THE JOB FAIRY: ONE FAIRY YOU DON'T WANT TO MEET
Albany, N.Y. (SatireWire.com) — Mitch Gruleman sighs as only a burly, bearded man dressed in a white taffeta fairy costume and wielding a 3-pound wooden wand can sigh. "C'mon Poledo, let me in," he says. "I gotta put this dollar under your pillow."
But Nick Poledo is in no mood for visitors. Hours earlier he was laid off from a Balmerton aluminum door factory in Albany, and now, just before midnight and just after a fifth of Jack Daniels, he is piss-drunk and pissed off. For a second time, he screams at Gruleman to go away, and this time unleashes a string of expletives to make the point clear.
That's all it takes. Without warning, Gruleman's fairy wand — actually a black Louisville Slugger covered in silver glitter — flashes through the air and smashes the wooden door to the apartment. Gruleman, his tiara askew, muscles his way in, and with one meaty, opera-gloved hand, grabs Poledo by the neck.
"Jesus!" Poledo gasps. "What kind of fuckin' fairy are you?"
Gruleman doesn't answer. He doesn't have to. As everyone at Balmerton Industries knows, Mitch Gruleman is The Job Fairy, and he's one fairy you don't want to meet.
A TOOTH FAIRY WITH ATTITUDE
"People ask why I do this stupid job, as if I had a friggin' choice," says Gruleman in a gruff voice singed by years of Marlboro Lights. "Look, we've had 15,000 laid off in the last year, and the way it was put to me was, I could either become The Job Fairy, or get a visit from The Job Fairy. Know what I'm sayin'?"
Understandably, it is not a coveted position. The post was created 20 years ago by Balmerton founder Harold Ball, who at age of 72 began losing his teeth, among other things. "One night I lost a molar, and I was so depressed about it," recalls Ball, now 92 and still company Chairman. "So my late wife, Mrs. Ball, told me to put it under my pillow. That night she got dressed up like a little fairy and left me a dollar. It was wonderful, and I miss her very much. If you die and see her, please tell her to wait for me."
Not long after the incident, Cincinnati-based Balmerton — one of the world's largest building material suppliers — had to lay off 1,000 workers. Ball agonized over the decision, then remembered his wife's solution. "My little Tooth Fairy cheered me up, so I thought, 'What if we have a Job Fairy who puts a dollar under your pillow? Wouldn't that make people feel better?'
Not surprisingly, Balmerton employees disagree. "Why can't they just fire you and leave you alone?" asks Gerry O'Ryan, who once worked at a Balmerton window factory in Indiana. "Getting your pink slip from a violent, 300-pound fairy, it's not dignified."
Gruleman, however, bristles at such talk. "I don't give out pink slips, just dollars," he insists. "But sometimes I wear pink slips, unless I'm in the yellow chiffon number."
FAERIES ON A MISSION
Since that first layoff, the position of Balmerton Job Fairy has usually been vacant. From 1982 to 1999, the company laid off few as it grew from 13,000 to nearly 85,000 employees. But since early 2000, The Job Fairy has been very busy.
Or rather, Job Fairies. The attrition rate for the position is extraordinarily high. In the past 18 months, twelve employees have donned the Job Fairy costume. Two quit, six were fired, and three are still in the hospital. Former Job Fairy Edwin Marcus explains the turnover:
"Look at it from an employee's perspective. You're sittin' in your house, you just lost your job, and a guy in a fairy costume shows up to give you a whole dollar. And even though Mr. Ball likes to think I'm cute and all, dressed up like a happy fairy, you don't think I'm cute, right? You want to kick my elfin ass."
After having his nose broken three times, Marcus quit after one month. Gruleman, however, has lasted eight months, far longer than any previous Job Fairy. What's his secret? One explanation is size. At 6-foot-2-inches and 265 pounds, Gruleman is a bread truck with a beard, and a silver tiara, blue satin sash, size 15 pumps, white taffeta dress with ovoid, paper-thin muslin wings stitched on the back, and a "wand" that looks suspeciously like a 36 oz. baseball bat with a red, sheet metal star drilled into the end. "It wasn't red, originally," he volunteers.
Another explanation: unlike most of his predecessors, some of whom were fired for underperformance, Gruleman never takes no for an answer.
TIMES ARE TOUGH. THE JOB FAIRY IS TOUGHER.
Gruleman weaves his rusty Buick stationwagon through a parking lot of equally clunkish cars, searching for the apartment of 28-year-old Joseph Gerdy, another former door-factory worker. Gruleman knocks, and a short, thickset man with an unshaven face and one wide, black eyebrow, opens the door.Before Gerdy can utter a sound, Gruleman points a beefy finger in his face. "Look, it's late, I've got 13 more people to see, and I've got a run in my tights. Now let me fly on silken wings to your pillow or you're gonna get 32 visits from the Tooth Fairy."
It is, perhaps, not surprising that the position of Job Fairy may soon be downsized itself. After several complaints and two lawsuits, the concept has come under heavy fire from labor unions, OSHA, and civil liberties groups, among others, who say the fairies are humiliating and, occasionally, violent.
But at least one person isn't buying it. "Nonsense, everyone at Balmerton loves The Job Fairy," says Harold Ball. "I sometimes like to think of Mrs. Ball wearing that fairy costume. She's buried in one, you know."
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