Stanley didn’t understand until it was too late that his deal with Donald was a bad deal, and Stanley didn’t have the guts any more than I did to simply walk away and start over. He had already invested more than half his life between college and Donald’s business, and he had no place to go, not even to that dreadful hell of sheet metal he so much hated.
“I hated that metal,” he told me once. “I hated its 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’d taken a shower. I used to go out for dinner sometimes with my family and could smell the metal in the restaurant. I wanted to quit that job a million times, but I knew I couldn’t afford it. I kept telling myself it would get better once I graduated college.”
Donald must have known something was wrong, but he didn’t know how to fix it. He was like a repairman with a hammer as his only tool, his solution to everything was to bang on it. That’s what Donald did when it came to dealing with Michele (which eventually led to enraging me). It is what he did with Stanley.
But the more he banged on Stanley, the worse Stanley got – drinking more, getting deeper and deeper into moods he couldn’t drag himself out.
Maybe he kept thinking about those other two firms he had hooked up with in Newark prior to taking Donald’s offer.
“Maybe I should have stayed in one of them,” Stanley told me. “Then I wouldn’t be putting in these kinds of hours. I just didn’t feel right in those places. I kept looking around and scratching my head and wondering what I was doing in the middle of a place like that, and why nobody was doing any work – or very little. When I asked someone what I should do next, they told me to slow down and not make everybody look bad.”
He said his office – which we called the fish bowl – felt as bad as the metal shop sometimes.
Isolated as he was, Stanley said he didn’t feel as if he was doing an honest day’s work and always ached to come out onto the floor to lend us a hand. Donald wouldn’t let him, and I overheard Donald once tell Stanley, “They get paid to work, you get paid to make sure they do it.”
Donald made a point of parading through the warehouse at lease once a day, making sure we all noticed him, but dressed as he was with his expensive clothing, he looked out of place in the warehouse.
Sometimes, when I saw Stanley and Donald in the fish bowl together I thought of them as some kind of classic comedy team – Stanley more than a foot taller than Donald, but with Donald doing all the talking.
Stanley seemed to endure scolding until Donald left, and then he always reached for a beer.
The more pressure he felt from the front office, the more Stanley drank – but he also drank when we gave him grief, which was pretty much all the time.
Stanley didn’t know how to delegate authority. And didn’t trust anyone to do a job as well as he could, and often, out of frustration, he did the job regardless of what Donald said, lecturing the person who should have done it about how it ought to be done.
Stanley didn’t like many of the other changes Donald had instituted, each appearing to take him farther and farther from the work table, isolating him from the rest of us, and over time, he began to think we hated him, and to some degree we did.
Before we moved, Stanley was a remarkable kind man, someone who would do nearly anything to help out other workers. He often spoke about things his fellow workers understood like family maters, music, theaters. He suffered many of the same prejudices the rest of his workers had.
As a boss, Stanley lost his ability to speak with his workers, falling into the same clichéd phrases his old bosses used when they bossed him, falling to communicate just as they had, believing the whole time he was acting properly.
In a journal entry from the early 1990s, I recalled some of this.
“After four years working with the man, I saw the frayed edges showing before I left. His doom was not his inability to lock lots or even his sense of perfection. For All Stanley’s desire to elevate himself, to climb up out of the muck of dirt and noise that marks life for working men, he lacked the one ability he needed most. He could not delegate authority. He told people what to do well enough, reading off their assignments every morning with the air of a truly modern warehouse manager. But in checking upon those duties, he often found himself frustrated by their failure to do the job as well as he could. Sometimes he took time from his own duties to do the job himself. Donald scolded him frequently and lectured him on the art of management. But each time there was a problem with an order or a delivery, Stanley rolled up his sleeves and did the work.”
Stanley soon found a scapegoat for his frustration when a man named Gary came to work for us.
Gary reminded Stanley of someone else, someone out of Stanley’s past who had done him wrong.
He called Gary “a shyster,” and more than once I intervened on Gary’s behalf.
“I wish you wouldn’t call him a shyster,” I said once when sharing a beer with Stanley in his office. “He takes it personally.”
“He should. I’ve had my eye on that little con man since the day he started. He’s always puttering around in the back pretending to be working, but I know he’s got no good plans of his own.”
“You hardly know him,” I argued.
“I knew someone just like him. So I don’t need to know this one to know I don’t like him.”
This was a side of Stanley I never expected to see. It was as if the two of them in the same location caused a chemical reaction.
Donald had hired Gary as the new driver when Stanley was on vacation, raising questions in Stanley’s mind about Donald’s ability to read character.
Gary loved Donald, partly because in some ways they were of the same breed, Gary found Donald’s ability to turn a buck admirable.
Stanley and Gary disagreed on everything from sport to the time of day. Whereas Stanley loved the New York Mets, Gary loved the Yankees.
Stanley was always watching the clock when Gary came in, looking for an excuse to slam him. If he was a minute late, Stanley was on him, when the rule was five minutes for the rest of us.
Gary was a willowy man, reminding me more of a yard bird than a bird of prey, one of those wrens or sparrows picking at crumbs of bread someone threw on the sidewalk. He talked a good game, often claiming to have big plans that would take him places eventually. None of these ever amounted to anything. He flitted from job to job which he seemed likely to do the rest of his life.
Years later, I ran into his again in Clifton. He was working another no-future job. His girlfriend was pregnant so he kept working even though he hated what he was doing.
When I asked him if he had ever run into Stanley again, Gary looked at me.
“That asshole,” he said. “If I do, I’ll punch him in the mouth.”