The president of an Ohio steelworkers union stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his local, which he used in part to buy tickets to Disney on Ice and Sesame Street Live shows.
Organized Labor’s Lawbreakers, The Wall Street Journal
We was hangin’ around the union hall early in the morning, our collars turned up against the cold wind off Lake Erie.
“Y’know what I heard?” said Petey Byrnes.
“No, what?” I said, hopin’ he’d have some dope on ice show tickets.
“I heard they’re gonna have three, maybe four tickets to Aladdin on Ice.”
“So what,” said Mikey Furchgott. “Even if they do, you ain’t gonna get none. Whadda you think, Bobby,” he said, turning to me. “You think any of us mooks got a chance to see a show like that?”
I don’t know why we still use diminutives of our names–Petey and Mikey and Bobby–like we’re overgrown sixth graders or somethin’. Maybe we’re overgrown sixth graders. “I dunno,” I said, non-committal like. “Ya never know, y’know?”
It was hard for me to join in the speculative badinage of my union brothers, cause I’m “compromised.” My brother Gerald the lawyer represents the union bosses, that’s how he makes a livin’, sittin’ at a desk all day. Heaviest liftin’ he ever does is pick up his phone to say “Miss Havisham, can youse come in here with your steno pad, I want to dictate a letter.”
Not me. I didn’t pay attention in school, so I’m just another workin’ stiff, standin’ next to a blast furnace in a steel mill all day makin’ union wages, hopin’ for a chance to bust out of the joint someday and see an ice skating show, or even just my favorite Sesame Street characters doing the “skip and wave” routine across a stage. Is that too much to ask?
We stood there shufflin’ our feets in silence, disgruntled with very little chance of getting gruntled in the near future, waitin’ for the fatcats to come down to the union hall.
“Here they come,” Petey said, and we all turned towards the gate in the chain link fence. We saw the union bosses turn into the hardscrabble parking lot in their big black Lincoln. The glare off their pinky rings was so bright you had to shield your eyes, like it was some kind of solar eclipse, maybe even a lunar one.
Everybody crowded around, like we was starving denizens of some third-world shithole fighting over a pallet of crappy surplus food dropped by a U.S. relief helicopter.
“Okay, everybody, no need to push,” a barrel-chested man said as he got out of the SUV. It was “Big Dan” Garbelowski, President of Local 302, International Brotherhood of Steelworkers, along with two of his labor henchmen, followed by my brother Gerald, holding a briefcase with that day’s ration of tickets.
“How about it, Dan,” Mikey said, breaking form and begging like some stupid teen girl who’s dyin’ of cancer and wants to see Taylor Swift before she croaks. “My little Chrissie, she ain’t never seen Elmo live and in person before.”
Big Dan scowled at him with a mixture of scorn and contempt, along with a pinch of marjoram. “You know what we say up in our nice, cozy warm union hall, don’t ya?” he sneered.
“No–what?” Mikey said. I could tell he was gettin’ set up for a downfall.
“If you ask–you don’t get!” The henchmen laughed a mirthless laugh. Gerald, bein’ a lawyer and all, he knew that demeanor is testimony, and kept his stony-faced silence.
“Beat it!” henchman no. 1 yelled at Mikey.
“Yeah, scram, you stupid stunod!” henchman no. 2 said as he took a swing at Mikey, who high-tailed it over to the coffee wagon to lick his wounds.
“Let’s see what we got here,” Big Dan said, and he opened the briefcase to reveal the ill-gotten gains of union leadership that the rank-and-file could only dream about. There they were–tickets to Sesame Street Live, Disney on Ice, Barney, Bananas in Pyjamas and other assorted family-friendly live entertainment.
The sight of the rare and precious ducats touched off a scrum of desperate men, guys who’d worked their whole lives and had never seen the inside of a convention center where human beings in fuzzy animal outfits could give shape and form to their unspoken dreams.
“Me!” one guy shouted, grabbing for a pair of Teletubbies tix.
“No, me!” another cried out, hoping to see Arthur the Aardvark on stage.
“Pipe down, all of youse!” Big Dan said. The crowd settled into a sullen but hopeful silence, fearful that if they didn’t they’d have to go home and tell their wives and kids that they’d screwed up the only chance they’d ever get to see Curious George in person.
“I’m gonna do this democratically, see?” Big Dan said. “The guys I like the most, and who have done the best job of kissin’ my ass, them is the ones I’m gonna take care of.” He stopped to riffle through the tix. “Bobby Malloy,” he said, calling my name. I looked up sheepishly–I wish he hadn’t a picked me first. All of my hard-workin’ union buddies would think the fix was in because of my brother the lawyer.
“Yeah?” I said, tryin’ to maintain my steely exterior, like it was no big deal to me whether I got to go to “Disney on Ice–Frozen Edition” or not.
“I got two loge box seats for you and a companion to go see”–here he drawled out his announcement, like a game show host about to pull back the curtain on a stackable washer-dryer combination–“Smurfs on Ice.”
I heard a low whistle issue from Petey’s lips. “Thanks,” I said to Big Dan with a smile that I tried to make big enough to please the boss, but not so big that the other members of the local would think I thought I was better than them.
I heard a few grumblings behind me. “I’ll give these to my saintly wife and my little daughter Trixie,” I said
“That’s good, you’re a good boy,” Dan said as he patted me on the shoulder. Little did he know I was gonna scalp ’em, and maybe take my girlfriend out for a night of Boilermakers and dancin’.
I pushed back through the crowd, makin’ my way into the industrial hellhole that was the steelworks. Inside, there was flaming pots of molten iron and carbon and other stuff that goes into the hard, strong, gray or bluish-gray alloy used extensively as a structural and fabricating material. Outside, a half a mile away as the crow flies–in case you miss the cross-town bus and have to fly with a crow–was the Dennis J. Kucinich Memorial Skating Rink, the pride of Ohio’s indoor event facilities. I was just about to bolt over there to unload my precious prize on some loser from the suburbs when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and who should I see but–my brother Gerald.
“Hand ’em over,” he said.
“You know how crazy Irene is over the Smurfs. And besides, you owe me–big time.”
“For gettin’ you the lousy job that makes your life miserable, but at least puts bread on your table and tons of money in the union’s coffers. Hand ’em over–it’s not your night, it’s my night.”
I looked down at his grubby mitt and it was all I could do to keep from spittin’ in it. “Not my night? So I hand over The Smurfs tickets to you, and I get a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville?”
“That about sums it up.”
“You’s my brother, Gerald. You should took care of me, so’s I don’t have to go home and watch Clifford the Big Red Dog on PBS.”
“It’s actually better on TV, you don’t have people shufflin’ in front of you with popcorn and souvenirs, you got an unobstructed view and . . .”
“You don’t understand, Gerald. If I saw it in person, I’d have class. I’d be a contender. I’d be somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”
Gerald turned silent, and a look of uncharacteristic remorse scudded across his face, like a low-hanging storm cloud racing across a wheat field–not that I’d know what that looks like, it’s an image that the author likes to throw into his pseudo-Faulkner short stories.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what.” Gerald said finally.
“If you give me the tickets, I’ll give you my Dora the Explorer footie pajamas.”