I listen to the news a lot, lately — NPR mostly — and I hear a lot of stories about these difficult economic times we’ve suddenly (or so it seems) found ourselves in. Layoffs litter the headlines on a daily basis, but the stories I’ve heard from many friends and acquaintances leave the deepest impression in my mind. So many are losing benefits, suffering hour and pay cuts and, worst case, losing their jobs. I have to wonder, even about my own job. Is it only a matter of time?
When I was in college, I took on some strange employment to make ends meet. One such job involved taking traffic surveys in the early rush hours at intersections in the city for a group of engineers reworking the city’s traffic patterns. It involved finding a good place to park where I could see the whole intersection and where people were turning in order to plug data into a computer for each turn in a 15 minute time period.
One morning, I was positioned downtown on a side street off Broad St. I was waiting for the shift to begin and happened to be looking up at this very cool Coke sign. It was probably circa 1930 and had once been quite grand with big light bulbs encircling its big metal frame emblazoned with that unmistakable red and white logo. It was hanging on the third story of the building I was parked beside and blocked several of the upstairs windows with one being partially blocked due to a discrepancy in size. It was early spring and that window was open into whatever dark room lay behind it.
I was rather amused with this bit of nostalgia in the city and was even more so with the row of pigeons sitting inline on the signs lower ledge. They were quite content with themselves, cooing and trilling quietly in the hazy morning light — going about business as usual — which isn’t much for a pigeon.
I noticed to the far left of the sign some movement low along the ledge of that partly covered window. Fast as lightning, a feline paw reached out and grabbed the nearest pigeon who flapped and fluttered furiously but to no avail. It disappeared into the dark mouth of that window and I’m fairly certain into the mouth of a wily warehouse cat.
The other pigeons witnessed all this — I saw the closest ones turn their heads and stare with as much regard as perhaps one would a falling leaf or any such commonplace occurrence. They never cried out or flew away when their comrade was so abruptly abducted. It was as if they thought, “Ooh, poor Bob. Glad it was him and not me!” and they just continued on, somewhat nervously, in doing their pigeon duty and sat for the rest of my shift upon that defunct Coke sign.
When I see people getting laid off in these bizarre economic times, it immediately reminds me of that experience. People are like those pigeons, complacent to wait for their final blow. Too bad for So-and-So — glad that wasn’t me.