Smokestack Zoo

The following quote is from the I Will Shout Youngstown Blog:

“A critical reality of Youngstown, unlike other portrayals in the national media, is that this region is not a monolith. Our hispters often fix their own automobiles, our steelworkers often participate in the arts, our drag queens are often the smartest people in the room, and our friends are way more extraordinary than what is seen at first glance.”

How true that really is especially when I think about how many talents the steelworkers I formerly worked with possessed.

I worked at a small barrel plant with just a day shift of about 125 employees that closed in 1999. The plant was like a small city and other than buying gas and groceries I had in house access to most of the goods and services I needed. We had guys who brought in produce to sell, a guy that rented us pirated VHS tapes and two guys who ran a veritable flea market of used goods. If you needed some weed or a hot TV that was also available. We were a shopping mecca we referred to as, “Small-Mart.”

The factories: carpenter, plumber and electrician were all available to work at your house on off hours.  A tow motor driver who had a math and science degree did most of the workers taxes. One guy sold stocks and insurance and another was a realtor. We had two ministers and a former boxer. Not to forget, Mac the maintenance man who had a psychology degree and was an independent candidate for governor of PA

My buddy and co-worker, Willie was also a bartender who owned several rental homes. I attend many auto auctions with him on Saturdays. Willie sold used cars, made extra keys for people, was a notary, a mechanic, a welder, fixed air conditioners, and restored motorcycles.

Everyone in that plant was multi-talented which made each one very interesting and worth getting to know. With only 125 employees we were like a family and really did get to know each other and utilized each other’s talents. I miss guys like Willie who could always fix those terrible auto and home nightmare problems that baffle me. Willie moved to Texas to be a maintenance man in a condo community.  Most of my former work mates have also moved which makes me realize our community did not just lose steelworkers but multi-talented good neighbors.

This a poem I wrote a decade ago about my Brother and Sister workers:

Smokestack Zoo

The characters in this story
are pretty much the same
factory to factory.

Blue-collar, white collar, hot under the collar
cool heads, hot heads, knuckle heads, prevailing heads.
Guys just putting in their time,
guys who live for overtime.

The guy who still has his First Communion dough,
the guy whose ticket out is the lotto.

The card player, the bricklayer, the soothsayer,
the bullshitter, the home-run hitter.

Gardeners and philosophers,
vets from three wars,
guys with scars and secondhand cars.
Musician, sports fan,
a guy who spends all day in the can.

Storyteller, joke teller,
junk seller.

Practical jokers, chain smokers,
part-time insurance brokers.

Bigots full of hate
and a gubernatorial candidate.
A guy who never had a date,
a cheapskate
and a guy who’s always first out the gate.

The dreamer,
the schemer.
Fence mender, mind bender,

Blacktop sealer,
used car dealer.
Artist, linguist and

Whether single divorcee or gay,
they all are living pay to pay.

What all the creatures have in common is:

they all hate the boss

and all have a hearing loss.

A nice story on the Youngstown Incubator

Roy Zimmerman America

My Conservative Girlfriend

Defenders of Marriage

What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright. ~Samuel Gompers


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