Monday, May 24, 2010

Thirty-Year Pin (A NAFTA Parable) (Satire) by Norman Ball

Thirty-Year Pin (A NAFTA Parable)
by Norman Ball

Thirty-Year Pin (A NAFTA Parable)

Danny joined the group last month with about as well-scrubbed a face as one would expect from a 23-year-old with a $50,000 education loan. Man, you gotta love the exuberance of youth! He works diligently in a low-skill job, is unfailingly polite and has a relentlessly earnest quality that Corporate America likes to make short work of. His enthusiasm is all the
more praiseworthy because Danny is a temp. Hey, one middle-aged man's cleaned-out work station is a younger man's sterling opportunity.

Just as the young can spot a half-full glass from a mile away, they can also drop some real gems. In this respect, Danny is no different from his peers. I don't know what $50,000 buys anymore, but it sure doesn't get you the word on the street. Career paths have been banned in the United States. It's right there in the NAFTA fine print beside the provision on Tijuana-manufactured baseball bats. No more paths or, for our South of the Border listeners, el jobo vamooso gringo. Pardon my Spanish.

So it was with no small amount of shock that I found Danny approaching me after a couple of months on the job to inquire about his "career path" at our company. Career path, I asked?

"Yes," he replied. "Where can I expect to be in, say, five years?"

Suddenly, I didn't feel like the guy who signed Danny's purchase order funding in ten-day increments. How could I tell him that, only last week, we had had a spirited debate about whether to cut his position to fund a new coffee machine, the one that makes those piping hot cappuccinos? No, this was a young lad, awash in debt, asking me for fatherly advice about his future trajectory here at Fleeting Corporation, the third largest manufacturer of bowling pins on the eastern-Texas panhandle. I paused respectfully at the gravity of his question, gazing into my god-awful cup of instant coffee.

"Danny," I replied carefully, "it's a phenomenon that occupational behaviorists and plutocrats have been aware of for years: career paths promote a sort of idle complacency. People work more efficiently when they're scared out of their wits. Five-year planning is a privilege reserved for the filthy rich. There's a saying we use here at Fleeting: 'A long term scheme belongs to the man with green.'"

I continued. "The average American must live every day content in the fear that his or her job could fly out the window at any moment like a spooked Mexican fruit bat. As any sweatshop manager will tell you, fear is the juice that propels that last widget of output. Am I making any sense?"

Danny seemed flustered. But he persisted. "Mr. Jenkins, I've exceeded my pin quota consistently over the last couple of months. My pin-wobble-quotient is among the best in the division. Mine don't wobble AND they fall down."

I laughed. "Danny, I've seen your pins. They're good damn pins, son. You have the potential to make a great Pinhead here at Fleeting. It's just that, well, times have changed."

I decided to try another tact. "What do you think of our canteen, Danny?"

"Huh?" he asked.

"The lunch food here at Fleeting. It's partially subsidized, you know. Those cold cuts don't come cheap, I can tell you."

"Well, er, I usually bring lunch from home..."

I cut him off. "Danny, there's a factory just outside Mexico City that's beating our pants off. Their cost structure has us gasping for breath. Here, take a look." I guided him over to my office window that looked down on the plant below. "Tell me Danny, what do you see on the floor?"

He stammered, "Uh, lathes, packing machines?"

"Pin shavings," I replied, "Those infernal plastic shavings are everywhere, aren't they Danny?"

"Uh, yes sir, they are."

"Do you know that Mexican plant presses burger patties out of those shavings and feeds them to their workers at lunch?"

"What?!" He gasped.

"That's right, Danny. The resin in the plastic apparently makes their workers hell on wheels. They literally have to push 'em out of the factory at night. They can't get enough!" I laughed.

"How are you feeling Danny? Hungry?" I joked.

"Nah. More scared."

"Good boy! That's the Fleeting spirit!" I laughed. "Now go out there and spin us some real knock-downers!"

Author bio:

Norman Ball received a BA from Washington and Lee University and an MBA from The George Washington University. His plans for follow-on study were derailed when an academic watchdog group falsely accused him of stalking the Father of Our Country. He currently lives in a tin shack adjacent to Mount Vernon with his English sheep dog, Martha.

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