this was an okay idea, but I kidded around too much during these battles, I was too jokey and sarcastic. Organizational issues seemed silly to
me, though we were based on the deeper need to organize. I made a wisecrack to the wrong person about super-unions and size mattering, and I
got switched to a different unit, where my workdays were miserable.
Nobody fired me, but I saw I’d have to leave. I hadn’t really held that
many jobs in my life, and I was not happy about this. Did I want to
move to a nonprofit that paid even less? The thing about working: if you
think too much about it, you never want to do any of it. I was at a low
point, grouchy and sloppy, when I quit before I meant to, fell into the
useless habit of sleeping all day, got evicted from my apartment, camped
out with an irritable ex-girlfriend, and spent ten months being a sodden
pain in the ass to all. Living off the girlfriend too.
What got me out of it? In the winter I thought I saw my sister on the
street, on Fifth Avenue of all places. A woman with her short Republican
haircut had two boys with her, one a young teenager and one around ten,
and they were looking into the Christmas windows of Saks. Had Cecie
put on more weight? It wasn’t Cecie, I saw that in a minute, though not
before the woman got an alarmed look on her face as if I were stalking
them. An unshaven guy in a wool cap, with longish hair sticking out of
it: How bad could I look? That bad? And suppose she knew Cecie in New
Jersey and was going to go back and tell her? I knew this was an absurd
idea, but I was stuck in it.
I went home and cleaned up. I combed and shaved. I got my one
suit pressed—“You look like a losing politician,” my girlfriend said—
and I went out for interviews again. I explained that in the months I
hadn’t worked I’d been taking care of my sick brother. He was better
now, thanks for asking. I said the union had taught me that the balance
between wages, productivity, and profit in our system was totally out of
whack. Also that power was never given; it had to be taken. I sounded
In time I got a job for an outfit that helped the formerly incarcerated.
A job I got to like. My father would really have hated this one, though I
hadn’t picked it to harass his former self. I was good at it too.
My mother, who was in excellent health, wrote to me, “I wish you
weren’t always in the profession of telling people the world owes them a
living.” What old phrases she had. What old wishes. The world, with all
its wild shifts and flaring upheavals, was not a changeable planet to her.