Of all the Old Forgers, Billy Simpson was the contrarian of the bunch, always disagreeing with everyone of us, it seemed. Well, for one reason he always – and I mean always – voted Republican. As for the rest of us, I guess you can figure how we voted.
Yet, Billy was a generous guy, always ready to lend a helping hand, to spend a Saturday helping someone move or to come over and help paint a room or fix an alternator on my old Ford. Besides, when he wasn’t talking politics, he could be funny, quipping back into his old Kentucky dialect.
As we straggled into Sophie’s Forge Café on the Tuesday after Labor Day to occupy the round table at the front of the place, I could see something was bothering Billy. He was already there when I arrive, sitting alone, glumly looking into a cup of Sophie’s dark coffee.
“What’s up, Billy?” I asked, taking a seat opposite him.
Before he could answer, the front door of the café opened letting in a waft of cool September air along with another of the Old Forgers, Albert Henry Strassmann (known only among us as “Al”), who joined us.
“Looks like my daughter and her family, both dogs and a cat and our grandson are moving in,” Billy finally replied.
“He still hasn’t found a job?” Al queried.
“Nope, and it’s been two years now and he’s really been looking.”
We were well-versed on Billy’s family situation; his son-in-law was laid off from the forge over two years ago when the place downsized and anyone with less than 15 years’ seniority was tossed out. We’d all gotten to know the son-in-law, a quiet but nice guy named Sam, since he worked at the plant and usually came to union meetings. He was a good worker and always on time, but the guy had “no real skill and had only a GED to show for his education.
“I suppose his unemployment ran out?” Al asked.
“Yeah, and my daughter can only find a part-time job at minimum wage,” Billy said.
“It’s been tough all over, Billy,” I said, quickly sorry I made the not too comforting comment.
“And now they’re about to be evicted,” he said. “And it’s either we pay their rent, which we’ve done for a couple of months now and can’t really afford, or have them move in with us.”
“That’s tough, Billy,” I said, hoping to sound more sympathetic. “Do they have to bring the dogs?”
“My wife said ‘yes,’ the dog’s come too,” he said, a resigned look on his face.
“Guess who’ll be on poopy patrol, Billy,” piped up Wayne Huntsinger who had since joined the conversation.
“It better not be me,” he said, laughing a bit, trying to find some humor in the situation.
“I got almost the same problem in my household,” Wayne said. “My single daughter has moved back in with us since she was laid off from the school. You know she was one of those teachers laid off when the state cut back on its school funding.”
“She got dogs, too?” Billy asked.
“No, just two cats.”
Al shook his head. “You know, the President or some of those people in Washington should come to this breakfast table with us and find out what’s going on in the real world.”
“I don’t think any of them have a clue,” I said.
“Yeah, what happened to the times when you could raise a family on the man’s income alone and still have money for a two-week vacation in the summer?” asked Wayne, who was nearly 80 years old and clearly the oldest among us.
“Blame it on Reagan,” Al said. “He fired the air traffic controllers 30 years ago to start it all. Wages and benes have gone down, down, down since then. And then with all the BS about ‘getting the government off our backs,’ all it did was to free up big business to do whatever in hell they wanted, and workers and the public suffered.”
“Whoa boys,’ Billy interjected. “If business had fewer regulation we’d have more jobs and if they could keep the profits instead of paying high taxes, they could invest in more jobs. I blame Obama.”
“Oh Billy,” Al replied. “Profits are higher than ever now and where are the jobs? Right now business have plenty of moolah available to invest in jobs, but since none of us are buying new stuff they don’t need more workers.”
“Trickle down doesn’t work,” I echoed Al’s words.
“You guys are just buying into that union BS,” Billy said. “Obama’s spending us into deep debt, and our grandkids and great grandkids will have to pay. That’s why there are no new jobs.”
“We need jobs, Billy, and that’s why maybe we gotten spend a little now,” I said, hating to disagree with Billy, realizing the lousy personal situation he was facing.
“Yes, Billy,” Al added. “As President Obama said, we have a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis.”
“Then why doesn’t Obama show a little guys and get that message across,” Wayne said.
“Amen,” Al said.
“See even you guys agree Obama is at fault,” Billy crowed.
“He and a lot of other people, too, Al concluded.
On that we could all agree.
— Ken Germanson, September 7, 2011