The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Islands in Stormy Waters

It seems we are all floundering in stormy seas these days. So much of what we are used to is in jeopardy: our jobs, our homes, the well being of family and friends. Even if each of us individually is not doing too badly, each of us has a friend or two, or family members who are having a tough time. We're hearing all the bad stories - in the news or word of mouth - but this is a good story. And the best part about it is that it is true.

The day before yesterday I left my doctor's office feeling really rotten --feeling worse, in fact, than when I got there. I'd just had it confirmed (second doctor's opinion, this one a specialist) that for the rest of my life (!) I am on a special diet, paraphrased to "If it goes in your mouth and tastes good - spit it out!" and - on top of all that, I need to quit smoking (six well planned attempts so far this year - none lasting more than three days) and eat a small haystack of fiber every day. Ack.

Knowing I would probably be feeling this way when I left the doctor's office, I packed my camera. I decided I would just drive (so far I am still allowed to do that!) until I found a pond or other interesting place where I could just relax and look for pictures to take. No more than a previously unexplored mile from the doctor's office I found a small pond that begged (with an open handicapped parking place!) for me to stop and do just that. The sun was positively in the wrong place, I grumbled to myself, but there were ducks, a small blue heron and - way out about 30 feet - a huge turtle on a rock sunning himself. I started shooting at the turtle, trying all sorts of settings, and glanced up to see a man walking my way on the sidewalk that goes around the little pond. He was wearing a headset and smiling - at me! He had one of those smiles that required a return smile - and as he approached I asked where in the world I knew him from. He told me I didn't - he'd just gotten out of prison where he'd spent the last 15 years.Will He asked, "Are you going to take a picture of me?"

There are a lot of people who prefer not to be photographed around here, so I explained that I was trying to get a shot of the turtle, but would he mind if I took a shot of him? His smile grew wider and he told me, "Shoot away!" and stooped down with his bag. So I did - and thanked him, told him he had a great smile.

"I'm happy. I guess I'm just - blessed," he said. I asked him what made him feel he was blessed, and he told me he'd gotten a job - a good job. Well, I told him, in these times it is certainly a blessing to have a job at all, much less a good one. He said, "If you knew how I got this job, you'd know just what a blessing it is!" and - he told me.

It wasn't long ago he got up and took the bus to one of the industrial sections of town. He'd asked another bus rider if this was the right bus to get to a certain address he'd seen in the paper and was told it was - but it wasn't. Still, he saw a sign from the bus window that said 'Hiring Today' and got off the bus to apply. After filling out the application the person taking information asked for his driver's license. Well, he didn't have one, he told her, and said he was going to be getting one soon. He left and was feeling a bit low. Wrong bus, no driver's license - and - he was in a suit and tie - it was getting hot out, too. He sat down to clear his head for a few minutes and a truck pulled up close to him. The driver asked him if he was lost. He answered that he was looking for a job. The man in the truck asked him what sort of work he was looking for. He told the man (forgive me, I forgot!) and the guy told him to go across the street and ask for a man named Charlie. If Charlie had nothing for him, he should go up the stairs and apply for work up there.

He smiled wider as he continued, "So I went across the street and found Charlie, and he told me he didn't have any work today - but maybe try again next week. Then I went up the stairs as the man in the truck told me." He asked the receptionist for a job application, and she cheerfully gave him one. He told her a man in a truck had sent him there. The receptionist replied that she knew that - that the man in the truck owned the company. She was told, she said, to take his application and find him a place to fit in the company.

It was at about that time the man in the truck - the owner! - came in and introduced himself. He looked over the application and asked what he'd been doing that there was no previous employment listed. The young man told him he'd just gotten out of prison and he hoped that wouldn't be a problem. But the owner of the company was impressed by this man, showing up early early in the morning in his suit and tie looking for work. He gave him a job.

He's been there a while - even doing a little overtime this week - but the wonder of it all - being on the wrong bus, getting off at a random place because there was a hiring sign, being seen by this man and appreciated enough to be hired for a good position if he followed the man's direction - still amazes him, still reminds him he has value and worth, and is blessed - that wonder still has not left him.

It was at this point that he introduced himself. His name is Willie. I think of him as Will, because he is a grown man and deserves a grown man's name. He is a year and some months older than my youngest kid.

Will went on to tell me that he lives over there, gesturing to some small apartment buildings across the street. He told me all his people were in Texas, but that his church has helped him get started. They gave him furniture, a brand new set of pots and pans. They even gave him a television (emphasis is his) and a cell phone, though he is still trying to figure out how to use that.

He told me about his mother, how she would not visit him in prison because she wasn't the sort to subject herself to searches and other indignities, even for him, but she wrote to him consistently. He said she passed away about two weeks after he was released, but he knew she was still with him, maybe whispering in the truck driver's ear, "This is my son. He's a good man."

Will said he really wasn't good with people, having spent so much time alone. I assured he was. He said it is hard for him to talk to people he doesn't know. I said, " No, it's not. You just did! You have to have a bit of confidence in that!"

Will said something about not being good with ladies (I, being old, knew what he meant, that he really meant young ladies!) and I reminded him that he does have a great smile, and that should help him there. He said that there is this lady at church...But as much as he wants someone special in his life, he knows he isn't quite ready yet.

He mentioned why he'd been in prison - something about taking something from a store. I don't think he was alone in that caper, and the length of his time in prison makes me think someone in that group may have had a weapon. I didn't ask. It didn't really matter to me. What lesson there was to be learned, Will seems to have learned it. I am quite good at seeing through BS, and there was none to see through with Will.

We walked back to my car, still talking about this and that, and he thanked me for our conversation. I thanked him for the same. I am going to have my photos of him printed and maybe I'll see him another day at that pond as he walks home from work. I'd like to see him again to see how he is doing. He's on his way up from down, and I can't imagine him not reaching all his goals.

I thought about this encounter a lot since it happened. It turned my day around, yes. But something more. There are still blessings to be had out there, and all it takes is the ability to recognize them - because if you recognize them for what they are, you appreciate them. They can't happen unless you appreciate them. You may have "good luck" or things might just "fall into place" - but to be blessed, as Will knows he is, it takes that acknowledgement and appreciation.

Portrait of a Happy Man

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Aren't You Incensed?

Apparently I didn't howl loudly enough! When I read the AP report on visa applications, bank bailouts and layoffs here, I was livid. I sent the information to people I expected to be as upset as I, and I posted it in Facebook. No one commented, no one reacted at all, and I wavered a bit, thinking maybe it isn't such a big deal. But it is a big deal. Plain and simple, taxpayers bail out the banks and the banks hire people from the world employment pool, not the national. It is clearly a money issue, and one of the reasons you will find highly degreed people, some, no doubt, repaying student loans, flipping burgers at fast food places. Aren't you incensed? I am.

Some people call it outsourcing when customer service jobs are shipped off to India or other foreign lands. How many of the unemployed will tell your that they have been 'outsourced' (- a polite way of saying 'fired,' it means the same thing -) that have been replaced by foreign labor, 'interns?'

The banks-those big ones being bailed out by the taxpayers - have helped cause the financial woes in this country by allowing qualified American people to go jobless - or be underemployed - while they cut a few corners by replacing those workers with foreign workers. They should be held accountable for this, and some restrictions should be placed on their hiring practices before another cent of taxpayer money bails them out. And what about the auto industry? How many are using 'foreign interns' rather than citizens of our own country to fill their technical needs? What about other industries, some with Department of Defense contracts, who hire from the international pool?

Somebody listen to me! This is a big deal. This is partly what has derailed our economy! We the taxpayers must demand that as long as we are bailing out banks and other employers, those banks and other employers had better not be giving our jobs away to the foreign visa applicants.

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