Monday, March 28, 2011

Triangle Factory Fire and Unions


Sunday, the BF took me along on a tour of Lower East Side sites associated with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. March 25th was the 100th anniversary of the fire, in which 146 sweatshop workers, mostly young immigrant girls, lost their lives. The fire began on the 8th floor, and the workers on that floor and the management on the 10th floor mostly managed to escape, but no one alerted the workers on the 9th floor. When the flames began coming in the windows and up through the floor, the 9th floor workers were trapped. The elevator cables had melted in the heat, as had the bolts holding outside fire escape together. Panicked workers ran for the stairs, but the fire door had been chained shut by the factory owners, who didn't want girls "pilfering" thread and fabric from the factory. Those who didn't burn inside jumped to their deaths out the windows; the ladders on the fire trucks of the time only went up 6 stories and no one could reach them. Many girls jumped in groups, holding hands while they fell.

Every year on the anniversary of the fire, people chalk the names of the victims on the sidewalks in front of the factory and in front of nearby tenement buildings in the East Village and Lower East Side, where manyof the workers lived. The tour took us past a few of those buildings, and also to the sites of early labor union meeting places, which is of particular interest to me right now because I'm a union member.

This is the first time in my working life that I'm in a union, and I'm digging it. It gives me old-guy cred in case I want to go bowling or to the Staten Island Gun Club, and more importantly, it connects me to those brave women in the early labor movements who were trying to change the horrible working conditions in sweatshops like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The history of women in the labor movement gives me that swooping-heart, tears-in-your-eyes, fuck-yeah-feminism feeling whenever I think about it. I'm glad to be a part of it.

Not a lot of American workers are in unions anymore, which is kind of a shame. Most of us define ourselves by our jobs, and if you can feel that you're part of something bigger than yourself, then you feel a whole helluva lot better about that paper pushing. You feel working-girl pride instead of wage-slave ennui.

This one's for the shirtwaist girls. You are remembered.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I understand daylight savings time

Certain tirades of mine are seasonal. Twice a year, when daylight savings time kicks in, I set up some poor undeserving coworker or friend with my usual lead: "What exactly is daylight savings time for?"

It helps that no one actually knows the answer to this question. Most will mumble something about farmers. The fools.

"Oh yeah?" says I, I says, "Every single farmer that I've ever known gets up with the sun and goes to bed with the sun, regardless of what the clock says. So why the hell do they need daylights savings time?"

Hawaii doesn't do daylight savings time. We're so close to the equator that there really isn't much difference between summer and winter in terms of daylight. Maybe an hour difference, if that. So half the year Hawaii is six hours behind Brooklyn, and the other half of the year it's five hours behind. I remember it really used to mess with my TV viewing. They were always switching what time my stories came on!

So twice a year I bitched about daylight savings time. My script didn't change. It was like Dick Clark's New Years special.

Daylight savings time was on Sunday. We had to move all the clocks an hour forward, so it was a little hard for me to get up this morning (compounded by my nightmare about Mr. Spock turning into a crazed ape-man and trying to punch through the windows of my car while I honked the horn to summon the rest of the away team--G-d, I'm such a massive nerd). But after work this evening, I went grocery shopping and kept thinking to myself, "It's so light out. The sun is still up. What madness is this?" Self replied, "Daylight savings time, moppet [that's what we call ourselves in here]. You get an extra hour of sunlight in the evening because you got up an hour earlier."

The flash of insight was as bright as the sun on Atlantic Avenue. I get it now. All us 9-to-5ers get extra daylight for afternoon activities and I don't have to schlep the groceries home in the dark. Thanks, daylight savings time!

Seriously though, it has nothing to do with the damn farmers. See above.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New York's Bravest, also Nerdiest

Not five minutes ago, the New York Fire Department came to my door. I'd heard the crackling of their radios and assumed that the cops were visiting for whatever reason--they visited about two months ago when my next door neighbor's elderly father had a freakout and broke the street-facing window of his apartment by hurling a hammer through it--you know, usual New York stuff. I didn't pay it any mind until I heard that sharp, official ratatat on my door.

"Just a second!" I called, yanking off my fuzzy bedroom slippers and throwing them under the couch, because nothing makes you feel more vulnerable in the face of authority than being caught in your slippies. At least I was still rocking my office hair and jewelry. I also did a quick check for illegal materials before I opened the door. I don't know why. Instinct, I suppose.

But it wasn't a cop--it was a fireman in full uniform, oxygen tank, axe, boots, helmet, the works. I immediately began to simper, helplessly, against my will, in the presence of this alpha male, this golden god among base clay mortals. Is there anything more heroic than a fireman? (Batman doesn't count, though it pains me to admit it. He's not real.)

"Hi! Is there anything wrong? Should I evacuate?"

"Nah, we got a call about a gas leak. Smells like paint though." He peered into my apartment. "Is that Mystery Science Theater 3000?"

I'm watching an MST3K episode and it was paused on my monitor when I opened the door to my new soul mate. "Yes. Yes it is." And there's room on this couch for two if you leave the axe outside, big boy.

"What episode?"

"Lost Continent. I haven't seen it before."

"Niccce." Yes. He stuck the 'c.' Thank the lords of Asgard I stashed those slippies.

Then a troupe of them came clomping down the stairs with another girl in her pajamas and office hair, only she still had her bedroom slippers on. She was saying, "They've been doing construction in hat apartment all month, I guess they just painted, but it seriously smelled like gas."

In my mind, I thought, Bitch, don't box block me, I've got this one on my hook. "Is everything okay, then?" I asked, attention on me, attention on me.

"Yeah, it's fine, just keep your windows open. Have a good one." I will now, good sir. I will now.

He wasn't even that pretty-looking, really, I guess I'm just a sucker for a guy who rescues people from burning buildings and probably has the Rebel Alliance theme from Star Wars running through his head while doing so.