Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2003Newsmakers
by Lyle R. Hill
I answered it just as it finished its second ring, but before I could speak even one word, the caller had already blurted out several.
“Hill … what in the world is going on? Have you gone soft? Are you gonna let them get away with this?”
While Johnny “The Mooch” Rago is still one of the most loathsome, disagreeable and truly dangerous people I know, he has actually mellowed quite a bit over the years. I attribute this to age, his marriage to a truly fine woman and occasional doses of religion. These days, he barks a whole lot more than he bites, whereas in his younger years, he said very little and never tired of biting … even when it wasn’t called for or needed. Now, he gets by mostly on his reputation, which on Chicago’s westside is still legendary.
“Mooch … what are you talking about?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m talking about, Hill. I’m talking about how you’re becoming the laughing stock of the whole glass industry. I don’t know how you can show your face in public.”
“Are you talking about the October article in USGlass, Mooch? ’Cause if you are, that didn’t bother me.”
“Didn’t bother you? Are you nuts? This guy Linder ripped you to pieces. He’s claiming you might not even exist. And let me ask you this … how come the magazine people let this guy attack you in your very own column? There’s no excuse for that, Hill. Have you no shame? You give me some names and addresses and I’ll straighten this thing out for you in no time.”
“OK, Mooch, I admit I was a little surprised, but my deal with the magazine calls for ten new articles a year and so they have to plug two months a year anyway. And they are under no obligation to print what I write. In fact, there have been a number of occasions when they didn’t think what I had written was appropriate, so they reprinted an old article or used something that I had sent in at some point in the past that they thought would be more acceptable. So I really can’t complain. And besides, since that thing with New Jersey happened, everything’s been kinda whacky anyway. So I guess nothing is a surprise anymore.”
“Whatta ya mean, everything’s been kinda whacky since the New Jersey thing? You mean since you told those clowns what you thought of them and put them in their place? That guy took the first swing, so whatever you gave him back, he had coming. Personally, I thought it was some of your finest work.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Mooch. It hasn’t been easy being me since I took on New Jersey.”
“Listen, Hill, if you think you got it bad, you ought to try being me for a while. But tell me what you’re talking about.”
“OK, I will. First, I go to the Glass Expo Midwest show in Lisle, Ill., and some guy comes up to me and hands me a five-dollar bill. Says it’s from the guy in Jersey … Eric Ulrich … who attacked me a few months ago. Claims it’s a peace offering of some kind.”
“What was this guy’s name … the guy that gave you the money?”
“Robert Price. His business card claims he’s the director of sales for J.E. Berkowitz in Westville, N.J.”
“So far, Hill, I like what I’m hearing.
You kept the five bucks, right?”
“Yeah, but then it gets a little weird. After I take the money, he asks me to autograph this miniature football for him so he can take it back with him to Jersey and show it to Ulrich. Then he autographs one of these miniature footballs for me and says I can take it back to my office and display it.”
“You know, Hill, maybe it’s some kind of New Jersey male bonding ritual or something. Maybe all over the state of New Jersey these guys have these little footballs with each others’ autographs on them.”
“Wait, Mooch, there’s more. Last week I’m in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at a sales conference thing and while I’m standing at the back of this large meeting room minding my own business, a young lady walks up to me and asks me if I’m Lyle Hill. I told her that I was and she proceeds to introduce herself as one Christine Cesare … from Bridgeport, N.J. … and a good friend of Eric Ulrich. Says she wants her picture taken with me so she can show it to Ulrich. I quickly excuse myself, find a vending machine where a Coke costs me $1.25 and what do I get back for change for the $2 I put into the machine? Three New Jersey quarters ... that’s what.”
“This is unbelievable, Hill. Anything else happen?”
“Oh yeah. I get back to my office the next day and, in addition to receiving my October copy of USGlass, wherein I have not only been wiped off my own page but been ridiculed by some guy I’ve never met, what else do I get in the mail … a letter from Ulrich filled with all kinds of wonderful facts and figures about the state of New Jersey and then this … and I quote … ‘if you happen to encounter a slithering glass salesman who claims to bear a $5 bill from me, don’t believe him. I did not give him any money to give to you. He is an imposter from Pennsylvania.’ Then he proceeds to trash people from Chicago and ends his letter by bashing people from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And, by the way, I want to go on record right here and now by saying that I have nothing against either of those two fine states. And then, last but not least, I get an anonymous voice mail message informing me that John Linder, the guy who stole my page and insulted me, was born in none other than …Jersey City, N.J.”
“How do you explain all this, Hill?”
“It’s totally inexplicable, Mooch.”
“What does inexplicable mean?”
“Well, Mooch, it kinda means strange … spooky … unexplainable.”
“Thanks, Hill. I didn’t know that. But what are we gonna do with this door closer guy, John Linder? And what about Robert Price and the Cesare woman? You just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it … free!”
“Nah … let it go. I just want to be done with it.”
“What? I don’t believe what I’m hearing! Are you telling me that you don’t want to get even … teach these people a lesson … send them a little message?”
“No … I don’t.”
“You have now become … totally inexplicable!”
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