“Jo, do you think I should’ve given Jerry the raise he asked for?”, I say back to Jo as we are sitting in my 1998 office on Main Street, several hours after my “meeting” with one of my best, but oldest home elevator mechanics.
“look sweetie, I don’t want to ever Michele, ever appear as though I am telling you what to do, but you’ve got to get a grip on things around here! Michele, look at all those home elevator jobs on your board (Jo frantically points to the board on my wall where I keep the names of the folks we need to do elevator installs) look at all those residential elevators you’ve got to install all over the southeast. Hell, there must be over two hundred and twenty five jobs up there. Don’t get me wrong Michele, I love Jerry to death, but he’s not doing you any favors by coming in here every five minutes looking for more money and then going out there pissing customers off in the mean time. Jerry’s what in my day, we’d call an “old codger”, an older guy who knows his stuff, but still needs money, yet doesn’t have the stamina to deliver the goods as fast anymore. A codger is a fella who should be making money on what he knows and not what he does, but still thinks of himself as a race horse. Someone who doesn’t mind still getting his feet wet but wants to bitch about his boots not drying fast enough. Listen Michele, Codgers believe no one is as good as they are, and codgers believe they’re never being paid enough. But listen, codgers are always working “too hard” to take the time to show some younger fella how things are done, because codgers think they’re still the smartest-fastest guys in the room. Michele, codgers believe everyone else, well everyone else is just too damn irresponsible and/or stupid to do “their” job right, so they just keep on doing, all while you’re paying penance for their mental deduction. Plus, always remember Michele, always remember, codgers are always afraid the boss is going to figure out they’re replaceable and let them go. And HONEY! Don’t get me started on what Old Codgers think about women, Jews and niggers”, Jo says as she fidgets with her filing pen
“Jo, please don’t use “that word” around me”, I say back, like a well-taught white girl of the seventies.
“Ooh Goddamn Michele, you know what I mean, you know I mean poor, black and ignorant. Listen Michele, You’ve got to put a stop to this right now, you’ve got to let Jerry, Chris and all the other men know you’re no push over. I know you’re kind hearted Michele, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as kind-hearted as you, I know you’d give your left arm to a man with five arms who didn’t even ask you for an arm in the first place if you thought it’d make him happier. And god knows you can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo, but listen Michele, some people just like being miserable and it’s not your job to tell them otherwise. YOU HAVE GOT to let these men know you’re in charge, you can’t just keep going like you’re going or one day you’ll end up like me (Jo frantically points at her chest, where her first open heart went in). Michele, trust me,trust me (Jo waves her best and brightest, I’ve been here before flag-hands in the air to gain more of my attention so I’ll really listen to her this time) when I say, having your first heart attack in your early forties is no fun. Jerry’s GOT to know you’re running a business here and not a charity for old codgers who didn’t save their money when they had their chance. You know how Hy and I feel about you Michele, and though you are sharp as a tack when it comes to selling home elevators, Jerry needs to understand you’ll fire His-ASS in a heartbeat if he keeps coming at you for more money and keeps causing you grief in the field. He’s got to know you can live without him before he’ll start appreciating you”, Jo says with a twinge of pleading yet emphatic knowledge of how things are in my “real world”.
“so what do I do Jo, do I fire Jerry tomorrow just to send him a message? Do I tell our clients and contractors who are expecting Jerry next week that he won’t be there! Do I plead my case to our clients that according to you a man overboard is a way of teaching men not to bitch about the swaying of the boat? Do I tell Jerry, Jerry I’m sorry you and Ms. Carolyn didn’t save your money when you guys were younger but that’s not my problem. What about you Jo? Do I just let the boat go down and although you and that Jewish-Yankee husband of yours are the funniest, nicest people I’ve ever met, do I just let the boat sink with y’all on it too? What do you want me to do Jo, what do I do with the supply man, the tax folks, the insurance man, the landlord and the utility folks when they come a calling?”
I take a deep breath and continue my real world perspective,
“Should I tell them, hey look guys, I’m sorry that I gave you my word that’d Id pay ya’ but shit happens, so go fuck yourself if you can’t understand, ooh but by the way, will ya’ll let me keep living here and keep the power and water on too; or do I just keep selling, selling until I have no more energy to sell, because look Jo, I cant exactly raise our prices, then we won’t be competitive anymore and those old codgers you keep talking about, well they’re our clients with all the money and they don’t wanna pay any more than our markets says they have to and I sure as hell don’t wanna piss them off or they won’t buy from “us” anymore; or maybe Jo, better yet, maybe I ought to approach someone else to drive my boat; or Ive got one Jo, maybe I should just sell my boat to the highest, bigger, “I don’t give a rats-ass about human beings” business ship and say to all my employees and vendors, sorry “it” didn’t work out for ya’ll; or maybe I’ll just go to the bank and see if they’ll loan me some money? Because you know Jo, there’s only two ways to finance a company in America, debt or equity, there’s no sweat in that equation. At least that’s what my economics professor in college taught me!! Or better yet Jo, I’ll just go to the bank and get one of those high interest rate credit cards and see if that “helps”, so then I can pay the bankers the sweat off my balls because you know how bankers are, they’ll always get their money no matter what! But once I owe them Jo, I’ll never be free again, never! Unless of course I do like everyone else and tell “them” to go fuck themselves after I borrow “their” money. Because look Jo, once I do that, everyone else around here sinks and that’s not helping anyone is it, is it?? Ya’ see what’s happening out there Jo, ya’ see most good hearted business folks like me, but from the fifties and sixties, are figuring out they gotta cash out now before the tax man comes a calling, the Mexicans take over everything and the interest rates hit thirteen percent again. Can’t you see Jo, all those good fellas you knew back in New York, well they know the real money is no longer found by what you do anymore, but the big money is made on what you have and they’re switching over to the banking and insurance socialization of wealth equation right now, and guess what Jo, they know who’s going to be buying too!!”, I always remember my Daddy-O talking about interest rates being so high in the late seventies and early eighties, and saying how it was all most folks could do to pay their mortgages, I think my Daddy O told me his first mortgage had a twelve or thirteen percent interest rate on it.
I take another gasp of entrepreneurial air,
“Jo look, I’m not saying you’re not right, but look, Jerry’s got a good heart, he just forgets to look at it as often as he use to. And who am I to tell Jerry what his value is, the market place determines that price. I mean look Jo, I could go out there like most folks and hire a Mexican to do Jerry’s job because everybody’s doing it, all the contractors I talk to tell me, you wouldn’t believe how hard these guys work and how cheap they are! And the great thing about “them” is they won’t steal from you because they’re too afraid you’ll turn them in to the police, THAT GIVES ULTIMATE CONTROL OF PEOPLE JO!!! Think of what I could do if had ultimate control Jo, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will!!”, I take another dip of H3O and continue,
“Yeah, I can do that Jo, but who wins in that deal and what’s the consequence to “me”. I mean to say, I don’t have anything against Mexicans, they seem like hard workers. HELL, the few days I picked strawberries with em’ one summer at Scott’s strawberries in Erwin, TN those guys put me to shame, I couldn’t keep up. I quit two days later and went back home to my Mommy. But Jo listen, I just think that’s cheating, cheating for the hard working Mexican folk who’s got to give me a fake social security number to work here but who’ll never get the “security” part of that equation because he’s not actually a citizen of this great land of ours. And look Jo, I don’t wanna win if I have to look at my mother, who has worked for social security for longer than I can remember and tell her, sorry mommy!! You just don’t understand what it’s like out here in the wild wild west of business, I “have” to cheat just to survive!!!!!!”, I say back to Jo as though I’m looking at my principal, Mrs. Maltsburger, and I’m in the second grade again.
“well shit, now that you put it that way gal, I don’t know what to tell you to do. Hells Bells, you need to simmer down!!! Let’s just go outside and have another cigarette”, Jo says as she picks up her mini cigarette pouch and hands me one of her long Virginia slims, marketed just for her back in the sixties.
Only for me to hand it back to her, as I pull my afternoon twix snack bar out of my desk drawer,
“Jo, you know I prefer sugar over smoke”, I say back to her with a wink and a grin.