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trip by highway from his home. At the time he left the wire shop, he was supervising about 50 people, and taking home $235 a week. Bill Mayfield liked the daily challenges of his new job, which seemed to him akin to firefighting, a field that as a boy on the rough-and-tumble streets of South Dallas he had considered entering. Some days, when a jug-filling machine broke down, or a link broke in the floor conveyor chain, the work was fast and furious. Other days were spent “more or less standing around” waiting for accidents to happen and doing routine maintenance. Overall, the work wasn’t bad and the pay was good the plant was organized by the Teamsters and as Safeway prospered in Dallas from the mid1970s through well into the 1980s so too did its employees. Bill Mayfield shared in the prosperity. He and Elsie bought the modest home in which they raised two sons and a -daughter. In his free time, he would take the family fishing on Lake Ray Hubbard or teach his sons how to shoot at the rifle range. One day in the middle of May of 1983, Bill Mayfield said, he was on break when he was told to hurry to the quart machine to repair the magazine, which was improperly feeding the cartons. “When I turned the corner, I was in a half-fast walk to a light run,” he recalled. That, he said, was when he slipped on a wet floor coated with powder that had spilled from the pasteurizer machine. “It sounded like a shotgun pop,” he said. But it wasn’t. It was the sound of ligaments and cartilage tearing in his left knee. The injury, Mayfield said, kept him out of work for a year. Although he received worker’s compensation, the money was far less than he was able to make on the job, and of course he could collect none of the lucrative overtime pay he had become accustomed to. So to help make ends come closer to meeting, Elsie Mayfield began rising at 4 a.m. at least six days a week to work at the Southern Maid donut shop Mayfield returned to the milk plant in April 1984, he says, his doctor advised the company’s insurance carrier that Safeway was to find him a less strenuous job, one that did not require climbing or bending or lifting heavy motors. “The plant manager put me back on the same job, but told me, `You can kinda take it easy.’ ” And for a short while, he did. Four months later though, a similar , emergency arose and once again, Mayfield said, he was pressed into action, and once again he injured the knee. “I was damn near crying it hurt so bad,” he said. He considered suing the company for failing to follow his doctor’s advice but was afraid if he did so he would be fired, Mayfield said. And where were the Teamsters representatives, to whom he paid $27 a month, when he needed them? “Probably playing golf,” Mayfield said in an inter view, without a trace of a smile. The reinjured knee again required surgery and recuperation at home, this time for more than a year, Mayfield’recalled. By November of 1985, when Mayfield finally went back to work after 15 months, he had begun to fall behind on his bills and had started dipping into his savings. A year later, according to Mayfield, he hurt his left knee yet again and missed about seven weeks of work. By then, his creditors were sending him threatening letters regularly. Although he returned to work relatively quickly, it would be only three months later, on April 10, 1987, when his plant manager called him and the other 15 maintenance employees in for a meeting. “It was Lowell Morris who told us what we already knew, that we had been bought out by KKR,” Mayfield later recalled, speaking of Kolberg Kravis Roberts & Company, the Wall Street investment firm that engineered the leveraged buyout. “He told us we’d work through the 21st.” Four days later, though, at the end of the workday on April 14, Lowell Morris told Bill Mayfield and the others that their services were no longer needed as of that afternoon; the division had decided to cease its milk production a week early. BILL MAYFIELD could have used that last week’s paycheck. Having been out of work more than on the job since his initial injury in 1983, his expenses had become unmanageable. In the last few months on the job, he had become so worried about his debts and the drumbeat of rumors about the plant closing that he could scarcely function without the nerve pills and anti-depressants his doctor had prescribed. From January to mid-April, he said, he swallowed approximately 45 pills a day. Even before the layoff, he had decided to seek relief from his creditors. One Sunday in March 1987, in the weekly television guide published in the Dallas Morning News, he noticed a bankruptcy lawyer’s advertisement for clients. He called and learned that for $800, payable in advance, the lawyer would seek protection for Mayfield under Chapter 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and see to it that monthly payments were worked out to cover the roughly $20,000 Mayfield owed to various creditors. While the $410 monthly payments covered outstanding debts primarily the loan owed the Safeway-Centex Federal Credit Union for his pickup truck and his wife’s car these payments did not cover his fixed expenses: the $200 monthly house payment, utilities, auto insurance, food. \(The credit union, incidentally, has repossessed so many vehicles from laid-off Safeway employees that it has had to expand As the months of unemployment wore on, stretching past a year \(save for one job lasting a few months that proved to be too had a recurring thought. Most times, he said, it simply nagged at him; some days, when he had had a particularly frustrating experience while looking for work, it hurt in the worst way. Bill Mayfield, at 47, in deep debt, and out of work after nearly 14 years with Safeway and with no prospect of a decent job, could not help thinking about ending his private miseries, about taking his own life. It was understandable that he felt burdened. Of medium height and heft, with long sideburns and a ruddy complexion, Mayfield had in the course of less than a year gone from earning $13.87 an hour, supplemented by a generous benefits package, to financial ruin. “It’s been hell most of the time even trying to get something to eat,” he told a visitor one morning in March 1988. The previous day he had eaten four pieces of bacon for breakfast; half a fast-food hamburger for lunch \(he split that with his glass of milk for supper. He had fallen several months behind in his bankruptcy payments and his house payments and had become increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. He also had begun drinking heavily, and on several occasions, he said, had checked himself into detoxification programs. He had also gone to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the city’s public hospital, in search of psychiatric counseling. After an all-day wait, he was given Mellaril, a psychotropic drug which, he said, “really screwed me up.” “I was pleading for help, for someone to talk to, and I got fed up, so I started thinking of ways to kill myself. I’ve probably tried three or four times since Safeway closed.” Once, Mayfield said, he stuck a .45 automatic pistol in his side and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t fire, so he promptly picked up his .22 caliber rifle and tried again. This time the gun went off, but the bullet, narrowly missing his liver and kidneys, lodged in his hipbone. He stayed a week in the hospital. The last time Bill Mayfield tried to commit suicide, he almost succeeded. After filling his bathtub with hot water, he said, he lay back in the tub and “cut my wrists to the bone” with a Gillette double-edged razor blade \(“they’re sharp and easy to found him semi-conscious. After she wrapped his arms in bandages and towels, he somehow drove them both to Parkland -a distance of 15 miles where he waited six hours before being sewn up in the emergency room and released. \(While he waited, a nurse placed a towel on the floor below him, to catch the blood trickling To discourage future suicide attempts, and to bring in some sorely needed cash, Bill Mayfield has since pawned his collection of guns and knives. He was paid $400, enough for a few more mortgage payments. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9