Once You Know,
You're Stuck With It

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto

    A kid can be traumatized for the rest of his life by some startling sight or sound at an early age. Four-year-old Bert Swenson watched his father dancing in a stuffed dress and silk stockings and from that time on thought his father was his mother because she always wore pants suits. That impression lasted forever although Bert only saw it once, at the Kings Highway Men's Club charity show. Sid Pulanski, aged five, vacationing at his Uncle Jake's in the Adirondacks, happened to be trotting up the farmhouse staircase when his Aunt Christina came flying down naked to her panties, her cannonball breasts with nipples like shooting gallery targets bouncing as she screamed that a snake was in the bathtub. Unable to deal with such an experience a second time was the reason the Pulanskis gave for Sidney's reluctance to have anything to do with women. These examples may seem extreme but they are certainly plausible in terms of the effect they had. There are other more sobering events, many of which are capable of imprinting an ineradicable perception on the brain of the child.

   When the dust bowl had wiped out its last farm and the shattered mom and pop stores began to reopen, selling Tootsie Rolls and the like, and small factories on the verge of bankruptcy started doing a little business, the working stiffs drifted back, the economy took a deep breath and energy began to flow. It provided the impetus for men like Jack Dorfman to start up the machinery and hire the help to run it. Everybody was out to make a buck. Dorfman, a chesty man in his fifties, active and vigorous, limited his cigar smoking but never exercised. In his opinion, that was for people who had nothing else to do, or the idle. When he got up in the morning, he did perform a few knee bends in his underwear but that was mainly to get rid of gas. He walked the few blocks to the elevated at a rapid pace and felt fine as he sat on the hard rattan train seats of the Brighton Beach line to read his morning newspaper, glancing at the tight-skirted behinds of the young office girls as they entered the train at the various stations. His wife remained safely at home in their brick and stucco house in Flatbush with their daughters and young son.

   At work Dorfman's blonde, meaty secretary, Miss Mayer, in her mid-thirties, adored him. He was out selling most of the day, although he did work on the books occasional evenings, with Miss Mayer at his side. Sometimes they had a bite at the diner on the corner afterwards. Dorfman was seldom in the factory. That was run by his partner. But he knew all the employees by name. At noon on Saturdays, the workers filed by Miss Mayer's desk where she handed out the weekly pay envelopes, which were arranged alphabetically in a shoe box. Once in a while Dorfman brought his boy with him and let him hand out the envelopes. Jeremy got a big kick out of doing it. He was twelve, skinny, wore glasses, and was working on a scheme to entice the girl next door to wrestle with him, uncertain as to why the need to do this obsessed him.

   He came to recognize the employees, although unaware they regarded him distrustfully, or disdainfully, and some enviously, as the boss' son, humiliated at receiving their pay packets from a mere kid. They shuffled by with wan smiles and a glum thanks when he handed them their wages. He'd heard his father discussing problems at the factory with his mother but had paid little attention to the details, more interested in peeping through his bedroom window at his future wrestling partner as she prepared to retire.

   On one of those nights while donning his pajamas he heard his father's bellicose voice declaiming from the parlor downstairs.

   "They won't do it! Not to me they won't!" his father was shouting to his mother.

   "Jack, you got to be careful. Don't jump to conclusions," she implored him.

   There was a minute or two of silence as Jeremy tiptoed from his bedroom and listened for the conversation to resume, sitting at the top of the stairs. His father's voice turned to an indistinct growl, then rose again.

   "They think I don't know who's behind the whole thing!" his father declared.

   "You know?" his mother asked, worriedly.

   "Of course I know! That shrimp! That good for nothing! Your Rabinowitz friend. But I'll get him. I'll get that skunk!"

   "How can you know for sure?" she demanded.

   "Never mind how! I found out! And I'm the one putting the bread on his table. That skunk."

   "You'll fire him?" she gasped, alarmed.

   "Any minute! Once I get the goods on him!"

   "You can't fire Rabinowitz. He has five children to feed."

   "Are you crazy? Just watch me. He's a communist."

   "He's not a communist! He's a socialist."

   "You just gave him away! Now I know he's a communist! Yes! He's the leader. He's the one trying to get them all to join the union. Half of them have already signed up."

   Jeremy yawned. He was very tired. He flopped into bed and dreamed about his father, dressed as an undertaker, firing on a Rabinowitz in the shape of a skunk. But Rabinowitz scrambled away, followed by his family, five little skunks, the smallest skunk crying, "Papa, Papa!" but in skunk language.

   The next day, Saturday, when Jeremy awoke, the house was strangely quiet. His father had already left for the factory. He found his sisters, usually up and about and making a racket, in the breakfast room with his mother. They were sitting at the round table and looking everywhere but at each other. The table, laden with breakfast cereals, milk, bowls, rolls, and cream cheese, remained untouched. He stared at his family blankly.

   "Go look outside, dope," his youngest sister said to him.

   He kept staring at their taut faces for another moment then turned and ran to the front door. He gazed through its glass panel. On the sidewalk bordering their small patch of lawn, two men walked slowly up and down before the house bearing professionally painted signs in large bloody letters, the signs nailed to long sticks. He recognized one of them, Bennet, a thin man wearing a battered hat. He was a sweeper and packer from the factory. The other man was a stranger in a torn pullover, baggy pants, with a cap pulled down over his eyebrows. Bennet's sign read, "Dorfman And Company On Strike! We Demand A Union!"

   The stranger's sign, more ominous, struck Jeremy like a blow to the heart.

   It read, "Dorfman's Workers Lose Fingers On Cutting Machines! Dorfman Pays Starvation Wages!" His jaw hung open, Jeremy stared at the funereal pacing of the two shabby figures as they trod the exact dimensions of the house frontage and back again without pause. The neighborhood had closed its windows and drawn its shades as if to shut out the disgrace, or perhaps in sympathy with their assaulted neighbors. Jeremy, pale, silent, and ashamed, withdrew to his room.

-Al Geto




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At the Tombs of the Known Soliders | Relatively Speaking | Right Out Of Ripley

Buckhammer's Last Chance | Once You Know, You're Stuck With It

Here We Come, Ready or Not! | Aaron

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Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life | The Nervous Young Man

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Copyright August 3, 2000-

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