We now come to the dénouement of my story, with the episode we’ll call The Imposter.
On a Saturday evening I donned my young-lawyer uniform and headed for Glassport, Pennsylvania, situs of Copperweld’s headquarters and plants and where I was to stand in for the Baron.
It was dark and spitting rain when I left home. The further I drove, the harder it rained, until when I entered Glassport I was driving through a heavy downpour.
The rain, the winter darkness, and the terrible pollution combined to make the night as dark as death. I’d been nervous when I left home but I got a lot more nervous as I pressed on towards Glassport. To keep myself from falling completely apart I tried to imagine how the evening would go.
I would enter a well-appointed conference room. Crystal pitchers of ice water would be on the table. A butler wearing a white waistcoat would hover around, tending to our every need.
I would introduce myself to the assorted dignitaries, carefully avoiding any mention of Reed Smith. I would then read the Baron’s remarks and, after that, we would all have a nice glass of sherry and I would be on my way.
I had the address of the building, but when I got there I was certain some terrible mistake had been made. The building wasn’t the sort of place that would have a well-appointed conference room – it was, in fact, the Steelworkers Local Union Hall.
Oh, no, I thought, no, no, no! But that was the place. I looked around for a parking spot but there was nothing. Cars and pickup trucks were parked everywhere, including on the sidewalks. Eventually I found a spot three blocks away and walked back to the hall through the downpour.
When I entered the hall, pandemonium reigned. Three hundred Steelworkers were shouting, screaming, stamping their feet, standing on chairs. They were waving banners that read, “SHOOT DOWN THE RED BARON” and “SEND THE FROG BACK TO FRANCE.” This was not good.
I found a folding chair and sat down against the back wall. Up on the stage I could see Rep. Heinz, the CEO of Copperweld, a guy who was probably the Mayor of Glassport, and two other people I didn’t recognize. The seat between Heinz and the CEO was conspicuously empty.
The president of the Steelworkers Local was at the podium. The guy was plenty plump and so short that, although he’d lowered the microphone as far as it would go, it was still pointing at his forehead, forcing him to shout up into it.
Even so, he certainly had the boys fired up. But then he held up his hands for silence. He didn’t get it, but it did get a bit quieter in the room.
“Boys,” shouted the president, “no foreigner’s ever took over a good American company, and by God it ain’t gonna happen on my watch! [Wild cheers.] This French Baron’s been invited real nice to come down here and talk to us man-to-man. But did he have the guts to show up?”
The president turned and gestured dramatically at the empty chair and the entire room responded as one: “NO!”
I considered this to be my cue and so I stood up and waved the Baron’s remarks back and forth over my head, calling out, “Excuse me! Hello? Excuse me!”
Eventually, the union president spotted me and shouted into the microphone, “You got somethin’ t’ say, kid?”
I nodded and headed down the aisle toward the stage, Steelworkers glaring at me from both sides. But, hey, my dad worked in a mill all his life, I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a bunch of over-excited union boys.
As I proceeded down the aisle I grinned to left and right, saying, “How you doin’, boys?” and “How’s things down t’ the melt shop?”
Up on the stage I nodded to the dignitaries, edged the little union president aside, adjusted the mike to adult level, and said, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” I realized I’d already screwed up – there wasn’t a lady within two miles of that union hall – and not that many gentlemen, either.
But I pressed on, introducing myself as the Baron’s representative for the evening. That sent the hall into orbit, but I plowed on. The commotion was so great I couldn’t even hear myself, and certainly no one else could hear a word I said. But so what? My job was to read the Baron’s remarks – not to make sure anyone heard them.
At the end I thanked my audience for their attention, even though no one had paid the slightest attention, but then I wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t eager to run the gauntlet of the Steelworkers again, so I walked over to the empty chair next to Rep. Heinz.
As I did so I noticed that what I’d thought to be a colorful banner draped over the chair was in fact the French flag. Was it appropriate to sit down on Le Tricolore? Who knew? But my knees were shaking badly and I wasn’t about to let a fine point of international etiquette get between me and a place to sit down.
I smiled out at the union crowd as the boys threw caps, banners, and even a hard hat up onto the stage. Then I noticed that Rep. Heinz was staring at me. I glanced over at him and he leaned towards me.
“Young man,” he said, “if I were you I’d get the hell out of Glassport – fast.”
My eyes went wide, but Heinz gestured to a huge state trooper guarding the back of the stage. The guy walked over and Heinz shouted in his ear, then the trooper said to me, “This way, kid.”
We went out the back door of the hall and stood under the narrow overhang, watching the rain pour down.
“Where’d you park?” he said.
“Unfortunately, three blocks away.”
The trooper sighed and said, “’Course you did.”
As I was getting soggily behind the wheel of my car the trooper pointed down the street and said, “See that stoplight? Turn right and it’ll take you back to the city. And if I was you, kid, I wouldn’t come near Glassport again for a long time.” He stalked off muttering to himself.
I thought that was excellent advice and so I took it. I haven’t been back to Glassport for – so far – forty-six years.
Next up: Joe Biden Saved Me from Pocatello
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