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Corporations and Line Items

User: Martinultima Changes by Habitator terrae, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “That Old Ace in the Hole” by Annie Proulx.

Bob Dollar, our protagonist, is on a mission - to the Texas panhandle - for Global Pork Rind which is headquartered in Tokyo and Chicago. Far from the panhandle.

Bob Dollar’s immediate boss is Mr. Ribeye Cluke, regional operations manager in the Denver field office. Bob’s secret mission is to scout out and buy land on which Global Pork can place industrial hog farms.

About all Bob knows about hogs - is bacon.

Before Bob was hired, the company had sent out others, but no one was able to accomplish the mission. Global Pork Rind is already viewed with disfavor by the locals, so, Bob’s boss tells him to lie about who he is and what he is up to.

“In other words, Bob, don’t let the folks down there know that you are looking for sites for hog facilities or they will prevaricate and try to take us to the cleaners, they will carry on with letters to various editors, every kind of meanness and so forth, as they have been brainwashed by the Sierra Club to think that hog facilities are bad, even the folks who love baby back ribs, even the ones hunting jobs. But I will tell you something. The panhandle region is perfect for hog operations—plenty of room, low population, nice long dry seasons, good water. There is no reason why the Texas panhandle can’t produce seventy-five percent of the world’s pork. That’s our aim. Bob, I notice you are wearing brown oxford shoes.”

“Now, Bob,” said Mr. Cluke, slapping his cheeks with a manly heather aftershave lotion, “you cannot go down to Texas wearing brown oxfords. Take my word for it. I’ve spent enough time down there to know a pair of brown oxfords can set you back with those people.”

So, our plot hinges around the corporation, the lying, cheating, corporation as our villain, the backbeat, waiting to turn the locals of the panhandle into no more than line items in their inventory.

I remember in 1983, across the hall from the office of Clinic Masters where I worked as a meeting coordinator, computer programmer, and database guy, putting together a 20-year anniversary of the company and a set of mailing lists.

I no longer remember the name of the guy across the hall, or his business’ name but he kept quoting “42,” as the answer for everything, referencing “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,” so I’ll call him Mister 42. Mister 42 had a computer business based around the Xerox Star, a $16,000 workstation (which would be about $50,000 plus today) which had come out in 1981.

It was the basis of computer GUI’s, G.U.I. - graphical-user interfaces, in personal computers from then on. It also came out late, compared to its nearest rivals, who had already copied it.

So why anyone had bought him out remains a mystery to me, but a large corporation did.

Mister 42 was moaning that in the buyout the large corporation (don’t remember their name either) had promised him a good position managing what he had once owned and that his business, as a new department in the big corporation, was important to the rest of their business.

They promised! Regardless, they threw him and his operation onto the trash heap, almost immediately.

Just a line item, in their inventory, is how Mister 42 described his bought-out situation. Just a line item.

Annie Proulx catches that corporate duplicity. Her characters are rightfully suspicious of Global Pork Rind. The question is what happens if the locals figure out about Bob, or if Bob figures out the panhandle has its own opportunities for him.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.




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