Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Workby Richard Ford (Editor)
Edited byRichard Ford and featuring stories by Russell Banks, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff,Jhumpa Lahiri, JohnCheever, and many others, Blue Collar,White Collar, No Collar is a profound and groundbreaking anthologyexploring resonant themes of employment, service, and daily obligations asunique windows into our culture, our society, and our very humanity. With/b>
Edited byRichard Ford and featuring stories by Russell Banks, Alice Munro, Tobias Wolff,Jhumpa Lahiri, JohnCheever, and many others, Blue Collar,White Collar, No Collar is a profound and groundbreaking anthologyexploring resonant themes of employment, service, and daily obligations asunique windows into our culture, our society, and our very humanity. With ashare of proceeds going to assist the literacynonprofit 826Michigan, this unforgettable collection of short fiction from manyof contemporary literature’s most powerful authors limns the diverse meanings of work in American culture today, even as itlooks to the future of the American workforce and its capacity to succeedcreatively tomorrow.
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Blue Collar, White Collar, No CollarStories of Work
James and I have been worrying about things. I'm bored, restless,
and in late afternoon always depressed. He tries to be helpful.
The children are not too bad. My education is more than adequate.
I understand what's happening as it happens. Still, I'm powerless. At
four I get morose, by five I am tearful. When James comes home I
look as if I've been pinched by devils all day long.
"Every day is driving me crazy," I say. "I don't want to fall victim
to the malaise of the times."
"You need to get out. You need to do something. A job," he says.
"What about a business?" I say. "Something small enough to
afford, big enough to make me proud of my achievement and aware
of my responsibility."
James is a solid man. Around him I shouldn't be so sad. "I'm
open for anything," he says. "Give it a try. But first let's get down
to brass tacks." We discuss insecurity, the care of the children,
guilt, the dinner hour, vacations, the minimum wage, tax brackets,
the effects of the climate on perishables, growing old, profits,
and free time.
"What the hell," James says, "small business made this country.
I'm with you one hundred percent."
I call my friend Jeannie, who wants to be my partner. She has
no children but is going crazy anyway. In Peru, where she grew up,
there was always a clutch of servants to iron her pure cotton clothes.
Here, she has no help and can't get used to permanent press. Every-
thing she wears is heavily starched. You can hear her fabrics moving
down the hall.
"I'll be a partner to anything," she says. "My father grew up on
the pampas of Argentina. He skinned cattle and walked among bulls.
I can't go two blocks from my apartment without worrying about
some black man cutting my throat. Also, being out in the world
will improve my English. We have two thousand dollars saved for a
Christmas trip to Peru. I'll risk it."
"What about Bill?" I ask.
"He doesn't want to go anyway. He is just going along to please
me. He would rather go to a convention in Las Vegas. I'll save him
two hundred dollars."
I talk about renting a space in the Gypsy Market, and then just
before the health inspector comes I dream that I find the rotting
carcass of a dog underneath the sink. I know even in the dream that it
is the same dog I have been seeing for weeks at the corner of University
Greenbriar when I jog past every morning right after car-
pool. I've called the city four times but nobody picks up the body. So
now that dog enters my dreams and makes me apprehensive about
going into business.
James laughs it off. I remind him about Caesar's wife. "Literary
references," he says, "belong in the classroom, not the real world.
Anyway, Caesar's dream was life and death. Yours is just about a
health certificate. If necessary you can bribe the inspector."
"I'd never do that," I say.
"In business sometimes you have to resort to the underhanded.
Wait. You'll see."
Jeannie calls and is nervous. I will go it alone if necessary. She is
strengthened by my resolve. We decide to gather as much information
as possible and talk to a lawyer before we sign a lease. Jeannie
wants us to be a corporation with stationery and a logo. I spend the
early morning calling long distance until I find out that there is a
distributor right here in Houston. I leave my name.
At ten, Norman the food distributor answers my message.
"You can still jump in early," he says. "Frozen yogurt is going
to vanquish ice cream. It's got the texture of Dairy Queen, the
taste of Baskin-Robbins, and is loaded with vitamins and beneficent
bacteria. There's also low start-up costs and a product that
has a fifteen-day fresh life. That's a hell of an advantage in the
food business. Ice cream loses flavor after a week no matter what
the temperature. And Dairy Queen never has any taste to begin
with. You ought to be able to clear a hundred a day just about
He makes an appointment to come over in an hour.
Jeannie is too nervous to meet him. "Take notes," she tells me.
She has always done badly at job interviews and doesn't want to jinx
our business. She thinks it's because her English turned bad in Peru.
"You be the public relations person," she says. "I'll do a traffic survey
of the location."
Norman brings me a sample, strawberry, in a little carton. It has
melted. I put it in my freezer. We await its return to form.
"I didn't know you were this young and attractive," Norman
says. "Most of the housewives who want to go into the restaurant
business are old ladies hoarding some secret recipes that they think
will make them rich. It's nice to see young mothers getting into the
business world. Who will take care of your kids?"
"You too?" I say.
"Wait a minute, don't get me wrong." He runs to his station
wagon, returns with a paperback copy of Playing Around: Women
and Extramarital Sex. He touches my breasts and tries to move me
toward the couch. "It gives people confidence to know they are
desired," he says. "It's good business psychology."
I go to the freezer for my product. It's not bad. "A little too
sugary," I tell him.
"We've got to sugar it. Bacteria is bitter. The health nuts and
anti-sugar people are only a tiny fraction of the market. Believe me,
we've got the data. Only fifteen percent of the population has tasted
yogurt. But in this new shape it will hit everyone. This will do to ice
cream what television did to radio."
Norman is about forty. He talks quickly. I know that he would
James calls to tell me that he is deeply involved with the Saudi
Arabians and may have to go to Antarctica. "It sounds crazy but
they want to move an iceberg to the Middle East. They can't drink
oil, and they think this may be cheaper than desalinization. Who
knows? Anyway, they want us to do a feasibility study. I'll be in
charge. It's a twelve-million-dollar contract but I'll have to spend
two months in Antarctica.
"Don't change your plans," he says, "everything will work out."
He has to take the Saudi Arabians to lunch. "They love the topless
places but in the long run it saves money. A few years ago you would
have had to take them to whorehouses in bad neighborhoods."
"I'm going to the Statue of Liberty Bank at one thirty," I tell
him, "to inquire about a loan. I hear that they're receptive to female
"I'll be at the Boobie Rock just across the street," he says. "Peek
your head in if you have a chance."
Norman offers to accompany me to the bank. "I'll help you sell
them on the idea of frozen yogurt as the backbone of a little natural
food dessert shop. You've got everything going for you. They'd be
nuts to turn you down for a small loan." While I drive, Norman
tries to rub my leg. "I have to spend most of my days with men," he
says. "Getting women into the business world is the best thing that
could happen. After all day in the office I'm too tired for my wife. If
she could just be there at noon dressed as a waitress, our marriage
would be much better." He wants me to tell him everything about
James. He is even envious of Antarctica. "Food is OK," Norman
says, "but the real money is in heavy things. If you need cranes and
a lot of equipment, then it's easy to hide costs. I'm hoping for a job
as a steel salesman; that's where the money is. When you sell tons
rather than cases, you're in the big time. Jesus, you've got wonderful
legs. I love to watch your muscle when you hit the brake."
At the Statue of Liberty Bank, Mrs. Fern Crawford, V.P., talks
turkey to the ladies.
"Face it, sister," she says, "you're talking about a one- or two-
woman operation. A three-thousand-dollar machine and a kinky
product. On the next block are thirty-one flavors, the Colonel, and
Roy Rogers, with Jack-in-the-Box and Burger King within walking
distance. Who's going to blow a buck twenty-nine on frozen yogurt
with wheat germ and sesame toppings, followed by herbal tea and
a fortune cookie?"
"Everybody," Norman answers. "We're already in malls and
supermarkets from coast to coast. We're moving in institutions and
package sales as well."
Fern Crawford taps her heel with her pen. "Still, it's a fad."
"So was lipstick," Norman reminds her, "and the Frisbee."
"Frankly, we're looking for women who want to go into
previously all-male areas like auto parts. Just this morning I approved
a woman for tool rental, and a former elementary school music
teacher for an electroplating shop. Fast food has had its day." Still,
she says that tomorrow they'll loan me $3,000 using my IBM stock
When we leave I walk across the street to see if James is in the
Boobie Rock. I see absolutely naked girls carrying trays. The three
Arabs are in traditional dress. James isn't there.
"These expense account guys have it made," Norman says.
"When I take someone to lunch it's at Taco King, and that bitch tells
you fast food is dead. God, how'd you like to eat here every day,
with all that stuff watching you? Still, I like you lots better. I prefer
Jeannie has been talking to David Simmons, our prospective
landlord. He remodeled an old house in barn wood and has
turned it into a tiny mall and restaurant. His wife left him last
month. He lives in the attic and eats his meals in the restaurant.
We think we could get his restaurant customers to buy our frozen
yogurt for dessert.
David wrings his hands. He is always worried. Two gay cooks
and a waiter run his restaurant. They are constantly arguing. They
buy their ingredients fresh every day. David drives across town to
the Farmers' Market for the vegetables. He has already had three
minor accidents on the freeway. When he returns they stop arguing
and cook whatever he buys. The staff all hate David for his
inefficiency. His wife hates him because he is not successful. In the
attic he caught gonorrhea from a waitress who was converting to
"You can have a room for a hundred and twenty-five dollars a
month, one-year lease, first and last month in advance, and you're
responsible for all improvements." Jeannie writes down the terms.
She thinks her ties to the Spanish community will also bring in a
little business. David Simmons thinks we would be smarter to open
a gem and mineral business. "I know an absolute dummy who made
fifty thousand his first year in a store as big as a shoebox. But he
didn't pay any taxes and they took it all away." David's wife is suing
him for everything. "She'll probably evict me from the attic," he
There are already two potters named Bob, a leather worker,
and a Scandinavian importer in the Gypsy Market. David himself
sweeps the floors and does the general maintenance. He wants to
put an art gallery in the dark hallway. People complain that there
is only one restroom and everyone has to stand in line during the
"I don't like it," Jeannie says. She thinks we would do better to
pay more rent for a better spot. Bill thinks so too.
James comes home with the three Arabs. For the children they
bring a two-foot wooden figure of King Faisal. For me a digital watch
with an Islamic face. The children run wild, break the figurine, eat,
take a bath, and are in bed by seven thirty. Alma goes home at seven
twenty. She waits for her bus in the rain. The Arabs want James to
leave for Antarctica next week. They have plane tickets hidden in
their loose robes. James tells them about my plans for a small tea
room featuring frozen yogurt. The idea of freezing anything makes
them talk more about Antarctica.
When they leave in a yellow cab I tell James all about Norman
and the business possibilities.
"Men are like that," he says. "They aren't prepared to treat you
as an equal in business. It will take another generation. You are in
I tell him that Norman has been fondling me.
"Typical salesman," he says. The Arabs have been driving him
crazy buying souvenirs of Texas. He will have to buy a winter wardrobe
tomorrow. He doesn't even know where in Houston to look for
arctic gear. He will call Neiman-Marcus in the morning.
I shower, shave my legs, and begin to read the book Norman
gave me. Jeannie calls to say that maybe we should take the Gypsy
Market location after all. Not doing anything for all these months
has probably warped her judgment, she thinks. Bill suggests that
we both take a course in real estate.
In the morning after Jessica goes to school and Alma takes the
baby for a walk, I sit down to think things over. I think about how
I sat through all those awful hours of school and college, how I fell
in love with James and several others, and how quickly the children
are growing. I wonder if a business will make me a more responsible
person. I check my navel to see if that dark line down my middle
that appeared after Sam was born has become any fainter. James
calls it the equator. Dr. Thompson says it is perfectly normal but I
don't think I'll ever wear a bikini again.
Excerpted from Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Richard Ford is the author of the Bascombe novels, which include The Sportswriter and its sequels—Independence Day, the first novel to win the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and The Lay of the Land—as well as the New York Times bestselling novel Canada and the short story collections Rock Springs and A Multitude of Sins, which contain many widely anthologized stories. He lives in Boothbay, Maine, with his wife, Kristina Ford.
- Date of Birth:
- February 16, 1944
- Place of Birth:
- Jackson, Mississippi
- B.A., Michigan State University, 1966; M.F.A., University of California, Irvine, 1970
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