The play my father wrote for me when I told him I wanted to be an actor.
In memory of American Steelworkers everywhere.
THE 28 INCH MILL
Scene 1: Just A Thought
(The set is a bare stage with a simple kitchen table and two chairs. There is a phone on a small side table stage left. Stage right is a sideboard, something like an old dry sink or jelly cupboard, with candles and a tray of glasses, decanter, etc. Karl enters and picks up the telephone and dials a number. No answer. He dials another number.)
KARL: Hello, Janos, this is Karl, yeah, Karl Yoder. Hey, how are ya doin’?
Ah, I come up from Florida to visit my mother. I just thought I’d give you a call. I been thinkin’ about the mill. It’s been over thirty years since they shut down the 28. I was wonderin’ how all the guys are doin’. I was thinkin’ maybe we could get a bunch of us together and have like a reunion or somethin’. You know, talk about old times and stuff. (Pause)
Well, how about Louie Silverstein or Johnny Atiyeh?
No kiddin’. When?
(Pause) Then how about Ivar Kerensky? Mike O’Brien? What about Fritz Lehman? Lopez? Washington? Stahl? Romanovich? Andresko? Zeleski?
Jesus, all of ’em?
(Pause) Well, hows about just me and you gettin’ together for a few beers and go over old times?
Yeah, I understand. Nah, don’t worry about it. It was just a thought. Maybe some other time.
Yeah, it was good to talk to you, too. Take it easy.
(Karl hangs up the receiver and goes offstage briefly and returns with a bottle of Wild Turkey and a couple glasses and sits down at the table U.C. He pours two drinks and slowly sips his. There is a long pause. When he begins to speak he addresses the audience directly and we realize that what we are witnessing and hearing is an encounter that he imagines or wishes to be happening.)
Scene 2: United Nations
KARL: Janos, Janos, it’s Karl, yeah, Karl Yoder. Hey, how’re you doin’? Sit down and have a drink. Jeez, its good to see ya. I been thinkin’ about the mill. It’s been over thirty years since they shut down the 28. I been wonderin’ how all the guys are doin’.
We really had our own United Nations down there. Hungarians, Slovaks, Polacks, Italians, Germans, Irish, Mexicans, Romanians, Austrians, Russians, Greeks, Jews, Arabs. You name it we had it. All got along real good too.
It wasn’t always that way though. Back in the 1800’s Bethlehem Steel was started by the Germans and for the first twenty or thirty years they held all the jobs. Then they started to hire the Irish and gave them all the lousy jobs, like the coke works and shovelin’ scale, stuff like that. Another thirty years or so and the Irish move up and start hirin’ the Slovaks, Hungarians, and Polacks to do all the dirty work. Funny thing they called ’em all Hunkies, didn’t matter if they was Polacks, Slovaks, Ukrainians, or whatever, they was still Hunkies, unless they was Italian—then they was Dagos or Wops. Killed ’em off like flies, too. Didn’t give a damn, what’s another Hunkie? Then during the First World War they started hirin’ the Mexicans ’cause they thought they could stand the heat better. So they all got sent to the coke works. The Irish, they became the foremen. That’s why even today, no matter what shop you go into there’s some Irish foreman tellin’ everybody what to do.
When the Union come in they put a stop to all that. I mean they couldn’t keep you down just ’cause you was a Hunkie or a Dago. Lucky for me and you, Janos, we had the Union, I don’t think I could a stood it the way it was in the old days.
Janos, remember that Christmas morning, must have been thirty-five years ago, we were workin’ day turn—seemed like we always worked Christmas, Easter, too. Anyways, you were on the rougher, Johnny Atiyeh was on the roller line and Louie Silverstein on the strand. Johnny looks over at you and says, “Merry Christmas, Janos.” Then he looks over at Louie and says, “Merry Christmas, Louie.” Then Louie says; Jesus Christ, I’ll never forget it; he says “You know Johnny, only in America could an Arab wish a Jew a Merry Christmas.”
You’re so taken in by it, you start blowin’ the whistle like crazy. The roller calls on the P. A. and says “What’s that all about?” And you tell ’em, “Johnny Atiyeh just wished Louie Silverstein a Merry Christmas.” Then the 32" mill picks up on it and they start tootin’, then the 40 #1. Then the pits holler down, “Hey, what the hell’s goin’ on down there?” So they told ’em. They start tootin’, then the 48" mill, the 42, the beam yard. Sounded like the day the goddamn war ended.
Course we useta kid around a lot. I mean like you guys callin’ me farmer ’cause I was Pennsylvania Dutch and yellin’ “Oink, oink” most every time you seen me walkin’ down the roller line. My buddy Vinnie was the worst at that. Seems every time I walked into the back strand Vinnie’d say somethin’ like “Hey, Karl, I heard you got a maus in your haus.”
Course most everybody else got razzed too. Lotta times the Dutchmen would holler over the P. A. “Dumb Hunk” when they seen one of the Slovaks or Polacks. Everybody took it good-natured though.
Me and Louie Silverstein got the worst of it, him bein’ Jewish and all. Once I asked Louie if he minded all the guys teasin’ him. You know what he told me? He says, “Hell no, its their way of showin’ affection. I’ll start to worry when they stop talkin’ to me.”
Sure enough, couple months later, we got this kid. He come down from the coal regions. You know, Frackville or some place like that. Anyways, we heard that he just got married. So old Frank Kozlosky the Roller goes up to him, you know, just jokin’ around, and asks the kid when he was gonna start handin’ out cigars. Guess the kid was religious or somethin’, tells old Frank to mind his own goddamn business. I’m tellin you Janos, I was standin’ right there—coulda heard a pin drop. Frank just turns his back and walks away.
Anyways, Big Frankie—you recall how you’d get a new guy and he’d say:
“Why do call him Big Frankie, can’t be more’n 5'10" and 160 lbs.?”
“Cause the roller’s name is Frank, too.”
“Well, why don’t you just call the roller, Little Frankie?”
“Cause he’s the Roller, you dumb bastard.”
—So Big Frankie goes up to the kid and says, “Look you hurt the old man’s feelings. Whyn’t you go over and apologize?”
Well, the kid doesn’t say anything, just gives him a smart-ass, screw you look. Like Louie said, everybody stopped talkin’ to him.
He lasted about three days and never showed up again.
'The 28 Inch Mill' by Robert D. Frantz was written in 1992, edited and updated in 1994 by me with additional copy by my Dad. I performed it in 1995 in Santa Barbara CA and again in 2004 in Bethlehem PA.
This material is strictly copyrighted and all publication, reprint and performance rights, in whole or in part, are held by me, Stanley R. Frantz, his son. Inquiries regarding reprint or republishing permission may be directed to me via my Kos account. I welcome your interest.
I hope and expect of course, that all Kossacks will respect my late father and his one great creative accomplishment and respect our copyright to this material, while at the same time helping us to tell the story far and wide.