Archive for the ‘Occupations’ Category

Do things signify love?

©2017 By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READERS: Please don’t become expectant just because I am publishing this post. I am still having various physical problems that make daily living painful, particularly degenerative joint disease, sciatica, and general low energy. But at least now I can get out of bed without the excruciating pain I was experiencing since earlier this month; it still hurts, but I don’t have to grit my teeth.
¶No, I forced myself up and to the computer keyboard because it is Father’s Day here in the U.S.—albeit a bit late in the day (6:39 P.M. Central Time). I want to display for my readers some facts about Papa that might make you think about character both obvious and hidden. I have tried to figure my family out for many years without much satisfactory success. I didn’t ask many questions of them, and they are all dead now; so our lives together and apart will remain a strange mystery to me until I too am dead.
¶I hope I have explained enough to make the following post understandable.
* * * * * *
¶Father’s Day is not celebrated as fully as Mother’s Day and, I think, with good reason. The moment of conjugal embrace, from which conception and birth results, is usually a time of pleasure for the husband and for the wife. However, the wife has to endure all the physical and psychological pains of pregnancy for nine months and in some cases longer. She is the portal through which the baby joins the universe.
¶Yes, all the father experiences is pleasure and, usually, pride when he sees the delivery has been successful and the baby is of the gender he had hoped for. Pappy was devoted to pleasure. He was a philandering gallant. That plus his occasional brutal behavior is what led to their divorce a few years after I was born.
¶But Pappy had other problems which I think were due to his limited education. I was told that he got through the second grade. Now, it’s true that many a youth at the beginning of the 20th century did not finish the regular school course, and that did not hinder them from finding a suitable occupation and satisfactory livelihood. However, as the century moved on, education level became a more prominent component in job interviews.

((Excuse me. I’m going to have try and finish this tomorrow. I am just too sore and weary to proceed any further right now. Goodbye.))

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Goodbye, Tooth Fairy!

Tooth Fairy

©2004, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: The article below was written back in 2004.  At that time, I submitted it to one of our local weeklies. The publisher/editor never printed it. I did not ask him why, but I supposed, with substantial grounds, that his reason was that it was “soft news”; i.e. material that had no immediate relevance for the populace but was a rather small matter that yet could in fact disturb them— they might avoid their local barbers and dentists. Also, while he puts out the best chronicle in the three-county area in the sense that his reporters cover ”hard news” (governmental, political and social events) more fully and accurately, he doesn’t have much appreciation for feature articles or what used to be called “familiar essays” (a common element in the “Talk of the Town” section of New Yorker magazine), which are my forte. So, this article has been stuck in my files all those years, yet I believe it still makes engrossing matter for the intellectually curious reader.

     I have altered the names somewhat, reducing them to initials, because I did not have permission from the subjects to include their full names, although they knew I would publish the article sometime, somewhere. Also, the barber retired half a dozen years ago.

    Enjoy!
—BL

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

There’s new news and there’s old news—but they are not always so simply distinguishable.

Take for example a recent trip to the barbershop for my monthly trim. I went to K. N.’s barbershop. Usually, one of the other barbers cuts my hair, but on this day I had the honor of K. N. himself shearing my mane. After he had done the basic work, he pressed out a palmful of lather and smeared it on my neck. It had been I don’t know how many years since anyone had done that.

“Since when did you start shaving the neck?” I asked. “I thought shaving was out ever since the AIDS scare happened.”

“Oh, we’ve got these stainless steel razors now,” he said. “I used to use Solingen steel blades from Germany. Other barbers used Sheffield steel from England. But they both had pores in them that retained blood. Now I use stainless steel. And I use it only one time.” The stainless steel blades, we discovered after looking at a box, are made in the U.S.

The State of Texas Barber Board, K.N. told me, sent out new regulations about ten years ago ordering barbers to quit using the porous razor blades. They also had to get rid of their strops and hones.

K.N. said he doesn’t offer shaves, even though they would be allowable with the stainless steel blade. He quit shaving years ago, he said, “because people have skin blemishes—like moles. And when you lather a customer up you can’t see the moles.”

About ten years ago was also when the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, sent out regulations telling dentists to modify their practices in the interest of reducing the potential for transmission of HIV, according to local dentist J.F.

The regulations were a response to the case of a dentist in Florida who a decade ago allegedly infected five patients with the AIDS virus, J.F. told me. However, he said, all five cases involved different strains of the virus.

My conversation with the doctor about AIDS developed when I went to see him about tender gums. As I sat in the chair I noticed that the ordinary chairside spittoon was missing.

“Where’s the spittoon?” I asked the dentist’s hygienist as she was sticking a tube in my mouth.

“Oh, we can’t use those anymore,” she said, “because of AIDS.”

What she had stuck in my mouth, J.F. later told me, is called a high-speed suction tube. It removes all that saliva and blood we used to spit into the spittoon. Also, J.F. said he has a line separator in his alley so that there is no possibility of backflow.

The doctor told me the amount of regulations controlling dental practice these days is voluminous. And some of them are ridiculous, he added.  “The virus lives only minutes—some people say less than a minute—out of its moist environment,” he said. “But the regulations are so stringent; we can’t even give a kid his tooth to leave for the Tooth Fairy*. That tooth has to be treated as ‘medical waste’.”

While I was still there, J.F. called up the CDC to get a more definite fix on how long the HIV can live outside its fluid environment. However, they refused to give him a specific time period and said only that when the virus dries out it dies. They added that the hepatitis A virus could live several weeks in the open air before dying. (They obviously didn’t want to give the Tooth Fairy any wiggle room.)

So you see how a news story that began back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was president, continues to ripple into the 21st century. And how our daily lives are continually and probably forever changed in the minutest of ways by the event that created the story.


*Fairy: I don’t know how widely the folklore of the “Tooth Fairy” extends, so perhaps I should relate it briefly here. Children’s “baby teeth” begin to drop out at about age six. Generous, loving parents sometimes tell their child to put a dropped tooth under his/her pillow so that the Tooth Fairy can remove it and replace it with a small coin, such as a dime.

                                                                            Finis

The Dismal Science: Part II

©2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved. 

NOTE TO READERS: I am continuing my meandering journey through accumulated thoughts on business owners and their employees.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize for the “political incorrectness” scattered throughout these writings; I refer particularly to the use of masculine pronouns to represent any person of either gender. I do not intend to slight or annoy feminine readers; it is just that the “he/she” routine is awfully cumbersome and seems wasteful time-wise. I have lived most of my life during a period when the use of the masculine pronoun was acceptable as representing anyone, male or female.
Also, I have yet more to say on the general topic of economics; but I think that, after this installment, it will be good to take a break by writing about something more fun…or funny.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The Entrepreneurs and the Investors…

My first inclination was to use “The Capitalists” for the subhead above, but that term is too exclusive while at the same time too smeared with political connotation; it has acquired an aura of bloated grandiosity. The truth is that our inherited economic system does not consist entirely of plutocrats; there are many more small-time players in the game, from the mom-and-pop grocery (which actually is pretty rare these days) to the owner of a small factory that employs, say, fifteen people. Each of them has invested significantly in their relatively minor enterprises with money from their earnings in a previous job, their savings, or with money borrowed from friends or some seed-money organization.

For years now, I have heard and read that any individual beginning a new business should have an initial financial surplus above their estimated operating expenses for two years: that surplus is what they are to live on during the start-up period. I sadly noticed that many new business people do not adopt that “rule-of-thumb” and they fail.

Another mistake many small business aspirers make—which I observe rather than read about—is that they, naturally enough, start a business related to their personal hobbies, abilities or interests, without checking around to see how many such places already exist in their area. Frequent choices of the sort are a boutique store, a flower shop, or an ethnic restaurant. A bizarre example of this mind-set is the bar-fly with a comfortable bank account who suddenly decides that, since he enjoys the company of his fellow bar-flies so much and he is tired of paying someone else to supply his beer habit for a couple of hours every day, he should open his own bar; he does this without thinking he is going to have to spend most of every day and night, seven days a week, tending to the place. Those people have done little to nothing in marketing research or deep personal evaluation before risking perhaps their life savings in a launch toward the American free enterprise dream. But I admire them for trying.

I have written before about how one of my brothers teamed up with a carpet-layer in opening their own carpet store, specializing in dropped patterns, slightly irregulars, and used carpet. The two men made up a good combination in some ways: my brother had had several years’ experience in selling used cars and possessed a knack for getting along with people and haggling, while his partner was the son of a carpet dealer/installer and was himself possibly the fastest carpet-layer in the city. They were successful for nearly twenty years, increasing their stores to three before my brother’s partner sold his half to my brother and moved to Montana.

But another reason I mention the carpet store here is to introduce what I call the “copy-cat” aspect of business: if you have a good thing going, someone will quickly imitate your process or product. During the first years, a man opened a furniture store right next door to my brother’s store. Not many months later, he, too, started selling carpet, although on a much smaller scale. One day he used red paint to draw out on the sidewalk some hooked arrows, pointing toward his door, and the words “Carpet in here”.  He was capitalizing on a premium ad placement my brother and his partner had in the weekly TV guides published by the two daily newspapers.

The same game is perceivable in the larger spheres of business. I noticed long ago how some soda pop brands, new to the market, copied the colors and even to a slight degree the labeling design of an established brand. And some lawyers make a pretty good living contesting copyright and trademark infringements, in the courts.

Despite the risks, drawbacks and villainies described above, I much respect the folks who venture their all to start up a small business. Such people — the smart, successful ones, at any rate, — are the economic backbone of our nation, of any nation. Reportedly, in spite of their small size, combined, they employ more people than any other entities in the country. The politicians claim to highly regard them, too; although, when I hear a politician call up the image of “small business” to buttress his assertions about whatever, I become annoyed by what I perceive to be the lowest kind of platitude.

At least one thing the small-business employer has in common with the industrialist: He or his managers have to deal with government record-keeping. The amount of such paperwork has purportedly increased incrementally since the early days of unionism, or rather successful unionism in my country. The business owner with employees has been appointed tax collector, safety inspector, and health insurance provider for those people working for him. Even though, being all my life a member of the proletariat, I am sympathetic to the working class (as it is so condescendingly described), I believe that perhaps too much such responsibility has been placed on the employer’s shoulders. On the other hand, a large part of the employee’s life-span as well as his individual skills are being expended on behalf of the employer’s business; his labor is his capital. The first contribution obviously is being consumed irretrievably, and the latter is vulnerable to injury and obsolescence; while the employer’s business will hopefully grow, and his investment in buildings and equipment can be depreciated on his tax return.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

…and now the Employees

This is going to get awfully personal, but there is no help for it. For, you see, I have never owned a business in my life, unless you insist on considering that year or so in my youth when I had a paper route or the decade I reported on a contract basis for our local radio station as self-employment or “businesses”. No, I have always seen myself as a member of the “working class”. And during my lifetime of working, I have always compared myself —my speed, productivity, effectiveness and collegiality—to my fellow workers. Such observing and measuring has naturally informed my view of the workers in general.

I discovered in my teens that I was slower, physically, than most people; it was a handicap that I never overcame, although I could to a small degree compensate for it by being diligent and detail-conscious. On a few occasions in various work places, the individual who was showing me how to do a task has been surprised, when I noticed a fault in something like a file or when a shipment had been overlooked, and said, “I didn’t notice that!” On some other jobs, such as being news editor at a country weekly, speed was not usually a priority, as long as I filled the news hole each week. But I was let go from several other jobs, such as house-painting, because of my turtle’s pace.

Sometimes, though, when I noticed some co-worker’s slap-dash efforts that often resulted in slight damage to a product or an ill-lined stroke of paint, I thought to myself, What is the point of rushing through some task if you’re probably going to have to do it all over again or it is going to look crappy to the customer?

Some of the people I have worked with, however, have been graceful and dedicated workers. But the best comment on such talent cannot come from me: it came rather from a carpet installer/salesman who described another installer as “an artist…his every move seems to flow so naturally that the carpet seems to lay itself.”

That brings up another aspect of my immature attitude toward compensated work: I thought the job was there primarily for my benefit. My satisfaction and comfortableness with it were my main concern. Only well into adulthood did it dawn on me that my job was to help my employer be successful, to make money for him. I remember my first job beyond the paper route , when I was fifteen. I worked for a few weeks for an air-conditioning contractor, my brother’s father-in-law. He paid for my lunch the first day, and I deduced from that, that employers ordinarily bought their employees’ lunch. I know, that sounds crazy, but you have to realize that I had had no prior training from my parents in work ethic or etiquette. I guess they thought that just came naturally.

Still, the benefits for workers have in fact multiplied since the unions began to win their extended battles in the 1930s. Paid holidays and health coverage eventually became virtually universal in the major industries and some smaller ones. Now the fight is on for paid maternity leave, even paternity leave. How different is that from my supposing that employers conventionally buy their workers’ lunch? Of course, mossbacks like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan dealt some heavy blows to the union movements as such; but those blows seem to have merely fractured the union organizations, the forces of labor now apparently have moved into the populace as a whole. I cannot say this with authority, but I believe that the current forces for change are the result of the rapidity of modern mass communication; it is like an ocean tidal wave awakened by a crack in the Earth’s crust. Not just the workers are joining in the push, but some of the billionaires themselves, like Warren Buffett. They recognize the force of change cannot be stopped, that they have more money than they can spend, that the needs of the workers must be recognized and tended to.

But there are other, contrary attitudes in play, too: the reactionaries.

Soon, I believe, the era of the worker will conclude. The inventors are designing robots and other types of mechanization for virtually every occupation from store greeters to accountants…even journalists now. The Associated Press is already mechanizing its facts-gathering and article-composing processes. Boy, am I glad I’m not going to be around much longer! Not many decades hence, the plutocratic industrialists will no longer see any use for other humans except as consumers; but how will people be able to consume if they have no jobs to pay for the things they consume. It will be a world of loafers and artists living on garbage out of dumpsters.

Or everything will be free, but, in such a world, there will be no joy in ownership, for such joy derives mostly from having worked to make the money to pay for something much desired. If there is no work other than punching a few keys or turning a couple of dials, then where will the sense of pride in one’s efforts reside?

Finis

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