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“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.