Minutes passed the time Maria had left the room. Exhausted of words, patience, and energy; Mr. Skeptic walked out of the officer’s room into the waiting room with his head down looking at the ceramics in search of something to lose himself in. He intended to go straight home and sleep for the rest of the day, whoever he was not sure he could sleep with so much stress accumulated in him. After all, it was a Tuesday. He was off work at Chicken Pig Café number twenty-nine and for the court appearance he had taken the day off from Chicken Pig Café number sixteen without telling Edward the real reason for that day off work. He was wary of telling the truth. Any honest disclosure of court appearance would affect his employment. It was the fact of life in the place where he worked. As he discovered later, he was partially right.
For those days, it was the only full day he was off both jobs in many months. In the previous two years he had no full day off except for one week in summer when he had taken his children to Toronto to visit family friends and their children. Once back to Ottawa, he was back to his seven-day-a-week work in two companies or in two locations of one company. That life-style either had been imposed on him with his wife’s partnership problem; or he had imposed upon himself to counter the consequences of that problem. In either case, the result was the same: a-seven-day-work-schedule for many years to come.
In fact, in February 2000, Mr. Skeptic found out that overwhelming stress had taken its toll on him. He was unable to continue his college electronic engineering studies that he had started the previous fall. He could not concentrate any more as his debts were accumulating and his attention had totally shifted to Nelly’s problems. He decided to leave the school before it was too late and try to find another job beside his evening job at Chicken Pig Café number twenty-nine.
“All our troubles stems from lacking a damned house,” he had thought, “If we have a house, Nelly can work in its basement and I work at the Café and we can live a normal life like ordinary people.”
No less than one week later, he told a girl classmate of his decision that he had to quit due to his family problems.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she had expressed.
“This is life,” he had returned, “I am not a young single person any more. I have a family to take care of. I should look for a job.”
“They say there is plenty of electronic jobs available these days,” she said, “Lots of students work in electronic assembly plants.”
“I’ve heard about them,” he replied, “But I know nothing of electronics. Actually, I have a correspondence electronic technician diploma, but I know nothing in practice. I even have forgotten the theory.”
“Many people don’t know nothing of electronics either,” she said, “They train you on the job in the company. There is an employment agency that hires for them.”
“I’ll take my resume there,” he said.
“Yea, go there,” she said and gave him the address.
The next day, Mr. Skeptic withdrew from his program with over ten thousand dollars of debt. That was the last time anyone saw him on that campus. Also, it was the last time that he breathed in an academic environment that he dearly cherished. Thus far, his second attempt to resume his higher education in Canada had come to nothing.
Two days later he had a twisted ankle in the morning of a night that he had turned and tossed until five o’clock in the morning thinking about the situations that had surfaced. He was still limping that his girl classmate called him at his work.
“A lady in my class would like to buy your calculator; electronic texts, math book, and English text,” she said, “She wants them quick.”
“I ask for three hundred dollars for the texts,” he said, “I paid over five hundred dollar for them. The calculator which is one hundred twenty dollars before taxes I still need.”
“I come to your work and pick them up tomorrow night,” she said.
“Yea,” he returned, “I make sure to put them in my car tonight.”
He hung up the receiver thinking about the kindness of a classmate who was trying to help him in his despair. When his wife asked him about the texts, he simply said a girl classmate wanted to sell them for him.
Early at night of the next day the young girl went to his work and picked up the texts without paying for them. She was to collect the money from the lady and bring to work for him.
“I will give her fifty dollars when she brings the money,” he thought.
The classmate never returned with money. She did not call him either. Neither she returned his texts. Mr. Skeptic’s several attempts to contact her at home by telephone gave no fruit either. Eventually, he stopped calling her and one of those days he limped his way to a building in downtown area and handed his resume to the employment agency that was hiring workforce for the electronic component assembly plant instead. The agency had changed its name and merged with another international company. It was busily testing and hiring staff for the plant that had grown from an unknown research enterprise to a giant company that employed over twelve thousand people in Ottawa area only.
In general, Ottawa was changing rapidly. Besides that electronic company and the agency that hired for it, there were few other electronic companies in the city that totally changed the face of the originally basically bureaucratic city. Some companies’ assets surpassed the assets of the biggest banks in the nation. Some internationally reputable companies had already transferred their headquarters to the city. Others merged into mega enterprises with their eyes tied on the city. In short, the city was so densely crammed with electronic related activities that it was nicknamed Silicon Valley North after that of California in the United States.
The ever-increasing need for workforce attracted a large number of people from all over the country to Ottawa. Experts from many parts of the globe followed suit. Entering the country based upon skill qualifications became a norm. Some international skilled workers were hired with salaries of over one hundred thousand dollars a year. They received work and visa permit through electronic companies and all their travel expenses were paid in advance.
At home, a tense rivalry for attracting skilled workers and executives had started already. Hiring executive officers with millions of dollars of annual income became a common phenomenon. Still not enough for the jobs they did, companies bestowed millions of free shares to them. One hundred thousand dollars annual salaries became a norm in the industry. Technological espionage and related lawsuits and counter lawsuits became an integral part of everyday news. Buying and selling electronic stocks turned to become the most profitable economic activity in the nation. Stock price rapid growth and splitting a few times a year became a fact of every day life.
The first question banks asked their clients was how many shares they owned in electronic companies. Owning shares in companies was equal to approval for loans. As a result, new cars filled the streets. Everyone was talking big about everything. Mr. Skeptic had never so frequently heard word “humongous” referring to job opportunities in the city as he was hearing those days.
He noticed more than ten months had past the time when the last person had asked for a job application at Chicken Pig Café number twenty-nine. Unskilled workers were in high demand as well. Restaurant works like his were regarded dirty and low-paid with little attraction.
“Have you noticed this Mrs. Organizer?” once he asked the dinning room manager.
“No more people want to waste their life in this business,” she answered, “My husband makes one and a half time more money than I do. He has over one thousand free shares from the company. He is a simple worker and I am a dinning manager. Thanks god we still have some people working for us. Mr. Russ is so scared of the situation.”
“He makes money by investing in the hi-tech companies any way,” said Mr. Skeptic.
“He is scared of shortage of workers here in the Café,” Mrs. Organizer responded, “I give more hours to the people who want to work. Mrs. Liberton is working almost forty hours a week. Mrs. Smart is working over thirty-five hours. Still, they are part-time servers with no benefit. No one wants to work, you know. At electronic plants people do easy works. Why should they come here and carry plates in their hands?"
In fact, those days everything was booming. All talks were big. Socialism had collapsed in Eastern Europe. Western Capitalism had found the best chance of prosperity by reducing social services it had provided its subjects and by raising the cost of everything from interest rates to rents. Even deceit and lying was on an unprecedented rise.
For instance, all of sudden, a company claimed it had discovered some gold mines in remote islands in Far East whose ore had over ninety percent of gold. Media started raving about the finding; and people rushed to buying its shares. The value of the share reached some three hundred dollars within weeks, drawing billions of dollars worth of investment. Remote dreams of becoming millionaire were within reach just before it was found out that the sample ore had been tampered with. Last night’s millionaires became tomorrow’s destitute with piles of debts accumulated for the future. The company vanished from existence within a short period of time; their chief executive officers were put on trial.
Electronic companies’ growth and prosperity did not have the same drastic impacts on the blue-colored workers of the companies. They still received a little above minimum wage in the whole system; however, they received plenty of overtime work. The conservative provincial government of the time, that called itself a revolutionary government, cut or drastically reduced plenty of government-paid social services. It showed little or no interest in increasing the legal minimum wage.
In order to keep more workers under their roofs, though, companies started giving the blue-colored workers more incentives such as one hundred shares per year per person. Later on, out of fear of unionization, they slightly increased pay-rates as well. All in all, electronic boom brought boom to other sectors of the economy in such a pace that everything was showing a sign of economic booming. One of the sectors that witnessed a great boom after electronics sector was construction. Government allowed individuals to withdraw up to twenty thousand dollars of their registered retirement savings to pay for the first house they bought and return it to the account in fifteen years without paying penalty or interest on it. This was a great opportunity for the families to own a house of their own.
Moreover, swollen number of the population in the city caused housing shortage. With some amalgamation plans in place, the three hundred thousand population of the city surpassed seven hundred thousand. No more high-rise buildings rented their vacant units with a few moths free of rent. All vacancies were filled. Rents increased. Single houses were easily sold. Rarely, one could locate a “for sale” sign in front of a house before one saw the “sold” sign. Many forests and fields were allocated to new developments. Many new construction companies started to operate. Some companies came from other cities to develop Ottawa. Workers from neighboring provinces moved to construction site. Large and luxury new houses were built. Closing dates for the new houses were extended due to the shortage of labor. The price of construction materials increased; and the price of the new houses started to rise on a weekly basis.
It was in the middle of this booming economy that Mr. Skeptic successfully passed a test with the employment agency and started assembling components in a fibro-optic company that supplied parts for all telecommunication companies in town; and even exported components to other parts of the world. It was Tuesday March 21, 2000 when, instead of staying home with his family for his national New Year’s Day, he started his first day of training. He did not dare to ask that day off. Fear of losing the job opportunity that he desperately needed was with him. Thus, he joined the crowd of the people who worked seven-days-a-week to make a living.
That morning was the first time in the previous several years that he was waking up at 6:00 in the morning. I t was chilly outside. He was slowly recovering from the hurt that he had received one morning several weeks before as a result of sliding on the ice on his front door steps.
He drove to a small building on Marivale Road. It turned unusually warm and boring later during the day when he kept yawning all day long.
The next day he drove to the company’s New Campus somewhere further south of the place he had gone the previous day. The sky was gray and flocks of Canada geese were flying north, returning from their winter southward migration.
“God, may this new job change my life?” he wished from bottom of his heart, though skeptical about everything: even the booming electronic work opportunities that showed no sign of abating.
One week of training in the newly constructed huge building was soon over. They learned the basics of tube and fiber assembling. Then, they were given permanent work schedule that would begin at seven o’clock in the morning and would continue until three o’clock in the afternoon. At the end Mr. Skeptic was told to refer to a building in the east side of the city for work.
Nothing could make Mr. Skeptic happier than that schedule those days. He could work until three o’clock in the afternoon in the plant. At three-thirty he could drive to his evening job at CPC number twenty-nine and work there until eleven at night. In this way, three days in a week: Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, he would work from seven in the morning until eleven at night. The rest of the week he either worked at the Café or at the electronic plants. So, with Nelly’s sacrifice in looking after children, working at a drapery workshop, and doing the house work; he would get enough rest to continue with both jobs and even working overtime in the hi-tech company.
This continued until middle of the year when Mr. Skeptic was given a full-time status in the company with full benefits. Nothing could work better for the family. They saved over ten thousand dollars within several months. Most of the loan he had borrowed from the college was still in his bank account. Nelly was working and could save some money after paying for the household expenses. They invested all of that in retirement investment plans that could be paid toward purchasing their first house. They told the bank that they wanted to withdraw the money to make a down payment for their first house.
Also, it was in those days that Nelly was inexhaustibly looking for a house to buy, materializing her dreams of owning the roof over their head.
“Let’s make one thing clear,” Mr. Skeptic told his wife, “I am not interested in buying anything. I am happy with my life in poverty if I have a little time to write. We buy a house for you. Don’t forget this. You choose what you want, but make it affordable for our tiny budget. I cannot work two jobs with over seventy hours for the rest of my life. I don’t care what you choose; and I will not interfere in your taste. I just follow you as much as I can. Do not blame anything on me.”
Once the couple exhausted their search for the existing houses for sale, they decided to consider purchasing a new house to be built for them. Nelly visited many construction companies every day after work. Sometimes, she made her nagging husband with his long face to go along by saying: “everyone thinks I am a widow because they never see you with me”. Finally, she made a decision to buy a lot that was under construction near Mr. Skeptic’s fibro-optic plant.
“You even can walk to work from there,” she said; and the couple signed a one-year contract, promising to pay twenty-five percent of the price at the closing date. Where to bring the rest of the money to make twenty-five percent? They counted on working and saving. They put ten thousand dollars down the same day and left for their home at 350 King George with a copy of their contract.
“Don’t be stupid to put twenty-five percent down for the house,” some friends suggested, “Put five percent down. Invest the rest of the money in stocks. You see how people have become millionaires overnight by investing in stocks. People make tens of thousands of money by that much investment in stocks. Let your money work for you and you relax.”
“I work in that damned industry,” Mr. Skeptic would tell Nelly who had listened to friends and was agreeably transferring the advice, “We do not produce gold there. I don’t know why people think the value of its share is not sixty dollars instead of two hundred sixty dollars? These are games. I do not trust them.”
In this way, the year dragged toward its closure while the company received a huge order amidst the rumors that it was in the process of transferring the largest part of its production to China, as it was many times cheaper to produce the same products there. This was what Mr. Skeptic understood the most and had most of his worries about. He understood the trend that had begun more than a decade earlier and had already brought many manufacturing plants and jobs to stand still was not going to leave his hi-tech company intact no matter how strategic the fiber-optic industries were claimed to be. In fact, Chinese products had filled many stores’ shelves already. Why not fiber-optic production not to be transferred there? Capitalism, in his view, had no loyalty and understood no homeland. Its main aim was profiteering and nothing more. His concern was about losing his job that was his only asset in life since he had arrived to Canada. If his job were to go, his house would go with it without even putting a foot in it and all his down payment would go as well. Once the house was gone all his wife’s dreams would follow; and another failure would be added to the thick file of his failures.
In the last public meeting before Christmas and before receiving a Turkey for the holiday season, Mr. Skeptic became the sole speaker to put the question to the head manager of the plant at that location.
“We know companies do not much care about workers’ well-being and job,” he said among the workers of whom over ninety percent were immigrants some with serious language problems, “When profit steps in loyalty and patriotism steps out. Now, is it true that all operations will be transferred to China as well as our jobs?”
“Only a small portion of the operations will experimentally go to China,” the manager responded, “The rest will remain in this city. Our headquarters is here. Many companies are moving here. We have not completed the main campus yet. I assure you, you’ll have your job.”
“Hard to believe,” Mr. Skeptic responded, “Although I tend to believe.”
Nevertheless, workers were asked to register to work overtime for the holiday season. Mr. Skeptic was number one to register and he made twice as much as he made at CPC. Now, his income from CPC was secondary compared to his income from fibro-optic plant. Shortly after New Year’s Day rumors went around that the company that had placed the huge order was withdrawing from the contract. Shortly after, thousands of trays of fiber-optics components that were prepared for assembly disappeared. Some said many components were rejected because they were defective. Some said overseas markets had abandoned their plans for expanding telecommunication networks.
Another rumor said the company was in the process of replacing machines to human work. Accordingly, the machine did a better job; it was cheaper; and produced more. Not too long after that, two machines were placed somewhere near the entrance of the workshop. Few people practiced some work on it; but they sat idle in that corner as long as Mr. Skeptic could remember. Those, trends left him with no doubt the company was about to layoff people en-mass.
Rumors became news within a month. Some news leaked that some companies’ chief executive officers had cashed their shares at the same time. People understood that as a sign that telecommunication industry was on decline. The price of the shares stayed the same for some time; and then it started to decline. The overtime operation stopped, as the new contract was cancelled. All fibers and tubes that were on shelves for overtime were put back in storage. Rumors said they were packed in boxes to be shipped to China. Mr. Skeptic told some friends to sell their shares.
“It will come back,” some would say, “Many times the shares price had gone down and had picked up again.”
“This time is not like any other times my friends,” he had observed, “CEOs have sold all their share for millions and millions. If there were any hope they would not have sold their entire stocks. Did you not read the news?”
Not too long later, the size of available work shrank and great reorganization of the workers started.
Different departments were amalgamated. Mr. Skeptic was assigned to Submarine Department where he visually inspected the tubes and packed them for shipping. He spent some time shipping the finished products. This did not last long either. He was sent to another department to polish tubes. Eventually, as he could see, many contract workers disappeared from the floor. He understood that the time for his last day of working was fast approaching.
As anniversary of his employment approached, another great change surfaced. A large number of workers were transferred to the buildings where work was available. A great portion of those who were left behind began sitting in their seats at workstations, talking to one another without doing anything. There was no work to do. Only a small number of workers were doing something. The focus of all conversations was a bleak future of imminent mass layoffs. Some said all locations would be closed shortly except the New Campus. The whole operations, supposedly, would end up somewhere in China. In fact, China was only one of the factors affecting employment at home. Artificial high stock price was another main factor that brought the biggest blow to the body of the fibro-optic production.
Within a few weeks, the company offered a severance package to the employees who wanted voluntarily leave. Not many volunteers showed interest. So, they started discharging employees based upon their seniority. The group that included Mr. Skeptic was discharged at around eight o’clock in the morning of May 31. It was a cloudy day. Trees did not have the full foliage yet. Some members of the group were in tears as they were losing their only job after emigrating. No happy face was to be found. Mr. Skeptic pensively drove his fourteen year-old red car along Walkey Road to Saint Laurent Boulevard; from there, to his house.
“Why are so early?” Nelly and her two boys rushed down the stairs to see the man of the house.
“You are right,” he sadly said, “They laid us off. They told us they would call us back to work according to seniority, but I never believe there will be work. If we had not bought the house, we were in a better position. I have to look for another job now. Do I find one?”
Two days later, on the first Wednesday after being laid off, the whole C.P.P. number twenty-nine was aware of matter as some information of the massive lay-off had found its way to the media. Thousands of lost jobs received little coverage as most media were monopolized already; but when it came to the price of the share it was broadcast in detail that the price had dived to eighteen dollars per share. Share prices the telecommunication giant that received its components from Mr. Skeptic’s plant had plunged below ten dollars per share.
Interesting enough, Mr. Russ saw Mr. Skeptic on the first Friday after his lay off. He was unhappy that he had put about ninety thousand dollars in the telecommunication giant when its share valued over one hundred dollars each; however those days he was busy helping a branch of the CPC that was financially in trouble. He said he was helping a friend to “put the house in order”. Sometimes, he left the restaurant to check on the location; sometimes, he went there straight from home; spent a few hours there before going to CPC number twenty-nine.
Also, that was the time that many instances of bankruptcy were declared all across the city. Banks were hard at work to recover as much of the money they had lent to individuals as they could. Many new cars were returned to the automobile companies; and many mortgages were cancelled as people lost their income and down payments were lost. A server from CPC number twenty-nine who had invested over fifty thousand dollars of his relatives’ money in the telecommunication enterprise and had made over seven thousand dollars in a few months, did not know how to make known to the family that he had lost the money due to stocks crash.
“Can you give me a job at your friend’s CPC?” Mr. Skeptic asked Mr. Russ, “I badly need it.”
“You shouldn’t have bought an expensive house, My Friend,” he said aloud.
“I had no choice,” Mr. Skeptic responded, “We needed a house where my wife could work; otherwise, we were not sick to put ourselves in this headache. You have a managerial job for everyone except an ex-communist? After nine years of working for you I am still the same cahier and bartender.”
“I offered you kitchen manager’s position in 1998 and you declined it,” Mr. Russ said, amazing Mr. Skeptic with his sharp memory.
“Well,” returned Mr. Skeptic, “You were not paying well to begin with. What was twenty-six thousand dollars a year while I was making twenty-two thousand already? Secondly, I wanted to go back to school and could not take any responsibility.”
“Had you told me three weeks ago,” Mr. Russ said, “I would have given you the cleaning job right here. It is over fourteen hundred dollars of cash money contract job. I give you the check and it was up to you to declare it for taxes or not.”
“Well, you know that it was not up to me when to leave the company,” Mr. Skeptic returned, “I would have taken any job any way. I don’t care about the cash money. To get a mortgage approved, we need to show income on the paper and cash money doesn’t work for me. Come on Mr. Russ; you have enough influence all over this company to find a second job for me.”
“I am in the process of negotiating a partnership with the friend that I am supervising his CPC,” Mr. Russ said, “We need a brand new honest manager that I could trust. Do you want to take the position? There will be a couple of months of training somewhere in Mississauga that you have to attend. The pay is thirty-two thousand dollars a year.”
“I have no problem with that. I take the job even if you send me overseas. Let me contact my wife now,” Mr. Skeptic returned, thinking why Mr. Russ was turning so generous; after all, he had never paid any of his manager’s more than twenty-eight thousand dollars to start. Mrs. Organizer was making some twenty-six thousand dollars after serving him for over a decade. His thoughts led him to the fact that in that deal, Mr. Russ had a partner; and therefore, he was trying to show a good face of his managers’ pays.
Shortly, Mr. Skeptic let Mr. Russ know that he was ready to take the job: “but I need a job now,” he said, “you even have not concluded a deal about that fast food”.
“Let me think about it,” Mr. Russ said, “I have to go to downtown to check on that location. It is in chaos. I have been able to reduce its losses to one thousand dollars a week, but still the damned place is losing money. If it doesn’t turn into a profitable business, I’ll ask him to close it down.”
“Why did the headquarters insisted on opening such an expensive location in the first place,” asked Mr. Skeptic, “You say customers have to spend seven dollars for the parking to have their meal there.”
“It was a trial in downtown area,” Mr. Skeptic replied, “From the very beginning I was against it. For this kind of restaurant it is not a good place. They found this naïve friend of mine and tried the location at his costs.”
Mr. Skeptic laughed.
“I’m serious,” Mr. Russ shook his head and shrugged, “Imagine. You open a family restaurant in downtown while you don’t have free parking? This is crazy. Thanks to god that he has his other profitable business to support this one. He said he was considering lawsuit for the losses. He’s lost over a million dollars there in the past few years. I told him he should never think about lawsuit. Simply, because they have more money and can afford higher legal expenses; and he will get nowhere. He decided not to go after them. It’s madness to go after these mammoth companies. You can never win. Now, I have to leave. Be careful with everything around,” Mr. Russ concluded in a hasty tone and walked out of the restaurant through the back door.
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