Understand, I have loathed Trump long before he considered running for political office. It was back in the 1990's when his reality television career was starting. From the very beginning something seemed "off" about the individual from what I felt was his unhealthy need for constant attention and adulation from others.
I use to be a fan of the performer who goes by the name Meat Loaf, until he was on Trump's reality show and looked at him with something akin to god-like worship one episode. It made my skin crawl in such a way I simply couldn't take Mr. Loaf or his music serious again.
So, it goes without saying that with the first indictments being issued to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI this morning, I'm feeling pretty damn good. All three individuals played key roles in gaming the election system so Trump could occupy the White House.
The only problem is that this is not the end to the Trump nightmare and everyone like me should understand that. We are all in for a long and very dirty war that will shake this country to its core. More importantly, Democrats like me should understand this will only harden those who belong to Trump's cult of personality. I know many such members personally, unfortunately, and they will follow him almost to death since he has become their Great White Hope.
What I am essentially saying is that rational Americans should write off the 30 to 33 percent of the country that would follow Trump off the side of a cliff. No logic or reason will dissuade them that he is a deluded narcissist without the barest understanding of how the world and the United States runs. More importantly, everyone should understand that in the coming days he could fire Mueller, at the very least, or start issuing blanket pardons to those indicted and anyone else, especially his family, who might be under investigation. In short, he would in all likelihood burn the country down if he felt it would save himself from criminal exposure.
Another factor we need to consider, when the leading world power is preoccupied with internal issues, outside forces have all through history used this time to try and redraw the world map to their advantage. Which I am sure Trump would greatly appreciate since it would allow him to possibly weasel out of these growing problems with the law.
We are in seriously dark and dangerous territory here folks.
Epic journeys are said to begin with a
single step. In my case that translated into burning off the tank of
gas I bought before hitting Interstate-26 heading down to the South
Carolina coast. There was no grand plan, no destination, the main
reason I was heading south was because that was my general direction
when I left the Quincy town limits behind me. But as I merged into
the flow of traffic in the back of my head this felt like the best
way to start off my journey.
On the way towards Charleston the idea
of hitting the Atlantic coast and then deciding to go north or south
began forming in my head. Old U.S. Highway 17 runs roughly parallel
to much of the southeastern Atlantic coast and from Charleston I
could either head down to sunny Florida or up north towards North
Carolina and Virginia. So I drove feeling a freedom that I could
barely remember from that small segment of time after the army but
before marriage and the demands of work made life truly a burden.
My initial intention was to drive until
I was tired and then get a motel room. Which I figured would be
Charleston, but as I hit the junction of Highway 17 the urge to go
on was overwhelming. So, acting instinctively my decision was to head
north which would take me towards the Grand Strand area of the state.
With the local NPR stations providing news and later my collections
of CDs keeping me entertained, I made it all the way to the curious
town of Georgetown before hunger forced me to stop.
I say curious because while the
municipality can trace its history back to the colonial era in the
form of stately churches and grand colonial houses, they did
something really stupid that endangered it all. Back in the late
1960's the city leaders allowed a steel mill to be built next a small
inlet of the bay the city lay next. It was a great place for two
reason, the first being that it allowed cargo ships carrying scrap metal to
dock and unload. The second reason was because the finished product
could easily be shipped out on the railroad tracks running right
beside the property. There was one huge problem though, that
combination of advantages placed the steel mill right in the middle
For several decades the mill provided
hundreds if not thousands of high paying jobs that allowed families
to build a future. An issue no one foresaw was that in the early
years of its operation the mill produced a rust-colored haze that
descended on the houses and other buildings close to the mill. In a
manner of a few short years ancient homes that had survived the
American Revolution, Civil War, and numerous hurricanes and tropical
storms decayed away into ruins.
Clean up operations and anti-pollution
additions to the steel mill itself halted the disaster but the damage
was largely done. The residents decided to ignore the outward signs
of what couldn't be saved but a brave few did speak up saying that if
the ocher-tinted dust ruined houses, just what in the hell did the
stuff do to peoples lungs? Southern sensibilities against making a
fuss, and upsetting a money making apple cart, soon came into play
and all that worry over health and well being was hushed up.
Proving once again that all things
change eventually, many times for the worse, by the 1990s the steel
mill began facing competition from other operations overseas
producing a cheaper product. Like other American business, namely my
former employer, cost saving measures were instituted but the spiral
downward couldn't be resisted. The mill ended up being sold on
several occasions with the new management each time going through the
required motions of promising to bring it back to its old glory.
My ex-wife and I visited Georgetown
during one of the truly good years in our marriage. The excursion
was a just a day trip to allow us a breather from the kids. Like
normal children, they had both become quite adept at exhausting their
parents. One of Emily's friends had recently told her about how many
of the colonial homes offered tours and that Georgetown's main street
was now dominated by cutesy boutiques and stylish bistros. Near the
end of the day she and I strolled the waterfront walkway on the inlet
and while everything was perfect both of us were shocked at seeing
the rear of the largely defunct steel mill.
While I stand by my assessment of the
decaying outward appearance of the Tightlock factory back in Quincy,
the disaster of the Georgetown steel mill made it look truly trivial
in comparison. From our vantage point looking at the open, rear area
of the plant, everything suggested it had long been abandoned with
cranes, railroad cars, and piles of scrap metal seemingly waiting for
the workers to return from their long lunch. The plant and all other
buildings on the site were painted the same rust color of the dust
that had settled on all the nearby structures when it first opened.
This only added to the general eyesore when compared to the all the
efforts to make the main street look green, healthy, and most of all,
full of life.
A local saw us looking at the plant and
gave us the full rundown on its history and said that the current
owners keep a skeleton crew employed to prevent the federal
government from forcing them to cleanup decades worth of toxic
compounds that saturate the soil. When I asked this gentleman if he
thought it would ever be cleaned up, he just laughed and walked away.
When I reached Georgetown it was long
after sundown and my concern was finding a decent place to eat. The
bar and grill I picked overlooked the waterfront but there was a
chilling aspect to the glow of the city. Bright lights illuminated
much of the scene, all except where the steel mill was located. It
was like a black maw of nothing coolly residing amongst the oblivious
It was probably just me still getting
use to being part of the daytime living folks, but I felt overwhelmed
by the people around me. At the other tables in the bar conversations
going on seemed more lively.
Surreptitiously, I watched a young
couple holding hands while leaning in close and whispering intently
to each other. The engagement ring on the young woman's left hand
suggesting their conversation in all likelihood revolved around some
aspect of the future. I found myself wondering if they actually
understood the nature of what they were trying to do, or if “love”
had overwhelmed them almost assuring a messy downfall.
Several tables over from them a group
of about five or six people were celebrating a birthday, whose I
couldn't rightly discern since they were all having a great time.
Every time the noise started to get a little too loud two of the
waitresses would come over and skillfully defuse the situation. When
one of the party-going customers placed his hand on the backside of
the short-haired brunette waitress, she quickly grabbed it and
twisted to the point he went silent and grimaced in pain. To the rest
of the partiers it was the funnest thing to have ever happened, the
offender realizing his mistake backed down and apologized profusely.
The waitress, to her credit, didn't release the man's hand until he
promised to personally triple her tip.
I did take some pleasure seeing an
obviously exhausted mother and father trying to eat dinner. Their
children, one a toddler clearly enjoying the mastery of the word “No”
and the other an infant, laughing hysterically at each other. The
consumption of food seemed to be the least of their concerns. I must
admit, I enjoyed the laughter because it was real and didn't require
the humiliation or the degrading of another person. One of the things
that made me uneasy around people was that such humor was so widely
accepted these days.
“You okay honey?” the short-haired
brunette waitress asked taking me by surprise. The young waitress looked to be in her
late twenties of early thirties. I admit, I was taken by both her outward physical attractiveness and the look in her eyes suggesting an intelligence far sharper than anyone else in the room. This young woman, probably a struggling college student, would definitely not be working tables all her life. Frankly, I felt sorry for any fool, particularly those of the male persuasion, that got in her way.
“Oh absolutely, I'm just a million
miles away. Food is great, I haven't eaten this well in a long time.”
I said hoping my words were coherent. I simply didn't want to tell
her I was snooping on the other customers.
“Great, I'm here if you need me,”
she said with a professional enthusiasm before walking away that a
less worldly person would take as personal interest.
It pains me to no end, but for the
briefest second, a small part of me wanted her interest to be
something other than making her customers comfortable, and then
receiving a good tip. In all the years I worked night shift, I had
seen other guys and gals fall into that trap. You spend a few years
sentenced to working when most everyone else is asleep and its
unreasonably easy to start misinterpreting the slightest show of
interest or compliment as something more than it was intended. One
poor fool who worked nights with me for a few years became so inept
around daytime people the rest of the crew and myself stopped
inviting him to our annual Christmas party at one of the bars in
Thinking of that former workmate, I was
suddenly struck by an idea that while on the surface seemed insane,
given the demands of work and a person's natural desire to find
companionship it actually made a little sense. There were specialized
internet dating sites that catered to all manner or modern
idiosyncrasies, why not one for poor fools who worked night shift?
The idea was so outrageously funny I must have made some sort of
sound because my waitress instantly reappeared at my table.
“You sure you're okay, sir,” she
said now showing real concern. “Can I get you another drink?”
“No, really I'm fine. In fact I'll
take the check now.” I said to the waitress. Looking back over at
the couple with young children another thought crossed my mind.
“Yeah, there is one more thing,” I said to my waitress before she
had a chance to walk away.
Motioning for her to lean in close,
something she seemed a little wary of, I told her I would cover the
bill for the couple and their children. But she couldn't say a word
to them about it until I left.
“I'll do just that,” she said
giving me a real smile this time and maybe just a little bit more.
For a minute, I allowed myself a lurid fantasy of us meeting after
the bar closed and then heading off to some place we could be alone.
Not realistic, but I chalked it up as part of my journey to learn to
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, to me
lawyers and what they do have always been a riddle, wrapped inside a
mystery inside of an enigma. Luckily, until my divorce I never did
anything stupid enough to require their services. I'm not knocking
lawyers, it's just that their profession is more abstract and nuanced
than my glorified bruised-knuckle mechanic mind can comprehend. Then
again, no one would ever confuse me with an insightful and forward
thinking person. The prime example of my inability to metaphorically
see beyond the tip of my own nose being my years working at Tightlock
So, despite my admiration of the man
who helped me navigate the numerous vagaries of getting dumped and
uncoupled from my now ex-wife, I still felt a pretty large level of
trepidation upon arriving at the offices of the Lund Law Firm. That
was party because my lawyer's office was on the second floor of an
obscure building in a bad part of town with the first level housing
“Raunchy Red's Tattoo Parlor.” A fine Quincy, South Carolina
business, even after the county sheriff made the drug bust twelve
years earlier that resulted in them carrying off three large bails of
high grade Colombian marijuana, a kilo of cocaine, and enough weapons
and ammo to supply an infantry platoon.
Despite the incriminating evidence, the
original Raunchy Red protested his innocence even though he was found passed out of top of the three marijuana bails and using the
cocaine as a pillow. Red was adamant that the National Football
League, the CIA, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had framed him
because he had found the lost city of Atlantis and discovered that
Elvis was not only still alive but that he had converted to Islam.
The judge overseeing his case, a devout Christian and Elvis fan whose
favorite vacation destination was Graceland, was highly offended at
the suggestion that the King would convert to another faith. This
resulted in Red's psychological examinations, which stated in no
uncertain terms he was completely detached from reality, being
Raunchy Red was convicted on every
count and sentenced to four life terms in one of the supermax
federal prisons. After a few years' rumors started floating through
Quincy saying Red did eventually get psychological help. Where things
get weird though the story goes on to say that once he returned to
sanity Red enrolled in one of the online colleges where it was
discovered he had a talent for theoretical physics. Pure bullshit if
you ask me, but somehow the local newspaper received a photograph
from an antonymous source showing Red's mother, the longtime Quincy
queen of quilting, giving the frail but brilliant physicist, Stephen
Hawking one of her blankets.
Back in Quincy, the tattoo parlor
didn't stay shuttered long, another guy quickly bought the business
and in the spirit of cost saving measures started calling himself
“Red” to avoid changing the signs. The new Red, went about
business differently than the old, he cultivated a close relationship
with the county sheriff and his department. The new Red had a
standing fifty-percent discount for tattoos for all the deputies,
which they took full advantage of because their patrol cars were
often seen at the location. A now standard joke about the new Red and
his tattoo parlor suggests he must have also started making donuts
since no one had ever seen one of the deputies sporting a tattoo.
The second reason for my nervousness
came from Jim Lund himself. The day my marriage officially ended
Emily came home early from her job at the local hospital to tell me
that I had a week to move out of the house. Emily was a nurse in the
Air Force and after her discharge from the service she transitioned
quite successfully to civilian life. As opposed to me who had served
in the Army infantry and had to attend the local community college to
gain a real skill beyond my talent for proper camouflage techniques,
knowing how to dig a latrine, and field stripping a fifty caliber
After calling in several favors, I
found a really cheap but crappy trailer to move into and once that
was done my next task was finding a lawyer to represent me. Lawyers
get an undeserved bad rap, at the core of the profession they
literally hold society together. Television audiences have been
trained like salivating dogs to hate the sleazy and amoral defense
attorney protecting a dastardly criminal and deny justice to some
innocent victim. But if any of the wide eyed, largely overweight
couch potatoes feel they have been wronged in any manner, the first
thing they do is begin looking for an attorney.
That being said, the stereotype of some
lawyers as cheesy ambulance chasers out to screw over their clients
and insurance companies is unfortunately true. My problem back then,
besides living in a twenty-year-old trailer with dubious electrical
wiring and a leaky roof, was that I couldn't afford any of those of
the high profile shysters.
A couple of weeks went by with my
soon-to-be ex-wife, Emily, wanting to be rid of my ass so she could
move on with her life. Which in hindsight I took that to mean that she
and her future second husband, and my dentist, were tired of their
illicit rendezvouses at the Hide Away Motel. Luckily, I was at the Quincy
coin operated laundromat late one Saturday night with the other dregs
of local society when I came upon a business card pin to an ancient
community bulletin board.
The card declared that the Lund Law
Firm could provide reliable but cut rate legal services for those in
need. The services it listed included wills, powers of attorney, and
no fault divorces. With that level of advertisement, I figured this
Jim Lund, Esquire would be just the guy to help me. The business card
did have a website address for the Jim Lund Law Firm which said he
was a graduate of the New Carolina Law and Accounting School down in
Charleston. While not an expert in law schools by any means, I had
never heard of the place but at that moment I only cared that he was
an attorney licensed to practice law in South Carolina.
When I arrived at his Jim's office
there were already several preconceived notions running around my
head. The first being that he was probably a bit of a loser, like
myself, meaning poor social skills along with being overweight and
balding. Since I also assumed his law school was at best a
fly-by-night organization, I also expected him to be barely
I opened the door and entered his
office after knocking. “Hey Mr. Lund,” I said rather loudly since
I didn't see anyone.
“Jason Lance, I presume,” was the
immediate and cheerful response coming from the connecting room.
“Take a seat please sir, I'm making some coffee and will bring you
At first Lund's office reinforced every
lackluster notion I had about the man. The room itself was run down
and needed a cleaning, several coats of new paint on the walls, and
new furniture since the desk and chairs looked like castoffs from the
1960's. The only thing that looked new and given special attention
was the large framed diploma saying Jim Lund had graduated from the
New Carolina Law and Accounting School.
When Jim Lund walked into the office
about a minute later to say I was surprised was an understatement.
Instead of the social awkward, overweight and balding guy, Jim walked
in looking like a male model and Olympic athlete wearing a suit that
sure as hell didn't come from a department store. After I told him my
story, cool and utterly confident he proceeded to spell out the legal
avenues I could take if I wanted to challenge Emily for custody of
the boys. I course, I told him this was going to be an uncontested
divorce since I didn't want to hurt anyone, least of all my sons.
After all the legal wizardry was
complete we talked for about an hour and I came away wondering just
who in the hell this guy was really. Jim Lund was the type of lawyer
that should be arguing cases before the United States Supreme Court, not
handling glorified white trash divorces in the middle of Nowhere,
South Carolina. That his office was above a tattoo parlor that once
sidelined as a drug warehouse and was probably still doing something
illegal made the situation even more surreal.
What truly sent shivers down my spine
was that a few months after the dust from the divorce had settled I
looked up the New Carolina Law and Accounting School on the internet.
Websites are ridiculously simple affairs these days and nothing about
the one for New Carolina Law and Accounting School suggested anything
other than the most basic of creations. I was about to close the
laptop when I noticed the supposed physical address for the school.
One summer during high school I worked for a company that did basic
maintenance on the now closed Navy base, so I was well acquainted
with the layout of the property. That's why I was dumbfounded upon
realizing the address for Jim Lund's law school was an abandoned
Now with forty-two million dollars of
lottery winnings in the bank, part of my brain screamed at me to find
another lawyer that at best wasn't part of the U.S. Marshal witness
protection program. Then again, remembering the conversation I had
with my reflection in the bathroom mirror yesterday evening Jim
Lund's strange situation wasn't that weird.
Hey, Mr. Lund,” I called out the same
way I did on my first visit years after finding him not at his desk.
“It's Jason Lance, I left a message on your answering machine about
needing to see you again.”
“Sure thing Jason, have a seat, I'll
be out in a minute.” He finally called out from the other room.
Quincy, South Carolina isn't a big
place but since the divorce seven years before, I could count the
times I had seen Jim Lund driving around town on one hand. When he
walked back into his office I was frankly shocked at how much he
exactly looked the same age. He had the same athletic body along with
the movie star face that would have probably cause my ex-wife to go
weak in the knees and begin scouting out locations to push her
current husband off a cliff. The only difference this time being he
was wearing casual clothes that still probably cost more than my 1997
Ford truck was worth.
“What can I do for you today Jason?”
He asked in a genuinely friendly manner taking his ancient seat
behind the worn and stained desk.
Even though I was considering the
possibility that he was either an alien or time traveler, I figured
it was much too late to go running out the door. “Here's the deal
Jim, you know the lottery winner from last week who didn't go public,
it's me. I'm leaving town and need help organizing my affairs and I
figure you're the best person to help me.”
Given the curiosities about Jim Lund's
existence, there was a double meaning in my words I hope he didn't
Jim just leaned back in his chair and
smiled. “Yes, Jason,” he said “believe it or not I'm probably
the best person in South Carolina that can setup your affairs and
keep them protected.”
I didn't even dare ask him if his own
words had a double meaning. I just listened as he laid out a plan
that both secured and invested my money.
The afternoon sun was unfortunately
beaming through my windshield as I sat in the Quincy Credit Union
parking lot making me reconsider the idea of buying a new car or
truck before I left town. While the end of summer was a month away,
hot weather was sure to stay around for a considerable period no
matter where I went. My truck's air conditioning was weak at best and
maybe it was the money talking but as I sat waiting for Mikey, I
pondered what the open road would feel like in a fine luxury sedan.
Mikey's older brother, Derrick was my
best friend in high school. As graduation approached with no real
prospects when we entered the adult world Derrick and I talked each other into
joining the army. The original idea was that we would hinge our
joining on going through basic training together as well as serving
at the same permanent post, something we heard the army would allow
back then. Well, five weeks into basic and Derrick decides to break
his leg on the obstacle course. He had the option of being medically discharged but instead
was just recycled back to the beginning of basic training once he was
healed. However, his injury voided the original enlistment contract
meaning the army reassigned him to a new MOS—Mission Occupational
Specialty, or job once he finished basic. Whereas once we were both
supposed to be infantry soldiers, Derrick wound up in a
transportation unit driving what amounted to semi-trucks hauling
Then came Persian Gulf War with Saddam
Hussein showing his ass by invading a smaller Arab country that in
truth was led by a collection of individuals that were certified
douchebags in their own right. The difference being that Saddam was a
brutal tyrant that would use chemical weapons on his own people while
the Kuwaiti ruling class just acted like everyone under them were
slaves. I really didn't see any combat beyond a few semi-crazed and
starved Iraqi soldiers firing off their AK's in an effort get the
attention of the convoy I was riding in so they could
surrender. The high point of my wartime experience was being a part
of a detail guarding around four-hundred prisoners who truthfully were happy to have American MREs, clean water, and real toilet paper.
Derrick wasn't so lucky, he was killed
one morning when the wadi embankment he was driving near collapsed overturning
When I finally returned home to Quincy
after my enlistment, Mikey and I started hanging out together.
Something that wouldn't last long since he had become a local high
school football star and was getting a full scholarship ride to the
University of South Carolina. Something that was going great until
Mikey received a massive concussion during a game, which several
months later because of both medical and other complications caused
him to be kicked out of college.
Mikey came home but his life spiraled downhill
until he met the woman who became his wife, a saint of a woman named Diane. She literally
saved his life and sanity but because the birds and the bees still
hold sway over people in their early twenties they were parents
before they could develop a plan for a real future.
One of the worst thing I ever done was
get Mikey hired on as a production worker at the Tightlock factory.
But with a baby on the way the man needed a job, even if that meant a
place where the age of the average worker was around forty. As the
years passed, I watched Mikey die a little each day but at least I
could now offer him a way out.
Just when I figured he wasn't going to
show, Mikey's car finally pulled into the parking lot and I signaled
him to hop into my truck.
“What's so important that I had to
get up early, Jason? You know how floor supervisors act if they think
someone isn't fully awake.” He said more than a little irritated.
I have never been a person who could
deal with the warm fuzzy aspect of friendship, so I just laid out the
fact. “Shut up for a minute and just listen. You heard about the
winner for last week's lottery, well it was me.”
The look on Mikey's face after
revealing that fact was actually kind of funny. Sort of like how some
get when they accidentally bump into a famous person at the grocery
“You're a smart guy Mikey, you can
probably guess why I skipped work Monday night and walked into the
plant Tuesday morning looking like someone going on a cruise. But
here's the thing, I've known you since the day your brother and I
became friends in elementary school.. Hell, right now you're my best
friend and I can't let you waste your life working in a plant that in
truth probably has less than five years before it is closed.
“So here's the deal, I've setup an
account at the credit union for a million dollars in both your name
and Diane's. My advice is that you two figure out a plan that gets
you both back into school so you guys can have a future. You're both
young enough to still have one.”
Mikey was stunned to say the least.
“Where will you be during this time, Jason?” He asked.
“I'm leaving town, probably forever.
I'll keep in touch, of course but unless the boys take sick I can't
imagine a reason why I would ever come back.”
After I gave him the paperwork
concerning the account we shook hands and he left. At that moment
everything I had to do was done. All that was left was to point my
old truck in some direction and just drive. I felt bad about not
seeing my boys, but they were out of town with Mark and I sure as hell
wasn't going to stay around long enough for word about my windfall to
So, with all my worldly possessions
stuffed into one duffel bag and one medium-sized storage box in the
back of my truck, I pulled out of the parking lot and just drove.
Call me cruel, or maybe a little vindictive but I left the Pancake
Palace emotionally buoyant after throwing a huge monkey wrench into my
ex-wife's social standing. Yes, her new hunky hubby's past
relationships with all manner of Quincy women, both single and
married, had long been one of those small town open secrets. But my
mentioning it loudly, and in a very public place was just a bit too
much for folks to ignore. And like blood dropped into water filled
with hungry sharks, everyone within hearing range of my words would
forego social convention and immediately begin blabbing to others. I
chuckled to myself as I drove towards my employer wondering just how
in the hell I could top that performance.
Anyone driving by the Tightlock factory
would be correct in thinking the business was long past its prime.
The color of the huge main building housing the office folks up front
and factory in the rear had long since faded to a sick, pale yellow
from years of neglect. Every year the management and senior bosses
have a little corporate pep rally where they break out the stale
vending machine snacks, weak iced tea, and gifts like beer cozies and
actually brag about how not painting the building was a bold cost
saving measure. That having the building repainted the original dark
beige just wasn't cost effective.
The same could be said for the grass in
front of the building since the duties of mowing had been turned over
to the maintenance people. Back when those pep rallies meant
something everyone would go outside for the annual company picnic, a
truly grand affair that the company catered with steaks, BBQ chicken,
along with the normal burgers and hot dogs. Afterwards with everyone
still in good moods and about to fall to the ground unconscious from
overeating, both management and the lowly hourly types would have a
group picture taken on the professionally manicured grounds. Now,
management refuses to even mention those picnics and as for the
grass, there are so many thin and outright bare spots from lack of
proper care the group pictures are taken inside the plant.
Then there were the flags. If anything
should upset the fiercely patriotic and proudly conservative men and
women of Quincy, South Carolina you would think it would be the
condition of the flags flying on the property. Old Glory had long
since faded past the point it was presentable and was showing visible
fraying on the ends. The state flag of South Carolina was in a
similar condition but where as the palmetto tree and crescent moon
were still white, the field of blue they were on had become more
purple. Both the national and state flags would eventually be replaced but only after both had been reduced to shredded strips of cloth. While never openly spoken about, to the management types it was another bold cost saving measure. Curiously enough though, no one ever noticed that the
Tightlock corporate banner was always replaced whenever weathering
began to take a toil on its appearance.
But for me personally it was the
parking lot that suggested far more about the true condition of the
place that I had worked since graduating from the local community
college with my technical degree.
When Tightlock first opened it
employed well over a thousand people. Back then the parking lot was
so full with the cars that management eventually had to
assign spaces to prevent confusion. Now with the work force around
two hundred people and with everyone naturally parking close to the
plant entrance huge cracks in the asphalt of the unused sections have
appeared. These cracks would look like sinister, monster-like vanes
if it wasn't for the grass and even small saplings now growing from
them. I tend to think of it as life saying “screw you” to mankind
and its attempt to smother the planet.
I actually got in trouble with
management once when I quipped to the wrong person that if the
Tightlock Corporate suits wanted to earn extra money they should rent
out the factory campus to movie producers looking for some dystopic
wasteland. A few days later my supervisor, an otherwise decent guy
named Bill Phillips, pulled me aside and gave one of those standard
lectures taught at corporate leadership development seminars telling
me that such an attitude didn't show the proper teamwork skills. Bill
was obviously just going through the required motions, to the point
he slightly rolled his own eyes reciting official policy on how
keeping the plant open required everyone to be all motivated and
upbeat. And that everyone should refrain from saying or thinking
anything that might undermine that philosophy.
Because I liked and respected Bill, I
wholeheartedly agreed so I wouldn't cause him anymore issues. But I
walked away from the episode convinced that a similar occurrence
involving religion happening a few hundred years in the past would
have meant a trip down into a dark section of a castle and me
then becoming acquainted with a red hot piece of metal.
Even though I stopped for breakfast, I
pulled into the Tightlock employee parking lot for the last time a
few minutes before the 7:00am shift change. A few employees running
late caught sight of me in my civvies walking towards the entrance
both the production and maintenance folks used. I could tell from the
confused but experienced look on their faces that they instinctively
understood something different was going to happen. In a place that
literally hadn't change in decades anything out of the ordinary was
“Hey Jason,” one of the ladies from
quality control whose name I could never remember yelled out. “You
maintenance guys change uniforms?” She asked about my Hawaiian
shirt, jeans, and beach sandals.
I just waved and followed her inside.
For the last time, I took a deep breath taking in all the scents
associated with the factory like burned plastic, old hydraulic oil,
sweat, and unfortunately, chronic despair.
Despite it all, Tightlock Corporation
was once a fantastic place to work. Makers of all manner of plastic
storage containers from large residential trash cans to something no
bigger than a shot glass. To get hired on there in its Golden Age
meant that a guy would make enough money to get married, eventually
buy a house, and begin the long slow slog to a comfortable
retirement. For a woman Tightlock was one of the few places that paid
them equally and allowed them just as much opportunity as a man, even
if they were single. Historically, healthcare benefits were so good
that if a spouse or child took gravely ill they didn't have to worry
about going bankrupt. All that changed when Tightlock got the
exclusive contract to supply Megamart with all types of plastic
Anyone who works in manufacturing is
well acquainted with the boom and bust cycles associated with the
industry. One month things can be balls to the wall, all vacations
and off time canceled, and with employees working mandatory overtime. Have a contract fall
though and the next month you can have some productions lines shut
down and managers freaking out if someone accidentally
stays five minutes over their twelve hour shift. If the business doesn't recover
the following month that's when things can get really bad with
reduced hours, if the workers are lucky, and if they're not, it meant
So everyone with Tightlock thought they
had entered the promise land when word about the Megamart contract
went public. Thousands of giant stores across the country should have
meant a steady production level. Steady production levels meant no more boom and bust cycles with workers juggling the normal demands of their families
and the requirements of their jobs. But just as quickly as the level
of optimism reached orbit, it came crashing down as the details
The first was that Megamart had let it
be know that buying from an American company was just a ruse so that
the down home suckers in flyover country would think they gave a damn
about them. Megamart was upfront to the Tightlock corporate suits in saying that it would be more
cost effective for them to buy from a country overseas where the
workers were paid cents on the dollar. Public perception and the
whining by certain politicians who controlled their ample federal tax
breaks were the only things forcing them to “Buy American.” That
being said, Megamart wouldn't think of letting their own profits take
a hit by having any of their suppliers charge them anything more than
the absolute minimum. What that meant for the workers at Tightlock
were an immediate reductions in benefits, a smaller work force,
longer hours, and no pay raises. Overnight Tightlock went from one of
the best companies to work, to a semi-police state with disturbing
In what is sure to amaze future
historians and social scientists who examine human behavior the
workers of Tightlock, along with thousands of other factory employees
across the country during the same time period, did not live up to
the living in the land of the free and home of the brave creed.
Instead of getting really pissed off at what amounted to the
reinstatement of draconian working conditions reminiscent of the
worst aspects of the early industrial age, they meekly bowed their
heads and accepted the situation. Even worse, in what amounted to a
form of Stockholm Syndrome some openly embraced their serf-like state
and desired nothing but to make their overlords happy, even at the
expense of their own lives and family.
Of course, the question as to why
anyone stays at such jobs is unfortunately easy to answer.
Sidestepping the abstract fact humans love stability, on a personal
level it's easier for modern working class Americans to adapt to
harsh conditions than to possibly risk bankruptcy and homelessness by
searching for a new job with a totally unknown future. When I was
first hired onto Tightlock, the Golden Age had just ended but there
was still the hope that things might someday return to their original
glory. While hope is a beautiful thing, it is a sad fact of life that
it can grow stale and become an addicting delusion.
The reason I stayed boiled down to the
fact that when it became apparent the situation at Tightlock was only
going to get worse Emily and I had been married for a couple of years
with our first son, Wilson, a toddler. If I had lived in a different
state with bigger cities and more opportunity, I might have risked it
and taken a new job with an uncertain future. But like far too many
other people, I played it safe and stayed with a company only a fool
would believe wouldn't eventually padlock the doors and reopen in a
country that had something a little closer to actual slave labor.
Luckily, all that worrying and
uncertainty was now behind me. And while I had wrecked my personal
life showing a combination of fear and unrequited dedication that had
ultimately cost me my family, I could give another soul a chance to
avoid my fate.
Sure enough, as I walked further inside the factory I saw the night shift people pooling around the time
clock while their daytime counterparts were quickly swiping their ID
cards through the device and rushing off to their work stations. The
night shift folks naturally looked tired while their counterparts
showed the standard grim determination to get through another day. It was
then that I spotted Michael Carter.
“Hey Mikey,” I said walking up to
the kid. “You got a minute, need to talk with about something
“Sure,” he responded a little
puzzled while stepping out of the line leading to the time clock.
“What are you doing around three
o'clock this afternoon? If it doesn't involve saving a life or
inventing something akin to the light bulb you need to meet with me.”
“Hell Jason, you know the drill at
three I'll be trying to sleep.” Mikey said slightly irritated as
anyone would be after working a twelve hour shift.
“Listen, I can't say anything inside
the plant but you're going to have to trust me here. If you meet me
in the Credit Union parking lot at three you won't worry about the
sleep you're missing.” I told him just as the seven o'clock horn
sounded inside the plant.
Mikey didn't say anything else but only
nodded before walking back towards the time clock an exit.
Maybe I was just getting use to my new
situation, but I walked into the office section of the plant feeling
a confidence that seemed limitless. Stepping through the door I
glanced over to my right and saw what looked like an endless number
of cubicles that stretched down the open office area. It occurred to me at that moment that in many ways the scores of unused cubicles were
more depressing than the slower dying production area. However, I was only concerned with
the section that was actually used by the Human Resources lady, Jill
I found her settling into her uniquely
decorate cubicle with a cup of coffee. “Hello Jill,” I said
feeling far too chipper for my own good taking notice of the latest
plant she had brought to work. Jill's cubicle looked less than an
office work space dealing with personnel and more like a small indoor
“Jason,” she responded, “I see
here you called in sick last night. What was that about and did you
go see a doctor and get an excuse?”
Jill was another victim of the crappy
economic trends affecting the working class. Her situation made
worse by a shit-for-brains husband who ran out on her and their baby
daughter about the same time Emily and I were divorced. Jill didn't
have the time to mope and become a semi-hermit like me. Jill had a
daughter to clothe and feed which she went about with the
determination of a mother bear naturally out to protect her
offspring. Already working at Tightlock, she quickly became a master
at office politics and stabbing people in the back not just to
protect her job but move up the available ladder of advancement. It
wasn't just the factory workers that were cut as the plastic
container business went to shit, the office boys and girls suffered
worse in some ways, all those empty cubicles being a testament to that
The only problem though was that those
actions took a toll on Jill's soul. Cold and calculating to the
extreme, absolutely no one working for Tightlock wanted to get on her
bad side. In fact, even though I had forty-two million sitting in the
bank, I found myself more than a little nervous just getting ready to
tell the woman I was quitting.
“I'm sorry Jill, I don't need an
excuse because as of this very minute I am quitting my job.” I said
fishing the ring with all the keys I kept related to the factory out of my left pant's pocket.
Jill just stared at me as I laid the keys on her desk followed by the
fancy ID/timecard card I wore around my neck.
“This is quite sudden,” was all she
could say before turning to her computer and started typing. “You
won the lottery didn't you, Jason?” She said in an offhand manner
that could have either been her attempt at humor or a straight out
insight worthy of a cop.
I just nervously laughed with the
intention of giving here the same spiel I told my ex-wife at the
Pancake Palace about the job on the island in the Pacific.
“I really don't care Jason,” she
said while typing on her keyboard. “So save whatever story you made
up for the suckers. I'm actually happy for you but one word of
advice. Don't let the money go to your head, you could easily wind up
broke and coming back here which would be a fate worse than death.”
Whatever Jill's faults she didn't
really know me, except as one of the night shift maintenance bozos
and in less than a minute she had correctly guessed the situation.
What I found really curious though was that Jill didn't pull some
stunt trying to weasel a monetary prize out of me for
figuring out the truth. Call me slow, but at that moment I realized
the assumption that Jill was just a remorseless bitch was totally
wrong. Yes, she was still a victim of a dying industry and way of
life but instead of retreating into a form of hopelessness, she had
learned to play the game most men think reserved for themselves.
Realizing all this, an idea began
forming in my head. I opened my mouth to say something but Jill
turned away from her computer and looked at me with eyes that made it
instantly clear to me she was far smarter than I could comprehend.
“What are you going to do, offer me
some of your money because you feel sorry for me?” Jill said about
to laugh. “You think I haven't already figured several courses of
action when this place is finally closed. Don't insult me Jason, I've
lived through more shit that you could possibly understand.
“Truthfully Jason,” she continued
handing me a sheet of paper from her printer confirming I was free
and clear of anything to do with Tightlock Corporation. “Up until
this very moment if anyone working for this company needed to be felt
sorry for, it was your dumb ass. Just go, save whatever stunt your
little mind had conceived as a parting gift for the company for
Feeling both chastised and enlightened,
I walked out of the building that up until last Monday had dominated
my life, got in my truck and drove away without looking back. I had a
couple of more errands to run, then have that talk with Mikey but
after that I would be hitting the road.
There was a time when my hometown of Quincy, South Carolina had a
real identity. Situated thirty miles to the south of the state
capital of Columbia, it was close enough to allow residents access to
the advantages of a much bigger city but far enough away to keep its
own businesses and personality. That was before suburban sprawl
reached Quincy and it turned it into a colorless copy of every other
residential community across the country. Truthfully, things have
progressed to the point that Quincy is now just a rather distant
section of Columbia since strip malls, national restaurant and store
chains, along with mass produced subdivisions have physically
connected the two.
The forced corporate amalgamation of the town has long since swept
away locally owned hamburger joints, mom and pop restaurants, along
with the independent department and grocery stores. The saddest loss
for me was the old Mark Twain Book Store that was located on Front
Street. It was a place I spent a large part of my Saturday mornings
before the grumpy old bastard that owned it just gave a me a book so
I would leave him alone.
From there I would make my way back to the legal office my mom
worked doing boring research for upcoming court cases. Being the
weekend, the bigwig lawyers were no where to be found so I would find
a comfortable seat someplace and read my new book until she was ready to go
home. My father worked at the long defunct steel mill and his hours
back then were about as crazy and cumbersome as mine. But he was usually home
by the early evening of those long ago Saturdays where we would sit
together and just talk and enjoy each other company.
The exception to the mass destruction or assimilation of Quincy's
local businesses was Peter's Pancake Palace. Established way back in
the ancient 1960's as a diner close to my long extinct book store,
the founder and chief cook for years, Peter Wilson, outlasted three
of the national chains that usually run such local establishments out
of business. So it was with a certain sense of pride that Peter's
daughter moved her father's creation into one of those vacated
buildings back in the late 1980's.
Despite the corruption of Quincy, the Pancake Palace remained one
of the few locations that the two differing but equally obnoxious
groups that made up the population of the town enjoyed. It was
sophisticated enough for the upper middle class suburbanites, but yet
offered a down home charm that allowed them to brag to the others of
their subspecies that they mingled with the lesser common folk. For
the long time residents, who for various reasons made up the working
poor and less educated, the Pancake Palace could be thought of as an ancient
temple that allowed the downtrodden natives to feel superior to the
invading foreigners who now dominated their ancestral lands. It
didn't take me long to start seeing both groups as not really human
but more akin to two different species of insects who could not see
the world beyond their own narrow perceptions.
That pretty much summed up my feelings about how I became
alienated in my own hometown. When I left Quincy to join the army
after high school there was only the slightest hints of the coming
suburban sprawl. Hell, back then the only thing that could be said to
connect Quincy to Columbia, besides the highways, was the weirdly
fast growing kudzu vine. When I returned home in 1996 Quincy had all
but changed into its current form.
That being said, my first destination the morning after my brush
with the Twilight Zone was the Pancake Palace. I arrived a little
before six o'clock and took a seat at the counter still figuring out
how I was going to square away all the details of me leaving town.
Quitting my job would be easy, I did want to make a bit of a
memorable splash walking out along with helping one of my few
friends. Then there were the arrangements to be made with my lawyer.
We weren't friends by any means, but given the retainer I was about
to lay on him to keep my affairs in order the man should be more than willing
to kiss my pale, hairy ass. Then there was the situation with my two sons, my
failures and circumstances had pulled apart our relationships but I
was determined to say goodbye properly.
Since my night shift work schedule was ass backwards to all the
good folks who lived their lives during daylight hours, the Palace
seemed strangely crowded. On the days and times I usually dropped in
the only chatter I heard was that of the wait staff talking with each
other. That morning a cacophony voices made recognizing any
individual person impossible. Which was just as well, it allowed me
to concentrate on my own thoughts while I savored my breakfast. That
is until I heard the voice of my ex-wife.
“Jason Lance,” Emily Langley called out like an angry
elementary school teacher did to a student she thought mentally
deficient and destined for a life of crime. “What are you doing
here this time of the morning? Shouldn't you be at work?”
“Hello Emily,” I responded without turning around and after
taking several deep, calming breaths. I desperately wanted to shoot
back with a snarky response but I had long learned such behaviors
were ultimately self defeating. Although, given my opinion of Emily
and why she divorced me seven years ago, I figure forty-two million
in lottery winnings now sitting in my bank account could buy a lot of
peace of mind if I decided to tell her off. But there wasn't need to
sink to her usual level of loathing.
“No,” I said taking the high ground, “I was going to give
you a call later and ask if I could come over and see the boys before
I leave town.”
“Leave town,” she almost screeched, “just where do you think
you're going, especially the way you look, is it a Jimmy Buffett concert?” She asked with a detectable degree of ridicule in
Emily had always taken a dim view to the clothes I wore, but I was kind of insulted with her degrading the Hawaiian shirt, jeans, and beach sandals I was wearing to celebrate what amounted to a lottery winnings inspired independence day for me. Realizing Emily wasn't going away until I dealt with her, I spun my bar stool around to look her in the face. The one thing I had to admit about my ex-wife was that she was still quite beautiful. Dressed in stylish skintight exercise apparel, it was obvious she wanted to show off that fact to as many people as possible.
Having turned forty-five years old a few months back she could have easily passed as someone in her mid-thirties. Which wasn't just because she was now a gym rat, my sons had let it slip that Emily had several secretive sessions with a plastic surgeon down in Charleston. The two differences that were obvious since the divorce though was how she dyed her hair blonde and and her posse of sycophants.Three women who
would not have given Emily the time of day until she married the hunky Mark Langley, DDM.
Despite it all, I actually liked Mark, we had known each other
since high school and I was one of his first patients when he
established his practice. All jokes aside, he was a great step-father
to my kids. Since management at my work had long since locked me into
being permanent night shift, he had taken up the slack in being there
for Wilson and Barry as they grew up. Yeah, I did resent the hell out
of him showering the boys with gifts and other expensive junk
that I could never afford, but there was worse things a step-parent
could do to children. Over the years though, Mark's gifts had taken a
toll on the relationship I had with my sons.
The one thing that did piss me off about the man who for years was
Quincy's most eligible bachelor and raging Lothario was the
suspicious timing between Emily divorcing me and them becoming a
couple. I would be lying if I didn't say there was probably a period
of time that while Mark was still my dentist, he was playing a different type of doctor with my wife.
Standing in the middle of the path customers used to get to the
restroom and wait staff traveled to get to the kitchen, Emily was
the picture of everything I felt wrong about Quincy and people in
general. Seven years after the divorce Emily had evolved two
different personalities when it came to dealing with me. The first
was almost human acting and only appeared when no one else was within
hearing distance. As far as Emily was concerned, I was the dead bug splattered all over the windshield
of her life. But on the good side I was the father of her boys so on rare occasions she sort of acted nice to me. The
second personality was the one I was dealing with now, it was the one
that appeared in public and treated me as if I was a mushy, wet pile
of dog poop she couldn't remove from her expensive shoes.
I hadn't expected to roll out my cover store about leaving this early, but like the
younger version of myself that appeared in my bathroom mirror the day
before, life likes to throw four dimensional curve balls. “Yeah,
this is something that's been in the works for several months. One of
my old army buddies and I stumbled across each other on Facebook and
he offered me a job after finding out what I do. He runs an
engineering business and has several overseas contracts that needs
more people. After a leisurely drive across the country spending my
hiring bonus, I'll be living out on a tropical island in the middle
of the Pacific for at least five years fixing equipment on the
military base located there.”
Getting back to my theory on how the current, mutant natives of
Quincy just couldn't conceive anything out of their own narrow
existence, I could tell from the look on Emily's face her now upper
middle class mind was utterly blown. “Your joking,” was her
response “surely you would never leave the job you've had since
before we got married.”
“No, I'm not joking in the slightest and do not call be Shirley
.” I said feeling a small opening for a harmless bit of
post-marriage snark. After several seconds though I could tell the
information had finally sank into her brain was processed.
“I'm sorry, you can't see the boys, they're with Mark in Chicago
at a convention and won't be back until Friday. So you'll have to
postpone this joy ride until then.” Emily said regaining a bit of
her composure, being stumped by her lackluster ex-husband in front of
her coven of suburban witches was simply something that she couldn't
“Well, then I'll send them an email when I stop and rest along
the way.” Feeling my blood begin to turn hot. “I'm glad Mark has
taken the boys, that way you won't have to worry he's returned to his
old ways. I hear the clerks at the Hide Away Motel still whisper his
name in admiration. We all know how often he used the place, on an
hourly basis.” Just because she had ticked me off, I really
emphasized that last part while looking her straight in the eyes and
loud enough that the other people at the counter and the the nearby
tables all went silent. While Quincy wasn't the town of my youth, the
Pancake Palace was still the best location to get the latest gossip.
It was probably good that I was
leaving that day because Emily stormed out of the Pancake Palace
with her small coven trailing behind. Knowing how things ran among
the natives, word of my heavily implied accusation was already
burning up the cell towers. Emily would be in damage control mode
among her social circle for weeks. I just turned around and enjoyed
the rest of my breakfast.