Bailout, Please?

April 1, 2009

At first, I wasn’t even interested.  After all, bailout funds have something of a stigma about them, don’t they? What with AIG, the big car companies, and greedy bankers all clamoring for more, it’s just a little embarassing for a small businessperson to go out looking for the government dole. We’re supposed to be the proud and determined entrepreneurs that keep the country productive and innovative and 16 other patriotic sounding adjectives.

After 17 continuous months of recession, though,  things were getting kind of desperate.  Actually, Poor Richard didn’t realize that it had actually been 17 long months until he heard it on the radio.  They kept the first year a secret for a while, you know. Anyway, because the level of desperation is inversely proportional to the level of funds in the company bank account; when the desperation got high enough, I made the phone call.  After all, I rationalized,  if all this money they’re printing isn’t  going to be worth a plug nickel in the long run, shouldn’t AlphaGraphics get some to spend before everybody else figures it out?

So Poor Richard called Saxby Chambliss’ office in Macon and asked to speak with the Senator. A very nice young lady informed me that the Senator doesn’t really actually even ever stay here in Georgia, because it’s too far away from the center of things where all of the important stuff happens. She asked me why I was calling.

“I’m looking for some bailout money,” I responded, then decided to sweeten the pot. “Of course, I’ll be willing to sell up to 99% of the stock in my company, if that will help.”

“Oh, that would be most helpful!” she answered, “and exactly how many billions of dollars does your company need to stay afloat?”

Not wishing to be greedy, Poor Richard responded that a few million would actually do quite nicely. This didn’t sit well with the young lady in Senator Chambliss’ office, though.

“Only a few million?” came the huffy response, “I’m not sure that the treasury department is set up to administer bailouts in such small amounts. I’ll refer your inquiry to the Senator, but perhaps you should contact the Federal Department of Largesse and see if they have a block bailout program for smaller concerns like yours.”

She was kind enough to give me the toll free number for the Department of Largesse and then hung up the phone muttering something about the time wasted by common citizens who feel entitled to call Senators’ offices. Feeling bold, nonetheless, Poor Richard placed a call to the Department of Largesse and immediately became entangled in the voice mail system.

“To assure the highest levels of service, please state your name and input your 9 digit Federal Employer number,” droned a disembodied voice.

I complied.

“Your call may be monitored to assure high levels of service,” continued the voice, “and your phone may be tapped to assure that you are not speaking regularly with Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda operatives. If you wish to continue, please enter your SIC code and the amount of governmental largesse that you wish to request.”

Once again, I complied. Not wanting to be greedy, I punched in 7,500,000.  “This is really kind of easy,” I thought.

“Please be advised that if you are awarded funds by the Federal Department of Largesse, your salary and bonus package will be limited to a measly $500,000 annually.  In addition, you are warned not to openly redistribute government funds among executive employees in such a manner that the news media or the public might discover your abominably irresponsible and unpatriotic behavior. If you agree with these terms and conditions, please press “1” to continue.”

Having no difficulty with the conditions, Poor Richard pressed “1.”

A long pause ensued, followed by a click as my call was transferred. Poor Richard could hardly wait. “Now I’ll get to talk with one of the customer service reps and tell them where to mail my $7.5 million,” I thought.

The phone clicked once more and another computerized voice queried. “Our records indicate that the asset value of your business is less than $10 billion dollars. Is this correct? If ‘yes,’ please press ‘1’ now, otherwise hold for the next customer service representative.”

With all good intentions and still hoping for the best,  Poor Richard pressed “1.”

“We regret to inform you that your business has been deemed insignificant by the Federal Department of Largesse,” sounded yet another automated attendant. “The SIC code you entered indicates that your company is involved in the business of printing. Printing is not considered to be a relevant economic activity, nor is it eligible for funding under President Obama’s 21st Century Initiative for Green, Energy-Efficient, Barely Conceivable and Totally Impractical Projects.”

“Please press ‘1’ if you’d like to speak with a customer service representative,” the voice continued. “Our current hold time is estimated at 16 years, 3 months, 2 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds. Calls will be served in the order that they are received. If you’d like to be considered for a consolation prize, please press ‘2’ now.”

Feeling despondent, Poor Richard pressed ‘2.’ “Please hold,” came the voice.

It took a minute before I realized that the background music playing while I waited was familiar. It was Ray Charles singing about Greenbacks . . . “just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll.”  I confirmed my mailing address with the last automated attendant and was told to look for my consolation check in the mail. In closing,  Poor Richard received a firm promise that the Department of Governmental Largesse would always endeavor to reallocate the resources of this great nation from each according to their ability and to each according to their need.

$100 Bill

$100 Bill

I’m still waiting for the check. You know, Lincoln ain’t gonna get it, Jackson neither.  Maybe they’ll send a fresh, crisp $100 bill with Poor Richard on the front.

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Crazy People

November 19, 2008

The screen on all of our phones is displaying 911 followed by my name. It’s a panic button feature. When 911 is dialed from any of the phones on the system, every phone in the place lights up and blinks with the extension from which the emergency number was dialed. This is so everyone in the place can go to the aid of the user dialing 911. Obviously my emergency wasn’t too dire . . . or nobody paid attention to it. Brian pointed the emergency feature out to me a day and a half later.

I had dialed 911 because of the crazy people in Poplar Street Park. They were fighting again. This time it was a man and a woman who began with a high volume shouting match, clearly audible to me across the street on the second floor of AlphaGraphics towers. I looked out the window to witness the development of a full fledged altercation: tearing of clothes, fighting, scratching and finally rolling around on the sidewalk.

The 911 operator didn’t seem at all disturbed when I called. “911, please state your emergency,” came the calm voice over the receiver.

“The crazy people are fighting again in Poplar Street Park,” I replied. I think I heard the faintest sigh from the other end of the receiver.

“We’ll send someone over,” the voice replied. The fight was over soon enough and I never saw a police car.

I don’t really have a great objection to the crazy people that inhabit the park, except when they’re drinking or fighting. We’ve never had much walk in traffic and most of my customers know to park on our side of Poplar Street to avoid the panhandling and the comments. I’ve never been threatened and by now they know that if they ask for money, I’ll offer to feed them. Most of them don’t really want food. I think that there should be a better place for them to stay than the park, but some of them don’t want that either.

We’ve gotten to know a few of them. There’s the lady who comes into the shop once or twice a week. She buys paper by the sheet to draw on and insists on paying for it. She’ll ask for a specific number of sheets and always wants a receipt for her purchase. She also likes plastic bags . . . two of them each time. She was fascinated by our display cabinet and helped herself to samples of our work until we discovered what she was doing. She liked the colors.

Then there’s Jeff. He’s a singer. He carries the names of all of the songs he knows on sheets of notepaper that once were bound together in a spiral pad. If you give him a dollar bill, he’ll sing you any of the songs. He’ll give you a sample verse for free. He can’t carry a tune in a bucket . . . but don’t tell him I said so.

Jeff came in for business cards the other day. He took about 20 minutes at the front counter to compose the content. The finished product had his name and the services he offered: DJ, lawn and garden work, weddings, auto cleaning, and short-term loans – zero interest. Jeff has no address or phone number. I pointed out that this might pose a problem for potential clients who wanted to get in touch. Jeff didn’t seem concerned about this. I also pointed out that there was little profit margin in a zero interest loan. This was a mistake on my part. Jeff took another 5 minutes to graphically illustrate (using long multiplication and division) how it was possible to turn $5 into $900 in a few simple transactions with no interest charged. He even offered to help me do it if I’d contribute $5 to the cause.

I also have to give homage due to Dr. H. I’m not sure exactly where the doctor earned his PhD, or exactly what his area of expertise is, but I am reasonably certain that at one time Dr. H did receive an education. He has a wonderful command of the English language and is even eloquent when he speaks. He has the bearing (if not the cleanliness, coiffure or wardrobe) of a college professor. His area of specialty is conspiracy theories. For a while, he came daily to copy tedious, hand-written complaints to city officials regarding all sorts of injustices that were perpetrated or planned. I understand that he has occasionally appeared at City Council meetings to read his discovered plots into the public record.

Dr. H is also an artist. In a moment of weakness I was convinced to actually scan and print one of his newsprint collages on signboard. He wanted me to deliver it for him to the Salvation Army, where he was staying that evening. When I told him that this didn’t really fit into our delivery plans, he became irritated with me. I haven’t seen him since. I’ve kept the print, though. Maybe it will be as valuable as a Howard Fenster one day.

homelessLike I said, I really don’t mind the crazy folks if they aren’t fighting, drunk or both. I’ve learned to be a little cautious, though. I don’t know what to do about them. I haven’t joined the church group that comes to feed them on Thursday nights. They feed them burgers and hotdogs and occasionally get them singing a little. I applaud their efforts, but the crazy folks are still left on the streets at night and I don’t think that the gospel message really sticks with most of them.

According to my Dad, the homeless folks have been there a long time. He speaks to them, but doesn’t really worry about them. I have to worry a little. The crazy folks certainly aren’t helping the effort to revitalize downtown and I can’t see that there’s much there to help them either. It’s obvious that most of them are not capable of or willing to help themselves. The police consider them a minor nuisance – they can’t afford to arrest them and couldn’t keep them if they did. The shelters offer a place to sleep in the cold or a meal, but little else.

I’m a little embarrassed at the call to 911. It’s difficult to look across the street without the thought that , “there but by the grace of God go I.” The strength of our republic has been the opportunity America has afforded for success along with the willingness of our people to care for those in need. Living in America has not been a zero sum game. Joe has not become wealthy or successful at John’s expense. We’ve succeeded or failed based upon our individual efforts and our efforts and intentions, for the most part, have been good. I hope that this isn’t changing, but I sense that it is.

We’re not doing so well right now. I mistrust our universal willingness to rely on government for solutions. I’m also embarrassed at my own ambivalence, but I’m not willing to adopt a crazy person either.

God is still in control. Here’s to better days . . .


Slight to Moderate Desperation

June 4, 2007

The printshop is moving . . . on Thursday

Beautiful wife says that I went through my midlife crisis when I started up the printshop. I didn’t chase women, go on drinking binges, disappear to an exotic Third World country, or go postal and blow something up. I bought an AlphaGraphics franchise.

I’m not so sure. For the last nine years, we’ve run the business. It’s been relatively successful. We haven’t become opulently rich, but we’re not starving either. And we’ve had some great customers, wonderful folks who have worked with us and cool opportunities to get involved with all kinds of projects, people and organizations. In balance, I’ve really loved it.
So why did I want to move?

Now that moving day is here, I’m just not sure. The photo above is our new location, enhanced more than just a little bit in Photoshop. It’s nice inside, but it still looks like a disaster from the street. When we began the project last August, the contractor (who is really a pretty good guy) said, “six months construction, no problem.” In February, he said “move in May, no problem.” When we set a move date of June 1, he said, “it’ll all be ready.”

We’re moving on June 7 and there’s still a lake out the back door, concrete to be poured, flooring to go down, and the telephone folks have gone non compis mentis. I’m not sure what part of our need for telephone and internet service that they don’t understand, but they aren’t on any schedule that I can ascertain. Neither screaming nor encouragement seems to have any effect on them at all. They’re oblivious.

Our existing shop is a shambles; and of course we’re busy for the first time this year. We’ve got two large programs and a nice brochure to get off the presses and through bindery before we move. Luckily, the team is functioning well. The owner, on the other hand, is walking around like a dazed zombie. At this point, I’ve got lists of lists to check on. Lots is getting done, but I’m spending time wondering what I’ve forgotten.

This feels a lot like a mid-life crisis. At 47, I might be a little old for this kind of trauma, but I’ll confess to a more than occasional feeling of slight to moderate desperation. The thought, “what in the world was I thinking?” crosses my mind on an hourly basis. My dreams have revolved around deciding not to quit the job I left 10 years ago and I wake up wondering if it’s not too late to ask for it back.

Nonetheless, we’re moving. Into a building in downtown Macon. A big building. A big building that needs to get finished. Across from the Poplar Street park with the fountain that looks like a toilet overflowing. And from the locals who sit in the park and drink beer by the bottle from the Poplar Mart across the street. They are colorful. They use colorful language. I’m going to buy them colorful toy boats and rubber ducks to play with. They can float them in the fountain that looks like a toilet bowl overflowing.

I’m going to do this because it sounds like something a delusional 47-year old owner of a moderately successful printshop would do to go along with his second deranged mid-life crisis.

Life is still grand . . . did I remember to check on the water heater?