20 Jul 2012

Small Business and the Government Hammer

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John Kass

Barack Obama’s Roanoke speech struck a deep personal chord for Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. Kass, born in the early 1950s, was the son of a Greek immigrant grocer who can remember very well exactly what government did for his family.

When President Barack Obama hauled off and slapped American small-business owners in the mouth the other day, I wanted to dream of my father.

But I didn’t have to close my eyes to see my dad. I could do it with my eyes open.

All I had to do was think of the driveway of our home, and my dad’s car gone before dawn, that old white Chrysler with a push-button transmission. It always started, but there was a hole in the floor and his feet got wet in the rain. So he patched it with concrete mix and kept on driving it to the little supermarket he ran with my Uncle George.

He’d return home long after dark, physically and mentally exhausted, take a plate of food, talk with us for a few minutes, then flop in that big chair in front of the TV. Even before his cigarette was out, he’d begin to snore.

The next day he’d wake up and do it again. Day after day, decade after decade. Weekdays and weekends, no vacations, no time to see our games, no money for extras, not even forMcDonald’s. My dad and Uncle George, and my mom and my late Aunt Mary, killing themselves in their small supermarket on the South Side of Chicago.

There was no federal bailout money for us. No Republican corporate welfare. No Democratic handouts. No bipartisan lobbyists working the angles. No Tony Rezkos. No offshore accounts. No Obama bucks.

Just two immigrant brothers and their families risking everything, balancing on the economic high wire, building a business in America. They sacrificed, paid their bills, counted pennies to pay rent and purchase health care and food and not much else. And for their troubles they were muscled by the politicos, by the city inspectors and the chiselers and the weasels, all those smiling extortionists who held the government hammer over all of our heads. …

One of my earliest memories as a boy at the store was that of the government men coming from City Hall. One was tall and beefy. The other was wiry. They wanted steaks.

We didn’t eat red steaks at home or yellow bananas. We took home the brown bananas and the brown steaks because we couldn’t sell them. But the government men liked the big, red steaks, the fat rib-eyes two to a shrink-wrapped package. You could put 20 or so in a shopping bag.

“Thanks, Greek,” they’d say.

That was government.

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Charleen Larson

Thanks for publishing this. We need more stories like this, one every day until November.



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