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Greco Goes Collecting
Illinois Review ^ | June 18, 2012 A.D. | John F. Di Leo

Posted on 06/18/2012 5:22:39 PM PDT by jfd1776

The Greek boss learns a few lessons about economics as he makes his rounds, on the very eve of the election…

As a minor mob boss in the south, Greco had had some serious setbacks. His operation was crumbling around him, and he didn’t know what to do. Deep in hock to the big Mob Bosses in Brussels, Greco had gone back to the well for renegotiations again and again, and neither his bosses nor his grubber list seemed to understand his situation at all. No compassion, no understanding. What was the world coming to?

But it was Saturday, and worrying about the big picture never got him anywhere. Since payday is usually Friday, he always had his staff make their rounds on Saturday, so he set out to visit the customers of his protection racket and collect his debts, as usual.

Greco used to have a couple of bagmen to do the collecting for him, but austerity measures had kicked in, and he was stretched thin. With one of his best goons having retired at 55 last year, and another at 53 last week, Greco now had to set out alone this week, grumbling to himself about early retirement not being what it’s cracked up to be. One of them retired to some island off the coast of Italy, and the other to Costa Rica, of all places (!), leaving poor Greco high and dry.

But there’s no crying over spilled wine, so Greco put on his jacket and his hat, strapped his blackjack on his belt, and set out to do his rounds.

Greco’s first stop was a café with a big picture window. The window had been broken once by vandals, years ago, so Greco had put the word out that this was a good neighborhood, and that it had better not happen again! His reputation was such, in those days, that he could enforce a rule like that, but Athens wasn’t what it was, and he was no longer sure he could keep it safe. So he continued to collect his protection money, but he feared that one might be on its last legs; if this place was burglarized again, it would show Greco’s operation as being a house of cards, and he’d lose a customer. But he put on his best face, and went in.

The proprietor was happy to see the door open, but his face fell when he recognized his guest. “Good morning, Greco. Here for breakfast, sir?”

“No, sorry, can’t stay, Nico… I’m working this morning, making my rounds. Just here to collect your contribution,” he smiled, as he put out his hand expectantly.

“Business hasn’t been so good lately, Greco… everybody’s broke; it feels like that American city, Detroit, where my brother moved, years ago…”

“But have you been broken into? Has your window been smashed?”

“No, Greco.” He paused, and looked around at his fading restaurant. “But what if they did? The place is never full anymore… I’ve hocked half my tables so the place looks busier when I’ve only got four couples dining. There’s no money in the till.”

“But you’re still safe, Nico,” Greco said, as menacingly as he could manage without his thugs by his side. Trying not to think about the fact that old Nico could probably take him in a fight, if it came to that, Greco shifted his open jacket so that his blackjack would be visible on his belt. “You’re a good man; a good member of the community. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”

Nico opened his cash register and stepped back, motioning Greco to come over and look. There were, maybe, a hundred euros there. “Take it. I won’t have change if anybody wants to pay cash today, but it’s all I’ve got for this month. Greco, I’m broke!”

Greco couldn’t do it. He took just half of it, just fifty euros, and said his goodbyes, wishing Nico a more successful weekend going forward. Greco really meant it; he had good intentions, considering.

Greco moved on to the next place on his route, a small textile shop that made handmade shirts and blouses. “Good morning, Petra! How’s business?”

“Lousy” came the response from the back, behind a sewing machine. Was he imagining it, or were there fewer bolts of fabric stacked on the shelves, fewer tops on hangers on the racks in the front? “Business is terrible everywhere,” she continued. “What, have you been living under a rock?”

“But I see people wearing your clothes,” said Greco. “Just in the last week, I’ve seen two different people wearing those distinctive green shirts of yours…” he pointed to a rack and continued “that one there, the one with the fisherman’s cap logo on the pocket, but in green. You must be selling well!”

“Green, huh? Oh, that’s just great.” Petra shook her head. “I don’t MAKE that model in green. I make it in blue, red, pink, and grey. You saw a knockoff. Our country is so weak, we can’t enforce Intellectual Property protections.”

Seeing the blank look on Greco’s face, she explained. “Intellectual Property. IP. You know, like Trademarks and Copyrights and Patents.” Greco’s eyes brightened a little as he understood, or faked understanding, anyway, so she could go on.

“For the first time in my life, I spent ten thousand euros last year on a magazine ad, and within a month of its release, Chinese knockoffs had flooded the market. All I accomplished with my advertising investment was to prop up the Chinese and destroy my own business. The darned magazines are probably in on it…”

Her voice trailed off as she concentrated on stitching a collar. Even though she’d been doing it for twenty years, this was still careful work; you needed to keep your mind on it or the seams would be uneven. Finishing that seam, she looked up again, to find Greco still there waiting patiently, with a firm look on his face, like, if she didn’t pay, he’d stand there all day.

“Does this protection racket of yours extend to China?” she asked, angrily. “Can you protect me from some commie sweatshop that rips off a design from a magazine and puts me out of business, just because they lack the creativity to design their own stuff? Can you send your goons to Beijing for me, huh?”

Greco smiled. “You know, I could, but I don’t think you could afford it. I just protect you from the troublemakers of this neighborhood. Fifty euros a week, that’s all. If you wanted me to get some legs broken in China, I could probably do that, but if you have trouble paying fifty a week, I don’t think you could afford that.”

Petra shook her head. "I have two strong sons… or at least I will for awhile yet; my younger one has applied for some program in Australia. If he gets it, he’s leaving. Anyway… I’m not worried about the gangs in this neighborhood. If they steal my sewing machine, I’m out five hundred euros. But Chinese knockoff cheats stealing my designs, that’s cost me tens of thousands. Don’t you understand the difference?”

Greco shrugged his shoulders. “Nah, I’ve never paid much attention to that kind of business. I’m just in the old fashioned security trade, ya know? So back to the subject at hand…” again, he tried to look menacing, as menacing as a hood can look when his world is collapsing around him. “Fifty euros, Petra. You know the price.”

Petra reached into her blouse and took out a couple of bills, reaching through the sewing machine to set the money on her sewing table… then shifted the fabric she was working on, so it would push the money to the floor. At least she’d have the satisfaction of making Greco have to bend down to pick it up.

As Greco left her shop, she muttered a line from a bumper sticker she’d seen on her last vacation to America: “All Taxation is Theft.”

Continuing on his rounds, Greco visited Achilles’ auto repair shop. “Morning, Achilles, how ya doing?”

Achilles slid out from under the car he was working on, and said “how do ya think? I’m working on this car, instead of one of my employees doing it. Why do ya think they’re not doing the work? Why ya think I’m on the floor in a puddle of grease doing this disgusting stuff myself, Greco?”

Greco had never liked Achilles and his attitude. Such a heel. But this was business, so he tried to remain cordial. “Your employees on vacation?” That was always a safe guess, in the old days.

But this wasn’t the old days. “No!” spat the old mechanic. “My best clutch man retired last week. I can’t afford to hire anybody new, and you can’t put a kid who’s barely capable of changing oil and batteries on a transmission job. So the old man has to do it. Disgusting.”

Achilles stood up and reached for his bottle of Pellegrino. “But it’ll be done right. When you own the business, you’ve gotta be able to do everything yourself. And then, when money is short, you pay the employees, and you go without, yourself. That’s entrepreneurship, these days. Bah.”

Greco said, “Speaking of money… it’s time for your contribution.” He smiled, showed his blackjack, and put out his hand.

Achilles didn’t smile. He looked at the blackjack, then looked down at the ten pound wrench he held in his own hand. Once he made sure that Greco, thick as he was, had made the connection, Achilles reached in his pocket and pulled out some cash. “I got thirty euros. Take it or leave it,” making it clear that he’d be perfectly fine with Greco leaving it.

Greco looked around at the shop. Ya got a lot of people’s cars here. Wouldn’t want windows to get broken or anything…”

Achilles was getting tired of that threat too. “You see those new posts outside?” Greco hadn’t, but now he saw them. A clean line of iron posts all around the property. “They’ll install the fencing this afternoon. Gonna have an electronic gate. And I got 24-hour cameras installed last week, all around the property. With the low cost of electronics today, it was practically free. Fence was still expensive, but it’s amazing how much other kinds of security have dropped. I’m not nearly as worried as I used to be.”

Greco’s eyes went wide, as Achilles continued. “Turns out, I’m not all that desperate for protection, anymore, after all.” He displayed the thirty euros again, then motioned to put it back in his pocket.

Greco quickly reached out and took it, forcing a smile. “I suppose we can make that the new price. You don’t need quite as much protection as you did. Congratulations on the new fence and all.”

Achilles sighed. “It’s weird. Business is good, in a way. When the rest of the economy suffers, people in my business sometimes have more activity. When you can’t afford a new car, you keep on patching up your old one. But the people are still broke, so while I have more business, they have to pay with longer and longer extensions… or they have to talk me into giving them a break. Sometimes I wind up doing work for not much more than the price of parts, just to keep the customers for referrals, and parts turnovers, and for when they get healthier themselves. But business is hard, harder than I ever remember it being.”

Greco didn’t really understand any of this. When he needed a car, he just stole one. But he tried to look sympathetic as the old man droned on.

Finally Achilles said “Gotta get back to work,” and he got down to slide back under the transmission of the old Fiat. Before he slid under, he muttered. “Could be worse, I suppose. At least this isn’t a Yugo.”

Greco walked outside and contemplated his next stop. This business is getting harder and harder. He decided to walk around the corner to that girl’s flower shop – what was her name… Artemis, that’s it. The flowers sometimes made him sneeze, but that picture window was always a good selling point for protection services, and besides, young Artemis was good to look at. Not that Greco would try anything, but after shaking down that old mechanic, he was looking forward to some more pleasant scenery.

He turned the corner and his face fell. “CLOSED FOREVER” read the sign on the door. “Out of Business! Gone to America!” was painted on the window.

Greco shook his head. More and more of his customers were closing up shop and moving away, just giving up. How could you give up on Greece, he asked himself. Such a beautiful country. So some things are going wrong, so we’re going through a rough patch… but how could anyone leave? He just didn’t understand.

He started walking down the block, and saw those signs again. “Closed Forever!” was on two more padlocked doors, one a travel agency, one a restaurant. Time was, every place on this street had paid the full protection and never dared to squawk. Oh, those were the days.

But now… he saw a new shop at the end of block! Things are looking up! He wondered if he should call in an associate to accompany him on this first visit, then decided there was no need; everybody around here must know him by sight. Even the new proprietor would have been warned by his landlord to expect his visit, so he walked right up, moving his blackjack a bit forward so it couldn’t be missed, and he turned the handle to push open the door.

“Zeus! Ares!” shouted the owner, pointing to the door. Two ferocious-looking dogs, as big as houses, charged across the store toward the doorway, so fast that Greco couldn’t even get a look at what the store had for sale. Greco pulled the door shut and retreated… backtracking around the corner as fast as he could.

Boy. Electrically controlled fences and gates, camera systems, and now guard dogs. People were taking control of their personal security needs now. What’s left for an old-fashioned mobster to do?

He kept making his rounds, collecting what he could from the businesses that were still in business… then headed to the bank, so he could deposit his morning’s take. No reason to run risks… but the bank was closed early. “Power Outage – sorry for the inconvenience!” read the sign on the window, but even Greco knew better.

He’d been hearing about this problem lately… that the Greek banks were closing early, midday, because they were running out of cash, as people emptied their accounts... fearing the election, fearing the actions that Europe might take to punish them all for their generations of profligacy.

Greco usually didn’t worry about such things; he had enough to worry about in his own private economy. But he was beginning to wonder if maybe he should have paid attention to the warnings, decades ago… if maybe they were right, and he should have started changing his operation long before it came to this.

Greco had to make another payment to the Godmother, Madame Angela, at her office at Mob Headquarters in Brussels, and once again, he just didn’t have the money. Maybe he could get her to renegotiate again?

Given the choice between hard work at home and another trip to Brussels of begging and groveling, he decided on the easier option, as he always did. They’ve always given him a break before; why not one more time?

First, some shrimp for lunch, and then to the travel agent… wondering if there are any discount tickets to Brussels this time of year. Maybe he could sneak a sandwich onto the plane so he wouldn’t have to pay for the meal…

Copyright 2012 John F. Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade lecturer. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has now been a recovering politician for fifteen years. But like any addiction, of course, you’re never really cured…

This is a work of fiction; Greco and the denizens of his racket are fictional characters, and any similarity to real persons is merely coincidence… though the economic lessons discussed are truths for the ages.

Permission is hereby granted to forward freely, provided it is uncut, and the IR URL and byline are included. Follow me on LinkedIn and Facebook!

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government; Miscellaneous; Politics
KEYWORDS: europeanunion; eurozone; germany; greece; greekbailout; russia; unitedkingdom

1 posted on 06/18/2012 5:22:45 PM PDT by jfd1776
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To: jfd1776


2 posted on 06/18/2012 5:45:40 PM PDT by kenavi (Obama doesn't hate private equity. He wants to be it with our money.)
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To: kenavi

Thank you, Kenavi!

3 posted on 06/18/2012 6:17:06 PM PDT by jfd1776
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