Books/Sites of Interest
As a journalist and novelist, John Hoerr has written mainly about labor, industry, and politics in contemporary history. His best-known book, And the Wolf Finally Came: the Decline of the American Steel Industry (1988), is the definitive account of labor-management struggles preceding the near-extinction of American steel as well as the mill towns in Western Pennsylvania where it was born.
Visit his website: http://www.johnhoerr.com/
The Pittsburgh Novel
A Novel by K. C. Constantine [pseudonym of Carl Constantine Kosak] (1934— ).
New York: The Mysterious Press of Warner Books, 1999. 375 pages.
Blood Mud is the 15th case in the largest and best-known series of Western Pennsylvania police procedurals: the Mario Balzic Detective Novels (aka the Rocksburg Mysteries). Over 30 years, 17 titles were published by its pseudonymous author.
Visit the website: http://thepittsburghnovel.blogspot.com/
The Mind At Work
By Mike Rose
Back in the day, I always finished my late night bar-hopping with breakfast. One favorite spot was a small diner where they usually had a short-order cook, a waitress, and someone doing whatever was needed. The whole place was maybe only 40' long but it was jammed when the bars closed.
One night for whatever reason only one waitress was there. She was doing the whole bit by herself.
She waited on everyone, cleaning the counter and small tables where they sat. She set napkins and utensils, brought coffee, water, and took the orders. She cooked the food, served it, checked for follow-up, wrote up the bill and then rang it out. Never missed a step.
Think about that.
"Fix bacon with eggs over and rye at seat 3; omelet almost ready for table 2; Pancakes done for seat 1 -need cleaned up; running out of cups-wash, dry; drunk at table 3 looks like he might skip; guy at register has a C-note for a $3 order- 25 cent tip; scrambled eggs need flipped before they burn; put more bacon on- gonna need it; running low on coffee, brew more decaf…" -and so forth.
She worked fluidly, quickly, no wasted moves; her eyes rapidly scanning, her brain and body interacting with the room, hitting all he coffee cups in a sweep, flipping a burger as she passed the grill on her way to the register, dumping dirty dishes into the sink while a customer dug for payment--and so on, her mind constantly tracking, analyzing and prioritizing everything quickly for at least the hour I was there. How long before or after, I don't know.
Amazing. I don't think many people could do that.
Mike Rose is a believer in working people, and recognizes that "smarts" are neither simply defined nor confined to the sometimes self-serving definitions of academia. He should know. His mom was a waitress, his family blue-collar and he admits to slacking in high school. He was a late bloomer, and a maverick.
As any building trades apprenticeship director can tell you, some people don't test well, write well, or compose sonatas (neither could Attila the Hun as he conquered his world). But they perform surprisingly complex work with competence and analytical thinking on the job.
Rose gets into a lot of commas and qualifiers. Lamentable example:
"For all the administrative rationality and meritocratic logic of the differentiated curriculum, academic counseling can be irregular and inconsistent, can be affected by, among other things, parental power and teachers' and counselors' beliefs about race and social class."
You'll have to dance with sentences like that, but between the words you can hear the music.
Rose writes of the mental side of manual work, of the limits of I.Q. tests, of disrespect and stereotypical misconceptions toward and from people who work with their hands, and the ups and downs of vocational vs. academic education. He also explores the "for every action, there's a reaction" aspect. If one "egghead" decides all working people are mindless "rednecks", working people are likely to decide that all academic types are clueless "eggheads". Both are wrong. Time to grow up.
There's things (and attitudes) happening constantly that we never think about.
We should. Rose takes a close look at it all.
Organize or Die
A Novel by Laura McClure
By the title, you might believe this fast-moving mystery had something to do with unions. (you'd be right, and we'll get back to that) But it's more about people.
How boring would we be if we were all perfect and simple?…not to worry. Not in this novel by Laura McClure.
Every workplace has them. People who are Salt of the Earth, heroes in waiting. Some others who are flakey or shaky. Some do right or wrong for their own mysterious reasons, and some few are touched with nobility.
Among them might be a hot head doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Maybe he hates injustice, or maybe he's just on a power trip. Maybe if he's drunk and mad enough, he'll kill.
Somebody killed Victoria, the high-toned white-glove union organizer come down from the Halls of Ivy to help the working folks at a major printing company gone wrong -and maybe mob-connected. Victoria was effective, headstrong and beautiful. Any or all of those qualities can bring trouble. The list of suspects is long, the clues few. It could have been a burglar, but that would be too perfect.
Enter our heroine Ruth Ryan, Victoria's former and less elegant collaborator, buttonholed by the union because they have no one else (now there's a vote of confidence).
No perfection here either. Ruth dabbles in self-demolition, boozes way too much, and longs for a guy who doesn't care enough to leave his indifferent wife but might make the jump for a much younger hottie. He seems to regard our girl as a good sport, a useful resource for his work, and an occasional dropbox for spare sperm. They have history, but she deserves so much better. It's not like she doesn't have options.
Union busters, whether they be thugs or lawyers, have everything going for them: power, influence, intimidation, and money. Union organizers have themselves, their guts, and quixotic determination.
The people on the shop floor have Ruth, and she has less than three weeks to get the job done. Maybe less, if she meets Victoria's killer.
That's one thing that seems inevitable.