Ryland Grossinger was bred in Forest Hills, NY but he was raised in Los Angeles. He was toasted when he graduated from UCLA in law but he baked too long in the Southern California sun when he tried to butter up to his boss and was fired. Rather than loaf around, he yearned to go back east and see what was cooking. He became a barista for Dante’s Coffee and found his place at the table.
While Ry had no trouble getting settled with the handsome allowance his well-to-do parents provided him, he wanted to make a mark in legal world on the side of the oppressed. Being short brought him contempt for others who looked down on him. He felt he knew what it was like to be poor, black-bred, and to have to pump a nickel whenever they forked-out salary. He was going to help the workers of the world. A working class hero was something to be.
He went to the IWW website and discovered there was a branch in New York City meeting on the Lower Eastside in a place called ABC No Rio. One slow Sunday afternoon, he got on the subway at Broadway-Lafayette and took the F train to Essex Street, walking over to Rivington near the Streit’s Matzo Factory. He thought he would be late, and hoped to make a grand entrance, but the meeting, scheduled for 2 pm so that some members could get over their Sunday morning hangovers, hadn't started yet. Only Emerson was there to welcome Ry with Colonial Crutch from Macon, Georgia, on the throne downstairs.
"Is this the IWW meeting?"
"It sure is. Are you looking for us?"
"I thought there'd be more of you."
"Some of them are coming late but Colonial Crutch will be right back; he's our legal expert."
"I'm a lawyer, too; B.A. from UCLA."
"Oh, Californian; the sunshine state,"
"I was born in Queens; my parents moved west when I was young."
"I didn't notice any New York accent." Just then, Eupheus Crutch's footsteps could be heard climbing the fragile stairs and walking back, entering the dilapidated room.
"Well, what do we have here?"
"You must be Crutch," said Ry without standing to greet him. Already Crutch was his brother in law and a sibling rivalry was brewing."
Crutch sat down and opened his satchel removing a booklet with the IWW Constitution and another booklet called One Big Union. "Here you are; read these when you get a chance. Y'all living in New York now?"
"Yes, I live on East 12th near Tompkins Square Park." Ry had been living in the ground floor studio since arriving six months earlier.
Just then, footsteps could be heard coming up the stairs, two sets of footsteps, both heavy, like the footstep of working men. Two male voices were talking loudly as they came through and slammed the open door.
"Oh so sorry," said Adonis, “I didn't realize there was anyone here."
"Oh he did that on purpose," Mack reached out a hand. Hi, you must be that fella from California. GHQ said you might be coming in. My name is Maynard, I'm a carpenter. Call me May."
"Yeah, some carpenter. He's a fuckin' boss, I tell you," shouted Adonis as he threw his bag to the floor and roughly took a broken seat to sit on. "He still owes me two hundred bucks."
"Now be polite, "Adonis," said May."You'll scare Ry away. Ry it is, isn't it?"
"It's Ryland but my friends call me Ry, Ry Grossinger."
"You know you're famous in New York."
"Yeah, someone told me there was a Jewish bread company with my name."
"It's okay. The Industrial Workers of the World have no racist tendencies."
"I'm not Jewish. My parents are Jewish."
"Well, doesn't that make you Jewish?" said Crutch. "I read somewhere that the religion follows the mother's side in your culture."
"I'm losing my religion," said Ry angrily.
Just then, another member slinked into the room from the second door to the back, the one that led into a little storage area and then the kitchen.
"Come in Jack; don't be shy," said May. "Ry, this is our fifth member present."
"Y'all sit down now, here? We have a quorum. Let's get started we're an hour and a half late already."
"I can't stay past 4pm; I have an important meeting with a fellow barista."
"Barista? What, do you work in a coffee shop?"
"Dante’s," said Ry with disdain. "We are trying to start a union there."
"That's great, Ry," exclaimed May. "How can we help?"
"Help? You're a fucking boss is all! You can't even help your own crew," chimed in Adonis.
Emerson saw that Ryland was looking in disbelief at this motley crew he had just joined. H e knew he was thinking the same thing Emerson thought when he joined his first IWW meeting: "This is a union?"
Ry Grossinger was on the way to becoming a working class star buck. His grind would be Dante’s Coffee, a franchise chain that had thousands of locations across the United States and around the world.
Colonial Eupheus Crutch, the gentleman Wobbly who headed straight to New York City from Macon, Georgia, was the cosmonaut Bolshevik to Ry’s Astro Boy persona; he was in a catch-up race to the moon of Industrial Worker union stardom. All the underhanded insults Eupheus endured from minuscule Ryland would have made him a sympathetic cult hero down south, but there in New York, he was fair game for every yokel joke cosmopolitan sophistication could dish out. He held his head high throughout the confederate-baiting northerners’ rants. Did he not suggest the Stars and Bars were to be proud of as his state flag? So what if Crutch was? Crutch was ready to show that “tiny organizer with the big mouth” what organizing was all about. The south would rise again in New York City.
He went looking for workers to be organized by him. The firebrand who got him moving was William Stacks, Willy the Glove. Willy, who bore a resemblance to Popeye, had that California look of sun-glassed indifference to what anyone but he had to say. He knew Ryland Grossinger’s kind; he’d dealt with them before, the bosses from the other side. Now, in his 50’s, unmarried, getting wrinkled, a drifter with a cowboy hat, Willy had more tricks than sleeves to hide. He wore a right-handed gray felt construction worker’s glove with railroad stripe wrist band like the Phantom of the Opera wore his mask; he never took it off except, maybe, to sleep.
Willy Stacks, who claimed to be Cesar Chavez’s gloved left hand in the struggle of the California grape growers United Farm Workers at Delano, was raring for a fight to bring back the glory. Colonial Crutch had his wishes fulfilled. Emerson, as the treasurer of the New York City branch had the task of raising funds depleted by the Dante Barista Union (as Ryland called his offshoot) and holding down the fort for Wobblies with other pet struggles to finance. Emerson went out with Willy and Crutch on hunches. He was Crutch’s hum-dinger; the cat’s meow. He was the only man more macho than Crutch.
Willy the Glove had an insider’s tip that there were some workers in a processing plant in Long Island City that were pissed off about their low wages and heavy work schedule. Willy himself had worked there for a while driving a refrigerated delivery truck. The company, Farm Freshness, had a two hundred thousand square-foot warehouse with hundreds of employees, mostly immigrant workers and ex-cons that collected and boxed shopping lists of groceries for deliveries to customers. They were like a supermarket on wheels.
“Hundreds of workers who are ready to organize; I feel it in my bones. Enough shit from their supervisors,” said Willy pointing his glove finger in the direction of the plant, three miles uptown across the East River from the IWW meeting place off Essex Street. “They’re ready to pop!”
“They need to meet with us somehow without letting their supervisors see,” said Crutch, the canon wheels turning. “We must let them, know we can steer them right; they can trust us.” Crutch stood, arms folded across his chest, mustache drooping down his seriously red face.
“How many copies do you want?” questioned Emerson picking up a thread from earlier in the meeting, before Ryland and four other baristas came to make their motion and move on to their own meeting place. “You said they have how many workers?”
“We need bilingual flyers; Spanish on one side, English on the other.”
“Ask Ernie in Bushwich if he could do it.” Ernie Poncho was the Wobbly who worked with a Latino group from the barrio there in an organization called “Allanar El Camino,” Pave the Way.
“Let’s get, I don’t know, two hundred printed,” said Willy, matter-of-factly.
“That many? Okay, on thin paper. They’re going to throw them away.”
“No. They must be top quality! Don’t let them think we’re a cheap organization.” Crutch shook his head slowly in agreement, his eyes shut under raised brows, lips enclosing down-pointed whiskers.
“But we are cheap; we only have four hundred dollars left in the treasury,” said Emerson pleadingly.
“We may need more,” said Willy, tapping the rim of his Mexican Stetson an inch from the left uncovered hand of the arm leaning on the radiator. “Can’t tell; the lady workers on the line have boyfriends.” Billy went on,” They need some confidence, too. We can give it to them. You know, ex-cons need a push; they’re a little shy about losing this job, one of the only places that’ll hire them.”
In the weeks before, Willy and his de facto spokesman, Crutch, had unleashed their organizing abilities on the fine workers of Farm Freshness. They’d made a motion and had gotten three hundred dollars from the branch to reserve breakfast in a little luncheonette outside the plant; no refund. The breakfast would be “chin-wag,” as the Colonial called it, “a chinwag for the scissor-bills.” Before Crutch and Willy the Glove had set their sights on the Farm Freshness workers, he had Emerson and another Wob named Fergie visiting junk yards in Greenpoint. The barking dogs at each job site in and around painfully drab and weed wild corrugated metal fences were omens. On the dead end summer streets of industrial Greenpoint, there was no sense trying to get passed the gates, but that didn’t deter Willy the Glove or Colonial Crutch who followed close by at Willy’s new Red Wing construction-booted heels. Emerson and Fergie shied the other way. Beyond the crumpled gates backed into by trucks too many times stood two or three men in short-sleeved shirts and jeans, looking outward and scratching their heads at the four men milling around in the usually vacant street.
Willy bravely took a chance. The other Wobblies looked as he strutted past the gate, black chained pit bulls barking madly, to speak with the workers awaiting him. No, they weren’t workers. The workers, he was told, were on their break and he’d better stay away and not bother them.
“Yes sir, just asking,” said Willy looking skyward under his Ray-Bans, the dog pulling at its chain.
“”They’re supervisors,” he nonchalantly said passing the other three Wobblies out of sight up the broken blazing street. “How was I to know?” said the veteran of many a California grape grower strike.
“Let’s get out of here; this is stupid,” said Emerson, stating the obvious. “Holy shit,” chimed in Fergie. “If this wasn’t the biggest waste of time! Willy? There are no workers here to organize!”
“I say there are!” said Willy emphatically.
“I say there are!” said Willy emphatically.
“He said there are then there most certainly are,” added Crutch confidently. “Where y’all going to now, Willy?”
“Back to the Chinese warehouse in Bushwick.”
“Damn if I’m going there I’d rather be in bed with a bitch,” said Fergie. ”I’m heading home to Brooklyn. Where’s the ‘L’ Train?” Fergie was off and so was Emerson. They’d had enough organizing for the day. It seemed pretty disorganized to them. Who was this Willy the Glove, anyway? How did he show up at the IWW meeting and who let him in?
“Let’s go see if Ernie is at Allanar El Camino; it’s just ten minutes from here,” said Willy as he walked down the street to his battered Land Rover with Crutch and drove off dropping off Emerson and Fergie at the subway station a few blocks away.
“They’ll need some Red Cards for sure, I do believe,” said Crutch.