A pale moon rising behind the low hills surrounding Pittsburgh in a somber gloom saturating the old railway bridge in an eerie colour like dried blood turning the Monongahela River underneath into black poison creeping along battered veins who have dug deep into the land, separating Pennsylvania from West Virginia. Everyone who had heard of the 130 mile river just called it “The Mon” as nobody bothered to remember its American Indian name which came in twenty-six different varieties from the French sounding Malangueulé to various spellings of Meh-non-au-au-ge-hel-al and Mo-hong-gey-e-la to easier to digest names like Monna or Muddy River. The meanings of its different names ranged from a simple “falling banks” to “the dirt caves off” and a blander “it has a loose bank,” which conjured images of an old incontinent river lady’s ass in Mangon’s stoned mind.
The clock had indicated the start of a new day, July 23 when Mangon opens the window in his bedroom on the first floor without a sound and climbs outside, balancing on the small apron while holding on to a ladder on which roses in all shades of red climb towards a clear warm night sky. In a skilled movement, he pushes the window closed, leaving an almost invisible gap which will enable him to re-enter his room after yet another night out. Mangon’s family had purchased a small, one family house, one of many newly assembled coloured boxes in the SouthSide Works, a recently converted residential area near the grounds of the former Jones & Laughlin steel mills which produced much of the wealth upon which Pittsburgh flourished.
Mangon sneaks to the garage door and opens it silently using the emergency spare key which his parents had hidden in a fake plastic stone, a trick, according to the wisdom of his father, professional burglars surely wouldn’t know. He takes a spare towing rope from the shelf which is needed for tonight’s big adventure.
He leaves the house after putting the key back inside the stone and steers his mountain bike along a completely deserted Oakley Way whose residents were either hiding behind sixty inch plasma TV screens watching sports or their favourite soap opera or having gone already to bed, exhausted from a long boring day of work in the many cubicles and offices of technology companies. Companies who had set their headquarters in Pittsburgh after the steel industry had collapsed, reducing the population from six hundred thousand to nearly half of that.
Mangon could smell the distinct wild river scent of the Mon, descending on the neighbourhood at night when cars were few and tranquillity returned to its banks for a few short hours until sunrise. He takes the underpass at Steve Seventy Street, crosses into Carson and arrives in Hot Metal Street where at the 19th and 77th crossing, the big white bald eagle of the American Eagle Outfitters HQ spreads its wings, a symbol of the greedy corporate whore America has become.
He dismounts at the edge of the small Monongahela Park and pushes his bike past the grotesque dark red steel monument on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which he tagged just a few weeks ago, but had already received a new coat of paint. Mangon lifts his mountain bike over a low fence which separates the steep grassy river bank from the neatly trimmed park and hides it under the scrubs of a bush. He leans his back against the fence and watches the Monongahela River flow lazily downtown where it meets the Allegheny and where Pittsburgh, like a whore with spread legs, gave birth to a first settlement from which later grew the city centre with its cold industrialist heart of steel and capitalist skyscrapers that looked like gigantic voodoo needles stuck into something which should have grown to become the American Dream.
In front of him the 321 foot long Hot Metal Bridge, one of the over 400 bridges which gave Pittsburgh the ridiculous title of “Word’s City With the Most Bridges” stretches its camelback arches into a clear night with countless stars.
Built in 1887 as Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge and expanded in 1900 into a twin with the Hot Metal Bridge, connecting parts of the J&L Steel mill on both sides of the river, it carried, during its heyday at the turn of the last century, an endless succession of molten steel from the blast furnaces to the rolling mills on the opposite bank.
The monster of World War II which needed to be fed with iron and steel for its weapons of war saw fifteen percent of America’s steelmaking capacity crossing over the Hot Metal Bridge in open wagons, like iron devils spurting hot iron sparks into the dark night and down onto the Mon River which flowed unruffled by it for centuries in its peaceful wake.
The origins of the Hot Metal Bridge dates back to 1843 when a canal line manager named Benjamin Franklin Jones arrived in Pittsburgh and, upon recognising the importance of steel as the life blood of America’s industrial revolution, sold his interests in the canal business to invest in iron and steel making. By 1850 he had formed American Iron Works which claimed the south bank of the Monongahela River while the American Steel and Iron Works, Keystone Rolling Mill and the Soho Department turned the virgin forests around Pittsburgh into industrial ground zero. Jones found a partner and soon the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation continued to expand and thrive until its peak during World War II. It contributed to build the US navy fleet, supplying steel for many warships that went out to free the world from the horrors of Adolf Hitler, while clandestinely erecting its global empire praying on weaker and smaller countries which they aimed to bring under its control and drench of vital resources to still the hunger of America’s economic wonder.
The decline and eventual death of the Steel Industry in Pittsburgh lead in 1984 to the closure of the former J&L complex, forcing Mangon’s father, who had just married his high school love, to search for a new job as office worker or clerk, abandoning a pathetic family history of blue collar slaves. After the old buildings were razed, the city decided to build and sell tiny little houses with neatly trimmed green in front of them on the area of the former Steel Works, an opportunity the young couple happily took up.
Mangon opens the dark red backpack with its strange metallic sheen of which he is quite fond. It is filled with Krylon cans in various shades of the tricolours of Old Glory: Ford Blue, the light Blue Glowz, Red Devil, Firelane Red and a few cans of Chalk White. The few stores which have spray cans on sale were on strict orders from the Mayor in his ongoing battle against graffiti artists to refuse to sell them to teenagers or anyone who looked like he might vandalise the city. Mangon had no other option than to nick them which he did meticulously during the lasts preparing for tonight’s big piece.
Despite it being a warm summer night, he pulls out his black hoodie which is tainted with traces of nocturnal past activities and helps him to conceal his identity from the eyes of the ever growing army of CCTV cameras. Mayor Tom Murphy has positioned the cameras all over his city to catch the hooligans who desecrate the walls of buildings, to bring them to justice in a court that sentences the victims to either jail or endless hours of humiliating community service based on its “No mercy for vandals” policy.
Mangon’s mother is a member of the city’s beautification committee, hoping to climb step by step up Pittsburgh’s steep society ladder and his father is an obedient office worker, who preached to Mangon about obeying all laws and following orders without questioning them, he could not risk being identified and caught, especially not now, when he was about to commit an act of utter defiance and rebellion against his hometown whose conservatism and hypocrisy he despised.
He is wearing some of his favourite shoes, battled and worn out red Rebook Answer IV sneakers with a zip. Mangon thought the zip was an incredibly cool design. Black super-low stretch Levis jeans and a red baseball cap complete his outfit. In the Attic Mangon found an old weight belt which his father had used many years ago, when he still worked out at the gym, maybe to impress his still young wife with a well-trained body. Now a big hairy beer belly and man boobs have replaced a former lean fit body, an outward expression of his father’s continued degeneration and progressing depression. He simply has given up the fight for anything in life, waiting on the arrival of the first day of his retirement which he foolishly declared as the beginning of real freedom, which he probably will spend sitting in front of his TV, his obese body filled with chips, popcorn and beer.
The weight belt, transformed with a bit of rope and lots of gaffer tape into a makeshift harness, will suspend him in the air while dangling from the Hot Metal Bridge, trying to spray his big piece on the centre pillar which rises up in the middle of the stream. Mangon hopes this act will bring him fame and full acceptance into the NakedLunch Crew. It is a risky plan as he could be easily spotted by anyone on a late night stroll with their dogs along the Three Rivers Heritage trail, but if he succeeds, his first big piece will be dope and without doubt the local TV station would be keen to report about the latest act of vandalism on one of the city’s most cherished heritage monuments. For the town rulers it symbolises the riches and rise in power of those who have come before them, who have shaped and manipulated Pittsburgh according to their views and needs, while at the same time obliterating any notion of the thousands of hard working steel workers and their backbreaking work as slaves of the industrial age.
If he were caught and identified it would be disastrous not only for him, but also for his father who would see his son’s deed as a personal attack and an attempt to bring shame upon his immaculate family name. For generations his family have been faithful servants and obedient to whomever ruled over them. His mother, who sat in monthly meetings of the beautification committee of the city council, demanded stronger punishment for “offenders against good taste.” She and her beautification committee took the liberty to decide upon the ruling out of graffiti as an accepted public art form and declared it as a direct affront to the “good people” of Pittsburgh, refining taste of how their beautiful city has to look.
Tonight would be a night of victory or utter defeat, of either becoming an accepted member of the NakedLunch Crew, one of three of the city’s most famous graffiti groups (who fought an ongoing battle among themselves to become all city, covering as many places as they could with their ever increasing bold tags and pieces) or sink and disappear in anonymity after fifteen minutes of fame being paraded around as one of Pittsburgh’s notorious “vandalizers.”
If he succeeded, he would step out of the shadows of a long line of immigrants who, in the same way as his forefathers, having arrived in 1872 on one of the Quakers ships to the New World and achieving absolutely nothing during their pathetic lifetimes of averageness and service, had been whipped into obedience first by their European masters, later chose to obey out of their own accord under the rules and principles of an ethical and moral life under their Quaker god whose name they were proud to point out, expressed the relationship to their creator, as it meant “trembling in the way of the lord”.
The only historic reference to the existence of their Irish family name – McBloom – is a record in one of the Immigration Passenger lists among 25 million other immigrants who had emigrated from Europe to the USA hoping to find fortune and happiness. His forefathers had originally settled in Philadelphia, which served once even as the temporary capital of the United States while the District was under construction.
The story of how the Quakers came to the New World was another of many quirks of history going back to the late Admiral Penn who fought many battles at sea for Cromwell’s Commonwealth and to whom the king of England, then James II, owed sixteen thousand pounds, probably gambling debts. William Penn, son and heir of the Admiral suggested to the king to cancel the debts of the crown to his family in exchange for a huge piece of land in the newly discovered overseas colonies, land onto which the King of England had never set foot on, land which he never had conquered just claimed belonged to him after having received word of its existence. Penn who was a member of the “Society of Friends,” a name the Quakers called themselves, feared prosecution by the Church of England whose head the king was as well and who could with one word ban and prosecute the blasphemous who dared to reject all sacraments, rituals and even the Bible, robbing priests of the power to extract coins from sinners, a system which had worked profitable for the church for centuries, since the day Jesus was nailed onto the cross.
Penn sailed to the new world in 1704 but after a pub brawl in which he took offence, decided to leave the new colony which he now owned, to fight on his own and return to England with orders to hold up the Quaker’s pacifist stance and purchase the land from the Native Indians. He exchanged coins which were worthless for Indians for the land they had lived on for uncountable moons. Thus the power of capitalism had arrived to the new world and Indians were cheated out of their own lands and pushed westwards to what later became the 1763 proclamation line running along the Appalachian Mountain range in a deal which made the Quakers feel better about their new land and the Natives without fertile grounds to raise their families.
Mangon’s great grandfather, a certain Leopold McBloom, whose name meant “a bold person” from Ireland had arrived in America in 1872 where he made Philadelphia, for a few years, his home and where he met his later wife, Anna Livia, another immigrant with German roots. They were a hardworking couple with the intention to create a better future for their many children who had begun to pop out of Anna’s constantly pregnant belly when they heard word that the steel works in the Pittsburgh area were in dire need of new labourers.
They arrived in Pittsburgh in 1887 where McBloom found work helping to build the Hot Metal Bridge connecting the two sides of the Mon River to allow molten steel to be transported from the blasting hot furnace ovens to the steel mills. After the second part of the twin truss bridge was constructed, he stayed on as mill worker being considered one of the few labourers who were deemed loyal to the owners and not a member in the AA Union. Leopold Bloom, who had dropped the “mac” out of his family name to make it sound more American and to show to himself that he was no longer just the son, but his own man and able to feed his ever growing family of eight children, of whom six survived to the day forming later the six solid branches of the Bloom’s family settling all around Pittsburgh.
The Bloom’s family motto which was held in reverence among all members was: “Wessen Brot ich else, dessen Lied ich singe,” an old German saying dating back to Medieval times which translates as “Whose bread I am eating, those song I am singing” similar to the English saying “He who pays the piper, calls the tune,” which for Mangon sums up in just one sentence everything he revolted against.
Mangon cannot accept what he calls his family’s “slave mentality,” which they adopted to justify their cowardice attitude towards life, their obedience to anyone who had more money, more powerful friends or who claims to have the law which they bent like a rubber, on their side. Mangon’s mother had taken her husband’s family motto to the extreme, sucking up to everyone whom she considered even just a bit superior to her, anyone whom she thought was standing a step up on the social ladder, in order to gain acceptance and become a member of those privileged circles of society, which in her naiveté, considered the meaning of her life. While her husband was forced to comply and appear at his wife’s side on numerous local social events, each boring him to death, Mangon was simply disgusted by her.
“You are nothing more than a society whore!” he once shouted at his mother during their frequent squabbles which ended like most of them with a brisk bitch slap and him being suspended to his room for a few days.
Mangon’s father works as a clerk in a bank which is located in Pittsburgh’s sterile downtown city centre. In order to reach his workplace he has to cross the Hot Metal Bridge every single working day.
It brings a smile to Mangon’s face to imagine the reaction of his father if everything goes well and he can pull it off and spray the big piece all over the centre pillar of the bridge. He envisioned that after hearing about it in the local news, his father would get a red head out of anger and with his fatty fingers bolstering down on the family dinner table he would bring up this blasphemous act of vandalism, demanding the harshest form of punishment for those criminals, supported by silent sobbing nods from his mother, the secretary of the district beautification committee.
Mangon remembers a sunny Friday afternoon, almost exactly two years ago, when he was still only thirteen. It was another 23, possibly June, when his mother had forced him to put on a clean white t-shirt, tugged into his trousers, combed his hair neatly to the side and made him wear a pair of uncomfortable black leather shoes instead of his beloved sneakers, in order to look, as she called it, “presentable” for the inauguration of the Hot Metal Bridge, which would be opened for public traffic after years of renovation. His mother took pride in the fact that Mayor Murphy had listened to a bold suggestion of her beautification committee regarding the installation of historic looking street lamps on the bridge, something which she regarded as a personal acknowledgement and invitation to the elitist circle of Pittsburgh’s high society. Despite Mangon’s protests he was dressed up as the perfect son of a perfect American family and forced into the family car, driven off to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the bridge which had been staged under an arch of red, white and blue balloons.
“The bridge is a link from the past to the future,” Mayor Murphy said in the inauguration speech, praising its symbolism. “It signifies our steel-making history and provides our connection to high technology.” He conveniently forgot to mention the gruesome and poor lives of the steel workers whose sole purpose was to fill up the bank accounts of the owners, banks and politicians who kept strict control over their property. The inauguration was followed by a parade of former steelworkers and public officials who paraded over the bridge after the ribbon-cutting, each one holding and waving a small American flag.
“Utterly pathetic,” Mangon thought, refusing to join his parents at the parade over the bridge, preferring to wait in the car for their return.
Mother’s side of the family included Mum’s brother who moved to Germany, but whom Mangon refused to acknowledge as an uncle as he was a known NAZI, glorifying Germany’s Hitler and his fascist thugs, even owning a German shepherd dog, whom he had named ”Blondie”—the same name the Fuehrer had given his beloved dog.
Mangon still remembered when he was quite young, not older than six or seven years old and his mother had dragged him for the entire two months of his summer holidays away from his friends to stay with his maternal grandparents. They lived in a tiny and simple house without TV, miles away from the next little town in Vermont and surrounded by a dark forest which scared the crap out of him.
He recalls the face of his grandmother full of painful bitterness, sorrow and suffering and underlined by the same strict sober black dress she wore every day. She spent many hours on her knees in front of a small altar which consisted of several pictures of the Virgin Mary and memorabilia from pilgrimages she had chosen to endure, and a big plastic cross which lit up and blinked when it was plugged in during prayer time.
Mangon didn’t remember a lot of things of his grandfather, but there was something that stood out: his strange smell, which he found at the same time repulsive yet interesting. He was unable to identify it for many years, until he bumped by accident into a drunken hobo on the street. It was the same mixture of cheap alcohol and tobacco which in an instant made everything about his grandfather clear for him. It also explained his grandfather’s many trips during the day into the cellar, to re-emerge a short time later sometimes accompanied with loud singing, then grabbing him more forcefully than carefully, speaking with him in a language he could not understand, while rubbing his old bony fingers all over the boy’s legs and crotch.
His grandparents had only recently immigrated to the US and came from Carinthia, a small region on the southern border of Austria, where they belonged to a Slovenian minority which speaks Windisch, an amalgam of Slovenish and Austrian German. It’s a language impossible to understand for the majority of German speaking people who lived in the tiny villages on the slopes of the Carinthian Alps. Nobody ever told Mangon the reason why this odd couple, who lived isolated in their small house on the edge of the village decided to pack up and emigrate to the States, unable to speak even one word of English and when, after their arrival, refused to assimilate. It was only many years later when Mangon heard from a cousin rumours about the real reason for their sudden departure to the US. The rumours spoke of an alleged sexual assault by his grandfather, who was accused of having sexually molested a young school girl in the village on her way back from school.
When word got round and the crime was discovered, the men of the village went to his grandfather’s home and confronted him, roughed him up and demanded his immediate arrest. It is said that early the next morning he fled with his wife and children to America, leaving his dark past behind him. He continued his isolated life, refusing to make contact with anyone but his family and died a few years back in a hospital, surrounded by five of his children, Mangon was ten. After months of abominable pain, his grandfather’s back had begun to rot for unknown reasons, probably because of some form of cancer, which had been eating him alive.
It was just after Mangon’s fourteenth birthday, when he had run away for the first time from his parents, during the whole two months of his summer holidays as his parents had tried to force him to work in one of the big factories which hung on Pittsburgh like leaches on a man’s leg. Mangon’s refused to succumb to the pressure from his parents and even his school teachers, who considered fourteen the perfect age for a young teen to start experiencing the “real” life as they called it. Instead, he chose to run away and found himself on the road, completely on his own and without any money for the first time in his life, hitchhiking all the way through several states down to Florida when he suddenly perceived a strange notion…almost like a calling from his grandmother…whom he hadn’t seen nor thought of for many years.
He used a payphone near a highway petrol stop to call his grandmother, but was informed by another relative that she had been admitted once again to the hospital. She had battled her whole life with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, thrombosis in both legs and high blood pressure, all diseases which she saw as being sent to her by her God, not as punishment, but as means of purification of her and her husband’s dark soul, so that they would be able to enter the promised kingdom of their Lord and creator.
Mangon managed to reach the hospital in Montpelier, the tiny capital city of Vermont a few days later after a long series of hikes all the way up from Miami. When he opened the door of the room in which his grandmother lay he was greeted by a weak, yet through and through bitter, mean voice “Cut that long hair! Only bad boys have long hair,” were the only words she spoke to him during the long hour Mangon spent with her. He regretted the visit the moment he had opened the door. Grandmother died soon afterwards. Mother, who was devastated by the tragic news of her death, demanded Mangon accompany her for grandmother’s funeral, which he rejected vehemently without mentioning his recent visit in the hospital.
Mangon refuses to identify himself solely as a product of his parents, he refuses to believe he was only the result of the mixture of the genetic pools of his father and mother, genes which came heavily laden with cowardice, falsehood, obedience and religious madness, all characteristics which he hated to the bone.
His childhood could be called ordinary on the outside, from kindergarten up to high school, playing sports and video games with his friends, but they were years spent with an intense pain inside, more and more frequently hiding in his room, listening to depressive old vinyl’s on his record player and refusing to go out even when his friends came by to pick him up.
When he was twelve he befriended a few students among the smokers who met in secret every lunch break behind the school, out of sight of teachers on guard duty, with whom he shared Marlboros and Camels, later joints. Soon they roamed the neighbourhood as a small gang with their mountain bikes and skateboards, creating havoc among the shopkeepers from whom they stole chewing gums, cigarettes or sometimes even CD’s.
But now being fifteen years old, he finds those random acts of criminal behaviour ridiculous and meaningless, moreover extremely selfish, having learned that companies calculate a certain price increase into their goods based on average loss because of theft by customers, and more frequently, its own staff. It was all part of the system and wouldn’t change a thing in society.
He had come in contact with a small group of older guys, all around seventeen, eighteen, who were members of a graffiti crew, all dressed in tight dirty trousers with wild coloured hairs, piercings and always a hoodie. When night descended upon the city they come out and meet in secret spots all over the city, which they communicated to each other in encrypted chat rooms, to fight the battle of Pittsburgh with three other big crews. They were involved in tagging wars, which were played out all over the city, leaving their distinct marks on houses, subway cars, factory walls and even government buildings. The traces of their battles were visible the next morning all over town and prompted many dutiful citizens to pick up the phone and complain to the police who, on direct orders from the Mayor, had to set up their own task force to bring those young criminals to justice.
The increased police presence on the streets with cops looking out for young teens who fit the description of a graffiti kid, which could be any young person wearing sneakers, jeans and a hoodie, just increased the thrill factor and added additional danger bonus points for pieces sprayed on public buildings monitored by recently installed CCTV cameras.
Mangon strains his eyes staring for a long time at the centre pillar soaking in every detail of the Hot Metal Bridge which he has chosen as target for the big graffiti piece he thought up and outlined in his piece book for weeks. It will be a massive piece widely visible on the middle pillar of the bridge which rises out of the Mon River. He knows that if he pulls this off, it will not only make the headlines in the local town paper or even have the Local TV station report about it in their daily Pittsburgh news summary, but he will without doubt be accepted as new member into the NakedLunch Crew. A few meters away from him, the Mon River flows by silently, a dark body of water which cuts through the land century after century of being a quiet witness to the slow regular changes nature commands, turning leaves in various colours or covering everything under a thick layer of snow. Only when men replaced trees with giant furnaces and steel mills, everything changed dramatically, when on both sides of the river the heat and noise of steel manufacturing disturbed the quiet night, the river became its victim. Its wild river beds were fortified with stones and straightened; it was poisoned with everything the plants along its course spit out. When on dark moonless nights devilish iron wagons, straight out of hell, laden with hot molten steel are sent from one side of the river to the other, red sparks of hot iron rain down into it, baptising the once proud Monongahela River with poisonous holy iron water before it disappears, merging with the Allegheny to become the Ohio River.
After the steel furnaces pushed Pittsburgh into the top ranks of one of the most polluted cities in the whole US, the steel industry crumbled and finally disappeared, replacing them with technology companies and bank guaranteeing to generate six digit bonuses for their CEO’s.
Pittsburgh was built on the foundation of steel which Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish American industrialist brought to the area growing the city’s population from 86,000 in the 1870s to over 600,000 before the whole steel industry collapsed leaving the city without any identity. In the late 1880s Carnegie Steel became the largest manufacturer of pig iron, steel rails and coke in the world, spreading his empire along the Monongahela River by buying the rival Homestead Steel Works in 1888, just a few miles up the Mon River which not only came with an extensive plant served by tributary coal and iron fields, but also a 425 mile long railway and even a line of lake steamships. He combined all of his assets and those of his business associates and launched in 1892 the great Carnegie Steel Company, the biggest and most powerful steel manufacturer in America. Despite his many public proclamations in favour of a free market without government interference he used his power and influence to lobby for better steel tariffs and pressure US congress to amend laws and allowing him huge tax saving and other advantages.
“Measured by the standards of 19th century tycoons, Carnegie was not a particularly ruthless man but a humanitarian with enough acquisitiveness to go in the ruthless pursuit of money.” While he lived a life of the rich and famous, the contrast to the hard lives of many of his workers who had to survive on minimum wages was stark. Nevertheless Carnegie declared himself a philanthropist and wrote a “Gospel of the Wealth” in which he condemned the worship of money and encouraged fellow rich people to cap their yearly income to an amount which still allowed them to live a life of luxury and splendour while giving the surplus away to help society, mostly by granting money to build universities and libraries in their names, something a worker who had to feed his many hungry children was not able to appreciate, nor ever benefit from.
“Maybe with the giving away of his money,” commented one biographer, “he would justify what he had done to get that money.”
Carnegie was the first who introduced cheap and efficient mass production in the rising steel industry adopting the Bessemer process which allowed a much faster production thus sending the price of steel plummeting, leading to an increased railway network which began to spread like a spider web all over America. He was vehemently against the imperialist inclinations of the still young US, which after the Spanish American war, annexed the Philippines, and using the power of money, bought the whole country from Spain for twenty million, something which he countered with a personal offer of the same sum to the Philippines so that the Filipino people could buy their independence from the United States. Of course the offer bore no fruits and was simply ignored by the US, who already then began to spread their powerful arms all over the world to grab as many resources as they could steal from weaker countries.
Mangon never understood why the city celebrated and commemorated the filthy rich industrialists and not their own workers whose hands, full with calluses, had built Pittsburgh’s steel empire and generated vast riches for the owners, who were ruthless and ignorant to the rights and demands of the workers.
Carnegie was no exception, while he put a lot of efforts in keeping up a public profile as humanitarian, sticking his name on every public building he erected, as pacifist against the aggressive US war policy, and as philanthropist who gave away most of his money to foundations he considered being beneficial to society; he was absolutely opposed to the right of workers to form unions to stand up in one strong unified voice to company owners whose only goal was to run their factories for maximum profits.
The steel workers in the Pittsburgh area organised themselves into the AA Union and demanded from him a thirty percent increase of their meagre wages after Carnegie’s company profits at the Homestead Works had risen by sixty percent. Henry Frick, a business associate whom he had installed as plant manager rejected the worker demands on orders of Carnegie who objected them on principle of his economic theory that higher wages would only increase production costs, thus contributing to an overall price increase, hurting the simple workers in the end. The conflict between the workers of the AA Union and the owners of the Carnegie Steel Company soon escalated and became in 1892 one of the most serious bloody labour confrontations in US history, lasting 143 days.
Carnegie crossed the ocean back to the old world shortly after the beginning of the Homestead Strike into the safety and comfort of his Scottish castle, leaving the cold hearted and evil Frick, who soon became famous as the most hated man in America, and was later named the worst American CEO of all time, in charge to deal with the AA Union workers which he did with an iron fist.
Today was the 23 of July 2002 which was exactly 110 years to the day that Alexander Berkman, an anarchist, attempted to assassinate Frick in his office where he sat with the vice president of the plant by shooting him several times in the neck and stabbing him with a poisoned knife. The local newspapers reported then that the first bullet hit Frick in the left earlobe and penetrated his neck near the base of the skull, while the second one hit him in the neck and caused extensive bleeding. Only then was Berkman subdued by his business associate and other office employees who had rushed into the office. Berkman spent the next twenty-two years in jail while Frick, despite having been seriously wounded, returned to work a week later.
When Mangon found a book about Emma Goldstein in the school library, another anarchist, lover and consort of Berkman he learned that the assassination attempt to rid the world of corporate evils like Frick was a so called “propaganda deed” defined first by Johann Most, who advocated publicising violent acts of retaliation against counter-revolutionaries because “we preach not only action in and for itself, but also action as propaganda.”
Mangon had read Duval and liked especially one quote in which the author famously declared: “Theft exists only through the exploitation of man by man…when Society refuses you the right to exist, you must take it…the policeman arrested me in the name of the Law, I struck him in the name of Liberty.”
While Mangon rejects violence in all forms and adopted “non-violence” as his basic attitude towards society, it doesn’t mean that he was condemned to inaction and passivity towards society. On the contrary, it inspires him to actively pursue ventures which allow him to shake up people around him through non-violent means. The most powerful of them is graffiti which he considers not only an act of pure art forced into the public’s face, but also a way to communicate that he is still alive and has a voice. He planned this night for many weeks and chose the day carefully: July 23 to honour, in his view, the selfless act of Berkman and to wake up the masses to the evil of capitalism, despite the violence it inherited, which he chose to accept as necessary and viewed the assassination attempt as the direct consequence of the killings of nine union workers and injuring seventy during the Homestead Strike.
Mangon is ready to commit a pure propaganda deed by spraying a message on the centre pillar of the historically saturated Hot Metal Bridge, (which was actually a song title by the Gorillaz) but which he finds as being the saddest statement a human possible could utter and ultimate consequence of any human activity if it is based on the greed for power and money. If he succeeds with tonight’s plan “EVERY PLANET WE VISIT IS DEAD” will rise in huge letters out of the middle of the Monongahela River widely visible for everyone whose eyes fell upon one of Pittsburgh most important landmarks. It will be his way to finally let the world know that he existed, to show to himself that he could step out of the long shadow his family had cast by generations of generations of being law obedient parts of the big machine. His big piece will be a direct affront to his mother and her beautification committee, it will become a raised middle finger in the face of his father on his way to work, but it will definitely guarantee him becoming an accepted member of a graffiti crew.
Mangon stares at the bridge and the Mon river which flows undisturbed by his thoughts underneath him. Tonight is the night which will change everything forever or, something which he did not dare to think about—will be the end of his freedom. If he would be caught by the cops, not only would he have to bear the punishment the juvenile court would impose on him, but he would also feel the wrath of the whole Bloom family coming down on him, for daring to humiliate and soil their family name by becoming a vandalising criminal.
Tonight the river lays stretched lazily almost like a woman on a recliner in front of him, flowing slowly like black poison in the veins of a man who had been condemned by a cruel society to death for crimes questioning its legitimacy to impose their rules over the freedom of individuals.
There are a few times a year when the river suddenly swells, when it becomes a wild and dangerous animal trying to break free from the muzzle humans forced on it in an attempt to tame it and bend nature to obey their greedy will.
There are a few rumours and fairy tales ranking around the Monongahela River, one of which speaks about a strange river monster, half man, half fish, the Monongy. Named so by local Indian tribes who told stories around the campfire about it eating and killing everyone, especially young children, who had come too close to its treacherous banks and fallen into the river. There are legendary accounts from British soldiers going back as far as the French and Indian war, who have spoken of encounters with the Monongy in the Monongahela River.
There were so many sightings of the river monster reported during the 1930s through the late 1950s that the city even created their own police task force whose sole purpose was to investigate sightings of the creature. Of course no evidence had ever produced and evil tongues whispered that money for the task force only made the local donuts shops prosper supporting the fact that Pittsburgh’s police force consisted of officers who looked like fat stuffed pigs riding around town in their matchbox cars.
Another river mystery is that of the missing airplane, a B-25 in route from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which crashed early in the morning of January 31, 1956 and which, despite the relative shallowness of the water, had never been found and remains to the day one of the Pittsburgh’s regions unsolved mysteries
Mangon snips the rest of the joint into the river and watches it being carried away slowly. He turns his head to the right, upstream, towards the next bridge which the honourable city of Pittsburgh has named “The Pinkerton Landing Bridge” to commemorate the murderers who were set free after killing nine Homestead workers while injuring scores, among them many women and children.
Mangon checks the gear for the last time, getting ready to avenge the AA Union workers of the Homestead plant and honour the victims whose blood turned the Monongahela red, 110 years after the assault and murder of nine people: AA Union workers, women and children.
After 143 days of strike, which was technically a lockout, Frick, while continuing to pretend to negotiate with the worker’s representatives, had ordered the Pinkerton’s to retake the plant which he had turned into a fort to protect it from the strikers who had managed to occupy it. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was a private army with more agents than there were members of the standing military forces of the US and was hired by filthy rich business magnets to infiltrate unions, supply guards, keep strikers and suspected unionists out of the factories as well as recruiting goon squads to intimidate workers. Knowing that the Pinkerton’s would get the job done, he equipped them with Winchester rifles and sent them on two fortified barges up the river on July 6 1892. Once the 300 men army of private detectives would have chased the AA Unionists from the Homestead plant, Frick, on behalf of the owner Andrew Carnegie, would bring in cheap labourers whom he had hired from as far away as Europe and many blacks from the South to have them work the steel mills for half the unionists wages and completely under his control as they were not allowed to become union members.
Once the towboat with the two barges passed the Monongahela Connecting Railroad Bridge, which was still missing its Hot Metal twin part, and before entering the almost perfect 180 degrees curve the Mon, drew in its elegance as a last salute before dissolving to become the Ohio River, word had reached the strikers of the impending approach of the heavily armed private army.
They responded with a small flotilla of union boats which were sent downriver to meet the barges. After the strikers fired a few random shots at the barges, but then withdrew, the plant whistle was blown at two-thirty am and a scream tore through the silence of the night, waking up thousands of men, women and children from the surrounding homes who came rushing to the plant to support the strikers.
The Pinkertons had attempted to land under the cover of darkness at around four am. A few shots were fired at the tug boat and at the barges, but no one was injured. Some people in the crowd had begun to throw stones at the barges, but the strike leaders shouted for restraint. The mercenaries were undisturbed even by the sight of women and small children on the banks of the river and prepared to disembark, upon which the first shots were fired. The first two who went down were the Captain of the Pinkertons, one Frederick Heinde, and William Foy, a steel worker and union member.
The Pinkerton agents aboard the barges fired into the crowd, killing two and wounding eleven among them women and children. The crowd responded and a battle ensued, killing two agents, while wounding twelve in a firefight which continued for about ten minutes.
While the strikers huddled behind the pig and scrap iron in the mill yard, the Pinkertons had cut holes in the side of the barges so that they could fire on anyone who approached them. The tug boat had departed with the wounded agents leaving the barges stranded. Hundreds of brave women crowded the riverbank forming a human wall between the strikers and the agents, calling on the strikers, among them their husbands, friends, lovers, sons and uncles to “kill the Pinkertons.
The strikers continued sporadically to fire upon the barges. John McLuckie issued a proclamation at six am asking for townspeople to help defend the peace upon which over five thousand people congregated on the small hills overlooking the steelworks.
Downstream, a few miles away in Pittsburgh, thousands of steelworkers from other plants had gathered in the streets, listening to accounts of the attacks at Homestead and upon hundreds decided to get armed and began to move towards the plant in Homestead to assist the strikers.
At eight am when the sun had risen over the Mon River, the Pinkertons attempted again to disembark and storm the plant which resulted in the death of four more strikers. This attack was prevented by the workers who had been holed up at the Homestead plan vowing to defend it to death. Fear began to crawl over the Pinkertons when they felt the strong will of resistance of the AA Unionists and many agents refused to participate any longer in the firefight. They crowded on the barge which lay stranded farthest from the shore. Despite warnings of the senior agents many abandoned ship and swam away trying to flee the impending disaster.
At ten-fifty am the tug came back and attempted to retrieve the barges, but was only greeted with gunfire and driven off.
Three hundred riflemen, composed of unionists and sympathetic townsfolk, positioned themselves on high ground and kept a steady stream of fire on the barges. Just before noon a sniper shot and killed another Pinkerton agent.
As the resistance of Frick’s private army was still not broken, the strikers resolved to a new tactic: floating rafts with timbers soaked in oil towards the barges. The Pinkerton agents panicked and the captain threatened to shoot anyone who would dare to flee. Luck was on their side when the fire burned itself out before it had reached the barges. Another attempt to float a railroad flatcar with drums of burning oil failed as it too burned out long before it became any danger to the Pinkerton army. Someone threw dynamite at the barges, but only inflicting little damage. In their desperation the workers decided to pour oil into the Monongahela River but all attempts to set the oil slick alight failed.
The representatives of the AA Union worked hectically behind the scenes to avoid further bloodshed and to defuse the tense situation. At nine am, the president of the unionists had rushed to the sheriff’s office to ask to meet Frick, who refused, coldly calculating that the more chaotic the situation would become, the more likely it would force Governor Robert Pattison to call out the state militia in his support.
It was only the next day when the sheriff sent a telegram to the governor describing how his deputies had been driven off and stating that workers and their supporters now numbered over five thousand people preventing the landing. Pattison still refused to act immediately, hoping to avoid getting involved in this violent labour dispute which threatened to become even more bloody.
At four pm more than five thousand men, most of them armed mill hands from other steel works, had arrived to the Homestead Plant in support of the brave workers and townspeople who had held their positions since the previous night. One Union leader urged the strikers to let the Pinkertons surrender, but his pleas were drowned out as the strikers began to bombard the barges with fireworks left over from the recent Independence Day celebration. The head of the union strike committee spoke to the crowd and demanded that each Pinkerton agent should be charged with murder, forced to turn over their arms and be removed from town. The crowd shouted in agreement.
The spirit of the Pinkertons was broken. They wished to surrender and at five pm raised a white flag while sending out two agents to speak with the strikers. They were guaranteed safe passage out of town to which they agreed readily. Once they disembarked their embattled barges, they were stripped of their arms and forced to pass along two rows of guards armed with Winchesters. A crowd of angry man and women threw sand and stones at the agents, spat on and beat them, clubbing some into unconsciousness. In a fury they ransacked the barges and burned them to the waterline. Those acts of violence by the crowd was immediately picked up by the media causing public opinion to turn quickly against the strikers.
It was July 7 when a special train had arrived at twleve-thirty am carrying the Pinkerton agents to their final destination in Pittsburgh, accompanied by an AA lawyer and several town officials.
When the agents arrived, the state officials declared that they would not be charged with murder but released immediately without charges. Another train whisked the agents out of the city and away from the betrayed workers.
The strike committee sent an urgent telegram to Governor Pattison to convince him that law and order had been restored in the town and at the plant, but it came too late. Another attempt of Union officials who met Pattison on July 9 in Harrisburg failed as well to prevent him from sending in the state militia.
The governor was concerned that, as the union controlled the entire city of Homestead and most of its citizens were sympathetic to the strikers, if he ordered his troops to take the town by force, a massacre would occur. But Pattison felt Carnegie breathing down his neck, whose political machine had helped him get elected governor of Pennsylvania and now his masters demanded him to follow their orders. He obliged and soon six thousand state militia poured into Homestead at the small Munhall train station. Commander Snowden made no secret to the local officials who welcomed them on friendly terms that they sided with Carnegie and that he was now in control, having an army of four thousand soldiers who had already surrounded the plant while another two thousand camped on high ground overlooking the city. Within just twenty minutes the soldiers had displaced the picketers and by ten am the next morning the company officials were back to their offices. Just three days later, on July 18 1892, the town was placed under martial law, which was another disheartening blow to many of the strikers who began to give up hope.
Because of the government’s army and their show of force with loaded guns, the strike was broken, the plant reopened and filled up with new workers, who were not union members, mostly blacks from the south who were willing to work obediently for much lower wages than the former AA Union workers had been willing to accept. This triggered a race war between non-union black and white workers in the Homestead plant whose mill furnaces had been relit on July 15 1892.
Mangon stands up, pulling the black hoodie deep onto his face, a headlight strapped on his forehead, a respiration mask dangling around his neck, a harness around the legs near the waist and closes the backpack out of which he has taken the towing rope. He is ready to strike, it is all or nothing now. Mangon waits until the last car passes and begins to walk fast with the rope in his hand to the bridge and along the narrow vehicle lanes towards the centre pillar in the middle looking like a robber who haunts the houses of the good people of Pittsburgh at night to rob them of their valued possessions.
He stops in the middle of the old truss bridge where its arched top chords touch down onto the deck, ties one end of the tow rope around it and peers down onto the dark black Monongahela River. Mangon connects the other end to the harness in which he intends to sit suspended hanging freely more than forty meters above the Mon.
Today was the day, he was ready to kill or get killed.
He turns on the headlight and leans over the railing to get a closer look at the centre pier which looks like a plow that cuts through the river waters, creating whirls and turbulences on its way. His breathing is laboured and heavy through the respirator mask which is essential to protect him from the toxic fumes of the spray colours and also helps him to cover his face from the many CCTV cams the Mayor has set up all over the city. He is sweating in his black hoodie as it is another of these hot and humid July nights when the winds from the east avoid Pittsburgh and cause sleeplessness and unease for its residents.
Mangon lifts his legs over the railing, carefully testing the rope’s strength before trusting it and lowers his body slowly into the river abyss below him. Despite everything it is much easier than he feared when he had gone over this moment in his mind a hundreds of times, his hands are wet with sweat and his heart is racing. He is aware that the next hour will change his life forever.
He opens the backpack which he has strapped in front of his body and takes out a black spray can. He pushes his body away from the bridge with his legs to get a better overview of the dimensions of the area, which would take up the whole upstream side of the pillar. He begins to spray the outlines of the blockbuster letters. “EVERY PLANET WE VISIT” soon appears in big letters in a sophisticated and complex style which he has developed during the last weeks, and resemble exploding steel beams, filling them up in shades of blue and combined with grey, giving them a three dimensional appearance.
“So far, so good,” Mangon thinks, his intense concentration on the work has succeeded in calming his nerves. Everything appears to be quiet, the cars which pass periodically overhead do not notice anything nor is he spotted and reported to the police as a vandal by a zealous passerby. Two more words to go. He lowers his body a few feet down the rope and uses again black to write the letters “IS” which take the shape of two twisted knives seemingly piercing through the back. He proceeds to apply a lot of white as a background between the interwoven letters to make them stand out even more against the dark tone of the stone pillar.
Now only one word is left: “DEAD” which he intends to spray with Krylon Devil Red in the shape of letters which look like they are drenched in blood. It will be the altissimo of his big piece. He lowers his body a bit more and begins to spray the first three letters “DEA” which are an abbreviation for America’s Drug Enforcement Agency, a funny pun. Suddenly he becomes aware of light flashes which begin to dance in front of him reflecting on the fresh paint of his graffiti. He looks up and meets the eyes of two police officers who are leaning over the railing staring down while gesticulating for him to climb up.
He has been caught.
Panic sets in. Cold sweat begins to cover his face.
His biggest fear becomes a reality the moment the cops begin to pull slowly up on the rope which he is hanging suspended over the river.
He cannot not give up now. He knows, if they catch him, he will have to face the full punishment for his act of rebellion, he should face it at least for the correct message. He has to complete his mission. He stems his legs slightly upwards against the pillar with his head hanging down in an attempt to slow down the police men, who began to pull harder. Even almost out of reach he sprays the last letter on his master piece. “EVERY PLANET WE VISIT IS DEAD” appears on the historic Hot Metal Bridge … His mission is complete even it means getting caught and being severely punished for it.
The policemen, who had doubled in numbers, are uniting their strengths and pull with new vigour on the rope, lifting Mangon upwards in short violent intervals. He is so close that he is able to stare into the eyes of the cops who, with red faces, are sweating profoundly while cursing him. A few more feet and they will be able to grab him, pull him over the railing and subdue him on the floor, handcuffing him while reading out the rights to him. He will be arrested and it is just a matter of hours before they will have found out his identity and call his parents. He will appear on the local news the following day his name forever branded into the minds of Pittsburghers as being the vandalising criminal who has defaced their beautiful city.
Mangon’s eyes open wide when he looks up and in an instant becomes aware of the sheer immensity and beauty of the night sky with its billions and billions of stars stretching infinitely in all directions. He is just one young man suspended on a rope between the heaven’s and the dark river which will carry his body away with deadly force sending his soul up to merge again with the stars.
Mangon takes out the knife from the front pocket of the backpack and cuts the rope with one slash.
He falls into the darkness of the river.
Do you know how pale and wanton thrillful
Comes death on a strange hour
Unannounced, unplanned for
Like a scaring over-friendly guest you’ve
Brought to bed
Death makes angels of us all
& gives us wings
Where we once had shoulders
Smooth as raven’s
Jim Morrison, The Severed Garden
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