When it comes to discovering Blogfodder, today I feel a bit like a prospector who regularly looks all over the place for gold, only to stumble on a large deposit of the stuff in his own backyard. I don’t remember what caused me to think about a place I worked for two summers while in college, but once I began to take myself back in time, I realized that those two summers provided me with memorable experiences, a few important lessons in life, a boatload of laughs, and, yes, a few untold (at least unwritten) stories.
So, I suppose it’s time I get to writing some of them down. The stories are all true (to the best of my recollection), even though the names of the real people involved are fictitious.
So, here we go.
In the mid-sixties, with the help of my uncle, who had some
Tony Soprano type influential friends in the Teamster’s Union, I worked at one of the East Coast warehouses of a nationally known tire company (We’ll call it “Tireco”). The Tireco warehouse was a one-story sprawling, ugly building located, along with other ugly buildings in what today would be all spruced up and called an “Industrial Park.” To get there, one had to take an unnamed “factory road,” which was more pothole than pavement. It cut through knee-high weeds and trash that had been tossed out of countless car and truck windows.
It had a loading dock large enough to accommodate about six trucks, and on the opposite side of the building was a door at a railroad siding, which permitted a freight car to be pulled up to the place. Tires of all types and sizes came in on freight cars and large trailers. From this inventory, orders for the various Tireco stores on the East Coast were filled. Except for two fork lift trucks that permitted entire pallets of tires to be moved and stacked (each pallet had galvanized steel pipes on them in order to permit them to be stacked three high), all the tires were moved, stacked, loaded and unloaded by hand. My job was to help the other five or six guys there move, stack, load and unload them all.
It was hard, physical and often dirty work, and the guys who worked there were hard, physical and often dirty men. Back then, the “going rate” for Local 478 Warehousemen was $2.91 per hour. Compared to my friends who were working summer jobs for a buck an hour, I was in Fat City. Some of the men there were raising families on $2.91 per hour.
The boss (the Warehouse Manager) was a nervous, pacing, always grouchy guy named Tony Gussomanno, who had a speech impediment that made him sound like Daffy Duck.
In order to work there, I had to join Local 478 of the Teamster’s Union, which required that I show up at the Union Offices on Broad Street in Newark on an appointed evening to be sworn in. I don’t know what the heck I was thinking, but I put on a jacket and tie for the occasion. When I arrived at the place I knew instantly that I was overdressed, overeducated and underage. The room was full of smoke and guys who looked like Tony Soprano’s crew. There were about a half-dozen other guys being sworn in on that night, and they had obviously gotten the dress memo, because they came in their grimy work clothes.
The guy who swore us in was right out of Central Casting for the part of a Jersey Capo. He began,
”I, state your name, …”
And I’ll be damned if two of the guys, instead of stating their name, said:
“I, state your name…”
Right out of the Marx Brothers. Anyway the Capo and the new guys stumbled through the oath that would turn us new guys (including Yours Truly, the college puke in the jacket and tie) into Teamsters.
On about the second or third day on the job, I heard the guys involved in a heated discussion with the Shop Steward. It seems that word had somehow reached the warehouse that management had arranged with the a temporary help agency to send over a couple men to work in the warehouse. As I recall, they were not going to be there for the requisite number of days for them to be required to join the union. The problem, however, was that the temp agency was getting the $2.91 hour rate, and paying the guys less than $2.91.
The Shop Steward and the men were certain that this violated the union contract, which, according to them, called for a warehouseman to be paid $2.91 per hour, and they were mightily pissed (and concerned that this practice would somehow ultimately work to their disadvantage). In fact they were pissed enough to call “Joey” Cozzolino, the union representative, to complain.
Joey was a well-known local scrapper and union leader who almost always got his way, and when he didn’t get his way, things could get pretty nasty. (Ultimately, “getting his way” would result in Joey spending the better part of the last few years of his life in Lewisburg Federal Prison.)
An hour or so later, I heard the guys hollering from one end of the warehouse to the other, “Joey’s here!”
I gathered with the rest of the guys to watch the confrontation between Joey and Tony, the Warehouse Manager, who was considerably bigger than Joey. The confrontation had begun in the warehouse office, where the basic facts of the dispute were laid out, but eventually it spilled out onto the platform. I recall that Joey must have had a sty in one of his eyes, because he was continually wiping it with a handkerchief during the exchange between him and Tony. Clearly, Joey wanted the “getting his way” part to be done in full view of the men.
Note: The following works better if you remember that Tony said his “S’s” like Daffy Duck.
Tony: “Hey, Cossssolino you think you run dis f**kin’ plashe? Well, I got newsh for ya. You don’t run dis f**kin’ plashe! I run dis f**kin’ plashe.”
Joey: “Maybe I don’t run dis f**kin’ place, but I do run dis f**kin’ union, and dose guys you’re bringin’ on gotta get da ‘rate” and not one f**kin’ penny less. You understand me?”
Tony: “Bullsssssssshit! Dose guyssss aren’t gonna be here long enough to have to join the f**kin’ union, and what I pay them is none of your f**kin’ busssssssinesssss.”
Joey: (Wiping his leaking eye for the umpteenth time and becoming red-faced with anger) “None of my f**kin’ business? None of my f**kin’ business? Read the f**kin’ contract, Tony! If necessary, I’ll show you that it’s my f**kin’ business. Don’t f**k with me.”
Tony: “Are you threatening me, you little Ginny bassssssstard? [It’s true. A “Gussomanno” was calling a “Cozzolino” a Ginny bastard. Go figure.] Waddya think you’re gonna do? Get the f**k outta thisssss terminal!”
Joey: “Listen to me, you loudmouthed prick, I’ll show ya what I’m gonna do. I’ll pull all the f**kin’ guys off this f**kin’ job. That’s what the f**k I’ll do!”
Tony: “F**k you, Cosssssolino. You can’t pull thessssssse guysssssss off the f**kin’ job. If you try it, I’ll fire their asssssssesssss!”
Joey: (Now madder than shit) “Watch your f**kin’ mouth, Tony. I already told you – ‘Don’t f**k with me.’”
Tony: “And I already told you. Get the f**k out of thissssss f**kin’ terminal! In two f**kin’ minutessssss, I’m callin’ the f**kin’ copsssss!”
Joey: “You got a big f**kin’ mouth, Tony.” (Turning toward the men) “THAT’S IT! EVERYBODY OFF THE F**KIN’ JOB!!!”
I turned to the guys and said, “So, what do we do now?”
Several of them said, “It’s a ‘Wildcat’ we’re walkin’ off the job.” By this time, Joey was outside getting picket signs out of the trunk of his Cadillac. He handed me a sign and said, “Here, hold this and walk up and down in front of the platform.”
As I made my first pass in front of the warehouse, the biggest and toughest of the guys, Mike Volinski, stopped me and said, “You ever been on picket duty before, Kid?”
I responded, “No, what’s the deal?”
He said, “It’s simple. You just hold the sign and walk up and down in front of the terminal.”
I said, “No problem. I can do that.”
He then smiled, winked and said, “And, if anyone tries to cross the line, we bust his f**kin head.”
After a short time (less than a half hour), Joey had apparently gotten his way. Happily, no one got his head busted, and we returned to work.
I knew then and there that it was going to be an interesting summer.