Saturday, December 24, 2005

God Help Us, Every One

That's Benchley's, not mine. How right he was! Fortunately, the whole discouraging mess is almost over: the plum puddings got delivered--except, alas, for one I promised to an English ex-pat at the last minute; I'll have to get him his in the coming week--before the TWU said Merry Christmas in its inimitable fashion by going out on strike. Random thoughts on that little fiasco:

The freebie commuter's rag featured an editorial after the strike ended, entitled, if I recall, "What was that about?" The point being that the strike achieved absolutely nothing, as far as the poor farepayer can tell.

Last time--the 1980 strike--, the Second Department upheld findings of criminal contempt against union leaders and affirmed some of the fines assessed against them (but abated those imposed for days after the union leaders had unsuccessfully ordered the rank and file back to work). Not content with that, though, the Second Department made some very nasty remarks about the MTA and the TWU. Now, we may expect the union leadership, ignoring this precedent, to appeal their fines again, in hopes that the changes in court personnel during the past twenty-five years will gain them a different decision. I hope not; the strike was a textbook example of willful contempt of a court order. (Why didn't the gits appeal it? We all know why.)

I also see that various businesses are proposing to bring a class action against the MTA and the TWU for damages to their businesses during the strike. Once again, to hell with precedent: a law firm tried to sue after the 1980 strike, and was shot down; there's no private right of action under the Taylor Law. I'd like to see what sort of creative pleading this bunch does, to try to defeat a motion to dismiss. But what a shocking waste of resources. And then people wonder (okay, let's suppose that they wonder, just for fun) why I'm cynical about the law.

The Lily-of-the-Valley at our office, who resides in Staten Island and could quite easily have had her husband drop her off at the Ferry, whence a walk to our office would have taken her all of two minutes, decided to visit her folks in Brooklyn on the eve of the strike. She then pleaded inability to come to work, though the Good Secretary managed to make it from South Ozone Park. I think this little shenanigan of Lily's will have repercussions, though I don't know what they will be.

The young law graduate at our office--actually, now a member of the New Jersey bar--offered the opinion that the TWU were the good guys in this fiasco, because the MTA was simply oozing money at every pore, and it was churlish to refuse some of it to Labor. Since I've taken quite a shine to him since he joined the firm, I didn't call him on this foggy thinking. The subways and buses aren't a private concern, they're a government service--though the City and State have done their best to forget that inconvenient fact--and all that money doesn't belong to a few stockholders somewhere, it belongs to We the People (like Rumpole's She Who Must Be Obeyed, the expression is indeclinable). If anyone ought to be sore about the bulging coffers of the MTA, it's the taxpayer, not the worker.

And the MTA has developed all this surplus, despite not fully using its revenue-generating powers: examine any subway car or bus, and you'll see the the most shocking waste of an advertising opportunity in America. Vast tracts of empty space that could be generating ad dollars like crazy; and much that's actually used is devoted to self-advertising and public service announcements of little monetary value. I've often been tempted, when the subject of fare hikes comes up every few years, to go down to the hearings and raise hell about this. But who has the time to analyze the figures, do projections, and develop a real argument on this point?

Thursday night, after the strike had ended but before the trains were rolling again, I taxied from the office Christmas dinner to Danny's, where Have Yourself a Mercenary Christmas received a nice reception. The place was very quiet, which helped: my songs seem to go over better, in the absence of hubbub, when the assemblage can actually listen. Or perhaps the faithful drinkers who come in on Thursdays are just more discriminating.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes: the whole discouraging mess is almost over. Today, we finish making oxtail soup, against our trip to Flavortown tomorrow; and who knows? Perhaps we'll throw in some fresh bread, too. And, of course, the last of the plum puddings. I expect the pudding to please my hostess, who has a glossy-women's-magazine sensibility about Christmas, to which a plum pudding appeals very nicely.

At some point, I have to arrange to deliver Miss Sallie Parker's gifts to her. Once Christmas is passed, though, my spirits should be sufficiently elevated to allow me to manage it.


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