Pigs on the Wing

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)

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.