By Michael J. Smith on Saturday August 4, 2012 04:30 PM

Our newest contributor here -- welcome, barebones -- posted some caustic comments about small business that got me thinking.

Of course small business is an ideological fetish; it doesn't actually contribute much to the life of that mythical beast, "Theeconomy", as a commenter on barebones' post rightly pointed out.

But I have a certain dividedness of mind about small business myself. I like to shop in the mom-and-pop stores when I can. Not for ideological or political reasons; just because I like them better. There used to be a lot more of them in my nabe, and every time one closes, to be replaced by a Duane Reade or something, I feel a pang.

The most recent loss of this kind was a little hole in the wall on my street, the Americana Deli, improbably run by Palestinian emigres, who were -- as Palestinians mostly are, in my experience -- the most affable haimisch people in the world. I got to know the proprietors and the staff, and it all felt, well, neighborly. Not to get all Mr Rogers about it, but there was a certain personal connection.

But then -- to Barebones' point -- I worked in one once, when I was a kid, a million years ago, in the tiny Southern town where I grew up. Barebones got it right. The owner was a liminal figure, aspiring to greater things, and he made sure that we all shared his status anxiety. He fired me after about two weeks, as I recall, for not giving a shit -- which was certainly the most just firing I've ever had, and I've had a few.

Fortunately the family had a bit of political pull and got me a job on the grounds crew of a state park. That, I loved.

The other guys were mostly from very blue-collar backgrounds and I had to learn how to fit in. Although I was a weird eccentric bookish sheltered kid, that wasn't as hard as you might think. They didn't really make it very hard. They could have, but they didn't.

It was one of the two or three real turning points in my life, and I remember those guys -- they were all guys, of course, this was back in the day -- with great affection.

One of the things that united us was a determination to do no more work than we could get away with, and a thorough contempt for management. No way were going to internalize our bosses' anxieties and priorities.

We had our own culture, our own private jokes. We referred to the park superintendent -- a very comical figure, who deserves an essay of his own -- as 'Old Whistledick'. Our private signal that Whistledick might be lurking in the vicinity -- he was a sneaky bastard -- was to whistle the first bar of the old Colonel Bogey march, which we knew from Bridge Over The River Kwai.

Somebody would start, and others would take it up, and Whistledick would stroll casually out from behind a venerable oak tree to find us all working like niggers, as we used to say back then.

It's a shocking phrase these days, of course, but thoroughly accurate; because black guys worked the same way. They would take it easy when nobody was watching, and then exhibit a lot of phony enthusiasm as soon as the boss showed up. My colleagues and I -- white, or at least pinkish, rednecks to a man -- had learned from them, or independently discovered, the same technique.

Comments (7)


more, more, more of this gut level ..... please?

you've made my day Michael, as one who prefers the small biz[hornet]nes[t]s (so many unfortunate times) the even more difficult to thwart, oligarchies and monopolies.

One of my absolutely wonderful small family, just trying to live and also take care, experiences ...was waiting tables for a couple who cooked, for hours, delicious sustenance, in Wildwood, New Jersey. It was not, .... a BIZNEST.


(though, I'm sure, that it was forced to become one, or die)


Just remember what it was like, working for the crazy asshole.


Just remember what it was like, working for the crazy asshole.

my wee take on that, barebones, is that the enitire monetary system needs to be undone; good luck to all of us.

I've worked at both ends, small bidness and unaccountably humungous.

At least the small bidness is easier to be run out of any given grouping of humans, unlike the large monsters (which, of those larger beasts, I'm not meaning to exclude .... the faux, and quite private: Mom'nPop, Sub S Corporations .....

Not hard for anyone who's been around these parts long enough to keep McPoseur straight with his other pseudonyms, given the standard pomposity.

It's not ironic (but should be) that Oxtrot, who has to invent all his own commentariat, and pretend that his self-designated enemies are attacking him in order to call them poopy names, should insist that the problem with SMBIVA is that it's allegedly written by the same hand.

Assuming it is (and I don't), it would actually be quite an achievement, viewed as literature.

Few writers are adept enough to alter tone, pacing, syntax, grammar, word placement, perspective, view lacunae and ellipsis of knowledge enough to generate credible and self-referential literary personae.


Polyonymos seems to be decompensating. The gay thing was quite startling.

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