“Times is bad,” the old man kept shouting over and over. (This old man, I remember his name, Barney. He sat on the steps of St. Mary’s and Joseph’s church, a block up from our house.) “Times is bad.”

Our school was right next door, and we could see and hear him from the windows in Sister Rosanna’s classroom. Closing the windows, Sister made the sign of the cross, as she did hundreds of time a day, and whispered, “Poor soul.”

I don’t remember the year. It was one of those “bad time years” in the late ’30s, when times were indeed bad, and America was teeming with “poor souls” who couldn’t find a job to save their lives.

“Times is bad” again, but in darker shades of bad. Let’s not go there today.

Today, folks who serve people their daily bread can’t find anyone to serve it.

This week I counted six souls on the curbs and traffic islands, looking beleaguered and tattered, wearing no masks, all flashing cardboard signs that spoke of homelessness and hunger, while ironically, a foot or 10 away, signs dotting the landscape offered these pilgrims relief.

HELP WANTED.

McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Five Guys and streets full of down staffed cafés and restaurants are on their knees begging to employ.

J.P. Devine beside a “Now Hiring” sign at Hannaford. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

All shifts, early and late, good money. Clean, sanitized environments are promised. All positions, they shout. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like fun.

Smiling employers offer snappy uniforms with cool baseball caps. All that’s needed is the ability to count and speak English, even broken English.

“Come aboard,” they seem to shout, “we’ll pick you up at your house and take you home. We’ll feed you and offer you clean underwear. You might even meet the love of your life here.”

OK, maybe transportation is a stretch, but if you’re in your teens or early 20s, you just might meet the love of your life who might share her tips with you.

“Come on in,” they say, “grab an apron and a bunch of them menus, smile and memorize the daily special.”

What have you got to lose?

While reading these signs, from the eateries in Old Orchard Beach, the Old Port, and up and down the street in Freeport, I found myself wondering what would I seek, if I, still as handsome, bright and charming as I was in my salad days, needed work?

I think that instead of standing out with a cardboard sign, I would go for, instead, standing at the top or bottom of construction sites, holding one of those “STOP” or “SLOW” signs.

For years now, I’ve been curious about these stoic guards of infrastructure.

They come in all sizes, big, heavy guys, bony and bearded, even one or two really gorgeous women, all wearing really cool helmets.

I’ve tried to interview a couple as I passed them, by shouting quick questions.

“HOW DO I GET THE JOB?”

“HOW MUCH DO YOU GET PAID? ARE THERE COOL BENEFITS?”

Only to be met with frozen faces. I’m thinking they must have to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Troublemaker that I am, I just think it would be fun to spend a day out there twirling one of those signs back and forth STOP/SLOW/STOP/SLOW and jamming up the traffic while creating a chorus of honking cars before they fire me.

I guess I’ll just sit here and keep trying to make you laugh. I am still desperate for a cleaning person. I guess I’ll have to put a sign on the garage door.

HELP WANTED.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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