Here I was, fifty years old and in college. Quite a life change.
I never intended to end up here, but life has a way of bouncing you around like a pinball when it takes the urge.
I had a good job in middle management with a company that had employed me nearly thirty years ago. The economy tanked and dragged us down with it. In eighteen months we had downsized by sixty percent. Suddenly there was a surplus of older middle managers. I was out. I saw it coming but didn't say anything to Sherry because I didn't want her to worry.
She had her own problems. She owned her own small real estate company. She did really well during the good years, but the last few had been a struggle. She averaged one sale every two months. She told me that was a lot better than a lot of her competitors.
When the axe fell I wasn't surprised. The parachute wasn't gold, more like copper, but it was still more than I expected. I hung around until noon my last day, mostly saying goodbye, until I couldn't take another handshake or hug.
Despite being unemployed, we weren't in bad shape. The house was paid for, as were two of our cars, my motorcycle, and her sailboat. She grew up sailing, but I got queasy out of sight of land so I didn't go with her much. Her friend Barb loved to sail also, so she had a sailing partner. It was at a marina on a nearby lake.
I decided to surprise Sherry, take her to a nice lunch to soften the news. She had three showings that day, the most she had in months. She was bubbling the night before.
"Things are getting better, babe, I can feel it."
She wasn't at the first house I checked, but I found her car at her most expensive listing, a four thousand foot plus estate with an equipped gym in the basement, a huge kitchen, and an Olympic size swimming pool. Her commission would be very nice.
She turned her phone off when she was with a client so I hadn't bothered to call. I eased the door open slowly so as not to disturb her. I'd just catch her eye and nod my head, then wait outside. We'd done it before.
I found them in the kitchen. He was leaned up against an island counter, his pants around his ankles. And Sherry, my Sherry, was on her knees, his cock in her mouth, bobbing with gusto.
The guy was talking.
"Damn, this feels great! How did you get so good?"
She pulled off and looked up at him, smiling.
"Lots of practice. Still on the fence about this place?"
Hmmmm. She didn't practice with me, said she didn't like it.
He put his hand on her head, guiding her back.
"I think my wife will really like this place."
She paused before she went back to work.
"Just think, if you buy this place, every time you see her working at this counter, you'll grin. Maybe you can get her to recreate the scene."
"Damn, that would be hot!" he said, as she wrapped her lips around his cock again.
I was so shocked I just stood there for a second, then took my phone out and started recording. I got some good video and the last part of the conversation. When I had enough I let my rage explode.
They still hadn't seen me so I angled until I could come up behind him. Sherry wouldn't be be able to see me over the counter.
I grabbed his collar and yanked him over the island, hitting him as hard as I could, catching him on the ear. It split in an explosion of blood.
"What the fuck", he managed to yell, as he went down. He instinctively covered up, so I kicked him in the stomach and ribs a couple of times before he managed to roll over. I kicked him in the ass a few times. He was gonna have some hellacious bruises.
Sherry finally popped up. Apparently he was just finishing when I interrupted them, and she got it all over her face. Her blouse was open and her bra was gone, if she had even worn one. I stopped kicking him and snapped a few more pictures before starting around the island. Her eyes were huge.
"Run!" I screamed in rage.
She took off, leaving her blouse open and her bra on the floor. I heard that Mustang she was so proud of burning rubber a few seconds later.
The guy was still down, moaning, when I bent over.
He started begging me not to hit him again. I reached into his pocket, took his wallet and removed his license.
"I'll give this back when I make a copy. I'll need to know where to find you for court."
He started begging.
"Please! I'll lose my family. I'm not the first, my friend told me about her. I couldn't believe it, but it didn't take much. Please!"
I got him to give me his friends' name, telling me if he was lying his wife would get a very interesting set of pictures.
I never talked to her again except in court. She sent me a long letter that I let lay around for almost a year before I worked up enough interest to read it. She was sorry. She didn't mean to. She did it to save her business. I stopped reading after the first page and threw it away, not caring what the next six pages were about.
I tried to keep it civil until she realized I wasn't coming back and turned into a bitch.
We met with her lawyer. Until then I had kept the photos out of it. I gave him a set.
"Tell her if she fights me these go public. He's not the first, I've tracked down two more men who experienced her sales techniques. This is still an alienation of affection state, the wives could bury her with lawsuits. It'll all come out in court. She'll most likely lose her real estate license and if she didn't no one in this area would ever consider hiring her. The deal isn't that bad. This is her only chance. I want a decision by the end of the day."
He called back five minutes before the deadline. It killed her, but she really didn't have a choice.
I would never live in my house again, so she had to buy me out or put it on the market. She nearly blew a gasket when I let her know if it went up for sale I refused to let her handle it.
The icing on the cake? She had to sell her sailboat and the Mustang to raise the money to buy my half.
Despite keeping it quiet, rumors circulate, and she was soon having a very hard time getting listings. Too bad.
I moved away when the divorce was final. There was nothing holding me there. I found a nice place, a foreclosure. Thanks to Sherry, I knew a good bit about real estate and got a really good deal. In a rural setting, it was a three bedroom with nine acres. There were several out buildings, even a small barn. Way more than I needed but such a good deal I couldn't resist. Besides, If I held it a few years and decided to sell, I could probably make a nice profit.
My employment counselor laid it out for me.
"This is an even tighter market than the one you moved away from. And your lack of a degree is killing you. We have a program you should take advantage of. You've got enough credits from when you left college that you only need about a year and a half to get your degree. It's been a while, you'll have to audit a few classes, but you could still be done in less than two years. The program pays for the books and the tuition, and you still get full benefits."
What did I have to lose?
I went to a community college that had a deal with a university. I could take their classes and still get a four year degree.
One thing I liked, about half the students were older, either unemployed like me, or going part time to better their lives. I made a few friends.
College is a target rich environment, and I dated often, some were as young or younger than my two sons from my first marriage. Caught her cheating too. Luckily the boys were in their middle teens, and it didn't hurt as much as it would have when they were younger. She moved halfway across the country and I only saw them for a while in the summer and winter holidays. We still had a good relationship.
It was fun, I got laid pretty often, but I wasn't looking for another life mate. Been there, done that twice, done with it.
I needed one more semester to get my degree, and was taking some fairly advanced classes.
I was taking a workshop that was designed to encourage small businesses. It would be good for me, I was leaning towards some type of franchise. The idea of being my own boss appealed to me.
We had gone over the material, and our final assignment was to create and market our own fake business. Our instructor put together two person teams, trying to match the people least likely to have anything in common. Said it heightened creativity.
My partner was a fashion major, about twenty years old. Smart enough, but lacking any real world experience. We eyed each other warily.
I invited her and three other teams out to the house for a brain storming session. The instructor encouraged it, saying it would expand our horizons.
I ordered pizza, and we shared ideas until our heads hurt and still hadn't come up with anything of real merit.
We stopped trying. It was a Friday night, so we began drinking in earnest. I took the keys away, a couple of spouses showed up to pick up their less than better halves, and I tried to get the rest situated.
Gail, my partner, hadn't had a lot so she helped me. Between air mattresses, the fold out couch, and the two spare bedrooms, we had everything situated.
We sat down for a second, and I was listening to her give me some fashion history.
"It's all about exposure and branding. You're probably old enough to remember Members Only jackets. They were were cheap and ill made, but they made a fortune for somebody."
I grimaced, trying to remember if I still had mine.
"And Izod. When those shirts with the long tail first came out they were marketed towards tennis players and were a complete flop. He was about to discontinue them until a professional golfer wore one a friend had given him. Suddenly they were very popular."
"It's all about finding the right niche and a good marketing strategy, combining it with an appealing product, and you're laughing all the way to the bank."
I was eying Jamie and his girlfriend Alice as they snuggled together on the fold out couch. As country as they come, he was an agribusiness major and she was in the nursing program. Both about thirty pounds overweight, and desperately in love.
"Yeah, about the only group not targeted are rednecks. Redneck chic. How does that sound?"
She was giggling.
"We'd have to brand them, though."
I was looking at his sweatshirt. Aeropostale.
"How about Air Possum?"
She was snorting because she was laughing so hard. Alice had rolled over on her stomach, giving us a view of her broad rump.
"Yeah, and we could have a line of jeans, Lardashe."
We laughed back and forth for awhile, until she went into her bedroom for the night.
The first thing I thought of when I woke was the conversation from the night before. I had it. Our fake business. My administrative and marketing skills would compliment her fashion savvy and production skills.
I made a pot of coffee and Gail helped me with breakfast. Soon the ones fit to eat a meal were up, and the others drank coffee and juice while they moaned. I asked Gail to stay behind when everyone left.
I outlined my idea. She grinned broadly.
"I've been thinking along the same lines."
She designed a logo of a cute[as cute as a possum could be]possum and showed it to me. I frowned. Something was missing. She agreed.
"I got it!" I yelled a few minutes later.
"She needs wings! After all, it is Air Possum."
She agreed, making adjustments. It looked much better.
She designed the Lardashe logo, the letters shaped like two large butt cheeks in pink. It would be small, and on the right rear pocket.
So, we had the design, the business plan, the marketing strategy. Time to implement.
I thought the product had real possibilities. Gail had no money, but she had talent. She would be in charge of the actual manufacturing. I could handle everything else.
I asked her one night after we were done working.
"Gail, you know what would look better than the computer graphics? A real product. What do we need to accomplish that?"
She obviously had been thinking about it.
"For the shirts and caps we would need a professional, programmable monogram machine."
"How much would that cost?"
"Depending on the amount of thread it could handle and the speed it could operate, you could spend tens of thousands. Melcro and Brother make really good machines in the midprice range, going from seven to fifteen thousand new. You can look around and get a good used one for half that, especially if you find someone going out of business and trying to unload equipment."
Wow, that was a bit more than I thought. Still, it would give us a reasonable start up point.
"Gail, I have a proposition for you. Let's really do it. I have some money I'd be willing to spend to start us up. You handle design and manufacture, I'll handle everything else. Think about it."
She did for about thirty seconds.
I got a lawyer, told him what I wanted, what I thought was fair, and turned him loose. He called us into a meeting and laid it out for us.
The company name would be Redneck Chic Clothing Company. It and Air Possum were trademarked to me. Gail got the Lardashe trademark. Since I was putting up all the money and paying the bills until we turned a profit, I got sixty five percent and Gail got thirty five percent. She didn't like the split, but came around and signed, knowing full well I could replace her and own it all.
We got lucky and found a used Melcro. Twelve thousand new, the owner was desperate to sell and we picked it up for four thousand, and had it delivered to my garage. We paid a company representative to come in for a one day training seminar, hinting if this worked out we may buy more.
Gail was like a kid at Christmas. We went out and bought six dozen assorted tee shirts, three dozen men and three dozen women. The mens' were black and dark red. the womens' were pink, yellow, and light green. All were large to three x. We also bought two dozen black and white mens' hats, and two dozen for the women in pink or white.
It took her half a day to program our logo through trial and error, but it came out exactly like we wanted. Soon all sixteen needles were whirring, creating our design.
We made the logos small but noticeable, small because the threads we used were expensive.
It was a blend of greys, white, silver, and black, the wings being all silver. She had programmed it so they had a gossamer look.
We got Alice, Jaime, and four of their friends, all big people, to model our product for our presentation. Gail insisted we get an overlock machine for her to sew the prototype jeans. It was nowhere near as expensive as the monogrammer.
We even got some of the guys in the television and radio program to do a commercial for us. It showed Alice in the work version of the jeans and wearing our shirt and hat, helping Jaime around the farm, then later on, wearing the dressier version and a pink collared shirt with the Air Possum logo prominently on the pocket. For a large woman, she smouldered with sexuality, and had great eyes. She looked at the camera and smiled while her voice did the overlay.
"Lardashe jeans. Definitely not for little girls."
The instructor was stunned. We aced the course, but more importantly, we were getting requests for product.
We built up quite a following locally. I had definite ideas about the business, and so did Gail. Not all were agreed on but a lot were.
I had a metal building on my property, forty eight by thirty six. We applied for a zoning waiver as a cottage industry, got it, remodeled the building, insulating it, adding a heat pump. Built a two stall bathroom and a small breakroom.
Then we installed twelve brand new Melcro machines and advertized for employees.
We were lucky. There had been a large textile presence in the area, and there were many skilled sewers in the area. There were nine hundred applicants for the twelve positions. We carefully screened them, making them actually use the machine before we considered them. Most were hesitant, having never used that type of machine. The ones that showed promise we set aside for consideration. In a week we had eleven.
I hired the last one without Gail. She showed up, unannounced, without an application.
"I heard there were some sewing jobs available."
I looked her over. She was black, overweight, and had to be in her sixties. I thought I'd talk to her, let her off easy, and send her on her way.
"Do you have any experience?"
"All I've ever been is a sewer. I started out when I was thirteen, fifty years ago. I've sewn shirts, upholstery, leather, sails, and mattress covers. If you can get a needle through it, I can sew it."
She paused to draw a breath,
"I need this job mister. My husband died last year, we wuz never much for saving, and I got two grandbabies I'm helping raise. My unemployment is on its' last emergency waiver. I'll have to go on Welfare, something I swore I'd never do. I never missed a day of work in my life except when I had my babies. Please mister."
I could see the tears shimmering in her eyes.
"Do you know anything about this type of machine? It's not actually sewing, we monogram premade shirts and hats, right now."
"Not a thing. But if it uses needle and thread, I'll figure it out."
I held out my hand.
"Can you be here Saturday around nine? I'll have my partner give you a little training."
The tears flowed unchecked as she shook my hand.
"I'll be here. Thank you mister, you won't regret it."
She turned to leave and I stopped her.
"A couple things you need to know. There's only going to be a dozen of us, and I'm not a real formal kind of guy. I expect you to call me by my given name. It's Zachariah, but I prefer Zach. And if you're going to work with me, it'd be nice if I knew your name."
She put her hand to her mouth in embarrassment.
"Mavis, Mavis Turner. God bless you, Zachariah."
For all the years I knew her, she never called me Zach.
Gail wasn't too happy when I told her about the hire, but was very impressed with how sharp Mavis was, mastering the basics in three hours.
We decided to pay them minimum wage plus production. If they could operate the machines at eighty percent, they averaged nine dollars an hour.
Not a fortune, but better than unemployment. We were too small to offer insurance right now, but I did work out a deal that allowed them four doctor visits a year for twenty dollars, plus up to three generic prescriptions paid for.
I know, it wasn't much, but I at least made an effort. The women seemed to appreciate it. Most were middleaged, relics of the textile trade.
Mavis became the unofficial floor manager, acting as a grandmother and cheerleader.
The first thing I had each employee do was make a shirt in all five colors with their names monogrammed on. That became the uniform. Monday was red, Tuesday was blue, etc. They appreciated it, and became walking billboards in the community.
They voted, and worked nine hours a day Monday through Thursday, and four hours on Friday, If we were behind, which was almost all the time, they could work all day on Friday, but never on Saturday. Most all took advantage of the overtime unless they had family business. You got a party on your birthday, and could take a day off with pay or take the extra money. And we always got them a nice gift. Mavis got a nineteen inch flat screen with a bluray player, and a year of Netflix paid for. She cried for an hour before she finally gave up and went home.
Gail grumbled a little. Money was starting to blind her.
We went like this for a year. We added a minishift, college kids working four hours a night five days a week and Saturdays, and still couldn't keep up.
We had made the spare bedrooms into offices.
Finally I walked into her office and flopped down on her couch.
"I'm exhausted. We need to expand, take it to the next level. Plan on doing nothing next week but looking for a larger facility."
She pushed the glasses up on her nose.
"How big?" she asked, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice.
I had been going over figures and projections for a month.
"Big enough to hold a hundred machines, minimum. Plus room for you to add your jeans line. We may have to look at two buildings."
She jumped over the desk and hugged me, scattering paper every where. She never was the neatest person.
Gail had been grumbling because we had been tied up with the shirts and caps and hadn't had the time or the opportunity to develop the jean line. It was time.
We found a pretty nice facility at a reasonable rate. We had plans to bring in the new machines twenty five at a time and getting them up and running, projecting to be done in a year.
There was a smaller building nearby, walking distance. We leased it and Gail shopped overlock sewing machines. She planned to start with twenty and go from there.
The operation had gotten too big for us. We were working sixteen hour days and making mistakes.
We needed a plant manager, a production manager, an office manager, an HR department, a controller, an in house accountant so costs wouldn't get away from us. We ran ads in the paper and trade magazines.
Our original group heard about the expansion and got nervous. They liked the informal setting and didn't want to change.
I didn't either. I trusted them and wanted to use them as our experimental shop. We held a little meeting.
"First, we're not moving you. You might find yourself doing different things, but your jobs aren't in danger. I'll be in my home office half the time so you'll still see me. We need a manager and I'm pleased to announce Mrs. Mavis Turner will take over the day to day operation effective Monday."
There were actually some cheers and clapping. Mavis was a pretty sharp old girl, and she handled a lot of floor problems before they got to me or Gail. She was a natural leader.
It shook her at first that anyone would have that much confidence in her. She took a little convincing, but when I doubled her base pay she came on board.
I also gave them all a bonus check, two weeks pay, as a thank you.
Gail objected, saying I was babying them and giving them unreasonable expectations.
"I'm investing in the future. You can't put too high a price on loyalty. Of the original twelve, ten are still with us. One had to quit when her husband got sick and they moved, and the other just didn't work out. Every woman out there could unlock those doors, go to work alone, and still maintain her productivity. How many employers have that much trust in their people?"
"You reap what you sew, Gail. Get it? What you 'sew'? Well, I thought it was funny."
She hadn't smiled.
We finally got our branding break, from Mavis of all people. Her great nephew drove race cars, and had just moved from ARCA to the Busch series. It was kind of like going from single A to triple A in baseball, NASCAR being the majors. A lot of NASCAR drivers still ran in the Busch series.
It was unusual, there just wasn't that many black racers on the stock car circuit.
Mavis came to me all excited one day.
"Zachariah, Zachariah! My nephew is coming for a visit. Can I have Friday off?"
She had never asked for time off, so I had no problem.
"I might bring him by, the girls have never met a real live race car driver before."
My ears perked up. What's more associated with racing than rednecks? Nothing. I saw a golden opportunity.
"I tell you what Mavis, I'll give you the day off with pay if you'll bring him by at lunchtime. I'll spring for lunch for everybody if I can have a few minutes alone with him."
That suited her just fine. I went back into the office and did a search. An excellent driver with a good record, on and off the track. Married, he had one child. I was pleased to see his wife was a little on the plus size.
Mavis brought him in, bursting with pride. He was personable, had everyone smiling, posed for endless photos, laughed and joked while he ate lunch. He made a dozen dedicated fans that day.
I finally got him alone and into my office.
"How'd you get into racing?"
"My dad was a shadetree mechanic, ran the dirt tracks some as a driver. Pretty good, too, but he liked making them go fast more than driving them. I started out at ten, racing gocarts. When I was fifteen I was driving on the dirt tracks, little four cylinder cars. Not to brag, but I was good. Graduated to the ARCA series, then this season I'll be in the Busch series, running with the big dogs."
"How do you think you'll do?"
"If the sponsorship comes through I should do all right. We're operating on a shoestring right now."
I sat back and grinned.
"All right. Let's stop the dancing around. My company is in the same phase of life as you. Good, getting better, not quite there yet. Send me some figures, let me see how much it's going to cost us to paint a possum on your car. In the meantime, how about doing some ads for us? You and your wife. We'll pay you the going rate your popularity warrants as endorsers. If the sponsorship thing happens we'll work that into the contract. Think about it, talk to your people, and let me know. Regardless, good luck on your season."
I was in over my head and knew it. We had gotten too big, too fast. I dropped round to see my old professor, the one that started me on this path.
He was happy to see me, even had me come to one of his classes so he could tout me as one of his success stories. It was kind of embarrassing.
Later, over coffee, I hit him with why I came.
"Is it true you're retiring after this semester?"
"Yes, I'll miss it, but I put my time in. I'll take my retirement and look around, maybe do some consulting work."
I grinned at him.
"No you're won't. You'll be taking your new job as Vice President in Charge of Development at the Redneck Chic Clothing Company too seriously to look around for anything else."
He sat, coffee halfway to his lips, in shock.
"Are you serious?"
"You bet I am. I need help. With your contacts in the academic and business world, you're perfect for this job. I want you to put together a team, as soon as possible. We'll talk salary later, but I'm sure Gail and I can make it appropriate."
I had talked to Gail and she was on board with it. Then again, she was so consumed with the jean factory set up she would have agreed to just about anything.
We got lucky with a few employees. My oldest son had just gotten downsized, and he was an accountant by training. I offered him the job of controller. He jumped at the chance.
He soon arrived with his new bride, and she was four months pregnant. They hadn't told me. She needed a job, so I hired her as my personal assistant. I had leased a house for them, out of my personal accounts, as a signing bonus, for a year. I was hoping by then they would be ready to buy.
Gail brought a woman by to talk to me. It was her aunt, a very attractive woman, forty six but looking thirty six, long black hair, dark smoky eyes. She was tall at five seven, and you could tell she knew the way to the gym. The only way to describe her was 'tight'. Neat, professionally dressed, but it didn't hide her shape.
I realized Gail was still talking and tuned back in.
" ... even though she is my aunt."
I just nodded and Gail smiled. Apparently I had just hired her as office manager.
"You won't be sorry," she said, shaking my hand. I sure hoped not. Even if she wasn't very competent, it would give me something nice to look at for a while. I know, sexist pig. Get over it.
I had to look at the resume she had shoved into my hand just before she left to get her name. Amaryllis, apparently her mother was a big flower fan. There was a note saying she preferred to be called Amy. And she was very skilled.
We got my youngest son to join us. He had a degree in materials management and warehousing. We hadn't needed a warehouse yet because as soon as the product was finished it was shipped, but knew bigger things were coming.
We held a meeting. Gail, Amy, Ralph[my old professor]Barry[our lawyer], Greg, my oldest son, and Jerry, my youngest. This was the team that was going to take us national. There was a lot of ground to cover and chain of command had to be established.
We decided I would be CEO, Gail would be Vice President in charge of the Jeans division. Ralph would be Managing Director of the Tee shirt plant among other things. Greg and Amy would head the office staff, and Jerry would look into streamlining our handling of materials and any warehouse issues we may have in the future. Debbie, Greg's wife, a pretty smart cookie in her own right, would assist me on my expansion projects. Salaries were hashed out.
Ralph, Gail, and I would get company cars and a few minor perks. There would be no ownership options, but there would be profit sharing. It was a bit rough, but I'm sure over the coming months we could tweak it.
Where was all this money coming from? We couldn't get the product out fast enough. Our first twenty five machines came on line and we were actually ahead of schedule, for about four days. We didn't have a plant manager yet, but I brought one of the women from the original group in to head the section. Betty wasn't Mavis, but she was fair and kept efficiency up. I gave her the same pay I gave Mavis.
Barry was after us to incorporate, and maybe go public in a few years. I wasn't keen on the idea.
One of the things I hated about our business was we didn't actually make the shirts. They were decent quality, but foreign made. Lately we had been having a little trouble out of the suppliers. Jerry came to see me.
"Pop, how do you feel about using foreign made shirts?"
"It sucks. But what can I do about it?"
His eyes were gleaming.
"You can make your own. There's empty factories all over the country, especially the South. There's still a lot of workers around with the necessary skills. They may a bit on the older side, but that could work for us. All kinds of government incentives to hire older workers. Think about it."
I did, for about thirty seconds.
"If I'm guessing right, you've got everything researched already. Get me a hard cost analysis and we'll put it to a vote."
We looked at the numbers. It would cost about seventy five cents more a shirt to make them. Gail said no immediately. Barry didn't think it was a good idea, but both sons and Amy thought it was worth looking into. Ralph was ambivalent, then decided we could work the 'made in America' angle and agreed.
Debbie had just had her child, my first granddaughter, a month before. She was destined to be the most beautiful girl on the planet. I had her picture on my desk.
It kept Debbie from making the trip, so I took Jerry and Amy. Gail didn't want to go, too busy.
I loved the area. Rural, but forty miles from the biggest city in the state. I was saddened by the rows of empty buildings, once bustling manufacturing centers.
The unemployment rate was staggering. The county, state, and federal governments were offering grants and incentives to lure us there. We had already visited two states and nothing appealed to me more than this area.
We found one midsized building that was perfect. It was a shirt factory back in the nineties, and some of the equipment was still in the building. It was outdated and would have to be replaced, but it spoke of the history.
We brought our findings back and Gail fought it tooth and nail.
"We need to concentrate on our core business. You know, our profits would almost double if we were to move the operation to China. Something we need to consider."
I was furious.
"It's not just about the money. This company will never move out of the country. It's a pride thing."
It steamed her, but I still owned sixty five per cent so there wasn't a lot she could do.
Jerry brought up another point I hadn't considered while I was having dinner with his family.
"You know, even though they'll be sewn here, the fabric will still come from China."
I hadn't thought of that.
"You wouldn't throw that tidbit out without an alternative. Spit it out."
"Got a cloth plant already lined up. The product will be one hundred per cent American. They'll have to add a hundred and twenty people over a year to meet our needs as we transition over, if we guarantee them a two year contract, renewable. It's forty miles from the sewing plant, so transport costs will be minimal.
One drawback, it'll add about fifty cents per shirt to manufacture. Can you absorb that and still make a profit?"
I had to think on it. Together with the sewing plant it raised the cost to a dollar twenty five more than buying the shirts flat out.
I talked to Ralph and Amy, they thought it was doable.
"We can raise the price if we have to, see if the market will bear it. You're pretty established now, and it will be a higher quality product."
Gail objected again. She was buying all her denim from Malaysia for a fraction of what it would cost domestically. Her projected profit margins were impressive.
We were starting to disagree on just about everything. I took a close look at her.
She was almost twenty four now. She wore designer fashions, expensive jewelry, used a high end stylist for her hair and makeup. She was pretty enough but didn't look anything like she used to. Looking closer, I was pretty sure she had gotten a boob job. Her company car was a Lexus.
By our in house estimates, she was worth about two million now. Money had definitely clouded her vision.
Since Debbie did a lot of errands for me, I had given her my company SUV and drove my truck to work. Ralph had chosen the same model SUV, saying we could get a better deal if we got two.
Amy called me. She had taken over Human Resources when the woman we hired originally got caught in a drug sting. She was my age, fifty three. We didn't see that coming.
Amy had the right training and degrees, so she was the logical choice. She had her hands full. Between the sewing plant, the jeans plant, and the monogramming operations we now had two hundred twenty five hourly workers, and forty salaried. Time to get a health plan.
She wanted me to come down to the sewing plant. She had been there six weeks staffing the plant and interviewing salaried personnel. The were set to produce their first shirts the next week. They were still only half staffed, but she was working on it as hard as she could.
I arrived on Friday, planning to spend the weekend reviewing progress with Amy and watching the operation Monday.
She picked me up at the airport, giving me a big hug and grinning like an idiot. Damn, she felt good. I sat and reflected as she drove.
It had been four years since Sherry and I had split, three years since we had started the company. I hadn't dated in almost two years, hadn't made love to a woman even longer. Just never seemed to have the time. I looked at Amy with appreciation. I needed to change that.
She caught me looking at her chest and grinned.
"What are you doing?"
I know I was flaming red. I decided to be honest.
"Enjoying the scenery."
She grinned wider and took a deep breath, straining the buttons on her blouse.
"Good. Some of us thought you might be gay."
She was still laughing when we pulled into the parking lot. It was filled with cars, and tents had been set up across the grounds.
"What's going on?"
"You'll see. Come on."
She led me by the hand to the tent. I could see the grounds were covered with people of all ages, kids running everywhere, cookers going in the back. I guessed now why she scheduled a midafternoon flight for me. Picking up a microphone, she called for their attention.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, gather round. Welcome to the first annual company picnic. Now, I want you to meet the man responsible for this get together. Everyone, this is Zach Bivens, founder and CEO of the Redneck Chic Clothing Company, your boss."
I looked around and saw my sons and family, Ralph, Barry, everyone but Gail. Everyone was clapping. I was humbled.
I didn't make a speech. Instead, I made it a point to speak to each and every employee and their families, thanking them for coming to work for us.
There was a little ceremony when the oldest lady we hired, a 67 year old grandmother of nine, presented me with the shirt she had sewn, the very first shirt to come off the line. I took it home, had Mavis monogram it for me, framed it, and hung on my office wall.
Our company was growing leaps and bounds. Greg made sure of our cash flow and debt load, and we were very comfortable. Mavis and the girls were working on some designs for new product. We were introducing collared shirts, an upgrade from the tees. They even had a new logo, the same possum, but larger, with a tail that came halfway down the shirt. Dubbed the 'long tail' line, it showed great promise. We were also looking at offering jackets with an even larger logo.
Mavis, just for fun, sewed a stuffed toy possum, wings and all, for her three year old granddaughter. I saw it one Friday afternoon, when I had reached my stress limit and had decided to take half a day off, rare for me.
I always stopped to say hi to the girls, and saw the toy lying on her desk. She grumbled because she didn't get to actually sew much anymore, but took great pride in her job. She had turned sixty five the month before and I asked when she planned on retiring.
"When you run me out of here. I'm happier right now than I've ever been in my life. I'll always be grateful for the chance you've given me."
She hugged me, hard. The emotion almost overwhelmed me.
"Well, if that's the case, you'll probably outlast me."
I was enthralled at the stuffed doll. I had Mavis make one for my new granddaughter. It was to become her favorite toy, she slept with it until she was five, and then retired it to a shelf and refused to get rid of it.
She made one for me that I kept on my desk at work. I looked at it off and on for about a year before the idea that nibbled around my consciousness gelled. You couldn't find a company that made stuffed animals in the U.S. any more, they were mostly Chinese and Malaysian made.