Faceless man mentioned in State of State address

January 21, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The faceless man rises in the inkiness of dawn and tells himself things are getting better. The new sales job pays him $31,200 a year, if it lasts a year. He is 54 years old. He figures he's ahead of the game, as the game currently is played.

The faceless man wasn't listening to Parris Glendening last week. The governor gave his State of the State address, full of grim statistics and hopeful rescue plans, but the faceless man was out on the road. He missed a pretty important speech. The governor was talking about him.

The jobs are going away, said Parris Glendening. He said this as people still were digging their cars out of the frozen Maryland tundra. There was an anxiety in some of their eyes, instead of a resignation. With 30 inches of snow on the ground, isn't it assumed you won't be able to come to work?

Instead, you had people in their Geritol years out there with the snow shovels, out there with this red-rimmed fear in their eyes as they dug out their automobiles. The jobs are too fragile now. The bosses are too quick to look for sluggards. They reach for any excuse now. So the faceless man, nursing a tricky back, nursing the 54 years of his life, went into the snow with a shovel, and then he was out on the road.

In Parris Glendening's speech, he brought the numbers out in waves: 1,179 state government positions cut this year, another 1,030 next year, another 800 or more the next. And this is only the beginning.

"A certain and startling loss of federal funds," said the governor. Almost 5,000 federal workers in Maryland already have lost their jobs. Over the next two years, Glendening said, another 25,000 who have federal jobs are likely to lose them, plus another 20,000 who work for companies that have contracts with Washington but expect to lose those deals as the feds cut back and cut back again.

"So all these laid-off people will be looking for my job," the faceless man was saying now. He is a salesman, a modern Willie Loman getting by on a shoeshine and a smile. "They'll be looking for any kind of job they can get." He is 54 years old and making $31,200 a year, and at night he goes home to Severna Park and adds up the numbers and wonders how he can pay his bills. So he finesses. On Saturdays, he does a little work and hopes nobody notices. A friend with a small store in a mall slips him $100 under the table to wait on customers. The IRS must never know. It helps him pay some of the interest on his credit cards, which have been his salvation.

A year ago, he was out of work. He'd moved into his new condominium in February and found himself laid off from work two weeks later. Nothing personal, just company cutbacks. At 54, with the kids grown and the marriage ended after 27 years, he figured he needed some stability in his life. The condo was stability. But immediately, there was no money coming in and almost nothing left in the bank.

He began paying everything with the credit cards, which now are hellishly overextended. He took unemployment pay for a few months, picked up two part-time jobs with no benefits, grabbed a full-time commission job with a company that never got itself into gear, found himself out of work again.

At the State House, Parris Glendening talked of a Mrs. Conklin, who keeps the thermostat in her home at 60 degrees and wears layers of clothing. This was a story that tore at the heart. In the new economy, the governor asked, do we let our senior citizens freeze to death?

The faceless man heard about this woman now and smiled ruefully. The woman has a home to heat, he said. He sat there warming his hands around a cup of coffee, with snow on the ground and the thermostat plunging at twilight, and he wondered about his mortgage payments.

"There's a very thin line," he said, "between me and those homeless guys you see begging for money. I've worked for a living since I'm 18 years old, and I always told myself I'd have a little security by this time of my life.

"So here I am looking at a shaky job situation, and thousands of new people getting laid off and every single one of them will come looking for my job, and if I get laid off again, then the bank can have the condo, and the credit cards all collapse, and somehow the IRS will come looking for me because I got a hundred bucks under the table so I could stay off the street."

He is hungry to make the new job work. It is 12 weeks old now. He wants the bosses to like him and pat him on the head when they're pleased with him. He wants them to know he dug himself out of the snow so he could drive across two counties selling their products. He is 54 years old, and he cannot lose this job that pays him $31,200 a year.

He is pleased that the governor mentioned him last week. He was talking about all of the faceless people.

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