Concrete Jungle


Since that September day when lowlifes pulverized the WTC, we have witnessed the birth of the cult of Rudy. About the kindest thing Jimmy Breslin has said about the former mayor since that day is “on September 10th he was a mean little failure. Then he got lucky with a war.” His new book, The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez, is at once a diatribe against Rudy and his bully-boy minions, a condemnation of government failures on immigration policy, a migrant odyssey, and a pure Breslin rant.

An average of 50 construction workers a year die in New York City, and ones like the title character of Breslin’s new book, Eduardo Gutiérrez, undocumented and non-union, usually disappear without a mention. Gutiérrez drowned in concrete. Breslin was attracted to this case by the apparent immunity from safety and building codes enjoyed by Richard Ostreicher, a Hasidic builder from Brooklyn with cozy ties to Sir Rudy’s gang. A call to his buddies at City Hall would force fire and building officials to back off. Ostreicher even had an NYPD badge he liked to flash when throwing his weight around.

But Breslin doesn’t stay in the political swamps of Williamsburg. He takes us to San Matías in central Mexico, Eduardo’s dust-poor hometown, where life in America, even humping concrete off the books for creeps like Ostreicher, seems like paradise. He shows us the border and the cold nights of fear as migrants are terrorized by smugglers.

Breslin scatters his fire at times. He sees the Building Trades Council as part of the problem, when it is the one institution trying to bring better wages and benefits to undocumented workers. And he hasn’t spent much time on a construction site lately. His perspective ends around the hard-hat riots of the early ’70s. Nowadays, there is a lot more diversity on a building site than in any newsroom in America.

Breslin’s genius has always lain in showing us how the big and little pictures weave together, how these multitudes of lives collide on the streets of New York, and how that friction affects us all. He doesn’t always dot his i‘s and cross his t‘s, but that’s OK. This book is not a policy exercise but a colorful denunciation of a system that is a human creation. Individual decisions are made, officials neglect their duties and peddle influence, and arrogance reigns. Too many times it results in tragic events like a good young man drowning in concrete. Sometimes it seems like Jimmy Breslin is the last guy with a pen who still gives a damn.

Archive Highlights