AThis morning, prior to today’s effort, I found myself singing a stirring rendition of “Freiheit”, a song I learned at camp concerning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), which began – not the war, the song:
Spanish heavens spread their brilliant starlight
High above the trenches and the planes
From the distance morning comes to greet us
Calling us to battle once again…
This inspirational “Call to Action” unconsciously came to mind because I knew that today, I would be writing about a revolution of my own, and by “my own”, I mean that it was instigated, encouraged and spearheaded entirely by me.
As hard as that may be to believe.
Although maybe it’s not that hard, as, at the core of every revolution is a complaint, and there are fewer World Class complainers on this planet than yours truly. The difference is, this time, the issue was undeniably legitimate, and my response to it went well beyond sub-vocal disgruntlement.
On this occasion, I took a risk, and put it all on the line.
It was December 23rd. And everyone in the “Toy Wrapping Area” was sick. Not just pampered sissies like myself. Longshoreman where coughing their guts out!
The problem was inadequate ventilation in the “Toy Wrapping Area.” Blizzards of, what I shall have to call “work dust” because I do not exactly know what it was, floated detectibly before our eyes. No fans. No ducts to blow the detritus away. Not even a window, to allow the fresh (okay, frigid, winter) air to circulate for our bronchialogical protection.
These were our working conditions. While wrapping presents for British High Borns and Blue Bloods…
We were simultaneously breathing this crap in.
The result was, for virtually all us, a raspy and persistent sandpaper cough, a cough that hurt with each succeeding repetition, the discomfort emanating from deep down in our lungs. Our very breathing was becoming difficult. It was like a room full of “Collective Asthma.”
It was likely me who first made mention of this problem. But my co-workers, not famous for their volubility, grunted angrily in assent. It then occurred to me we were talking “Serious Epidemic” here, and that something urgently needed to be done.
I organized the men – I like the way that sounds – and together, we insisted that our gruff Glaswegian overseer arrange a meeting between us and the store’s… I don’t know who it was, maybe the Personnel Director who had hired us, it was somebody in a suit, I know that. Sensing trouble – and possibly danger, he said with a glimmer of insurrectional excitement – Mr. I-never-once-had-a-clue-what-he-was-talking-about responded spiritedly to our demands. (Very possibly because he was hacking up sawdust as well.)
The next thing I knew, we were marching – well, not all of us, me and one other co-worker – to a showdown with “Management”, where we would tender our complaints demand that something immediately be done about them. I would not be surprised if, as we advanced toward this confrontation, the inspirational “Freiheit” was not pounding encouragingly in my brain:
We’ll not yield one foot to Franco’s Fascists
Even though the bullets fall like sleet
We’ll defend those peerless men, our comrades
And for us there can be no retreat…
We arrived at our meeting. We presented our complaints, firmly and unequivocally.
And they fired us.
Remember what I said yesterday about “It’s nice having them over a barrel”? Well, it turns out we didn’t. By December 23rd, we were one day away from the end of the “Christmas Shopping Season”, and they most definitely did not need us anymore. I guess we should have complained earlier. But we were not coughing up sawdust quite yet.
So ended an experience, forced upon me by economic necessity, for which I was congenitally not “type-cast”, but which gratefully provided me with a rare example of personal resilience, access to much-needed showering facilities, and I met a princess.
Plus, much to my surprise, I got six new stories out of it.
It was nice taking a stroll down “Recollection Alley.”
Happy “Boxing Day”, and thank you for coming along.
Coda: Twenty-five or so years later, in a distinct change of pace from our annual visits to Hawaii, we took our family instead on a Christmas vacation to London. An obligatory component to that visit was my schlepping everyone around to the “Points of Interest” of my personal history. Which, of course, included Harrods.
No Harrods reunion would be complete without a visit to “Toy Wrapping Area”, whose location I ferretted out and whose door I surreptitiously opened, to take a curious peek inside. It looked surprisingly the same. Except…
It had a window.