My 'Goon Squad' Plays Capitalism
The "Goon Squad" is what I called the 10 members of the rugby team I hired to protect my banner salesmen from outside competition. It was a sort of joke: Princeton's equivalent of the street toughs who guarded the George Rafts and Edward G. Robinsons in the gangster movies of the day. As head of the Princeton University Banner Agency, I wasn't satisfied just to do well. I wanted to corner the market, make my pile, so as to prepare myself to link arms with John D. Rockefeller someday.Skip to next paragraph
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"Those guys are at the train station," I said to my boys at our first strategy meeting. "They're outside the restaurants. They're climbing the fences. Nail 'em! Bring 'em in! Show them your badges. If that doesn't work...."
I'd gotten to be head of the banner agency because during the past three years I'd sold more pennants and pins at the football games than any of the other salesmen had. But it had been hard work, and the outsiders, professional hawkers from Jersey City and Newark who came down for the day, got most of the sales. It was university property. They weren't supposed to be there. But no one had ever done anything about that before.
"Can we tackle them?" said "Hucker" Williams, a 250-pound. bruiser, with a gleam in his eye. "Knock the wind out of them?" There was a good deal of spirited laughter.
"Break no heads," I said. "But bring them in."
"In" was the campus police station, where earlier that day the goons had been deputized. There, one of the proctors - Mike or Albert or "Tiger" Bliss - would detain the trespassers until the game was over.
My salesmen worked on commission; I paid my boys $5 each. The markup on the merchandise was around 1,000 percent. You can see what I had in mind.
Whooping and hollering, the ruggers swept down on the unsuspecting hawkers, and by noon 14 of them were in the campus clink - two from as far away as Queens. As a result, my men sold out well before the game. On the way to my seat, I spotted an enemy hawker working the crowd (how had he escaped us?), but I smiled to myself and ignored him. "Let him have his day," I thought. Celebrating, later, I wondered, "Mightn't there be other things - hot dogs, perhaps - we could sell?"
The next two games went spectacularly well. I'd doubled, then tripled the order for pins and pennants, and hired three more salesmen. I was running out of places to store the swag. But now the goon squad was giving me a hard time.
"I spent the whole game chasing that one guy," Danny "The Ape" Crosby said.
"I got punched in the stomach - hard," "Butch" Reeves chimed in.
"You know, without us...." But I managed to interrupt Hucker just in time.
I made adjustments: a 100-percent pay raise and a rotation in assignments. But there were still murmurings of discontent.
The following week was the Harvard game, and the crowd was huge and came early. But where were my men? Only Hucker and his roommate (not even a rugger) showed up. When I finally found the others, they were hiding in a corner of the stands. They weren't even apologetic. I could have my $10 back. It wasn't worth it, they said. They couldn't miss the big game.
I tried to persuade them. I threatened them. But to no avail. If I hadn't driven the leftover stock back to the company warehouse in Brooklyn myself, I would have ended up in the red.
"I'll put you on commission," I told them at the meeting the following week. "Ten dollars for each of the first three outside peddlers you bring in. Eight dollars for the fourth and fifth, and $5 apiece from there on. If you don't capture anybody, you don't get paid." During the game itself, they could spell each other - two at a time - to patrol the fences, check the parking lots, and make sure no one came in.
"Agreed?" I said. They were getting the proper glint in their eyes. Agreed!
The morning of the next game dawned fair. We assembled as planned. They were all there - and raring to go."Go get 'em!" I shouted, and away they whooped. The first illegal hawker was taken into custody at 11 o'clock.
BY 1 p.m., every member of the goon squad had brought in at least one man. Hucker Williams had captured three. But illegals were now multiplying like rabbits. The more my men arrested, the more there seemed to be. After that last game, the word must have gotten out that we were a pushover. How else to explain the sudden influx of outsiders? The goon squad was delighted, of course. Less so my salesmen. Least of all, me.
That night in my dreams, hawkers from as far away as South Philly swarmed over me in packs. One particular character (we'd arrested him at every single game!) leered at me as the bottom of his ragged coat brushed across my upturned face. And then there was the scrawny kid with the shifty eyes and the Brillo-pad hair who could run faster than any of the goons, and who catcalled at them from behind the trees. His voice pierced my sleep. I woke up exhausted, defeated. Was it possible that I wasn't cut out to link arms with the likes of John D.?