Cliff O’Neil


Not long after we moved into the new warehouse, the pressure got to Stanley and he started drinking more and more heavily, keeping one or more six packs in the small refrigerator in his office.

          He had always had a beer with lunch from the day I first started, but by this time, he didn’t bother with lunch.

          He felt caught between Donald and us, and often glared out through the window at us as he grew more and more suspicious of whether or not we were actually working.

          I resented the change as well. I missed the intimacy of the old place, but knew we could never go back. Every time Donald or Stanley hired another man, the further we got from the job I loved.

          We went through a number of men after John Telson in a desperate attempt to fill Donald’s assembly line. Most of them didn’t work out. For a time, John and I became close friends, visiting each others houses, I even had a knack for his sister, but that didn’t go anywhere.

          Things brightened up slightly when Cliff O’Neil came on board, but the atmosphere of warehouse was too far gone to be a happy place.

          From a journal entry of January 23, 1981:        

          When Jimmy Carter got elected president, I thought it was the end of the world, and told everybody at Cosmetics Plus as much. Stanley only shook his head at me.

          “If you were so worried about it, you should have voted,” he said.

          I had a bad attitude of late. I couldn’t get myself out of bed in the morning at the thought of coming to work. I drove Stanley crazy with my griping, and Donald, and his wife, and Carmella. I half expected Donald to fire me. Sooner or later I knew he would.”

          Cliff had just come east from being a line backer at the University of Pittsburgh, and lived up to every inch of his name, a tall, broad-shouldered, blonde-haired man that had played on the football team in college right up until he hurt his knees, but still clearly a mountain of a man and nobody for anybody to take lightly.

          “If you start using your mouth around that guy, he’s going to use his fists on you,” Stanley warned me one day.

He had carried on like a madman in college, and once recalled throwing some guy through a window when he was drunk. He talked all the time about the wild sex he had with women in the frat.”

Already known for my snide remarks, John also cautioned me about messing with Cliff. I couldn’t resist, and teased him the first chance I got. I figured that his bad knees would give out if he tried to run me down.

And he did chase me, and his knees did not give out, and he pinned me against some boxes in the back and wailed on me until I cried out, “enough!”

“You’re supposed to have trick knees!” I said.

“They tricked you, didn’t they?” Cliff said.

Cliff had come to the warehouse as a temporary stopover between graduation from college and the real world. Without football as a real option, he seemed lost as to what else he wanted to do.

Eventually, he came to accept that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and take on job in insurance.

He would go on to marry a woman he took out only once, seemingly content in a passionless marriage to raise a family, although he had talked passionately about his life at school, about the fights and the sex and how good he felt to be one of the boys.

He talked about the future as if bracing himself for a jail sentence.

In the meantime, Cliff and I became close friends, taking in Yankee games where we got drunk and bitched about John, who had turned into something of a snake in his pursuit of power, figuring if he could narc on the rest of us, there wouldn’t be anyone left but him to get the job as assistant manager.

This from a 1981 journal recounting some of those events:

Anything we said in the warehouse John took back to Donald, happily reporting our actions in detail. Donald used John, but didn’t trust him any more than we did, which is probably why he offered Cliff the job over me or John. John was part of the reason my attitude got so bad.

          But John wasn’t the only reason – only the most obvious one.  Our moving to the new warehouse had changed everything. Donald was consumed with becoming corporate, seeking to turn the whole place into a fine tuned machine in which we lost any sense of humanity.

          I guess I was shocked the first week when he installed a time clock and we began to punch in and out, and later the rollers that sent loose items to the packing tables in small cardboard carton. He had plans to install and even more insane machine, one with a motor attached. Then, he purchased a computer that began to churn out printed order for us to fill.

          I guess this all was progress, but I missed the more intimate flavor of the old warehouse where people relied on other people more than they relied on machines.

          John’s spying just make the rest unbearable, and because we knew he was doing it, we abused him openly.

          And for a long time, he endured it, and when he could no longer endure it, he quit.

          But by that time, I was ruined for the job, a total rebel that needed only the barest of excuses to rise up, and when Donald went after Michele.

          Stanley and Donald knew how to thwart me. By offering Cliff the job they once promised me and dangled before John, they removed my one strong supporter – even though in some ways, he was as angry as I was, he just kept silent about it.

          Stanley had brokered the deal, saying that I was too angry to be trusted.

          I told him I was angry enough to leave.

“So leave already,” Donald later told me. “No one ever said you had to work for me.”

          Cliff never took the job, but left for a job with his father shortly after that.

I felt guilty about harassing John, especially about mistreating him over his girlfriend Eva. Cliff and I were convinced she had something on him to keep him doing stupid things for her. In many ways, she mistreated him more than we did, and like a dog, he kept going back for more. He even married her.

          After Cliff moved on, other people came and went, some survived me. I remember the nasty time I gave some poor Dead Head, making his life as miserable as mine just because he loved a band more than life itself.

Later, I realized that like Stanley I was striking out at people, not because they did anything wrong, but because I had become trapped in a job and a way of life I hated and I needed to break free or go crazy.

          The year 1976 faded away and 1977 came, as we geared up for another holiday rush

This from a journal Aug. 8, 1981

“The Summer of 1977 was the summer of Cliff O’Neil, Tim Holly, and part time John Telson. It was the summer Elvis died, we had a black out, and a tornado hit the Kaplan Drive warehouse while we were inside it.

Cliff and I went to several Yankees games, got drunk at each, cursing John for his spying after I accidentally over heard him through the woman’s room door talking to Donald about us. John quit. Then so did Cliff.  Donald and Stanley asked me to run the night shift for the Christmas season.”


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