Unions can be thuggish to their members, too
A short story with a surprising twist
One of the many jobs I had to finance my college education was working in a plant that made roof and floor trusses for homes. I phoned the union headquarters one day and inquired how I could collect the vacation pay previously deducted from my paychecks.
I was told that I couldn't receive it; they were keeping it. Period.
The answer startled me. I explained that I'd earned the money; it was mine, and I deserved to receive it.
“Doesn't matter,” I was told. “We're keeping it anyway.”
Once again I explained my legal right to that money. The union thug did not dispute that, but in his most grating Neanderthal voice he taunted me, “Whatcha gonna do about it, punk?”
Now I understood who I was dealing with: the Mafia masquerading as a labor union. I suppose I should have told the man who hired me, who was the father of the company owner, both of whom I'd worked for for years, mowing their home yards and doing assorted odd jobs. However, I knew they were smart enough to realize this labor union was run by vermin, so I decided not to bother them. The union thug's name and his “Whatcha gonna do about it, punk?” gibe were burned into my memory and refreshed whenever I heard the word “union,” which now was indelibly linked to thuggery.
But what was I going to do about it? Nothing. After my parents divorced years prior, my Mom dated a rich and powerful businessman who was also, she said, a Mafia don who tried to impress her by offering to kill anyone she wanted dead. Much to the chagrin of the local undertakers, my Mom's enemies list totaled zero. I was still in elementary school at that time, but I learned not to mess with people who settle disputes with guns. I was tutored in how I could join the Mafia when I grew up. I had the Italian surname, but not the inclination to use bullets to make money.
However, I did eventually use bullets to make money, at least indirectly: by becoming an ER doctor. I worked in Detroit and Flint when they vied for the right to be called the Murder Capital of the World.
Working in the ER one night, I picked up a new chart and felt a surge of adrenaline flood through my veins: same name as the union thug, and same employer, too. With a name that unique, I couldn't imagine there were two thugs working there with the same name.
I'd never met Mr. Mafia, but from the sweating blob of fat sitting on the gurney, I assumed he spent my vacation money stuffing his face with pasta and doughnuts. I glanced at the EKG the nurse handed to me and said, “anterior MI” to her before I looked him in the eye and introduced myself by saying, “Hi, I'm Dr. Pezzi. You're having a heart attack,” and then explaining what that meant and how we would treat it.
$2000 of clot-busting TPA later, the blob of fat was no longer sweating. Morphine made him comfortable enough to talk. He asked if he would “make it”—that is, make it out of the hospital alive. Almost certainly, I said.
“Good,” he replied. He explained that he was looking forward to a vacation he'd already paid for it and couldn't get a refund, except perhaps if he had a doctor's note. He wondered if that would suffice, should he need it, but I didn't know, assuming it depended on the fine print of the contract he signed. I had the power to involuntarily commit out-of-control Hollywood stars and other mentally ill people who were a danger to themselves or others, but I couldn't rescind contracts. That took a judge … or a person who used bullets to make money, like Mr. Mafia with the anterior MI—at least when he was healthy enough to bully college-bound students he perceived as helpless punks, never imagining they'd grow up to be doctors who might one day determine if he lived or died.
“Ever go on a cruise?” he asked rhetorically. He explained they're great for meeting women, lounging around, eating … and eating. Hence the body that made the Pillsbury Doughboy™ look slim and trim.
No, I replied, saying that I preferred to putter around my home. That morphine sure made him chatty, I mused.
He suggested that I should get out more: perhaps fly to Europe or go skiing in Vail. That was too rich for my blood; I had only recently paid off my students loans and was still driving the car I had in medical school, which was a “loser's car,” according to the blunt car salesperson who probably figured that her supermodel appearance gave her the green light to insult customers. My last vacation was basically my last breath of fresh air before I entered my third year of medical school, when I learned how to dissolve blood clots in coronary arteries and be nice to people I loathed—like Mr. Mafia the Pillsbury Doughboy™ and Miss Supermodel the impossibly hot and brazenly offensive car salesperson. At that time, I took a three-day trip to Wawa, Ontario, staying there just long enough to realize they had a poor idea of what pizza was supposed to be but bacon with out-of-this-world flavor.
So, Mr. Mafioso, no fancy vacations for me.
Then his brow wrinkled. “Pezzi . . . Pezzi . . . Pezzi . . .” he thought aloud. “You ever work at --------?” He named the truss plant I'd worked in.
“Yes,” I answered matter-of-factly.
“I remember you! You were that kid who told me off about the vacation pay you never got.”
That would be me, and my big mouth. I left out a bit of my discussion with Mr. Mafia years ago. Although I'd learned in fourth grade not to mess with the Mafia, I couldn't help myself at that time. Incensed about the way he mocked my inability to do anything about the stolen vacation pay, I told him it was probably money like that which enabled the other union big shots I'd seen visiting the truss plant to drive around in their black perfectly polished luxury cars and stuff their fat faces. I can't recall everything I said to him, but I remember calling him a “criminal,” and giving him a piece of my 18-year-old mind—evidently enough of it that he never forgot me.
A look of consternation spread over his face. I asked if he was having more chest pain.
“No,” he responded before a long pause. “I just realized that you could have killed me instead of saving my life. All that stuff you squirted into my veins … I suppose you have something here that you could've used to do me in.”
Yes, I thought to myself. Lots of stuff—some of it virtually untraceable. I spent a month at the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office during medical school, which was long enough to realize that the extensive postmortem forensic evaluations depicted on television are reserved for really big shots, not Mafia thugs who loot vacation accounts. Most causes of death in cash-strapped counties are just guesses, I learned, certified and made official by signing “M.D.” after the name of the person making the guess.
“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?”
— Lynette Mather
In Wayne County, an obese male over the age of 40 who ended up on a cold slab in the ME's office would be presumed to have had an MI if he had no obvious signs of trauma, so they saved the scalpels for the children or auto executives who died without explanation. We'd peer into their bodies, trying to discover what made them stop ticking, but the other stiffs never met surgical steel on their last detour before the graveyard, except for one fellow who was turned into a human blowtorch by a forensic pathologist—not the director Dr. Werner Spitz, who was famous for testifying in several high-profile murder cases, most recently that of Casey Anthony. This forensic pathologist used a needle the size of a small pipe to spear a massively swollen scrotum, igniting with his lighter the escaping methane gas: a byproduct of decomposition. Yup, just like a blowtorch. I wondered if he did this for every group of medical students, or if he reserved the A-list entertainment for groups with hot women, such as two of my classmates who were now oohing beside me.
But I digress. While smirking, Mr. Mafia said he'd give me the vacation pay, but as a rich doctor, I didn't need it.
Oh, yes, the rich doctor myth. So rich that I clipped coupons and drove a car that drove an auto salesperson to suggest I was a loser for driving such an econo clunker.
What Mr. Mafia didn't realize is that it is idiotic to anger people who can kill and get away with it. Some of my co-workers said things to make me wonder if their syringes contained agents of revenge, and I heard from a paramedic who told me that some of his co-workers intentionally killed patients they didn't like. When I describe that in a future book, I'll also reveal what he said happens to some beautiful comatose patients once the ambulance doors close. If you can't wait for that book that will likely never come (hey, I'm busy! :-), I posted a preview on one of my ER sites.
Fortunately for the doughboy, I'd never abuse my power as a doctor to hurt anyone. Little did he know that I've resisted temptations infinitely more enticing, such as the stunningly beautiful woman who offered to sleep with me and pay me for prescribing a certain narcotic for her. At least one of my co-workers would have jumped at the chance, before the Michigan State Board of Medicine revoked his medical license. He had sex with a patient in the hospital chapel and videotaped it, according to my boss who seemed amused by the antics of this sex maniac.
If I could resist an irresistible woman, I could easily resist the chance to seek revenge, so Mr. Mafia went to the CCU and eventually home, likely back to work screwing the next generation of workers.
PC disclaimer: Given that I once was so fat that I could not see my feet when I stood up, I was a doughboy well into becoming a fat blob, so I feel entitled to use such non-PC terms to describe folks such as myself who can't say “no” to a pile of cookies until they or similarly tasty goodies are in my stomach and making a beeline for my fat cells. “Willpower” is a word that's never quite entered my vocabulary, yet I later found easy ways to lose weight and keep the weight off for decades in spite of my insatiable sweet tooth and aversion to exercise.