I Can Get It for You Wholesale, page 8
“We took all this money and spent it because we figured it was a good cause. We wanted you guys to win that strike. After you won, we figured there was time enough to ask you guys to kick in your share of the expenses. But in the meantime we laid out all that dough. And we’re not getting a cent of it back either. This thing has cost us plenty. We’d be the last ones to admit failure, wouldn’t we? Why, if you guys wanted to quit and we thought there was half a chance we wouldn’t let you. We wanted you to win even more than you did. What the hell kind of talk is that, frame-up! Why we’d be the last ones in the world to—”
The door in the rear opened with a bang and I breathed such a sigh of relief that my knees knocked together. A blue-uniformed Postal Telegraph messenger was walking down the aisle to the platform. That was the artist in me. Once khaki and Western Union, next time blue and Postal Telegraph. The kid handed the envelope to Tootsie and walked back.
Tootsie read the telegram to himself and then turned to the crowd with a sarcastic smile.
“As though we haven’t got enough,” he said. “Listen to this. It’s from William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor.” He read: “Regret exceedingly necessity for cancelling contemplated sympathy strike of truck drivers’ and elevator operators’ unions. Stop. Present conditions render such move impracticable. Stop. Trust you will carry on undaunted. Stop.”
Stop was right. In more ways than one. That was the end of their squawking. And that was the end of Tootsie’s career as an extemporaneous speaker.
There was more to the telegram, but I didn’t stay to listen. Repetitions bore me.
WANTED! SHIPPING CLERKS! WANTED!
We want one hundred (yes, 100!) shipping clerks to start work immediately. Applicants with experience in garment center preferred. Apply Room 2706, 224 West 37th Street. Needle Trades Delivery Service, Inc.
I tore the corner of the page out of my copy of Women’s Wear and stuffed it into my pocket.
I went over to the news stand and bought a copy of the Daily News Record and hunted through it. There it was, on page nineteen. I tore that out too. What the hell, I’m sentimental about those things. I like to save a copy of everything I write. What with those circulars I had written for Tootsie to mimeograph and distribute, and the speeches I had written for him, and now these ads, it was getting to be quite a collection.
I went into the building and waited for an elevator. When it started to move up I said, “Twenty-seven,” and almost added, “please.” But I caught myself in time. I don’t say please to boogies.
When I got out on the twenty-seventh floor I took one look and thanked God I’d had enough sense to insist on their cutting in a side entrance to the loft before I signed the lease.
The front door was open and jammed with what looked like every unemployed shipping clerk on Seventh Avenue. Across their heads I could see into the large room. It was so crowded that I couldn’t even see Tootsie, but believe me, I could hear him.
“I don’t know, fellows,” he kept yelling, “I don’t know any more about it than you do. I got a letter from this Mr. Bogen and he told me to come up here this morning, he wanted to see me. That’s all I know, fellows. I don’t know any more about it than you do.”
Which was probably more truth than poetry, the dumb baloney!
I took another look at the mob and congratulated myself once more. It was getting to be my favorite indoor sport, but what could I do? The occasions for it were so many, that I just couldn’t help myself.
Pulvermacher must have talked turkey to those Associated Dress Manufacturers. Judging from the mob clamoring around that door it looked like not a single shipping clerk had been rehired after the strike was called off.
I used my key on the side entrance and went into the little private office I’d had them partition off for me. I hung my hat and coat on the rack and straightened my tie in front of the mirror. Not bad. I looked a little young, but I didn’t let that worry me. In fact, it made me seem a little more important, running a thing like this and looking so young. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I tried raising a mustache. I put my finger on my upper lip and looked at myself in the mirror. No, it didn’t look right. Anyway, I don’t like mustaches. Combing and shaving were enough of a nuisance without adding something else to take care of.
I gave my tie a final pat, adjusted the handkerchief in my outside breast pocket, and lit a cigarette. Then I opened the door between the private office and the rest of the loft. The noise stopped at once and everybody looked at me, including Tootsie.
I walked toward them, until I was up to the wooden railing that fenced off part of the loft for a couple of desks and chairs.
“Is there a Mr. Maltz here?” I asked.
“Yes,” Tootsie said, putting up his hand. “Here I am. I got a letter and—”
“I’m Mr. Bogen,” I said, reaching out my hand. He took it and we shook hands solemnly.
“I don’t quite know what to make of this, Mr. Bogen,” he began, holding out the letter.
The dumb schmooh! I told him to say, “I don’t know what this is all about, Mr. Bogen,” but he’s got to add a couple of his own decorations. He didn’t quite know what to make of it, eh? Well, this was the last time Tootsie Maltz would ever have a chance to screw up the works for me. From this point on I took the helm. And what a relief that was! I swear, I could rattle off at least eleven million times in the last couple of weeks when I’d nearly gotten heart failure because of the dumb things that came out of that mouth of his when he opened it.
“I don’t blame you,” I said. I turned to the rest of the crowd. “Suppose I clear the whole matter up for everybody, then.” I waved toward the gang that was jammed up around the door and flowed over into the hall. “Can you all hear me back there?”
“We can hear.”
“All right, then,” I said, resting my hands on the rail. “Here’s the situation. This organization, the Needle Trades Delivery Service, Inc., is in the business of delivering packages, bundles, hand trucks, anything at all, for the manufacturers of Seventh Avenue. In the last couple of days, for reasons that I suppose you’re pretty well aware of, we’ve received a tremendous number of new clients. In fact, we’ve almost been overwhelmed with new business. In order for us to function, we need men to work for us, to carry these bundles for us. Naturally, with this new crop of accounts, we need a new crop of delivery men. Our old staff is in no position to handle the overwhelming amount of business we now have, so we are ready to put on a large number of men.”
I paused and turned to Tootsie.
“This, Mr. Maltz, is where you come in. We’ve always worked with a rather small staff, and I have always been able to handle the whole thing myself. But now, with the huge staff that we shall be forced to employ, it will become necessary for me to get an assistant.” I turned back to the others. “I have been an interested observer of the recent strike in the garment industry, and I don’t mind admitting that I saw at once where my new business was coming from. I asked some of my new clients point-blank why they were signing up for our service, and they said they were not going to rehire their old shipping clerks. I thought it only fair, therefore, since most of my new staff would probably come from the shipping clerks who were out on strike, I thought it only fair to hire as my assistant the man who, I have been given to understand, led the strike so brilliantly.” Phooey! “In this way I will be doing myself a service, since I’ll be getting a competent assistant, and I’ll be doing the right thing by my new staff, since they’ll be under the supervision of a man they knew and know they can trust.”
If there were any rummies in that crowd to whom it appeared to be a little strange that I should be making such a big public stink about hiring an assistant, they had enough sense not to talk about it. They were here for the purpose of trying to get a job, and they weren’t taking any chance on losing out before they even started by opening their traps. No
“If you’ll please come in, then, Mr. Maltz,” I said, “we’ll be able to get started.”
I held the gate in the railing open and he came in.
“Now the first thing we’ll do,” I said, “is take the names and addresses of all those who wish to apply for jobs. I don’t know exactly how many we will be able to use, but I should judge it’ll be about a hundred. So what we’ll do is start off by hiring one hundred men to-day, and then—”
The roar that went up drowned me out, and I knew what was wrong. There must’ve been over three hundred there.
“Wait a minute men,” I called, holding up my hands. “Just a minute men.” When they quieted down, I continued. “I know there are more than a hundred here, and so we’re going to do this as fairly as possible. Here’s what we’ll do. Every man will fill out one of these cards with his name and address. Then we’ll mix them in a hat and I’ll pick out a hundred of them. That hundred men will go to work immediately, to-day. The others I will keep on file, and as soon as we need extra men I’ll send for those who have made out cards here to-day. Let me add,” I said, raising my voice to stop any murmuring, “let me add that new accounts are coming in so fast, that the chances are we’ll need plenty more before many days go by. So please help us out by doing this quietly and quickly, so that we don’t have to kill the whole day.”
I gave Tootsie a pack of printed applications and let him hand them around. They filled them out and handed them back and Tootsie dumped them into an empty wastepaper basket that I put on one of the desks back of the rail. Then I put my hand inside, shoved them around a little, and drew out small batches of them. Tootsie read off the names, and put the cards aside, keeping careful count of the number. When he had ninety, I began to take them out one at a time, until we hit one hundred.
“All right, men,” I said, holding up the one hundred cards. “Will all those whose names were called, whose cards I hold in my hand, remain here, and will the others please leave?”
They filed out slowly, talking and shoving a little. When they were all gone, I motioned toward the door.
“Somebody please close that, will you?”
After the huge mob that had just been there, the one hundred that were left made the room seem empty.
“The next question to take up,” I said to the gang we had hired, “is that of compensation.” I figured I might as well show them I had the words to go with the fancy suit. “You men will be on a piece-work basis. You’ll get a dime for every package you deliver, and twenty cents for every hand truck.”
The arrangement I had made with Pulvermacher, and which went for the rest of Seventh Avenue, was two bits for every package and fifty cents for every hand truck. That meant we made a profit of fifteen cents and thirty cents per delivery. But these mockies didn’t have to know how much we were making.
“Things are still tentative,” I said, taking a piece of paper out of my pocket and looking at it as I spoke, “but judging from the number of accounts we have on our books right now, I should say we can almost guarantee you men about three deliveries an hour, say two packages and one hand truck, which means your compensation will average about forty cents per hour. Of course,” I added, “with the way accounts are rolling in, the chances are this amount will be increased very soon. But for the time being, I can almost guarantee, as I said, I can almost guarantee you forty cents an hour. And we work, I might add, from nine to six, with one hour off for lunch. This is not a dress house, and we don’t keep dress-house hours. Eight working hours a day, five days a week. No working late nights and no work Sundays, or Saturdays, unless it’s something special.”
I turned to Tootsie and then, as though I had remembered something. I turned back to them.
“Oh, yes,” I said, “there’s just one more thing, before I forget.” Before I forget was good. Any time you catch me forgetting anything like this, just let me know. “Each one of you will have to deliver your first ten packages free, to pay for this.” I pulled a cap out of the drawer of one of the desks and held it up. I had designed it myself, and it was a beauty. Red flannel, with a yellow band running around the edge, a stiff, black patent-leather visor, and right above it, standing up straight, so that it could be read easily, a metal plate with the words NEEDLE TRADES DELIVERY SERVICE, INC. engraved on it. For a moment I was sorry I hadn’t called it the “Harry Bogen Delivery Service, Inc.” “This is the only item of uniform that you have to wear,” I said, “and we let you have them at cost price. They cost us one dollar and that’s what we let you have them for. The price will be deducted from your first week’s salary. Now, let’s see, is there anything else?”
I scratched my head and squinted at the ceiling, pursing my lips at the same time, the way all executives do.
“Well, then, I guess there’s nothing else. Remember, you report here every morning at nine and get your assignments from Mr. Maltz or myself. When you get through with your assignments, you come back here for more. I might add, men, that the success of our business, as well as the size of your weekly pay check, depends upon the speed and efficiency with which we do our work. The quicker you deliver the packages you get, the better pleased the customer is going to be and the sooner you’re going to get another set of assignments, which means the more money you’ll have at the end of the week. Any questions?”
A big guy, whose face I remembered seeing at one or two of the meetings in the Pythian Temple, got up slowly.
“What is it?”
“You say we’ll be making about forty cents an hour?”
“About that. Yes.”
“And we work eight hours a day?”
“It looks that way now. From the amount of business we have booked right now, it looks like you’ll all be kept busy about eight hours a day. Of course, you realize how those things are. There’s no telling what—”
“But about eight hours, no?”
“That means a little over three dollars a day, doesn’t it? Eight times forty is three-twenty. A little over three dollars a day, right?”
I nodded again.
“And five days a week, means about fifteen dollars a week, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, but about fifteen, no?”
“That’s right,” I said.
Well, at least here was one that knew how to multiply.
“Well, gee whiz,” he said, like Columbus discovering that he wasn’t in India but somewhere south of the Bronx, “that means we’re no better off than we were before we went out on strike. It’s the same fifteen dollars.”
It looked like somewhere, I don’t know just where, but somewhere in the shuffle, this bright lad had gotten the impression that the Needle Trades Delivery Service, Inc. had been organized for the purpose of seeing to it that shipping clerks should receive more money. I toyed with the idea of breaking the news to him that he was wrong, but I decided against it.
“We can’t help that,” I said.
The hell with them. If they didn’t like being shipping clerks, then let them take a crack at something else. The way I did. I didn’t see anybody walking around worrying about me, so why should I worry about the rest of the world? Maybe I’m getting a little cockeyed, but I don’t seem to see anything in the papers any more about eccentric old millionaires running around snatching hard-working, deserving young men out of poverty and rewarding them with fortunes.
“We can’t help that,” I said again, shrugging and playing with the heavy deck of application cards that the two hundred shipping clerks who had been turned away had left with us. Nothing too obvious, you know. I just bounced them back and forth in my hand so that they should all see them and know what I meant. “That’s the best we can do,” I said. “After all, you know, you don’t have to work for us.”
I STOPPED IN AT the bank and cashed a decent-sized check
“Better give it to me in singles and fives,” I said to the teller. I wanted the roll to look important.
Then I went into the subway and took a 180th Street-Bronx Park Express. It was only a little after four and the trains weren’t crowded yet. I got a seat. At least that was one advantage of being your own boss. You could leave whenever you wanted to and avoid the mob.
I got off at the last stop and walked up 180th Street. I went into the bakery on the corner of Daly Avenue and bought a cheese cake and a Stollen. Then I walked up the remaining two blocks and turned into Honeywell Avenue.
I paused in front of the house and looked at it. A couple of the neighbors were leaning out of their front windows. But I didn’t pay any attention to them. I was doing a little calculating, trying to figure how much longer it would be before I could afford to move her into a decent place.
“One more month,” I said to myself finally, “and out you go.”
Or maybe two months. But whenever it would be, she was first on the list.
I rang the bell and walked up the stairs. She was holding the door open for me when I reached it.
Her face began to light up as soon as she saw me, but she squeezed the smile out of her lips and looked stern.
“Hello, Mom,” I said grinning.
“Hello, Big Business Man,” she said sarcastically, holding the door wide for me to pass her.
“How’s the girl?” I said, and stooped to kiss her cheek quickly as I went by.
“Go on,” she said, ducking away and making a threatening gesture. But she couldn’t hold the smile back any longer. It broke out and spread all over her face. “I thought maybe you forgot the way home already.”
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