Man of Steel


Stanley decide to stick with Donald because he had a family support.

And so, began the daily trudged from his home in Belleville to the Fairfield warehouse complex on Bloomfield Ave.

Since Donald had started the business in 1968, Stanley must have started with him right from the beginning.

I was aware of him as the neighbor next door after I started at the card company in 1972.

And he was still there when I got hired as driver in June 1974.

I had had such frequent contact as a neighboring employee that the transition was easier than it might have been had I gone to a strange place because I knew him and knew he knew me.

I needed to learn was the job the stops and to put up with Donald unpredictable moods.

Stan and Donald were both moody but in different ways.

Donald was manic, an agitated gerbil not much different from the Energizer Bunny, always moving, always ambitious for something more than he had. If he did not yet have a complete clear vision of what it is he wanted, then he had a clear vision of the road that would take him somewhere better than it was at any given moment.

Stan was a turtle. He followed the same road Donald did but did not -- despite his dreams of success -- seem in a hurry to get anywhere.

Sure, he wanted to make more money and wear white shirt. Yet once he fell into the situation with Donald he trudged along as if he really had nowhere to go nor wanted directions on how to get anywhere.

More to the point, the products Stan was hired to pack scared the hell out of him.

Accustomed to dealing with steel -- which was for the most part indestructible -- Stan suddenly faced items contain in glass, perfumes and fragrances so costly he sometimes handled them as if they were nitroglycerin.

Stanley was so obsessive in his need to pack everything so securely that an atom bomb could not have caused it to break -- though some drivers might have managed it.

Orders took many times longer to get ready than was actually necessary. This seemed frustrate Donald to no end and was the source of the most disputes between them, one the urging the other to hurry in a constant game of the unstoppable force seeking to move the unmovable one.

While Donald disliked damaged goods, he already set up a system with the manufacturers to get credit for anything destroyed in shipment. We had whole shelves dedicated to these, a thankless and stench-filled task of going through them set aside for off-season when we mostly had little else to do.

Stan would have done better had he pursued a career as a teacher since he tended to lecture me or anyone else as we worked.

He often talked about his past and how disappointed he was with the bargain he had made with Donald, yet -- as if a bargain with the Devil -- he could not get out of it.

Working across the backing table from him, I learned a lot of how he'd come there about his early years at the steelworks in Harrison.

“I grew up with metal,” he told me. “My old man made me sweep up the shavings during summer vacations when I was young. Then took me on as an apprentice when I was still in high school.”

Stan blistered his fingers on hot metal and he pulled splinters of steel out of the backs of his hands -- the scars of both showing like shameful tattoos he kept from sight as often as possible.

When his hands were not in his pockets, he kept them hidden in a box and when exposure was unavoidable, he gripped a clipboard to expose only his thumbs.

Stanley never talk to me about his personal problems. But over time -- especially when he became manager at the new warehouse -- I would overhear him on the phone with his wife, talking about a bounced check or a telephone bill from her long-distance calls to her sick sister in California.

Stan repeated talked about those seven years of hell, keeping himself going with the idea that the hell would end when the day finally handed him the diploma.

“I hated steel,” he said. “I hated it smell when the torches cut it. I hated the touch of the warm metal when I had to help move it after it was cut. The place was always hot, and I was always dirty, sweating my balls off and stinking of metal even after I took a shower. I used to go out for dinner sometimes with my family and I could smell the metal in the restaurant. I wanted to quit the job a million times, but I knew I could not afford to I kept telling myself it would get better and wouldn't always be like that. That's what got me through those seven years.”

He told me he saw himself working in an office building in Manhattan or Newark as one of those “soft men” with “soft jobs” he always saw you going into and coming out of buildings made of glass, carrying briefcases, and dressed as if every day was a graduation ceremony -- suits always pressed nobody breaking out in a sweat.

While, he didn't get a solid job offer from the places he applied to, a few brought him in on as trial jobs slightly better paying then the mailroom. They were not at all what he thought the degree would qualify him for.

“I didn't feel right in any of those places,” he said. “I kept looking around and scratching my head wondering what I was doing in a place like that. Nobody seemed to do any work or very little. When I asked someone what they needed me to do next, they told me to slow down and not make them look bad by doing too much work.  I know I should have stayed in one of those places if I could have then I wouldn't be putting in the kind of hours I am now.”

Donald’s offer seemed attractive at the time.

“He said I wouldn't make a lot of money at first but that I would be on the ground floor of a growing business,” Stanley said. “If I showed a little patience, I would end up better off than I would if I worked in one of those corporations.”

Later, after we moved to the new warehouse, Stanley came to really regret his choice.

“It's like I never left the steel company,” he said. “but instead of being out on the floor doing honest work, I'm the boss I hated when I was working, and everybody hates me the way I hated my boss back then.”





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