The Boiler Makers, Putnam Securities, and Eliot Spitzer’s Game

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10/31/2003

Queens

Neighborhood: Queens

Photos: Matthew Roberts

They were boilermakers. They were blue collar guys in a labor union "local No. 5" in Queens and they had made a ton of cash by day trading on the market. These guys had done it all legally and legitimately, sort of, doing the same after market trading that Putnam Securities and other mutual funds are now under investigation for, and parleying their 401 K plans in to a collective $2 million gain. I was driving to Queens to photograph their group and I was prepared to shake some weathered, strong hands and congratulate them. A story about blue collar guys making good is such a rarity in the news these days, almost as rare as stories about the homeless. So I was looking forward to this. Hell, I’d ask these guys for a stock tip.

When I got out there a reporter named Ruth was sitting in her blue Volvo station wagon, trying to stay warm.

"The secretary in there is such an idiot," she said. "None of them will come out and talk."

I rang the bell 4 or 5 times and even flashed a prolonged smile and my press tags at the surveilance camera, to no avail.

They didn’t seem to understand that I was a brother and that I had come in good will. 20 minutes passed and during that time I got to know some workers from the concrete factory next door. One guy was named named Rob.

Rob was clearly insane or else extremely excited by my camera. Like a child, he kept asking that I take his picture. At one point he imitated the bionic man.

The boilermakers were supposed to be coming out of a meeting at 4:00 pm.

At 3:50, Rob drove by in a forklift at a speed apropriate for Nascar. He shouted to us: "Watch your back!"

We turned and sure enough, two men came down the stairs and exited the local no. 5 building. We were only three steps away. One guy in sunglasses looked a little like Nick Nolte. "I want you to get off the property," he said in a low and menacing voice. "Do you hear me? I want you off the property."

The property he was referring to was the sidewalk. Ruth, a little tentatively, asked him a question about the day trading successes.

"The SEC is investigating their company. As long as the SEC is investigating, there is nothing to talk about." He was already at his green Buick and opening the door to get in.

The mesmor principle (my own word: it means when the photographer is too fascinated by what he is seeing to take a picture) had set in on me. I had yet to raise my camera, but didn’t like the way this was going.

"But you made so much money," I blurted. "We think it’s laudable."

"You wasted your fuckin’ time coming out here, aright? You wasted your fuckin time."

He was in his car now and was set to drive away. He had established himself as an asshole, so I took two giant steps backwards and raised my 70-200 lens to take an identifying picture. Instantly, before I could shoot, he leaped out of the car and lunged towards me.

There are a few things I can do well in this world, and moving quickly is oneof them. I bolted from the spot and raced around a car.

"Jesus Christ buddy." I said as I stopped and turned to face him.

"Don’t Jesus Christ me." He said. He looked like a man who was capable of unspeakable heights of anger and that was something I could respect.

A dark streak moved in the right periphery. The boilermaker. in his haste to kick my teeth in, had forgotten to put his car in Park. Rob, the crazy concrete worker, leaped in the moving car and stopped the green buick a few feet short of it hitting one of the concrete company’s flat bed trucks. The boilermaker returned to his car and grunted some thanks to Rob. He turned to shout at me one last time and that was when I got my only good shot of him at the edge of the sunlight.

As he drove away I photographed his liscense plate number. Ruth called it in and had the desk run it. The car was registered to the union. No ID on the driver. I didn’t notice it, but apparently the guy circled around and eyed us for a while from a back street. Lord knows what he was thinking about – crushing my head in with a tire iron perhaps. Beware the vagaries of day-trading boilermaker.

boiler3
Rob the Bionic Man, exits the Buick he has just saved from crashing while its owner chased the taker of this picture around a car.
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