Friday, April 29, 2011

Union Steward (part four)

I feel bad that his name escapes me. Thirtyish, working class Brit accent—a young Michael Caine would play him in the movie. He had moved to LA with his sister. I don’t remember what brought them over. The first anarchists I’d met—this was a couple of years before my punk period. Together they were a terror. Calling the bosses on their games, disgusted with us for being such wimps. Management put up with them, I think because of their accents. Gave the place some class. And they were white and I may as well say it—you could get away with more if you were. It was all about presenting at the airlines. Still is, but it was clunkier then. You could see the strings. The Corps are smoother now. They know how to use tokenism and when to cover their tracks.

He’d clocked in late after missing the tram. The Op Manager had taken a lot of shit from him, had had it. His paycheck had been stamped Termination. But not mine, this week. I gathered up my quarters and called Denver. Funny how memory works—I still remember the phone booth, graffiti’d and stuffy in the LA heat. Ernie wasn’t in but a woman on the phone gave me the rote instructions. Stay cool, send him home, wait it out. But my anarchist friend didn’t want to stay cool. He wanted to take the tram out to the office and bust some heads. I couldn’t physically restrain him, he was tougher than me. I suggested we go out and get a drink, cool off and make plans. I risked going home early. The shift supervisor was on the clock, pro union so I could get away with playing sick.

We knew an unlicensed limo driver. Nice guy—we’d steer people to his car and get a five buck kickback. He drove us to a Hyatt that had a nice hotel bar. We needed to get out of LAX. My comrade was livid. I was pretty scared. I don’t think “going postal” was a term we knew yet, but I feared that. I decided on a dubious strategy: I’d get him settled into the bar and feed him drinks. Of course alcohol can have any number of effects—I prayed that it would work as a sedative. He raved on and I bought the drinks. It must have cost me a week’s pay, and, get this: a few weeks later Ernie had the BRAC pay me back for those drinks. I’d done the right thing.

I was trying to protect what we’d put together. I knew if we got to the office we’d rip it up, probably get arrested. Me too, because I would have felt obligated to stand with my co-worker. No questions, either. I think, once, it was in people’s blood to feel loyal to co-workers. Well, many people. And I think that’s a lost value now. God, I hate this—sounding like an old fart, complaining that the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, but as I try to wrestle with the decline of organized labor I keep coming up with this, that it’s a character issue and something is missing, at least in the USA.

We were drinking well drinks, whatever they put in the gin and tonics. They started to do the trick. We reached that point where alcohol is a truth serum and we told our life stories. I wish I could remember the details but I think it was all pretty hardscrabble. I do remember him telling me that he liked animals better than people. He had a couple of dogs. He did have a passion for politics that came out of some love, or lost love, of humanity. I’m from a blue collar background myself so I’m loath to romanticize the “working class”. But this guy was the real thing. Perhaps we should have gone in there, torn up an office, knocked some heads…
We moved beyond the confessional phase and into something sloppier. He agreed to try things my way, to let the union pull him out of the fire. They’d done it for me. I trusted them.

I called our limo friend. He took us home for the cost of a tank of gas. Dropped of my co-worker first, in Inglewood, then took me southeast on the freeway to my house in Gardena. I was feeling that elated type of drunkenness, top of the world. I’d headed off a nasty situation and here I was, back seat of a big black Lincoln Continental, a labor leader.

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