Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Vol II – Episode 85: Retail, Employment, Slavery, and Ukha

Political Satire:  Having trouble surviving these times?  You’re not alone.  Join us in columnist John F. Di Leo’s exploration of an alternate universe, where we imagine the impossible:

Joe Buckstop, an aging, corrupt old fool, somehow becomes president in his basement, and every night, an aide has to bring him his soup and discuss the events of the day as he prepares to receive his nightly meds…

Note: We continue reprinting roughly every other chapter from Volume Two. In today’s episode, Joe Buckstop is forced to discuss the economy – not his strong suit – when his soup server returns from a brief gig working a call center.

Retail, Employment, Slavery, and Ukha (Russian Fish Soup)

Dateline: June 19. Begin Transcript:

“Good evening, sir! Ready for some soup tonight?”

“Sure, sure, bring it in….”

“Let’s see, now, we have Ukha for you tonight, sir…”

“Come on, man!”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“I can’t have a hookah! It would interfere with my meds, and besides, I don’t think I’d even know how to work one anyway.”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“I don’t WANT a hookah. You can take it right back upstairs and just bring me my soup.”

“Oh, I see, sir, you thought… heh heh…. no, sir, I’m not offering you a hookah, sir. I’m bringing you Ukha, sir.”

“I can’t have one of them either! What’s wrong with you, young man? If the Doctor were to hear about this…”

“Oh boy. Let’s see if I can pronounce this right… Our soup tonight is Ukha, sir. U.K.H.A. Ukha. Got that, sir? The soup is Ukha.”

“Ohhhh… the soup! Never heard of it.”

“Neither had I, sir. It’s a Russian fish soup, sir. Fish and potatoes, sir.”

“Russian, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, okay. Are there crackers?”

“Yes sir, there are crackers. There are ALWAYS crackers, sir. Just because I’ve been away a few days, doesn’t mean I’d forget your crackers, sir.”

“Oh, okay… wait a minute…”

“So here you go, sir. Soup, crackers, napkins, spoons, sir.”

“You were gone a week?”

“Well, a week and a half, sir.”

“What’s your name again?”

“Rhett, sir. Rhett Snapper, sir. Some of my friends call me Snap.”

“Oh. What do I call you?”

“You never call me anything, sir.”

“Oh. Why is that?”

“Because you can never remember my name, sir.”

“Oh… So why did you leave?”

“I didn’t leave, sir. You did.”


“The temp service said you wouldn’t need me anymore for a few days so they put me on another job, sir. They said you went to Cornwall, sir.”

“No. I went … umm… I went to England.”

“Yes sir. Cornwall is in England, sir.”


“They told me you were in Cornwall, then Brussels, then Geneva, sir.”

“Yeah, that’s what they told me too.”

“Well, sir, yes, but you have the advantage of being there yourself, so you know where you were, sir.”

“Don’t be too sure. I don’t know where I am myself, half the time.”

“Well, yes, sir, we’ve all suspected that, sir.”


“So anyway, sir, with you gone, I took another gig for a few days, and it just ended last night, so the temp agency asked if I’d like to come back here, and hey, what could I say, sir? I said Sure.”

“Oh. Well then, umm, welcome back.”

“So what was your trip like, sir?”

“What trip?”

“The trip to Europe, sir.”

“Well, what was yours like?”

“I didn’t take a trip, sir.”

“What have you been doing?”

“Oh, I see, sir… Well, I was working an evening shift at a customer service center while they were short-staffed, sir.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you know, sir, a company’s phone bank, sir.”

“My campaigns used to have phone banks. I don’t think they do anymore. Wonder why.”

“Well, sir, it probably has something to do with the fact that hardly anyone has landlines anymore, sir.”

“Oh. Uhh… what’s a landline?”

“It’s a telephone that sits on a desk or on a wall, attached by cable to the telephone company, sir. There are fewer of them every year, sir, with so many people making do with their cellphones, sir.”


“So I’m guessing that’s why your campaigns don’t use the phone the same way they used to, sir.”


“But retail companies still use phones because they have to be able to take phone calls from customers, sir. People call to place orders, and the people at the phone bank figure out how to fill their orders, sir.”

“Oh. Why don’t they just go to the store?”

“Huh? Well, now, that’s a good question, sir. Partially because people have grown accustomed to staying home, sir, but also, partially because stores keep closing, sir.”

“Well, if the stores close, they can’t blame people for trying to order by phone, can they?”

“Ahhh, well… yes, sir, I guess you have a point, sir.”

“They need to stop closing their stores. Then they’d sell more and they wouldn’t need a phone tank.”

“Bank, sir.”

“What’s that?”

“Bank, sir. A phone bank. You said tank, sir. A phone bank.”

“Oh, right. Yes. Well, they need to stop closing stores.”

“I don’t think they really want to close them, sir…. they close stores when they have to, sir. When they don’t have a choice.”

“Come on, man! Stores don’t have to close, they do it because they’re cheap. They want to do all their business on the phone with those, umm, phone cranks.”

“Banks, sir. Phone banks, sir.”

“Well, this is a serious problem. Just the other day, I remember waking up during a meeting just as they were talking about how many stores are closing. It’s terrible. We need to do something about it.”

“They might be better off if you didn’t, sir.”

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, I don’t know, sir, it’s just that… everything the government has done to ‘help’ in the past few generations has done nothing but make everything worse for everybody, sir.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Well, sir, think about it. If a guy owns a house and a store too, he pays property tax on both places. If a bigger business owns both an office building for its headquarters and a store too… it pays property tax on both.”

“So? They should! They’re rich, they can afford everything!”

“Well, umm, no, sir, they can’t. But maybe it’s local and state governments thinking that way that causes the problem, sir.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, sir, a store needs to sell stuff, right, sir? It has to pay its costs, including rent or mortgage and property taxes, property insurance, employees’ salaries and benefits, display furniture and merchandising, advertising… and all that is in addition to the inventory, sir.”

“The what?”

“The inventory, sir. Their stock, sir. You know, the things they buy in order to resell, sir.”


“They have to be able to mark it all up enough to make a profit after all the costs are covered, right, sir?”

“Umm… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Well, okay, sir… Let’s say the store buys something for $50 and hopes to resell it for $100. Okay?”

“Wow, that sounds terrific! What a huge profit! That store is rich!”

“No, sir, think about it. That apparent huge profit has to cover all those costs, sir. Let’s say they usually sell a thousand of these things every month…. and there’s enough markup in there to cover all those costs and have a little profit to pay the owners, okay, sir? Sound good?”

“Oh yeah. Sounds great. We’ll make some good money on this outfit.”

“Will we, sir?” What if over a year or two, the foot traffic – you know, people who come in to shop – has been cut in half, because the neighborhood got dangerous. Now they’re making half as many sales – just half as much revenue – because half the customers don’t go there anymore, through no fault of the storekeeper’s.”

“Huh? Why would that be?”

“Well, sir, there are a few things that contribute to making a downtown or a mall or other shopping area feel more dangerous, sir. Lots of crime gangs start hanging out there…. there are reports of drive-by shootings in the area…the idiot mayor or governor throws open the jail cells and lets hundreds more criminals loose in the area… crime gangs cross an undefended border and start filling the towns, especially the ones with idiot mayors who proudly proclaim that they are a sanctuary city, so the foreign crime gangs are welcome there. Happens all the time, sir. No shopper in his right mind would go back, sir.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“And then there’s the other fixed costs, sir. Health insurance for employees… advertising in newspapers, magazines, or radio and TV… the cost of shoplifting… utilities, security… all these things at every store, sir. It gets expensive… especially as the foot traffic drops. And then the stupid government makes them pay higher salaries than the jobs are worth, sir… Every increase in the minimum wage contributes to these unsustainable costs for the business, sir.”


“And then there’s the cost of markdowns, sir. As the store has more and more trouble, it has to start offering sale prices, even clearance prices, cutting the profit more and more. Ten percent off, twenty percent, then thirty or fifty or even seventy-five percent, sir. First the markup is reduced, then the profit is outright eliminated; then you’re selling at a loss just to get it off the shelves, sir.”

“Wow. But how often does all that happen?”

“All the time, sir, in almost every store, sir. Eventually, sir, the store has to close. And if it’s possible to sell product from a phone bank, then at least they’re employing people like me at the phone bank.”

“Well, we have to do something about this. What can we do?”

“You really want to know, sir?”


“Cut the taxes, cut the licensing fees that raise the cost of operating a store… stop setting criminals free to scare people out of malls… start arresting the Antifa goons who keep burning down cities, sir. It can’t be hard, sir… if government would just stop increasing the cost of doing business, more businesses could stay open and employ people, as clerks and salesmen and cashiers and receiving folks, sir. But when the stores close, tons of jobs disappear, sir.”

“But we can’t stop all those things! Health insurance and property taxes and business licenses… that’s what government is for!”

“Well, sir, you asked, and I answered, that’s all, sir. I can’t do anything else. What do want me to say, sir, that all the store closures are your predecessor’s fault?”

“Ooohhh… that’d be great!”

“But it’s NOT your predecessor’s fault, sir. It’s what i said, sir. It’s crime and illegals and taxes and regulations, sir, more than anything else, sir.”

“Could we blame the Russians?”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Why don’t we blame the Russians? They’re part of the cause!”

“How on earth are the Russians part of the cause of American retail having problems, sir?”

“Well, we had to build expensive missiles during the Cold War, to counter the missiles that the Russians had pointed against us, right? Well, that cost a lot of money and that’s why our government needs a lot of money to pay the cost of government!”

“Sir, the Cold War ended thirty years ago. You can’t blame high taxes on the Cold War, sir.”


“So no, we can’t blame the Russians, sir. I suppose we could blame the Central Americans…”

“Oh? How can we do that?”

“Well, because so much of the unsustainable immigration comes from Central America, sir. So many of the criminals come from Central America, sir.”

“Oh. Well, we can’t blame them…”

“Sorry, sir.”

“How about the Republicans? Can we blame the Republicans for these retail problems?”

“No, sir. Republicans have been trying to reduce business taxes and mandates, and make our streets safer, for years and years, sir.”

“Darn. I’d really like to blame the Republicans.”

“Well, sir, I suppose you could… if you go back far enough, sir…”

“How’s that?”

“Well, sir, you know how 150 to 200 years ago, people could own slaves to do the work for them, sir?”

“Well, yeah, but that was ended in the Civil War…”

“Right, sir. The Republicans finally got sick of fighting with Democrats over the question of slavery, state by state, region by region, territory by territory… Democrats tried so hard to keep their cheap employee base through slavery, and Republicans tried to stop it. Finally they went to war against each other, and five years later, the practice of slavery was ended, and all businessmen had to pay their employees from then on, right?”

“Well, uh, yeah…”

“So there you go, sir. The businesses could save a lot of money keeping their stores open, if they populated them with slaves. No taxes, no health insurance, no salary, no benefits… Easy!”

“Well, uhh, is that possible?”

“No, sir, it’s not, sir. It’s morally wrong. There are no slaves in the United States anymore, sir. We have to pay our employees in real money, sir.”

“So how do the Republicans come into it?”

“Well, I thought that would be obvious, sir. You could blame the Republicans for putting an end to the Democrat practice of slavery, sir.”

“I could?”

“Well, sure. If the Republicans hadn’t ended slavery, businesses could employ slaves to save money. But they can’t, because the Republicans ended slavery, sir, despite how hard the Democrats tried to keep the practice in place, sir.”

“Wait, but… I can’t blame the Republicans for THAT! I can’t be in favor of slavery!”

“Why not, sir? Your party was the defender of slavery for the first half of the 19th century, sir…. your party fought a war to try to retain and expand the practice.”

“Well, but, uhh… I can’t blame the Republicans for that… I can’t give them credit for stopping slavery!”

“I thought you just did, sir, by making Juneteenth a federal holiday, sir.”

“Huh? How’s that?”

“Well, sir, Juneteenth is the anniversary of the day that Republican Union soldiers finally finished spreading the word to slaves in Galveston that they’d been set free, after the Democrat owners had managed to keep their freedom a secret from them. Sounds like a darned good day to celebrate to me, sir.”

“Well, uh, yeah, but… it sounds somehow like anti-Democrat spin, doesn’t it?”

“Well, sir, we can’t rewrite history, you know, sir.”

“Why not?”

Copyright 2021-2024 John F Di Leo

Excerpted with permission from Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volume Two, from Free State West Publishing, available in paperback or eBook exclusively on Amazon.

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based international transportation and trade compliance professional and consultant.  A onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party chairman, he has been writing a regular column for Illinois Review since 2009.  His book on vote fraud (The Tales of Little Pavel) and his political satires on the current administration (Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes III, and III), are available in either eBook or paperback, only on Amazon.

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