The Apocrypha #2 - A Job History

Welcome once again to The Apocrypha, your resource for news and stories that never really occured. In the last edition I treated you to a mythological tale that I had written some years ago. This time I have a more recent story that, like the previous one, had its geneis in a conversation with Mrs. JediCole. There really is no more set up necessary as the tale takes care of itself in that department.

Occupation: Stick

     Behind every law, regulation, statute, edict, ordinance, act, decree, or rule is a little piece of history that led to a good idea becoming one of these aspects of a legal system. While it is often a simple matter to extrapolate what circumstance or occurrence may have made such legislation a necessity, it is not generally as easy to discover the story behind the aftermath of rules of law. A prominent case in point that stands proudly on street corners nationwide in spring and summer months are the professional Sticks.

     Sticks, or Stick-Men, are individuals who’s vocation is to act as a kind of ambulatory analogue to a traditional inanimate stick. City ordinances have emerged over the years across the land that limit the use of signs tacked to wooden stakes, attached to aluminum rods, or otherwise connected to sticks for the purpose of temporary or permanent advertizing to the exclusive use of politicians. That is to say if said signs are to be secured in the turf of street corners or medians and abandoned for the duration of their purpose. Such statues are in answer to increasing demands on the populations of larger cities to maintain a level of standards in the beautification of public places. By legally classifying such signage as “litter”, the effective advertizing potential of a sign promoting “Two Large One-Topping Pizzas for $10.99” or “Quitting Business, Everything Must Go” was rendered not only ineffectual but also illegal.

     But for every law there is a loophole and shrewd business people began to exploit the glaring one that accompanied the signs-as-little laws to remarkable advantage. While a wooden or metal stick can be considered refuse a human being, from the standpoint of black letter law, cannot. And thusly was the profession of Stick born. By employing a hapless individual to spend their work day engaged in holding a stick that would in years past have been planted in the soil where they now stand. From announcements of grand openings to the promotion of limited time offers, the signs and their handlers effectively bypass the rules that would have spelled the end of an era in American retail sales.

     Some proponents of the oppressive sign laws cried foul but were soon forced to the resignation that the stringent definition of their legislation required that restricted signage must be effectively abandoned in one location for a prescribed amount of time. A skilled Stick Man never allows the base of their sign to even touch the ground and is commonly seen moving about along a personal territory of anything from one square foot to three linear yards. Even the most lethargic of the professional Sticks at the very least maintain possession of the signs at all times during their shift. Early into the Stick movement the question of vagrancy was raised as a possible means to end the practice but as the Sticks are engaged in the gainful employment of shop owners they cannot be legally considered vagrants.

     Once established as a viable and legal alternative to stationary and inanimate signage, the plight of the Sticks did not end. While public outcry has faded over the last few years with some communities even embracing their local sticks (in Paul’s Valley, OK the local Women’s Guild hand sew and deliver over 100 Santa hats to that city’s Sticks each December) , there are still trials and pitfalls to be faced by those who have made “sticking” their vocation. Many fall prey to the lure of high-paying temporary work directing passing traffic to garage sales.

     While the wages offered are generally higher than average for Stick Men employed by businesses, they tend to lack the amenities provided in the business sector. By law a full-time stick employed by a company of any size must be afforded two paid 15-minute breaks and a minimum of 30 minutes unpaid time for lunch. It has also become customary for employers to provide complimentary water or sports drinks to those they employ as Sticks. No such courtesies exist in the short term, contract work environment.

     But misleading employment offers are the least of the worries of the contemporary working Stick. The single greatest threat to the safety and comfort of these sign holders is “Gorilla Warfare”. The term Gorilla Warfare was first coined in 2007 when a minor altercation between a pair of professional Sticks in the employ of a family jewelry store that was closing after 75 years in business and a vacuum cleaner repair shop guy-in-a-gorilla suit escalated into a small urban war.

     Long before legal precedent led to the genesis of the Stick, the most common live advertizing and promotional occupation was that of the Vacuum Store Gorilla. In an age of increasing automation, animatronic primates have begun to surface but have often proven cost prohibitive. So as in days of old a guy in a gorilla suit continues to be the promotional stunt of choice for vacuum cleaner repair and sales outlets everywhere. While the connection between household cleaning equipment and counterfeit apes may seem inexplicable, the use of a person in a gorilla suit has historical background linked to the vacuum cleaner industry in this country.

     In 1908 a rather perplexed William Henry Hoover was contemplating the best way to introduce his new Model O cleaner to the market. It chanced that his sons Hiram and Malacek were participating in a school pantomime of Noah’s Ark in which the elder boy was portraying a “fierce gorilla of the Africas”. With the play still a week away, Hoover arranged the use of the costume and utilizing Hiram’s acting talents he showcased his “vacuum cleaning device” with the aid of a “tame ape” at the Chicago Exposition of Mechanical and Electrically-Powered Devices two days later. The fanciful gimmick captured the imagination of those in attendance and soon gorilla suit-sporting pitchmen became commonplace in the fiercely competitive vacuum cleaner industry for the next five years.

     It is speculated that photographs of these gorilla-men of old inspired the more contemporary use of fake gorilla skins as a promotional stunt that could be utilized year round. The earliest documented use of a guy-in-a-suit was in 1970 at Hobson’s Vacuum and Home Appliance in Lindale, GA, though earlier attempts may have gone unnoticed. With a distinguished pedigree and lengthy history the formation of GiGS, the International Association of Guys in Gorilla Suits, in 1977 was a natural progression. With a professional organization well established, many older members of the gorilla-suit profession resented the arrival (and seemingly instant propagation) of Stick Men. The time-honored profession of standing in front of a business establishment waving at passersby had quietly tolerated clowns, Statues of Liberty, and even jester-capped teenagers clutching oversized facsimiles of music CDs over the ensuing years. But the arrival of these human sticks seemed to be the last straw.

     In the legendary incident of 2007 Martin Cooper, a 26 year-old itinerant worker from Bakersfield, CA and Dale Enders, a local 19 year-old student were brutally assaulted in western Huntsville, AL after their shift ended on May 17, 2007. It was the eve of the 30th anniversary of the foundation of GAGS and the two were accosted by (reportedly) six two eight gorilla-suited individuals who forced the pair into an unmarked van where they proceeded to administer a savage beating. The chief suspect in the assault was Mike Dougal, a 40 year old professional gorilla-man who specialized in children’s birthday parties but also found work with traveling carnivals and as a vacuum store ape. He was known to have had altercations with the pair of Stick Men who were promoting the closure of Moore and Sons Fine Jewelry which was located in the same shopping center as Vacuums, Etc., Dougal’s employer.

     Though he was cleared of all charges due to well documented whereabouts at the time of the incident he did impart to police that he had made reference to his difficulties with the neighboring Stick Men, who had repeatedly infringed upon his work territory, on the GiGS website forums. Frustration with Sticks was a common topic of discussion on the message boards with complaints ranging from lack of discipline to unprofessional attire to talking or texting on cell phones during working hours. A growing feeling of distrust and resentment was evident in the gorilla man community nationally but was most prevalent among the Alabama membership. Investigators were unable to formally charge any local gorilla men with the crime, though it would leave a lasting stigma on the profession for some years.

     Unfortunately the example set by this unfortunate instance was taken up by gorilla men around the country. From May 2007 to June 2010 (the most up to date statistics available) there have been as many as 25 such assaults perpetuated annually. By February 2008 the term Gorilla Warfare was in common use, replacing the previously used “gorilla on stick violence”. 2010 did see a decline in per-capita incidents, a fact that some suggest is a direct result of the GiGS organization officially denouncing Gorilla Warfare in May of that year, fully three years after the Alabama incident. Ben Yearling, president of the group, has pledged that he will continue to seek an accord between gorillas and Sticks. This coupled with greater community outreach and vigilance on the part of professional Sticks has helped curb the violence of years past.

     As of this writing a non-profit organization, Sticking Up for Sticks has announced that its outreach programs have been nationalized. With a support base that has been bolstered in recent years they have begun to lobby Congress for Federal classification of Gorilla Warfare as a hate crime and for funding to aid victims of such crimes. Despite great strides in the rights of Stick Men in the workplace, few employers of these sign holders offer health insurance benefits, making recovery from physical violence a costly proposal for those in the trade.

     For now it seems that the familiar Sticks that can be found pointing drivers to bargains on dining, goods, and services at strip malls and shopping centers everywhere are here to stay. Once a friendless occupation the Stick Men now enjoy a population of supporters as numerous and vocal as those who still oppose them. Federal Judges in five states have overturned laws and statutes that would have limited or eliminated the position for all time. A cover story on Stick Men in Newsweek, in which reporter Mark Rafferty spent six weeks in the trade, ran in early 2010 and further raised awareness of the ups and downs of this unique modern profession. With a greater awareness and understanding on the part of Americans on a whole the lives of Stick Men everywhere are starting to improve.