Did You Hear About Martha? She Escaped!

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

Listen out the window for the faint sound of “Boo hoo” coming from American employers. “We can’t get any workers!” We ordered our Republican representatives to do their best to cut off unemployment benefits for the truly needy. We even let the eviction moratorium lapse, but that didn’t seem to work either. We’ve got all kinds of perfectly shitty and redundant jobs at ridiculously low wages. And benefits, why our insurance program is so bad…no one can even use it!

When I was working for the mean green auto parts machine, they had one Cardinal rule. Moses came down from the mountain top with a tablet in one hand and a muffler in the other. “Thou shall not sit down…EVER! Do you know who can’t sit down? Prisoners, slaves. The company has grave expectations of you. You won’t do your job ever if you could sit down for just a minute. We’ve have evaluated our employee profiles and so designed the store as to leave no chair or low table or shelf space, that someone might accidentally sit on.

I’m managing an Auto Parts store thirty miles outside Cleveland, in the fourth largest Amish community in America. It’s an understatement to say, I was struggling to find workers. The Amish are great people, if it wasn’t for the Jesus thing, I could join. But as auto parts customers go, they are only so, so. It severely limited my staff choices, then they got this great idea back at the home office.

Let’s use two people on twelve-hour shifts on the weekends. Employees hired to work just two days a week, twelve hours a day for just pennies over minimum wage. Thirty miles from Cleveland and thirty miles from anywhere. That’s why we call it “Rural” fellas, they ain’t no people here! No back talk no complaint, the big green God has spoken from on high. Thy will be done.

It sounded like such a great idea on paper. If it worked, it could potentially save the company bundle. If it didn’t work, so what? We’ve only disrupted the lives of thousands of our workers. You know, those little people. But it was much cleverer than that. Managers have X number of labor hours to schedule, per week. By taking 48 hours out of that schedule, they effectively were forcing salaried managers to work more hours without pay, by limiting their ability to properly schedule.

I went into the parts business many years ago with plan. I would sell auto parts until my debut album, hit the top ten. But it was way different back then. People in the parts business we’re there for years, you could make a living doing this. You learned from people who knew what they were doing. And because they were making a decent living doing it. Without breaking rocks in the hot sun, they gave a shit about what was going on!

Luther was a good ole boy and a good customer. He’d given us fruitcake as a Christmas gift, wrapped in Chevron Christmas paper. We gave it back the following year and Luther just rolled with laughter. My coworker, Doug found a female mannequin in the dumpster and put it in the men’s room. Doug gave the place character. He had a motorcycle helmet on his catalog rack with devil horns on it. The big green auto parts machine would have fired Doug the first day, and been the lessor for it.

Luther came in one day when he knew the manager was at lunch. “I was promised a clock, god dammit!” He bellowed, “I want a clock.” Luther spies the clock behind the counter and says, “There’s a nice one! That in will do!” He snatches the clock off the wall and was out the door with it. When the manger confronted Luther, he found that Luther had welded it into a steel box with bars over it at the roof line of his truck shop. Luther was keeping the clock.

But unto Luther was granted redneckdom’s highest award, almost unbelievable. It was a slow Friday, when the Winnebago broke down with a flat tire in front of his shop . Luther rushed to greet them when the door opened and out steps Kenny Rodgers. Luther personally changed Kenny Rodger’s flat tire, no charge! (Gratis!) The local acclaim alone would be payment enough! We were not well paid, but we were well treated. And Luther was happy to share the details with us all.

While delivering auto parts, I was told to check out the new cars in the dealer’s showrooms. We’re they encouraging me to goof off? No, they were encouraging me to hang around. Introduce yourself, get to know the people that work there. Don’t be the anonymous delivery man from somewhere, let them know who you are. Don’t just deliver parts, network. “Sure, I’ve got time to hear a good joke.”

We got an annual Christmas bonus every year, equal to one week’s pay. I thanked the owner at the Christmas party. “What? I’m just paying you twenty dollars a week more than I told you. I’m using your money and you’re thanking me.” He was my boss, but he was also my teacher. Opening a new store, this man with millions of dollars in the bank. He went around with a city map canvassing his employees on their opinion, for best location for the new store.

He was telling us that he valued us as human beings. Our opinions mattered to him. He’d opened hundreds of parts stores before, but sometimes those little people know things that you really ought to know about.

Every year before  Christmas, the company held the annual under the table, nobody knows about this but everybody in the company, illegal dice game. My store was the annual location, though I didn’t shoot dice. I was the grand Marshall for a private Mardi Gras. As it began, the coolers were full of beer and then multiple whiskey bottles began emerging from multiple, brown paper bags. I thought, oh shit! “There’s a bad moon on the rising.”

Leroy was hot rolling them bones, but then, he put his beer down behind him on the floor. The black cat we had for rodent control, came over and took a big old sniff of Leroy’s beer. Then decided to give it taste! The world immediately went fall apart and went crazy, as Leroy immediately crapped out and never won another hand the rest of the night. A broke drunken mad man, swearing vengeance attempting to catch one of the three cats his blurred vision was showing him! “Go for the one in the middle,” we shouted!

We laughed until we had tears in our eyes. We partied together, got drunk together and watched football together. Helped each other work on their cars.

We had a manager, whose nickname was the Pelican. Late one Sunday night, someone climbed on the roof and nailed a plastic pelican on top of the company store sign. That plastic pelican stayed there for years, until a storm eventually blew it away. Friends slash coworkers or customers, who would climb a roof in the middle of the night, risking arrest, just to gig their friend from work. Just to show him that they cared about him enough to try and make him smile.

I was at Walmart the other day and overheard two employees talking. “Did you hear about Martha? She escaped!”

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