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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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15

2

Isn't it strange to feel your own world is falling apart while those of the people close to you are rock steady? And you can't figure out why they're not affected the way you are. About 6:30, I slip away from the plant to run home and grab some dinner. As I come through the door, Julie looks up from the television.

"Hi," she says. "Like my hair?"

She turns her head. The thick, straight brown hair she used to have is now a mass of frizzed ringlets. And it isn't all the same color anymore. It's lighter in places.

"Yeah, looks great," I say automatically.

"The hairdresser said it sets off my eyes," she says, batting her long lashes at me. She has big, pretty blue eyes; they don't need to be "set off in my opinion, but what do I know?

"Nice," I say.

"Gee, you're not very enthusiastic," she says.

"Sorry, but I've had a rough day."

"Ah, poor baby," she says. "But I've got a great idea! We'll go out to dinner and you can forget all about it."

I shake my head. "I can't. I've got to eat something fast and get back to the plant."

She stands up and puts her hands on her hips. I notice she's wearing a new outfit.

"Well you're a lot of fun!" she says. "And after I got rid of the kids, too."

"Julie, I've got a crisis on my hands. One of my most expen- sive machines went down this morning, and I need it to process a part for a rush order. I've got to stay on top of this one," I tell her.

"Okay. Fine. There is nothing to eat, because I thought we were going out," she says. "Last night, you said we were going out."

Then I remember. She's right. It was part of the promises when we were making up after the fight.

"I'm sorry. Look, maybe we can go out for an hour or so," I tell her.

"That's your idea of a night on the town?" she says. "Forget it, Al!"

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"Listen to me," I tell her. "Bill Peach showed up unexpect- edly this morning. He's talking about closing the plant."

Her face changes. Did it brighten?

"Closing the plant... really?" she asks.

"Yeah, it's getting very bad."

"Did you talk to him about where your next job would be?" she asks.

After a second of disbelief, I say, "No, I didn't talk to him about my next job. My job is here -in this town, at this plant."

She says, "Well, if the plant is going to close, aren't you inter- ested in where you're going to live next? I am."

"He's only talking about it."

"Oh," she says.

I feel myself glaring at her. I say, "You really want to get out of this town as fast as you can, don't you?"

"It isn't my home town, Al. I don't have the same sentimen- tal feelings for it you do," she says.

"We've only been here six months," I say.

"Is that all? A mere six months?" she says. "Al, I have no friends here. There's nobody except you to talk to, and you're not home most of the time. Your family is very nice, but after an hour with your mother, I go crazy. So it doesn't feel like six months to me."

"What do you want me to do? I didn't ask to come here. The company sent me to do a job. It was the luck of the draw," I say.

"Some luck."

"Julie, I do not have time to get into another fight with you," I tell her.

She's starting to cry.

"Fine! Go ahead and leave! I'll just be here by myself," she crys. "Like every night."

"Aw, Julie."

I finally go put my arms around her. We stand together for a few minutes, both of us quiet. When she stops crying, she steps back and looks up at me.

"I'm sorry," she says. "If you have to go back to the plant, then you'd better go."

"Why don't we go out tomorrow night?" I suggest.

She turns up her hands. "Fine... whatever."

I turn, then look back. "Will you be okay?"

"Sure. I'll find something to eat in the freezer," she says.

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I've forgotten about dinner by now. I say, "Okay, I'll proba- bly pick up something on my way back to the plant. See you later tonight."

Once I'm in the car, I find I've lost my appetite.

Ever since we moved to Bearington, Julie has been having a hard time. Whenever we talk about the town, she always com- plains about it, and I always find myself defending it.

It's true I was born and raised in Bearington, so I do feel at home here. I know all the streets. I know the best places to go to buy things, the good bars and the places you stay out of, all that stuff. There is a sense of ownership I have for the town, and more affection for it than for some other burg down the highway. It was home for eighteen years.

But I don't think I have too many illusions about it. Bear- ington is a factory town. Anyone passing through probably wouldn't see anything special about the place. Driving along, I look around and have much the same reaction. The neighbor- hood where we live looks like any other American suburb. The houses are fairly new. There are shopping centers nearby, a litter of fast-food restaurants, and over next to the Interstate is a big mall. I can't see much difference here from any of the other suburbs where we've lived.

Go to the center of town and it is a little depressing. The streets are lined with old brick buildings that have a sooty, crum- bling look to them. A number of store fronts are vacant or cov- ered with plywood. There are plenty of railroad tracks, but not many trains.

On the corner of Main and Lincoln is Bearington's one high- rise office building, a lone tower on the skyline. When it was being built some ten years ago, the building was considered to be a very big deal around here, all fourteen stories of it. The fire department used it as an excuse to go buy a brand new fire en- gine, just so it would have a ladder long enough to reach to the top. (Ever since then, I think they've secretly been waiting for a fire to break out in the penthouse just to use the new ladder.) Local boosters immediately claimed that the new office tower was some kind of symbol of Bearington's vitality, a sign of re-birth in an old industrial town. Then a couple of years ago, the building management erected an enormous sign on the roof which says in red block letters: "Buy Me!" It gives a phone number. From the

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Interstate, it looks like the whole town is for sale. Which isn't too far from the truth.

On my way to work each day, I pass another plant along the road to ours. It sits behind a rusty chain-link fence with barbed wire running along the top. In front of the plant is a paved park- ing lot-five acres of concrete with tufts of brown grass poking through the cracks. Years have gone by since any cars have parked there. The paint has faded on the walls and they've got a chalky look to them. High on the long front wall you can still make out the company name; there's darker paint where the let- ters and logo had once been before they were removed.

The company that owned the plant went south. They built a new plant somewhere in North Carolina. Word has it they were trying to run away from a bad situation with their union. Word also has it that the union probably will catch up with them again in about five years or so. But meanwhile they'll have bought themselves five years of lower wages and maybe fewer hassles from the work force. And five years seem like eternity as far as modern management planning is concerned. So Bearington got another industrial dinosaur carcass on its outskirts and about 2,000 people hit the street.

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