Fooling the Feds©

Averyell A. Kessler

 On a sunny Saturday morning in April, my mother asked me to take my grandfather WG a sack of freshly baked sugar cookies, his favorites. I was a fledgling driver with a new  license and a passion for going anywhere at any time for any reason. I hopped in Mama’s car, left Avery Gardens, and happily shimmied down a narrow strip of gravel known as County Line Road then turned toward Jackson’s city limits. The WG Avery Body Company was only fifteen minutes away. When I arrived, his office parking  lot was empty except for a 1960 evil eye Chevy he drove when his Lincoln was in the shop. This unfortunate car was a washed-out beige and reeked of cigar smoke, but he drove it anyway because it was a product of General Motors. I pushed open the office door, passed an ancient crank handle Coke machine, and heard WG laughing to himself.

“What’s up?” I wondered. Obviously, he had a story to tell. I slipped into a worn barrel chair across from his desk and handed him the cookies. “Guess what happened yesterday?” he asked, as he dipped into the bag and took out a handful of cookies.

“What?” I answered, knowing that this was the kickoff for a full-blown narrative.

“I chased off a bunch of government men yesterday. Run’em clear outta town.”

“Why were they here?”

He leaned back in his chair, crossed an ankle over his knee, and retied his shoelace. “Last week, this guy from something called OSHA came here. He was pasty little faced fella, looked like he hadn’t seen sunlight in months. Said he was supposed to look around and see if anything out in the plant was dangerous.

“It’s more dangerous in your office,” I said.

“Yeah,” he laughed again. “Depends on the circumstances. But he wanted to look anyway. I knew he wouldn’t find anything because Mr. Ford taught me to run a tight ship. First rule, you gotta treat your men right. I don’t want anybody to get hurt. Besides, an accident stops production and who knows what else.”   

What happened?” I asked.

 “He looked around for two hours before he came back.” WG opened a fresh El Telles Tryangle, lit it and laughed again.”  I struggled raise my nose above a blooming cloud of smoke.

“There’s a problem, Mr. Avery,” he said. “Your employees don’t have a place to eat lunch.”

 “I’m not running a cafeteria,” I said. “They bring their lunch and eat out on the loading dock.”

“That won’t do, Mr. Avery. Osha requires that you provide a place for them to eat – inside, with tables and chairs.”

“They been eating on the loading dock for over twenty years.” “It’s a waste of space,” WG shouted. “And a waste of my time!”

“I’ll be back next Friday with my team. If there’s no lunchroom, you’ll be fined – heavily. I want to take another look at your assembly line too. Might be here for several days.”

“I said a few choice words and he trotted out of my office faster than a sulky horse in a harness race.”

“And?”

“The next day, I emptied out a storage room, put two picnic tables inside, and posted a LUNCHROOM sign. But I started thinking about  the long-term consequences. Once that guy started meddling, no telling what he might do next. Then I remembered something Mr. Ford and I rigged up.”

“I can’t imagine,” I replied.

A bunch of politicians were coming to Detroit  for a tour of his assembly line operation. It was a fairly new concept at that time.”

“And?”

“Mr. Ford wanted to keep them out of his pattern room. It was top secret in those days. He asked me for help.”

“What did you do?”

“We brought in some men with tall ladders and paint buckets and told them to start painting the ceiling near the pattern room. Before long, the floor was covered with paint splotches and you could see it dripping.”

“So they didn’t go in.”

“Nope. Nobody wanted paint on his expensive suit.”

“Let me guess,” I said, “you did the same thing.”

“Sorta,” he replied. “Come with me and I’ll show you.”

The next minute we crossed the parking lot, climbed the loading dock stairs, and walked into the giant warehouse like building housing his assembly line.

“Look at the ceiling,” he said.

I looked up and saw his fourteen feet ceiling covered  with shiny grey paint. “So it worked?” I asked.

“Better than I thought. Look at the floor.”

Then I saw it, a pool of grey paint dotted with footprints and what looked like a slide into home plate.

“What happened?” I asked.

When the Osha man and two other guys came back, they ignored me and walked right into the plant as if they owned the place. They were all wearing suits and holding clip boards like they were oars in a lifeboat. I went out in the parking lot to keep an eye on’em. After about ten minutes, they all ran out of the plant shouting and shaking their suit jackets like they been attacked like a swarm of yellow jackets. I could see the paint splotches from here. The head guy got the worst of it; his pants were covered with paint as well as his shoes. I started laughing. He shook his fist at me before they all got in their car and roared off.

“Do you think they’ll come back?”

“No, but here’s the best thing. Somehow, one of the paint buckets turned over just when those fools started sniffing around. The head guy walked right in the middle of it.

“That was fortunate,” I said. “Did you have anything to do with it?’

“No, but my foreman did,”  he said. “Sometimes you gotta make your own luck.”

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