Lucky Number

I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania.  Every summer, the local fire company would sponsor a Fireman’s carnival.  Colorful posters announcing the event would be up on every telephone pole around town for months, ensuring that adults and kids alike saved up enough money to spend on rides and games.  The rides and midway, which consisted of about 10 rides and an equal amount of games, would take a day to set up and would remain up for an entire week, before being dismantled and moved to the next small town.

My parents always made us wait until Friday.    All week long I would stare out my bedroom window.  Our house was 2 miles outside of town, but I could still see the neon lights of the Ferris wheel and hear faint screams of ride-goers, which competed with the frogs and the crickets across the river.

When Friday night came, I would pack up my favorite purse with all the birthday money I had saved.  It was red vinyl with a magnetic snap and a picture of Strawberry Shortcake on the front.  She would keep my money safe until I was ready to spend it at the midway.

My parents, 2 younger brothers and sometimes my grandma would all load up in our brown station wagon and head into town.  We would park on a side street and walk the couple blocks to the carnival, the smell of funnel cakes and fried foods filling the air.

Grandma would leave us to play Bingo in the fire hall, while Dad bought each of us a book of ride tickets.  The first ride of the night was the Merry Mixer.  Dad always rode the rides with us.  He loved to ride as much as us kids.

After our tickets were gone, we took our chances on midway. Pop-the-Balloon would win you a small mirror with a rock band name on it, or a clip-on feather for your hair.  Kids would show up at school on Monday with the feathers clipped in their hair.  Trophies of their midway prowess.

I threw ping pong balls for a gold fish in a bag, but never won any of those.  This was probably a good thing since I didn’t have a fish tank or even a fish bowl.  My youngest brother once won an oversized stuffed bear at ring-toss.  It lasted about two nights before getting a giant hole in that leaked white foam BB’s all over the house and had to be thrown away. Skee-ball was one of my favorite games.  But the only prize was a high score.

At the end of the night there was only one game left to play. My last .50 cents was always spent on the Prize Wheel.  This was where a bet was placed on a number and a large wheel was spun.  If it landed on your number, you won your choice of baked goods which were sitting on shelves on either side of the wheel.  The desserts were donated to the Fire Company by volunteers.  Choose your number wisely, and your last .50 cents can win a plate of peanut butter fudge.

When you are a kid, there isn’t much risk in gambling.  But as an adult, other than the occasional lottery ticket, I have chosen to avoid it.  That is why I was so addled yesterday when a recruiter asked me to pick a number to see if I won a second interview.

She didn’t quite put it in those terms, but she may as well have said as much.  The actual conversation was, “Tell me what you are thinking salary-wise for this position”.  Not having held this position before, my guessed response was, “I would say that this position is about $15 per hour”.  She replied, “Ok well we are in the same ballpark then. It pays $14 per hour, are you flexible?”  My response was, “Of course”.  She replied, “Ok then we will set you up with a second interview next week”.

What if I had guessed $16?  Would she have thanked me for my time and hung up?  If I guessed $12 would she have agreed to that number knowing they could get me cheaper than they were willing to pay?  My value to that company was boiled down to “how low can you go”.

It is situations like these that make me question the future of our society.  Higher education is now a commodity. Bachelor’s degrees are now standard for even the most basic of careers and there is an expectation that employees are to specialize in several areas.  There is an ever-increasing pool of job-seekers and a rapidly decreasing number of jobs.

I read an article recently that detailed how, when you take into account discouraged and involuntary part-time workers; the U.S. is experiencing highest unemployment numbers in 20 years.  With so much competition, companies can cherry-pick their employees based on the most desperate candidates.  This low-balling is creating an income disparity that is resulting in the decline of the middle class.

To this day I still question if the Prize Wheel game was rigged to unload all the baked goods at the end of the night.  As for the recruiter, there is no question that her game is rigged.  But in this game, we are all going to end up losers.

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