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Last night, I returned home from work, in particular cleaning-up a “non-Hazmat” used motor oil spill upon an asphalt parking lot in New Jersey. Was late when I entered home, my wife Carol greeted me, she made cup of tea, and asked if I’d like fried-onions on my hamburger. Selected onions, and Carol moved to place a tablespoon of honey in my tea. After giving thanks, she retreated into our laundry-room, began to toss wet clothing into our Kenmore dryer. My 60-year old feet were sore and wet, and it was quite a pleasure to listen to a switch being turned to Medium Load, and then the sweet hum of a functioning machine. I imagined work clothes delighting in warmth, and sipped hot tea, and I began reading last week’s Scranton Times-Tribune news-story about the fire-tragedy in a Bangladesh factory.
How lucky I was in America, the land of refined-OSHA laws, a nation where workers are well-protected from occupational hazards and occasional tasks which sometimes resemble risks inside carnival cages and job demands upon skilled Lion Tamers of bygone days, equipped with whips as “protection.” Hamburger & onion digested, showered, Lipitor pill down hatch, I retreated to our bedroom. Alone, I turned-on Turner Classic Movie (TCM) channel. Carol tied-up with next load of clothes, I had sufficient time to view parts of the 1941 film, The Wagons Roll at Night, featuring Humphrey Bogart, Joan Leslie, and Eddie Albert. Carol hated circuses and Bogart reminded her of our crabby-old Home Heating Oil delivery-man.
The health & safety (H&S) attitude at play in The Wagons Roll at Night was much different than the approach I am accustomed to since last Century’s great act of passing Hazardous Waste Operations regulations which governs life in the emergency response world. Notably, in 1974, I started as a swaggering Teamster dockworker at a huge “break-bulk” terminal located in heart of the Pocono Mountains. Those days, OSHA only a dream, workers like me were sent inside trailers to clean-up spilled fuels, acids, solvents, Et cetera – you name it, workers were given a dust mask, shovel, rubber gloves, and told by a foreman, “go at it buddy…toss the crap into the hopper.” And into the hopper went all kinds of toxic stuff.
Prone upon back, in bed, safe, I watched Bogart as circus-manager “Nick Coster” try his best to awaken circus-show Lion-Tamer # 1, “Hoffman the Great,” played by burly actor, Sig Ruman. Either very tired, drunk, or dead, Hoffman would not flinch. In response, Bogie (“Nick”) tossed cold water upon Hoffman, and totally breaking 1941 workplace sensitivity policy, he tipped-over Hoffman’s bed, to no avail. A definite crisis for Bogey, one to which any CEO across America can identify: Hoffman unresponsive, a packed & anxious circus crowd, Bogey had to immediately inspire back-up Lion-Tamer # 2, actor Eddie Albert as “Matt Varney,” a young farmboy, and Hoffman the Great’s apprentice. One look at Varney’s face — memories of facing down a pool of concentrated sulfuric acid upon a tractor-trailer floor, atmospheric fumes, 25-years old, I donned rubber gloves, a dust mask, entered the scene. In perspective, Hoffman the Great’s defiant slumber made much sense.
As I fought sleep, and hoped Carol remained tied-up at the dryer, Bogey made an incredible business pitch designed to inject confidence and courage into the rather apprehensive and stunned Matt Varney (Eddie Albert). The circus-act featured three lions, one was quite nasty, and taking the long view with regard to life and future, Varney tried his best to convince Bogey that it was a bad management decision to place him in the cage with such beasts, and so little training, experience. Bogey’s knock-out girlfriend (not Lindsay Lohan) pleadingly took the side of Varney, but the show must go on; a packed house, and Bogey emphasized that this was Matt’s big-chance to “make good, moment of lifetime, start a career, have girls aplenty eating out of your hand… all ‘ya gotta do kid is get the lions to move around & jump through rings of fire.” That’s all – that was Varney’s assigned “scope of work.” Hell – did not Bogey’s show pay better than those daring-delights staged at Roman Coliseum? Did not Bogey’s workplace have better escape routes than the Bangladesh clothing factory, consumed by fire? Matt Varney did the right thing, gravitated toward Calvinistic right-wing attitude, and circus crew suited him-up, top-hat fit, Hoffman the Great in dreamland, I was not far behind, and Matt Varney took breath, entered the lion cage, crowd roared
In the 1970s, single, quite irresponsible, perhaps spoiled, I was sort of a bad boy Teamster dockworker. Never all that inspired by humping freight for 8-10 hours a day, I became radicalized and began to organize our workplace affiliation with the hated Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU). Thought I was Spartacus among cargo rebels. After rabble-rousing on the dock on behalf of the TDU cause, purportedly evil and socialist to core, packs of Lions in the form of corporate managers and Teamster Business Agents began to pounce and tried to gnaw-off my head. No joke, I received enough “disciplinary” letters & suspensions to wall-paper a kitchen-wall. In 1984, they succeeded in forcing my resignation after 10 years of stacking freight in trailers, those memorable words, “keep it going high & tight, kid – and protect your job.” Much is arbitrary and subject to chance? In The Wagons Roll at Night, Eddie Albert, playing role of a scared farmboy, succeeded in entering a cage, tasked with making lions romp around and delight a crowd. He succeeded – Varney even got the nasty lion to jump through a hoop-of-fire. This was a very sweet way to vicariously end an evening after work, December 2012. To date, nobody made me enter a lion’s den, and every factory I enter in the course of day’s work have Health & Safety plans in-place, MSDS information tacked to a bulletin board, escape routes in effect and communicated to workers. Prior to sleep, I listened to my clothes spin-around in dryer, T-shirts and jeans purchased at Wal Mart. Carol came to bed, she requested a channel change. She did not like Varney’s getting clawed by the nasty lion. Changed channel to a Criminal Minds re-run, Agent Rossi and Penelope hunt a mad-man, I wondered if Bogey’s circus wagon will ever roll into Bangladesh.
Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at ccdjOrlov@aol.com