Carl pulled off his smelly gloves and tossed them next to his work boots. As he shrugged out off his coveralls, his wife’s voice reached him from the kitchen.
“Hey, honey! Your brother just called. Wants you to call him back.”
Carl sunk down on the bench and let out a slow sigh. This was the last thing he needed to hear after a long day of work. He tugged off his socks now dirtied with all sorts of filthy vile and slowly walked into the warmth of his wife’s kitchen.
Marla was at the stove stirring beef stew and checking on the cornbread in the oven.
“What did he want?” Carl asked.
“I don’t know, honey. He didn’t say. Didn’t sound quite himself though – kind of odd.”
Carl shuffled towards their small bedroom. “I’ll call him later…after I’ve showered.”
Tom worked as an accountant for a prestigious law firm in a nearby town. He relished his white collar position and never shied away from detailing his upscale lifestyle to Carl. He drove a BMW, wore only designer apparel, and partied on a nightly basis with his trophy wife.
Carl, on the other hand, was a garbage collector. A regular blue collar kind of fella. He didn’t have a big home, could barely afford groceries, drove a beat up Escort, and shopped at second hand stores for his kids’ clothing.
After getting cleaned up, Carl chose to ignore his brother’s phone call. Instead he collapsed on their lumpy couch and waited for his wife to join him with dinner. They sat together and watched the evening news – a nightly ritual.
The economy is plummeting. Unemployment is rising. When will it all end?
The anchorwoman hailed the latest doom and gloom numbers reflecting the state of the economy. Carl sighed and looked at his wife. While he would prefer a better life, he knew enough to be grateful for the job he had. It wasn't the best job in the world, but it was a job not likely to be deemed unnecessary any time soon.
“Carl, you’ve been promoted!”
Carl tossed the words back and forth in his mind as he replayed the events of the morning. His boss had actually given him the promotion he had put in for months ago. He was finally moving up in the world! His responsibilities would entail managing the road crews for the county and would come complete with his own office. He could hardly keep the smile off his face.
When he got home that night, he and his wife sat on that lumpy couch once more but this time they didn’t turn on the TV. Instead, they talked about this big change in their life and the improvements they would be able to make as a result.
“Just think, honey…no more smelly clothes! I’ll be putting on a crisp white shirt from now on.”
“Yes!” Marla exclaimed happily.
Suddenly, Carl slapped his knee. “I never called Tom back, did I? He called…what…like two weeks ago?”
“Honey! I can’t believe you,” Marla gasped. “That’s so rude. Well, you certainly have news to share with him this time!”
Carl went into the other room to make the call but was back rather quickly. He had been told by Tom’s wife, Debbie, that Tom was probably at the local bar. It seems things had taken a turn for the worse for them. Tom’s job had been outsourced about a month ago and he was currently unemployed! Debbie had no idea how they were going to keep their heads above water. They had a huge mortgage on the house, the lease on the cars were several hundred a month, and the kids had reputations to uphold.
As the months rolled on, Carl and Tom talked often – neither one mentioning their status in life. For all Carl knew, Tom was still out of a job but to hear Tom tell it, he was living the good life as always. On the other hand, Tom never knew Carl was no longer hanging off the back of a trash truck and assumed he was still going through his daily struggles.
“There’s someone here asking if we have any job openings,” the receptionist informed Carl. “What do I tell him?”
“I’ll talk to him. Maybe the economy will turn around soon and we’ll start hiring. Might as well meet the man.”
Carl stood up and held out his hand…as Tom walked into the room.
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