The Secret is to Tell All!

Return to the Factory

Thanks to what I earned as a street peddler, we got by, and, plus the little extra I picked up, I bought a small piece of land on the shore, near Otranto, without heeding the protests of my family. In the middle of the brambles and fallow fields, there was a small abandoned farmhouse with a collapsed roof, but its stone walls appeared to be solid. With great difficulty and a few payoffs, I managed to obtain water service and, redoubling my efforts, electricity. Then, having arranged two weeks of freedom, I undertook to rebuild it, either by myself or, when necessary, with the help of hourly workers, and in around three years, I rendered it habitable.

I must explain to the reader, who is no doubt a bit surprised, that I felt a never completely extinguished nostalgia for the naps I took as a child, outside the house, on straw, sheltered from the sun, but not in so much shade that I couldn’t feel the intense warmth of its rays. I went to sleep, pursuing childhood dreams, and slept without being bothered by horseflies. In the course of my long trips around the world, I often surprised myself with the evocation of certain fragments of my life, of completely secondary importance, without understanding why no other key gave access to such sweet and powerful memories. Nestled in a corner, I nodded my head, my chin on the palm of my hand, and lost all interest in what was going on around me, my eyes staring into space, paying tribute to having too hastily cut myself off from my roots. And nothing could stop the procession of images from my childhood, full of dusty roads, miserable parents and crumbling walls. If someone asked me what I was thinking, I would respond, “I’m sleeping,” and I would enjoy the surprise that my mysterious answer provoked. In sum, in that abandoned place, a certain Salvatore Messana, tired of misery, could reconcile his various souls, tranquilly lazing about without having to give explanations to his wife or son, who spent the afternoon watching him.

My lovely wife (the official owner of the place so that it could be sheltered from my always vigilant creditors) followed me around, and never failed to petulantly propose that I sell those ruins and replace them with a modern terraced villa. Although I had no precise reasons for not following her wise advice, I always tried to please her. I never ventured to figure out why she, in complete serenity, could have taken a wretched guy like me for her husband.

Thus I had settled down and had no reason to change my way of life, but embers must still have burned under the ashes, because I didn’t stop being interested in what took place on the archipelago of the crooks, benefiting from contacts that I had kept with many friends who lived at the Lope de Vega. In fact . . . well, let’s take first things first.

It must have been around 11:30 pm on some night. Dead tired, I returned from the Pizzighettone market with my van full of toys. After parking and installing the various anti-theft devices, I headed towards the door and saw Giuseppe Salemi and his brothers Vito and Giovanni taking in the cool air. They were drinking champagne and in a good mood because all three had just won a court action against the same company. I was tired of my loneliness and, after the other two departed, I helped Giuseppe finish the bottle. This was the moment to discuss things and, as everyone knows, nighttime favors confidences.

He told me the story of his wife, from whom he was separated and about whom there was a lot of crude gossip. In truth, one never really knows other people! This woman, named Rosaria, had been raped at sixteen by her uncle and had become pregnant. Giuseppe had married her and, to avoid scandal, they were brought to Milan without their input. He was madly in love with her and wanted to stay with her, but the more he raised his voice, the wider the gulf between them grew. Rosaria certainly didn’t have the soul of a homemaker and, moreover, she felt she was forever dishonored. She ended up fleeing with a pimp to walk the streets near the Porta Venezia. Mad with rage, our friend pursued her and denounced her for abandoning their home, but the pimp, who was much cleverer, turned the situation around by exploiting Rosaria’s accusation that it was Giuseppe who was her pimp and that was precisely why she’d fled! Giuseppe obviously went to jail and spent six months there before he was able to prove his innocence. In the meantime, she’d given birth to another son, of dubious paternity, and to be sure of not making a mistake, the court stuck both children in an institution. That’s justice for poor people: if they tell the truth, they aren’t believed and all of them get punished, no matter who they are.

We drank another glass and, to change the subject and cheer Giuseppe up, I asked him to tell me about his case. His mood quickly changed, and he told me how twenty of them had been hired to be bottlers during the summer, and they had immediately created havoc, instigated by the kids from the Quarto Oggiario,[1] who amused themselves by damaging the machines for the sheer pleasure of it. He immediately went to the usual lawyer, after convincing his comrades that they had to demand a steady job to get money. This apparently simple-minded plan was a success. The boss stupidly fell into the trap and had to pay three million lire to each person. What a party!

We both laughed and Giuseppe, thrown like a sled down a hill, evoked the day on which Vito and he had to keep watch over Giovanni, who wanted to flee the factory because they made him turn his head to watch the bottles; he pretended to go to the bathroom but, in fact, fearful of his brothers, tried to hit the road by going through a window, without a care about his debts or his money, of which he didn’t know the value. Then, thanks to their vigilance, as well as illness, strikes and misdeeds, Giovanni managed to reach the finish line. The more I listened, the more I wanted to be mixed up in similar things, to create havoc. Industrial establishments have a positive aspect and, in that sense, they were less disgusting to me. Giuseppe and his brothers managed to make ends meet by systematically getting themselves fired. If you went through the necessary negotiations, this accursed modern society was able to provide even the outcasts with a salary. And so I decided to get the rust off and once again become a scoundrel worker.

Satisfied with my decision, I headed to bed, while wild Giuseppe, gesticulating, continued to fool around. We separated by evoking Giovanni, who had vanished: he had resigned from Rinascente[2] after only four hours of work, leaving behind (for different reasons) both his relatives and the personnel department. Sending that small man to work must not have been easy! Around thirty hours later, I was on line in front of the offices of Rinascente on the Via Duccio da Bonisegna, not very far from the fairgrounds.

I presented my work pass and all the crap demanded by the bureaucracy, and although each step was slowed down by the absurdity of the formalities, I finished them all in a single morning. Thus I was allowed to participate in the auction of the following morning, because things had really changed. Frightened by assaults from the magistracy and constrained by the shortage of laborers who were adaptable to menial tasks, the business now simply specified the number of employees that it needed and took the first ones on the list. The best positions (IBM operators or insurance agents) were filled through direct appointments or the recruitment of qualified people, but there was work for everyone and, in that chaos, they gave out plentiful numbers of short-term contracts for the cleaning of toilets, washing dishes, heavy work or other biblical punishments. That Thursday, I had before me a veritable court of miracles, a gathering of those in despair: drug addicts, young students, alcoholics, hippies, women deformed by past pregnancies or currently pregnant, social agitators, lunatics and simpletons. They were gathered together by the hundreds in a squalid basement, and they would have delighted any journalist who had a mania for marginalized city dwellers. Except for a few dozen normal faces, all the others would have terrified the most accepting heads of personnel. I wanted to laugh, thinking of the resigned disgust of the assholes in ties when these people entered their offices. The boss would be a veritable King Midas, I thought, if he managed to transform these people – by sucking their blood – into gold, and he might even be surprised when he saw fall into his snare so many people willing to undertake such unappetizing tasks.

With the help of Giuseppe, I joined a platoon of people to be deported to a firm in Segrate with a German name (Kitzchemie, I believe, but I’m not sure) that needed us for twenty days. The offices were far away, but a saint rescued us and we finally arrived. The guy in charge observed us, immediately judged us to be derelicts, then made us sign a one-sided contract: a month-long trial period (in addition to the contractual period!), the lowest possible salary, and work starting at six in the morning. This watchdog announced to us that there would be two hours of mandatory overtime, and that our job would consist of refilling boxes of detergent at maximum speed. And then, with a smile, he made clear to us the fate reserved for slackers and those who became ill: he didn’t say a word; he simply made a chopping gesture with his right hand. After the stick, the carrot: those who proved themselves to be “capable” could aspire to a steady job. Personally, I could not see how anyone could want such a misfortune and, while he was talking, I noted how this guy corresponded to my idea of a Nazi sub-commandant, characterized by a barracks mentality, a purely formal courtesy, and a lack of humanity. During lunch (alas . . . the food was horrible), Giuseppe telephoned the lawyer and returned relieved: the contract was illegal and we could sue. Nevertheless, it was very difficult to endure the orders, to sacrifice our Saturdays, and to trot like donkeys behind vegetable rewards. The last day was truly the end of Lent.

On that day, our Hitler was overjoyed to see us, happy to have squeezed the maximum out of us (he meant us idiots), and said that he would call for us again as soon as possible. Recalling the promise of a steady job that had been made to us at the moment we were hired, I had instinctively slowed the pace down to avoid bad ideas from entering the head of the enemy and I deliberately damaged the enterprise on the last day. As the finishing touch, I confided to the ass-kissing stock controller at the warehouse that I was a Marxist-Leninist Communist and, in great secrecy, offered to bring him into the party. He winked at me and ran off, surely to tell management. There was no danger of being definitively hired, and I plotted my revenge while filling the last cartons of detergent packages. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as is well known, so I limited myself with saluting our S.S. officer with an ambiguous goodbye, full of bad omens. I also refused to give further explanations to the phrase “with reservations,” which I added to my signature, except that it was my father who taught me to do so and, at the risk of displeasing the company, I didn’t mean to offend his memory.

It was a simple, little job – clean, clean – that ended ten weeks later with four million lire paid out to each one of us. While the Nazi frothed with rage, we let ourselves be convinced to leave that fucking place, after appearing hesitant, which we attributed to our fear of unemployment but actually aimed at increasing the size of the buyout. Giuseppe Salemi, the cicada, ate his share in the blink of an eye, but Salvatore Messana, the ant, thought of his future, and not only entrusted a part of his earnings to his wife, the administrator, but also and especially reflected on the manner in which he could improve the scam. Indeed, if a minimum of effort could earn someone five months of salary, then what fabulous sum could be attained with determined intelligence and roguish imagination? At bottom, a single day of production could bring in several million lire for the boss, and thus being able to conduct business in complete tranquility had an incalculable value. Thus, shrewdly disturbing that tranquility would put one in a strong position to negotiate.

With a crazy rigor, I applied myself to conducting a meticulous inquiry into the possibilities of “monetization,” trying (this was not easy) to separate the true from the false, the legend from the reality. As a general rule, the incentive to resign arose in long periods of work, while the amounts of the payout varied considerably. The minimum was offered to simply unpleasant people; an average sum to inveterate absentees and very fertile women; and the maximum to authentic disruptors. Those who succeeded in accumulating more than one of these faults could hope to receive considerable sums, around fifteen or twenty million lire. Curiously, the companies surpassed all the limits of indemnification in cases of presumed terrorists; even if there was no proof that justified their discharge, the bosses trembled at the idea that these serpents were among them: those insiders who took measurements for the bosses’ coffins or made an inventory of all the possibilities for fire. Thus it happened that it was the Italian State itself (under the auspices of Breda, Marelli, Unidal, Ansaldo, etc.[3]) that financed future guerrillas, pushing into clandestinity people who had hesitated to take the final steps, either through a lack of means or a fear of changing their ways of life.

In essence, the difficult thing was to make oneself undesirable or, even better, feared, in a very short period of time (I certainly wasn’t going to wait ten years to increase my funds) without getting oneself sent to prison. If I was successful in getting myself classified among the last, I would be among the first to be called, as in the Gospel.[4]

Like a general, I began to prepare my campaigns (which I called “operations,” following the jargon used by those in charge), each time engaging an army capable of opening a breach in the enemy’s fortress, without forgetting to attach the greatest importance to the diplomatic point of view: the attorneys had to be competent, well regarded in their field, capable of working in ignorance of our [true] plans, being sufficiently flexible to not be angry if they came to know them. Technically, they had to be the mirror image, equal but opposite, of the professionals to whom the bosses turned, skilled at making sleaze sound elegant. It is intuitive that the role of the attorney is very important (especially because of the precious advice they furnish to those who know how to ask for it tactfully).

As you have already been able to guess from my rare references to my current feelings, I am a traditional rebel, and I respect the custom that one doesn’t say a word of this aspect of things: noblemen, gangsters, politicians and businessmen, all of whom can claim to have made more serious studies than I have, systematically ignore this question, and I do as they do. Thus I leave to the reader the task of filling in this void as he wishes, hoping that such an exercise will put his intelligence and imagination to good use.

[1] Fourth Ward of Milan, mostly populated by poor immigrants from southern Italy.

[2] Italian department store chain, founded in Milan in 1865.

[3] State-owned companies.

[4] Matthew 20:16.

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