Monday, April 21, 2008

Armed Response

Another true childhood tale:

Summer I was nine -- I think, I'll speak to that later -- there was a strike at The Plant. This was a generic term for any of the companies in the petrochemical complex that sits next to the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. This included the Esso Refinery (now Exxon-Mobil); Ethyl Corp., and Kaiser Aluminum, among others, and at the time, one of the three largest such complexes in the world. (We were #3 on the Russian's atomic bomb list, behind Washington, D.C. and New York City, and proud of it.)

Back then, the flare-stacks burned constantly, and on days when the rain was particularly heavy and they thought nobody would notice, they'd open the suckers up and pour crap into the heavens that would turn the clouds green ...

My father worked at Ethyl Corp., as an engineer, so he wasn't in the union, but considered management.

There was no way they were going to shut the plant down, and not going to hire scabs, so management decided to run things themselves. To this end, they set up cots and kitchens and everybody who wasn't in the union essentially moved into the plant and went into a rotation of twelve hours on, twelve off, for the duration. My father got to come home every few days, but then he had to go back. I don't remember exactly how long the strike lasted -- seemed like a long time.

But even then, I read the newspaper every evening -- we got the State Times, not the Morning Advocate -- and I came across an article that frightened me. Seems that some of the homes belonging to Ethyl managers had been vandalized -- rocks thrown through windows, paint sloshed on them, like that, almost certainly by disgruntled workers on strike.

Lotta kids had fathers who worked at The Plant, but on our end of the street, none of them at Ethyl Corp. save mine. So I organized a vigilante patrol. I, and several other boys my age, armed with our Daisy BB guns, marched up and down the street, or skulked in the ditches and azalea bushes, to guard against vandals, or worse.

I must have been at least nine, since I didn't get my first BB gun until the Christmas after I was eight, and the gun I carried wasn't the Daisy Pump or the blond-stock with the scope, which I didn't get until I was older ...

This was back in the day when boys wandering around a neighborhood could carry BB guns and nobody thought anything of it, as long as we didn't shoot the birds in their yards. Which, of course, we did at every opportunity.

That part of the summer passed, the strike was settled, and my father started coming home in the evenings again. We never did get visits from the angry strikers at my house, though I had secretly hoped we would so that our militia could lay them low.

Hey, we were nine. Way more guts than brains ...

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