Short Story: Always Look for the Gremlin Label

Note: some folks might take this as an anti-union screed, and it was at the time I wrote it; but I have become pro-union over the years and so I no longer intend it as a vehicle to support the pro-corporate, "free-market" idiots (who could not describe the tenets of a free market described by Adam Smith if their lives depended on it) who might masturbate to it.

The story is based on an incident related to me by the boyfriend of a co-worker of my first wife. He worked on a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania in the 1980s (no, not TMI) as a safety inspector. While on the job, he would occasionally come across a meter, electrical component or some such that had been sabotaged by a union worker to keep the job going. If something had to be fixed, it meant more work for the union construction workers.

I have no doubt such incidents occurred, but from this extreme behavior we have swung to the polar opposite, where corporations now do the moral equivalent of sabotage by oppressing their employees. 

History and human behavior are forever a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to another.

There's hilarity in there somewhere, but there always is with suffering. I offer this ditty as a kind of a paranoid conspiracy theory, to be taken as seriously as an elephant joke.

Enjoy it or suffer it as you choose.

Oh, and the title? It comes from an old commercial in the 70's and 80's that had a bunch of union employees sing a tune to "always look for the union label" to support garment workers in the USA. I recall my mother, a staunch Republican to this day, scoffing at the concept of supporting a union when the commercial played. Since then garment and fabric work has moved off-shore and America no longer has a home-grown garment industry (thank a Democrat, Bill Clinton, and NAFTA for that).

Gremlins are fictional creatures that were invented by the propaganda arm of our burgeoning nation upon entering World War Two.  The gremlin was used as metaphor to warn workers not only of the threat of spies; but laziness and accidents in afflicting the war effort.

I was out at the monkey house at the zoo last Thursday with the kids.  Yeah, I took ‘em ‘cuz they had the day off and I’d picked up a lot of comp time lately. I earned it, ferchristsake.

Jesus, that place stinks.  Must be all that monkey shit or something.

Fuckin’ A.

Anyway, I just happened to look around at the wall behind where people stand to look at the little shits.  You know, the one opposite the monkey cages, and there it was. Sure as shit—a Sigil, and on a voltage regulator that still looked brand fuckin’ new, and it had to be at least 5 or 10 years old to boot.  I thought to myself, didn’t nobody from the IBU ever get out to the zoo?  It didn’t look like it.   Lazy fuckers—dumb shits, too.  You bet.  Besides, didn’t they have no sense?  Didn’t they have no culture? I mean, it’s the friggin’ zoo for Chrisakes.  Somebody hadda come out there every once in a while, am I right?

Fuckin’ A.

If nobody made it out to the zoo on their own, somebody shoulda at least been sent out by central to look for Sigils in all the buildings out there every year at least, right?  What, they want the world to go straight to hell or something?  The bums. It could really piss a guy off, and it did.

Fuckin’ A.

And who knows how much overtime the fellas who woulda hadtafix the fucker missed out on by it being in perfect shape all this time.  That’s the real shame, and a goddamned shame at that.  I’ll bet the guy who left the Sigil had no fucking idea things would go this long without somebody takin’ care of the thing.  If I was going to be able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning, I just hadta do something about it.  Who knows when another IBU guy would get a chance to take a whack at the thing, let alone even get out there and see the Sigil?   Months.  Years.

Fuckin’ A.

Well, it looked like it was up to me to set things right (as per fucking usual).  I hafta do this shit all the time.  So why not now?  Just wait ‘til there’s nobody around, and set things straight.

Fuckin’ A.

I had to figger out a way to get by myself so’s I could do a number on the regulator.  I looked around the place and there was another family lookin’ at the monkeys—a guy, his wife and three fucking kids.  I coulda sent the two of my kids to the ice cream stand I saw outside, but how could I get rid of the other folks that were in there?  Yellin’ ‘fire’ woulda only drawed attention, right?  Maybe I coulda farted or played with myself, but if there’s one thing drilled into every IBU guy’s head it’s don’t draw no attention to yourself when you fix equipment.  I hadta get rid of those people discretely.  Right?

Fuckin’ A.

It was then that I got a lucky break.  Those people just up and left all of a sudden—fuckin’ answered my prayers.  So, I gave the kids some money and told ‘em to get some ice cream.  I told ‘em I’d be out in a sec, I just wanted to look at the monkeys some more.  And they headed out the door.  They’re 10 and 8—so, they can take care of themselves long enough for dad to take care of a little business.  You know what I mean?  Yeah.

Fuckin’ A.

So, there I was—a member of an “international conspiracy”.  Can you believe it?  That’s what we are you and me—no shit.  Least ways that’s what most people’d call it if they knew the half of what was going on.  But they don’t—the freakin’ idiots.  They wouldn’t believe it if I went out and told ‘em anyway—not that I’m gonna.

Anyway, once I got my chance, I figgered I had to hurry.  So, I looks for a bar or something heavy that I could smash the regulator with, right?  There was a heavy kind of a grill around a trashcan on the outside wall next to the doors.  One of the slats that made up the grill wasn’t welded to the frame real good, so a little prying got it loose.  Lucky for me nobody comes along while I was tearing the bar off the frame, but it was a weekday—thank the union for a little paid time off, right?  So’s I could even be there on a weekday in the first place.  Well, it was time to give a little payback to my union brothers no matter where they were.  Hmm…  maybe my being there was more than one of them “coincidences”, y’know?

Fuckin’ A.

Anyway, I got the bar loose and I looked around to make sure nobody was watchin’ before I stuck it behind the regulator and started prying it loose from the wall.  The regulator came loose from its bracket after a coupla tugs, and I gave the fuckin’ thing two or three good thwacks until all the power went out in the monkey house, right?   It looked like the thing was fucked.  Somebody was bound to be called out to fix it and soon.

It was time for me to make my exit after a job well done.  The IBU oughta make me a fuckin’ hero for that one, it was such a good job.  I tossed the bar into the trashcan and headed out the door after the kids.

That’s life in the International Brotherhood of Unions—when you see an old Sigil on something you fix it so that somebody hasta come out and replace it, right?   There wouldn’t be no work out there nowhere if it wasn’t for us keeping the work coming—more broken shit means more shit to fix, right?  An’ more shit to fix means more work, just as long as somebody knows how to mark something properly it all keeps working that way…

Fuckin’ A.

It’s pretty cool, the IBU.  If you’re a member of any labor union anywhere and you show the right attitude and a little brains (yeah, I got ‘em—so do you or I wouldn’t be talking to you about none of this shit) and you can keep a secret, they come around and ask you to join up.   I’ve been doing it for eight years now.  You find a Sigil that’s out of date and you break whatever it’s on or next to, no matter what.  It keeps people working, y’know?

Fuckin’ A.

The deal is any time I see a Sigil on something, I’m supposta break it (I call it “fixing” it, heh-heh).  Least ways that’s what I learned once they made me a full IBU member—that way a “union” guy gets called out to fix or replace it.  You can’t beat that.  Since the guy who does the fixing is union, he gets paid, and he pays his dues to the union and the union slips a little to the IBU.

It’s a sweet deal.  And what’s really fucking beautiful is that if the fellah is IBU, he puts a nudder Sigil on the replacement.  For “fixin’” stuff (which I’m pretty good at, if I do say so myself) I get paid some extra cash—enough so’s I can send my kids to a private school instead of that shit-hole my neighbors send their kids to.  Who wantsta send their kids there, right?  Turn them into a bunch of no-accounts?  Not my kids.

Fuckin’ A.

At first I felt kinda funny breaking things at first—‘specially when for years before that I’d been fixing stuff up, right?  But one of the brothers at the IBU made it real clear to me.  He said, “where do you think all the work that keeps us busy comes from, numb nuts?”  And I got to thinkin’—you know he’s right.  Shit’s gonna break anyhow, right?  Why not nudge it along at a pace that keeps fellas working, right?

From that point onwards I was an all IBU man–keepin’ the unions strong.  “Fixin’” shit keeps the people working and markin’ things with with sigils makes sure that shit gets busted when it neads to be.

Fuckin’ A.

‘Course nobody leaves the IBU, if you take my meaning—at least not alive.  It’s one of them lifetime commitments once you join, and nobody leaves ‘cept in a box.  So keeping the secret about what we do is pretty easy.  Lots of money or get polished off in some kinda freak “accident”—real hard fuckin’ choice, my friend.

Fuckin’ A.

What’s really sweet is that nobody outside the IBU knows that we’re marking shit.  Nobody.  Fuckin’ idiots.

I work on the city road crew for my cover job, so I get around.  I put sigils all over the place, and anytime I see something that looks like a union guy would have to fix it, I put a sigil on it for good measure.  It kinda spreads the good fortune around.  You know what I mean?  Yeah, you do.  It’s what makes this fuckin’ country great, right?

Fuckin’ A.

I also write sigils right there on the roads I fix.  What the fuck, right?  It just looks like a little bit of paint got spilt on the road—that’s what’s cool about the sigil code, right?  If you ain’t an IBU guy, you don’t know it from shit, right?.  But if an IBU guy driving an overloaded big rig down the road sees it and loads up on his air brakes—well, the blacktop gets fucked up and one of the city’s all-union crews will get called out to patch the pothole he dug.  It’s just too fucking perfect.

Fuckin’ A.

And pothole patches always lead to more potholes, right?  You seen ‘em, right?  And more potholes means more union brothers get paid to fix ‘em.  It’s fuckin’ beautiful!  It makes me proud to be an IBU guy.  I mean, it’s the fuckin’ American dream, right?  We keep the whole fuckin’ economy moving, right?

Enron?  Halliburton? Give me a fuckin’ break.  Those losers can’t pull their dicks out of their pants to pee.

High tech? Fuck that! Where do you think the need for new tech comes from? Every fuckin’ CPU cycle that squeezed outta fuckin’ silicon is sucked up by slow software, so it don’t mean nuthin’.

Fuckin’ A.

Most people wouldn’t know a sigil from a scratch or a doodle or a part of a gang tag.  Hell, I even think that some of the gangs are even under IBU control and they tag things so’s a union brother has to go out and repaint it—that’s what I think, but I don’t know that for sure, y’know what I mean?  But sigils are everywhere.  And they make everything happen, right?

Fuckin’ A.

My kid sister once dated this smart-ass fuck who she met at college.  Stuck up asshole.  What a prick.  Anyways, he was this physics major and he was tryin’ to impress us with all the shit he knew at this barbecue over at pop’s.  Remember those?  Yeah, I’ll tell ‘im next time I see ‘im.  Anyway, he started talkin’ about this thing called ‘entropy’ and how it makes everything fall apart.  Fuckin’ idiot.  The whole fuckin’ universe is goin’ to hell by what he says.  Anyway, I just about blew my beer outta my nose, I started to laugh so hard.  It sounded like the IBU was part of this entropy thing!  ‘Course I didn’t let him know what I was thinking—that woulda blown everything and my ass woulda been in a huge fuckin’ sling.  But I about busted a nut I was laughin’ so hard.  There might be somethin’ to that entropy shit, though, right?

Fuckin’ A.

Everybody thinks all this shit that’s going on is vandalism.  Vandals!  Can you believe that shit?  As if a bunch of teenage pricks who are too busy slappin’ their dicks could be so smart and choosey about what they broke or somethin’.  Little pukes.

Fuckin’ A.

Hey!  Y’know, I heard some old stories about miners playing jokes on each other in the mines—puttin’ a rock in some guy’s sandwich or switching signs so guys got lost or blew up the wrong shit.  They always said it was ‘the little folk’ or ‘gremlins’—no real harm done, just a gag.

Fuckin’ A.

So I got to thinking.  In a way, we’re sorta like gremlins, you and me.  Yeah, gremlins!  But our little joke keeps the world workin’.  Better than those fuckin’ welfare bums—they wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it bit ‘em on the ass.

Fuckin’ A.

Besides, it’s better than those goddamned communists, not that there’s any of them anyplace worth living anymore.  Fuckin’ idiots.

Me?  I’m just doin’ fuckin’ my part.  Just keepin’ the boys and girls in the IBU workin’.  It beats the fuck outta being a fuckin’ communist or something, right?  At least my kids’ll have something to look forward to insteada bein’ a coupla fuckin’ commies, or socialists like that fucker in the Whitehouse.

Y’know, someone’ll be out here to fix that motherfuckin’ voltage regulator at the zoo in a couple of days at the most, and they’ll put a Sigil on the new one.  I’ll get my kickback and the world will keep turning.

Fuckin’ A.

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