Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shining Mr. Lincoln's Shoes (Letter To The Powers That Be, 1998)

"He's a temporary contract man
Since the union lost its clout
Got no meds or benefits
He's living hand to mouth

"In the shadow of the monument
He finally paid his dues
Dying of a heart attack
Shining Mr. Lincoln's shoes..."

(Wayne Kramer, "Shining Mr. Lincoln's Shoes")

While rummaging through our proverbial back pages, The Squawker and I have run across some interesting artifacts of our past. That's one of the fascinating things about cleaning: you never know what you're going to find, of which the following letter (below) stands out as a good example.

We've racked our brains, but can't recall where the letter went. The date coincides with our brief (three-and-a-half year) flirtation with the urban bohemian lifestyle, but -- other than that -- we can't recall the destination. At first, I assumed that we'd targeted one of the local alternative weeklies, until The Squawker reminded me: "Have you forgotten all the trouble that you encountered with temp agencies?"

And that's when the penny dropped, as they say in England.  I did a fair amount of office temping when we started our big city tenure. My best experience came as a phone collector at a microfilm company, where the assignment actually lasted the full three weeks. Most of the "slow-pay-no-play" clientele in this situation were established businesses, which diminished much of the guilt that you might have felt (say) for pursuing the marginal earners...but I digress.

On the last day, our boss actually bought doughnuts for all of us contract types, which I've never seen anybody do before, nor since. The typical assignments, however, never lasted more than a couple days, or a week. On one occasion, yours truly found himself told not to return after putting in an eigh-hour shift rearranging and organizing shelves at a hardware store...because the owner came in, and didn't like the look of me. I still remember the paycheck: $64 for the day, of which $8 went back to Caesar in taxes!  Over to you, Mr,  Kramer, for that last verse:

"In the shadow of the monument
With those mop-n-bucket blues
His soul sang sweet surrender
While shining Mr. Lincoln's shoes..."

Eventually, I found a dreary office job that required 45 minutes of travel back and forth every day to some northern suburban enclave -- which, for awhile, seemed like a better bargain than patching together this or that assignment to satisfy the weekly and monthly bottom line. However, my lasting memory of those daily bus rides isn't the job itself, nor my co-workers, but the ugly '50s and '60s architecture dotting the town...great, big lumps of concrete with right angles and corners jutting out here, there and there, I'd always much money did someone plunk down to get the village looking like this?

In any event, the following letter brings back numerous memories of my short-lived temping experiences, which The Squawker and myself saw chronicled in 'zines like Temp Slave -- then, and now, one of the few publications that told the truth about what was really happening then. I have vivid memories of seeing the Redi-Men buses cruising the city, sneaking a glance at the occupants as they kept their heads down, or gazed randomly out the window, wondering how to play the crooked hand that life had dealt them...feeling too exhausted to do anything about today, and uncertain if tomorrow might bring anything marginally better.

Few knew it then, I'm sure, but the system was grooming everyone involved for a new life...the 19th-century-style insecurity of the Gigger Nation, and the uncertain world of shining Mr. Lincoln's shoes.  The letter follows now...

December 13, 1998

OK, Folks --

Your latest fly-the-flag-of-capitalism pitch is like watching a multi-cubicle pileup on the interstate. You've lost track of the flying glass and metal shards because you refuse to see what you're seeing. Your smart-mouthed managers' work-hard-play-by-the-rules pitch is nauseating in all its naked dishonesty, so stark and stunning is the mental impoverishment on display here.

To recap -- only a complete fool, or Armani-coated apologist, is unaware that capitalism creates savage, unforgiving divisions in society. To shrug one's shoulders and say, "I'm all right, Jack, but if you're not, that's not my problem," sounds suspiciously like Marie Antoinette's parting words before those unwashed lemmings stormed the Bastille to kick her powdered-wigged ass. In an American society speedily returning to Twenties-on-Prozac levels of inequality, your commercial is a gross insult to working people dying on the vine, with nothing to show for all their college-educated, 50- to 60-hour workweeks except loss of meaningful benefits, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Oh, and while I'm clearing out my chest's unbridled arsenals of rage against your slack-jawed, complacent idiocy, let's not forget that a great majority of wealth -- in America, or anywhere else, for that matter -- is inherited. My current boss currently owes his $1.2 million annual gross ($180,000 per month, you denim-clad morons!) to his dad's death in 1983. Like an old plate, the bugger expired, and his son cashed in accordingly -- who, incidentally, thinks nothing of cheating his own salespeople out of $25 commissions (or paying me $9.75 per hour, sans benefits).

Ah, there I go, getting pissed again, what's the use -- I'm sure some weaselly spinmaster at your company will fire off some mindless "now there, there, it's not all bad" letter, or the equally inane, "Aw, c'mon, man, it's just a commercial, can't you take a joke?"

Don't waste your time if either response emanates from your stinking spin mill. Save it for the Third World men and women struggling to keep body and soul together in your vast, octopus-like sweatshop network. I'm not sure if they'd be able to afford a corrugated tin shanty on what you pay them!

No Regards,
The Reckoner & The Squawker

Whilst looking around for suitable images to accompany these unfortunate recollections, I came across an interesting broadside from a German anarchist group that's launched a campaign to abolish temp work:

The heading in the graphic ("Gleicher Lohn fur gleicher Arbeit! Leiharbeit Abschaffen!") roughly translates to, "Equal pay for equal work! Abolish temporary work!"...though, honestly, I preferred the original Google translation for the last half of the slogan ("Leiharbeit Abschaffen!" = "Temporary Exterminating!").

At any rate, you'll find some interesting commentary awaiting you, once you pull that translation trigger.  For more disturbing reading, look no farther than The New York Times ("Temporary Workers, Permanent Problems": 6/28/13):

For me, the phrase that leaps out is this one: "The temp industry is expanding at a rate 10 times that of the private sector -- it's easy to speculate that this growth comes at the expense of full-time jobs." D'oh, y'think? Nah, never mind...anyway, to round things off, here's the song that started this whole meditation:

"Shining Mr. Lincoln's Shoes" (Wayne Kramer):

"Happy" reading and listening, one and all...The Reckoner

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