Author’s Note: I sincerely wish to live long enough to be regretful, ashamed to learn this essay was written out of self-delusion, unfounded fear.
In the late-1970s, while employed as a dockworker at Roadway Express, Inc., Tannersville, PA, I read a scary chapter in Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago. Chapter I is titled “Arrest”, and
I never experienced anything quite so terrifying as “the long and crooked streets of rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings…” that is where Gulag country began. “Nothing possibly worse than an arrest,” Solzhenitsyn indicated. “Night time arrests were most effective, and were distinguished to large degree by a “surprise factor.” Typically, the NKVD preferred grabbing “submissive sheep” instead of kulaks and CEOs off streets, and according to Aleksandr, even good natured Soviet citizens were arrested by “religious pilgrims” in disguise, and who were given a room and meal for a night. Late 1970s, as a Teamster humping cargo 8-10 hours per day, circumstance of being single, making over $13.00 per hour and getting US Saving Bonds taken-out of weekly paycheck, were quite amenable to my five-year economic plan. During such glory days, concern about low productivity and getting fired by Roadway Express, Inc., always a real possibility, were comparable to that of an arrest.
The other day, unemployed for first time in my life, and attending a Job Fair at Scranton employment office, a fellow stood behind me as I skimmed through an advertisement indicating how one can get a Class “B” C.D.L. bus driving “endorsement.” Maybe I could find a meaningful bus driving job, transporting Seniors to casinos, driving kids to school, driving low-paid warehouse workers to Hazleton-based industrial parks? Having the data needed, I turned around, and the fellow who stood behind, likely age mid-fifties, asked rather polite and upbeat, “What are you in here for?” I gulped and informed him that on March 4th, the day before Ash Wednesday, my company let me go, a send-off like anti-Pharaoh and the Israelites. Such was my first exhaust into an employment office air, and the man replied, “no kidding man, did you (expletive) up…what did they nail you for?”
“All I know, Mister, is that I was Employed at Will, told to leave premises.”
“No idea? Did the bastards tell you why? Did you (expletive) resist?”
“No, no, nothing, sir, and the company offered no reason. All that’s known, I thought, I could have been accused of driving through red lights in company vehicles, made passes at Polish girls near water-cooler, maybe had one two many revolutionary slogans on my lips when provocateurs were around. All of the above?”
The fellow and I sat down, drank a free cup of water from the office dispenser. Humbly, I tried to explain to the man that all my life, I was never a good match for either veteran management tyrants or trainees. Yes, I had encountered some honest and good managers, but they usually were replaced by more capable and hostile SMERSH officers. “O yea,” said the man, “I have loads of experience with smerfs; in fact, last Summer I got laid-off from Tuxedo Junction that tried COOKING me and a couple other Hindus alive. When fired, and getting to sign-up, I felt as good as any sorry ass living under (expletive) Saddam.”
Nicknamed Moogie, he had scraggly gray hair, an unkempt handle-bar mustache, muscled. One could tell he worked out regularly at Planet Fitness, fee $10.00 a month. His downward employment trajectory began in the early 1980s, when the Scranton area Trane Corporation shut down operations and moved out-of-town. Quite open-hearted, Moogie explained a recent job stint where he worked the unloading end of a Tuxedo Junction cleaning facility. He noted having to endure constant extreme heat, handling heavy tuxedos, sizes up to 66, until finally “shit-canned.” Moogie emphasized being delighted when the company initially hired him at $10.00 an hour. He worked five-months, lost about twenty pounds, bad cholesterol numbers dropped, but he felt as if a “coolie,” under ARREST, worked at the oven’s off-loading end. Simply put, experienced, Moogie advised me on several local job opportunities to definitely try and avoid, if possible.
Before stopping by a few Job Fair company booths, and leaving for a consultation on the Affordable Care Act, and make determination on what coverage I could afford, Moogie flatly described his termination from the tuxedo rental store’s hot oven as a “liberation.” We shook hands, and with a stilted smile, Moogie said, “O yea, glory be… I barely worked enough months to collect unemployment compensation.”
Doubtless, at 62-years old, and until the “Employed at Will” dark curtain dropped on March 4, 2014, and like millions around the globe, my work life was stressed, 24/7. Was obligated to hand in a company cell phone which, for well over a decade, rang in middle of nights; a Branch Manager’s voice, assignments to appear as either supervisor or labor on emergency spill sites, stretching east to the George Washington Bridge, north to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas fields. In comparison to Moogie’s termination at Tuxedo Junction, on Tuesday March 4th, I too felt a weird sense of liberation, dubious happiness. In the Summer of 2005, as a Business/Project Manager, sentenced to work four weeks inside a factory whose tanks and floor were covered with decades-old layers of glue, co-worker (Rob DeLayo) and I operated a dry-ice pressure washer until a plant manager determined surfaces sufficiently cleaned. At the time, I recall how 35-year old Rob DeLayo expressed a sense of “arrest.”
In The Gulag Archipelagoo, Aleksandr Solzhenistysn offered a suggestion to those who suffer arrest. For the sake of human mental health, as soon as possible, Solzhenitsyn advised prisoners to try and forget they ever had had a normal life and family association. While cleaning endless deposits of glue from tank and floor surfaces, dressed in tyvek suits, insufferable heat, Mr. DeLayo and I adopted Solzhenityn’s survival advice, and with vigor and honor, blasted dry-ice at glue accumulation until project completion, release. Some might be interested to know how Rob and I, throughout the glue-period, were responsible, 24/7 for summons to appear on emergency spill responses. One afternoon, at a Scranton-based Hospital, we were assigned to extract bloody needles, tubes, and emergency room garments which were accidentally dumped inside a facility compactor. Come 7:00 AM, next day, Rob DeLayo and I reported back for work at the factory glue room.
I used to think it absurd to consider getting a job as an arrest. Doubtless, US workers have the right to leave employment at will, and presently, neither a State nor Corporation are evaluating people for capabilities, deciding usefulness, and making assignments to workplaces. What’s more, I do not consider personal workplace experiences (since 1967) as harsh as Moogie’s. In 1986, after working ten years as a Teamster dockworker for Roadway Express, I earned a B.S. at the University of Scranton. Afterwards, over twenty years’ experience in the environmental service industry, I acquired both management and labor experience, including well over 100 emergency fuel and chemical spill responses, and corresponding remedial actions. Under OSHA permitted Confined-Space-Entry regulations, 1991-2006, I entered and cleaned large capacity above ground storage tanks, including those storing gasoline, # 6 Fuel Oil, asphalt and adhesive materials. Last October, under flashlight beam direction, I worked hands and knees in the area of RR-track and ballast stone, covering over 0.5 miles, southern tier New York State. My assignment was cleaning-up the masticated remains of a teenager who wore an I-Pod, “trespassed” RR-tracks and was accidentally struck by an oncoming train. Afterwards, a company official graciously praised the work I performed on the bloody tracks. He said, “I heard you worked better than a twenty year old, Chuck.”
Today, unemployed, family depending upon me, I write this dissident essay, with some trepidation about hazards involved when speaking one’s mind. A couple of weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh opined how Americans would be better off going out and finding jobs, rather than complaining, protesting. Mean-spiritedly, it would be an interesting experiment for me to observe Limbaugh enter a factory gate, clean a room covered with thick adhesive, climb inside hospital compactors, extract blood needles. Meanwhile, too talented for such fate, his new book tops the best seller chart, and during prime time radio, millions of Americans tune in for “wisdom on loan from god.” Highly doubtful, but one day, similar to confident bureaucrats and mouthpieces who served labor camps, I ask… will those mighty gods who Rush Limbaugh loyally served one day turn against him? Doubt that, only time will tell, and the New World Order is busy creating good jobs.
In closing, with only a week left of company family health insurance coverage, expiration April 1st (April Fools Day), yesterday I drove my wife Carol for an appointment at NYC, Hospital of Special Surgery. About 25 miles before the George Washington Bridge, traveling I-80 East, we encountered commuter traffic, sun light upon an incredible wave of cars headed for work in the city, for which I felt simultaneous envy, pity. The cost to cross George Washington Bridge was $13.00 per car, and upon afternoon departure from the hospital, we paid $29.00 for parking at the garage. Waiting for our car’s arrival, Carol and I watched an elderly gent, who drove a new Cadillac, give a twenty dollar bill to a young parking attendant. Upon seeing such an impressive tip, my wife Carol, a career waitress, suggested I make application at the parking garage! I meekly explained how we’d likely get eaten by commuter costs, NYC cost of living. Carol patiently listened as I philosophized on peoples’ hard luck. She already realized, but I tried to explain, how getting a decent job and affordable health care coverage (at age 62) posed a dead serious challenge. In arthritic pain, weariness, Carol fell asleep before arrival at the Delaware Water Gap toll booth. I handed a bridge attendant the $1.00 fee, my car seat felt nothing like the bed board in Solzehnitsyn’s first Gulag cell. Will just have to “suck-it-up,” be thankful for present good health and US DOHS, get used to more physical labor, maybe as warehouse worker at one of our area’s blossoming industrial parks – come to terms with jobs that can either liberate or arrest.