Chris & Jeff at the bar (aka the sages of Temperanceville)
Jeff leans over to Chris like a conspirator:
“They’re tryin’ to turn everything into fuckin’ ‘right to work.’”
He looks up at the TV news, snorts air through his nose.
On the screen: West Virginia teachers on strike.
“They wanna take everythin’ away from ’em,” Jeff growls.
Chris nods, on his fourth phone call in 10 minutes.
“How many I got left, hon?” Jeff asks the bartender.
(She’s flying past, cradling a basket of bread
like a newborn babe.) “You’ve got one, Jeff.”
“I’ll take it, then, and give Chris one more, too.”
Next story: the baseball players union is suing the league.
“Good for them. Give it to ’em!”
Welcome to Pittsburgh. Eat your hoagie.
/ / /
27 February 2018 The Village Tavern
in Pittsburgh’s West End
(formerly Temperanceville, PA)
Pinkerton rifles filling the air
with smoke & screams & blood
men of iron & steel
men of flesh & bone
the ground soaks up the evidence
the birds scatter; no witnesses
now: the furnaces shut, rusting
mud colors the Monongahela
two robins rest on a sign
listing the names of the dead
/ / /
21 Feb 2018
This poem is inspired by the Battle of Homestead, which took place just down the road from my hotel. On July 2, 1892, Pinkertons hired by a steel company murdered seven striking workers, all members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Three Pinkertons were also killed. Shortly thereafter the government used the state militia to bust the strike and break the union. The poem’s title is a list of the names of the seven murdered workers.
Yesterday I got a raise and I left work feeling very annoyed. One thing I’ve been working on a lot in my Buddhist practice is trying to both isolate the part of the body where the feeling resides and also to think about what made the feeling arise in the first place.
Three things bothered me about my raise.
The first was the meeting in which it happened. I make $10 an hour with no benefits, because I can’t afford our benefits at $10 an hour. I asked for $12 and got $11. In the meeting, my two bosses were really pulling out all the clichéd stops to try to devalue my work as much as possible, even while giving me more money. I finally stopped them and reminded them both that I’ve negotiated union contracts with multinational companies, and that the meeting we were in didn’t need to happen the way it was happening. I also pushed back on their devaluing statements. Although I was proud of my stance in the meeting, I still disliked the general feeling of conflict, and also the renewed realization that I work in a nonunion job for people who don’t care about their employees.
The second issue was a negative, but it led to a positive. I was embarrassed to be having a conversation in which I needed to justify to someone why I should make more than 133% above the Pennsylvania poverty line. I’m where I am because of the choices I’ve made and I know that. But it’s 2014 and EVERYBODY is worth more than $10 or $11 or $12 an hour. To be sitting there in my white shirt with my employer’s name on the left pocket asking for $80 more a week before taxes was humiliating. Again, not because I’m above it, but because everyone is. However, it led to this commitment: This is the last of these conversations I will ever have. I already had the goal of becoming a full-time freelancer by the end of 2014, and this meeting renewed my commitment to never justifying my worth for a low-paying job again.
The final issue was more personal. In the meeting, it came out that something I’d told a co-worker in confidence had made it to our boss. However, the thing I’d told her – that I was uncomfortable taking on her duties (she has a broken arm and needs to farm out paperwork) while making poverty wages – had put her in a difficult position, so I mostly felt bad about that. I apologized to her this morning.
So much is bound up in our working lives. I’m going to do everything I can to be the person who controls that part of my life.
/ / /
The photo at the top of this post is of a note I received from my boss this afternoon (about 8 hours after writing this post) because I unclogged the men’s room toilet.
“Remember when Frankie got taken out?”
Three shop stewards are sitting along a marble wall
on Park Ave near Grand Central
talking about the old days.
“You wouldn’t fuck with Nicky Torres.”
They remember heated words in cramped offices,
big men with tattoos from the war
who didn’t take shit off anyone,
no matter how good a college you went to.
“As soon as they found out you were with Nicky,
their whole attitude changed.”
Men who drove in to the office in nice cars
felt their collars tighten and the sweat on their foreheads
as strap-hanging third-generation laborers
let them know how things stood.
“Nicky would raise his hand
and everybody would stop working
until he put it back down. He got what he wanted.”
There aren’t many places left where men talk about the union
like it was an unpredictable beast.
Like it prowled the shop floor, muscles rippling
under taut skin. Like its hot breath
could cause the boss to think twice before mouthing off.
When Frankie got taken out,
it was because Nicky Torres told the plant manager,
“Either this asshole goes
or you’re not gonna have much to ship out on them trucks.”
Frankie left, and Nicky put his hand down.
Fellow cubicledwellers, join us in solidarity against The Man. OfficeMax estimates there are 80 million cubicle workers worldwide. And they’d know, cause they’re trying to sell them all one of those mousepads that stinks. Imagine the collective bargaining power of 80 million people crying out for one thing: doors.