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The Joys of Late Stage Capitalism

He threw a larger piece of brick, shattering another pane of glass.

Who would complain? The warehouse had already been emptied out.

A company car drove by, slowly, its headlights washing over him. Gordy momentarily felt sheepish, squinting his eyes, hiding the alcohol he’d been drinking behind his back. He reminded himself he was a 55-year-old man, not a 15-year-old.

The same anger was still there.

Gordy ran a hand over his bald pate. Self-consciously, he pulled his Indiana Pacers jersey down over his middle-aged paunch.

“What is going on,” a security guard asked, coming to a stop, partially rolling down the driver’s window. It wasn’t a question. “What are you doing.”

The guard actually shined a small flashlight in Gordy’s face.

What am I doing, Gordy thought. It was an existential question he wasn’t prepared to address.

“Nothing,” Gordy replied, jutting his chin out. He sounded like one of his own sons, petulant, willful.

“You work at RADCO?”

“Used to,” Gordy spat. “Local 84913.”

“Electrical?”

“Machine worker,” Gordy said. He had been more than just a machine worker at RADCO. For over thirty years, Gordy manufactured electrical junction boxes. Ever since the 1960’s, the National Electric Code required boxes for splicing wires or cables together. Business had been good. Even the college-boy engineers from Chicago had come to see Gordy for suggestions on machinery installation and troubleshooting. He had been the one who spot-checked the company’s manual, adding all the stuff the engineers didn’t know that they didn’t know. Like how the machinery worked differently in Indiana’s seasons, how it glitched in the cold, damp winters and jammed in the hot, muggy summers. Like his father, Gordy also did the maintenance checks and knew how to deal with OSHA and other bureaucratic paperwork.

“Machine worker,” he repeated, almost quietly. Like his dad.

“Tough break,” the guard commented off-handedly, rolling up the window.

The company car sped off, leaving Gordy with his broken bricks and 14% proof malt beverage.

Watching the guard turn into a vacant lot, Gordy muttered to himself, something between a prayer and a curse.

🜋 🜋 🜋

He had argued with his son last Christmas Eve.

“Of course your co-workers are in crisis,” his son explained, sanctimoniously, on the precipice of graduating from Indiana State with a masters degree in Economics. “Of course you aren’t going to find suitable replacements. Why would anyone work in this factory town? Your job is already gone.”

“My job is fine. It’s steady.”

“No, it’s not,” his son corrected him, as if he were a child. “If RADCO doesn’t send your job overseas for a fraction of your salary, then some really smart industrial engineer with a screwdriver will set a team of robots on the warehouse floor to do whatever it is you think you do.”

Gordy rolled his eyes. His own father didn’t need an overpriced education to raise his family. In high school, Gordy had decided trade school was good enough for him to follow in his father’s line of work. RADCO had kept the wolves from the door for two generations.

“My job managed to pay for your college education,” Gordy said, defensively.

“That’s because you inherited Grandpa’s house,” his son replied. “Without a mortgage, I’m sure I’d be able to send my kids to college, unless there is another 1000% spike in college tuition.”

“When you marry that girl you are shacking up with, you will eventually want to buy a house. You need to start thinking about that.”

“I sincerely doubt Anne and I will get married.”

“You don’t love her?”

“Of course I love Anne. We don’t need to get married to prove that.”

“What about a house? Kids?”

“It’s almost irresponsible to bring children into this world. And with the exponential cost of living and stagnant wages across this country, we will struggle just to buy a two-bedroom condo in a half-decent area.”

“You don’t want any children?” Gordy shook his head. “You’ll change your mind. One day. I remember—”

“Anne and I don’t want any children,” his son stated with such finality that Gordy simply shut his mouth. Instead, Gordy loaded up his plate with another helping of his wife’s sweet potato casserole.

They ate in silence for a time.

“Now, look,” Gordy tried again. “Your mother and I skimped and saved, and—” His son looked at him with unfettered disdain. Gordy had simply wanted to impart a life lesson. More and more, though, Gordy found his life lessons were of little account. What could he tell his sons? Gordy needed help updating his iPhone, a fact that his children teased him mercilessly about.

But Gordy could service and repair most of the machinery on the RADCO warehouse floor.

“You aren’t seeing it.”

“Tell me what I’m not seeing,” Gordy conceded. He looked at his son’s soft hands and carefully groomed beard.

“The suicides you’ve dealt with at work are tied to income inequality.”

“That’s not true,” Gordy shot back, attempting to justify why a few good workers just couldn’t find the means to go on. Couldn’t push through. One had worsening health issues, as the opioids he had been prescribed had been erroneously marketed as being non-addictive. One stopped going to church when his child didn’t turn out the way, well, the way children are supposed to turn out. He lost heart, was all.

“It is true,” his son said, helping himself to more Christmas ham. “When workers cannot afford to have meaningful lives, there is a precipitous rise in deaths of despair. It’s a systemic failure of capitalism. Income inequality is not a bug, Dad. It’s a feature.”

“So people die,” Gordy looked incredulously, “because they can’t afford to work?”

“No, they work just fine. They die because they can’t afford to live, to take care of themselves and their families. So they eat too much or drink too much. They take too many drugs, legally or illegally. They engage in risky behavior, break the law, cheat on their wives, beat their children.”

“That’s because of the bad influence in town,” Gordy lamented. “I knew when they opened up the chicken processing plant that—”

“Dad, please don’t make some racist remark.”

“I’m not racist. You know that—” Gordy wanted the conversation to end. He wasn’t sure how he’d gotten so far down the rabbit hole.

“If you read more, you would understand that the majority of the social ills in this country are due to income inequality.”

Gordy looked at his plate. For thirty years, he worked his shifts, paid his bills, cared for his family. This “new normal” his son spoke of was certainly new, but not normal. Not to Gordy, anyway.

“So, how do you fix this income inequality?”

“That’s just it. You can’t. As long as people can own real estate and transmit wealth after death, the game is rigged.”

Rigged?

“It’s like the last half hour of a Monopoly game. One player has a shit-ton of properties—has all the green houses and red hotels. All that’s left in the game is watching the other players roll the dice—and go round and round the board until they eventually go bankrupt. One winner. Everyone else loses.”

🜋 🜋 🜋

At least the children are raised, Gordy thought, opening another can of malt liquor, sitting in his truck in the empty RADCO parking lot. He tried to imagine being unemployed with his boys still little.

Nothing made sense anymore.

He worried about his co-workers with young families. He worried about a lot of things.

Maybe he’d just sell everything. Move south to warmer climes. The company buyout was generous enough for him and his wife to start somewhere new.

But he was not new. He was pushing 60-years-old, an old man. Medicare was too far away and Social Security even farther. Gordy sighed audibly.

As the night grew darker, even the security guard quit making the rounds. After all, there was nothing of value to protect.

Maybe there was only one thing that made sense, Gordy thought.

Walking back down to the warehouse, he grabbed a few more broken bricks and decided to finish the job he’d started.

One reply on “The Joys of Late Stage Capitalism”

Deidra, global political-economic issues and their local consequences are a narrational challenge for fiction writers. For someone with a social science background, it’s difficult to depict these themes without sounding overly academic, but you’ve managed to weave a very human story of a fracturing relationship between a father and son into a larger context of economic demise. I think reading (and learning from) stories such as this should accompany the reading of Marx and Engels.

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