Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Bashful Bob and Janus

I was in college, but I was also looking for my big break. I was actually strumming a guitar and singing in some hellhole upstate when I met Bashful Bob the fiddler. As soon as I was on a break, he came up to me.

"How much are they paying you here?" he asked.

I decided to impress him. "Fifty bucks," I said.

"I happen to know they're only paying you twenty," he answered. "But I have a band, and if it works out, we can pay you forty."

Maybe I had finally made the big time, I thought. Someone had noticed me, and my career was on the upswing. We played together for years after that, in various bands. Sometimes we got really fancy and played electric. We also had some really bad moments. Once, I took second place in a college fiddle contest, while he and another guy I knew tied for third. He really hated that. After all, he was the fiddler in the band and I was just the guitar player. 

If you want things to run smothly, and you work in a small company, you have to know your place. He never let me hear the end of that.

He had some nasty habits. He didn't believe in tipping and when groups of us went out, we'd ask for separate checks, one of him and another for the rest of us. He liked to meet strange women in bars, sometimes very strange women, and let them run up tabs that counted against our already low pay. They would pay us back, he'd say, but we'd never see them again.

We fell out when he failed to show up to a gig. He used to call square dances and I took this gig thinking he would do it. But someone offered him more money to play somewhere, and he took it. He told me it was a "grand opening," but I was unimpressed.  In fact, I got stuck calling the square dance. This was challenging because I have no idea how to even dance a square dance. But I got a book somewhere and did my best.

I'm thinking of him lately because of Janus. I talk to a lot of people about what to do with non-duespayers. It's a tough call, but basically I think they're scabs. How will I treat people who make me shoulder the financial demands of union, shirk it themselves, but expect me to represent them anyway?

Bashful Bob and I used to play a little dive bar in Hoboken every Tuesday night. I think the bar would throw us a few bucks and we'd pass a hat for the rest. I was always polite, simply nodding when people declined to contribute. Bob had a different approach. He'd look at the person who failed to contribute, and sharply say, "Thank you. Hope you enjoyed the music.

I noticed that the next time he came around, people tended to contribute. I started using his technique when it was my turn, and it seemed to work.

Now our case is a little different, and we aren't exactly passing a hat. But I really wonder exactly how I will handle people who need assistance when they don't support us. A UFT official told me, "No, you have to represent them the same way you'd represent anyone else." I don't know, though. Would I be inclined to spend extra time researching charges against a person like that? Should I bother to investigate why this person is in trouble before going to a meeting about it?

There's the other side of the argument. The person will say, "See? Look, the union is useless. I needed help and the guy told me to put a letter in his box. Then I never heard from him."

On the other hand, that's the same guy who willfully freeloaded on my back. Whey shouldn't he get what he pays for? I don't know about winning over freeloaders. It would be kind of like asking Bashful Bob to leave a tip.
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