims; I handled a half
million dollar military contract. I called on equipment manufacturers
and set up dealers. I set the company sales record for parts sales and
for engine sales.

I was well thought of in engine circles. I
even had the factory referring people to me to ask questions about
different assemblies. I held service schools and I went to distributor
conferences and hobnobbed with millionaires. I sat in on corporate
strategy meetings and knew vice presidents and presidents on a first
name basis.

I tell you these things not to bore you, but to warn
you. Do I sound like someone who would end up homeless? I don’t do
drugs and drink very little; I was employed in the parts business for
twenty-five consecutive years. I never missed a paycheck for over a
quarter of a century. Now I am unemployed for over a year and the
prospects for employment are bleak. I tell you these things not to
garner pity, because I don’t want your pity. I want a job!

want the people in the rah, rah crowd for Obama’s stimulus to know that
to those of us out here in the cheap seats it is not very stimulating.
Every time I go out I see hungry, struggling people standing at
intersections or on off ramps holding signs begging for money, and I
don’t get out much. I see entire shopping centers empty and closed up
office buildings. Where do you suppose all those workers have gone to?
How do you suppose they are paying their bills now? And I don’t get out
much, so try to understand this. The next homeless person that you see
is me, and be afraid because the next one after that is you.

say it can’t happen to me, or that they need me too much, or I’d find
something else, because you’re wrong, just wrong. It can happen to you
and until we understand that we can’t solve the problem, and meanwhile
the problem grows.

If you didn't care what happened to me,
And I didn't care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggars to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.

(Roger Waters)

(Photo by Photocat62)