Thursday, 13 March 2014

Black Chaos (Or, "The Meatpacker's Boy") 1967

A mind trying to recover from a night's drinking, the following morning can and more often than not is, a black chaos-naturally, not everybody understands this. I don't think my mother could. I lived on York Street, on the Eastside of St. Paul, Minnesota, it was 1967, late fall.
I heard the horn honk, it was my mother with her boyfriend, Earnest Brandt, they both worked at Swift's Meats, in South St. Paul, they came to pick me up, this being the 3rd month of my employment, working for them.
No sooner thought than done, I rolled out of my bed, in my studio apartment, flung my clothes off a hanger, in the closet, wiped my feet on a clean rug on an unusually dirty floor, and duplicated my morning a hundred times over, meaning, I would take the ride to work, I worked on the Hog-kill assembly line. My mother was a Meatpacker, she had worked there at Swift's going on twenty-two years, Earnest her boyfriend, thirty-years.
So I took the generously offed ride, in that, I had resolved I'd go to work today, not every day did I come to this decision, I think I missed as much work as I worked, in those days, and in particular at Swift's. I was nineteen at the time, and on the road to becoming a professional drinker, some call it: alcoholic. But I never did give it such a distaining name, back in those days.
Anyhow, it did take me a while to get to the car, I had to search for my apartment keys through a heap of clothes, as Ernie's face blazed with wrath, "Where is that son of yours," he asked my mother, Elsie. And he surely would have used stentorian tones, that vibrated up to my apartment had my mother not been a few feet from him, but he held his cool: not that I blame him.
I kind of new I was doomed today, I had missed a few days this week, it was now Friday, and to be frank and honest, every day I came in late, or not all, and with a handover, well there it is, there was nothing left to do but fire me.
The old man, that's what I called the Manager of our department, would be frustrated as he was always frustrated with me, or nearly always. And the Union, at my Mother's beck and call, and Ernie's at request, always came running to the rescue, and saved my job, three times previously, and this was only the end of the third month, going into the 4th month, god forbid, it be more. But I knew the Union would try to iron things out again, on their behalf, not on mine of course.
I worked hard, when I worked, and it was of course always with a hindered hangover, sometimes my teeth rattled and my head ached and sometimes the manager marveled at that I could keep up with the strong longtime Polish and Irish men on the line: but I was of Irish stock, and Russian stock, and Polish stock myself, hard muscled, strong willed, stubborn, and I could flip the back of those hogs as easily as any other longtime worker, and these hogs weighed 250 to 400 pounds each, and their backs which ended up being bacon, were heavy, perhaps a decent portion of that 400-pounds of hog, and I had to cut the back out of the hog, and flip it over, 180-degrees; and you do that for eight hours see how you feel: you have to lift them up from the iron-belt and turn them about, after four hours no simple task.
This morning the manager had called me into his office. There were several other people in there. I kind of expected it, "I can't take you anymore," said the Old Manager, "you're driving me crazy with your chaotic schedule of work, for the fourth and last time, you're fired, fired, you make me look bad in front of my peers, get out of my office."
I suppose my face was blank, back in those days, I showed little emotion, and I was half under the weather to speak of, recovering from the aftermath of a night's drunk and that so called black chaos inside the head was stirring, what else would you expect. I simple smiled, he was a good man, and I told myself: it's really long overdue. I never said anything but I knew he had a wife whom was bipolar, and once when he was in a daring mood, and asked me to take a minute to listen to him, so he could get me to work harder one day, he told me of all people, about his wife, indicating, I had problems, but so did he. I'm not sure where he was going with this, but I simply agreed to work harder that day, in a different department for him.
Anyhow, back to the manager's office, and ridding of his pest.
With a trembling finger, the old man pointed it at the door, a sign for me to hit the road. As he went "Ha! Ha!" laughing nearly madly.
For me, it was not the same snowstorm, as it was for him. I was young, and he was old. Now writing this out today, I know what it is to be old, and I know what it is to be youth. Like him, he knew both of them, back then. I had another forty-five years to go, but I did understand, I got his goat. And I knew he was putting on a demonstration, perhaps to show his strength, he was lenient with me in the past. And perchance he needed to reinforce to his subordinates, he was in charge.
Now again, my mother and Earnest reached out to come to my rescue, they were going to talk to the Union Representative.
"No," I told both of them, "I don't want the Union's hot-irons trying to fix things for me, I deserve what the old man is doing; matter of fact, he's just doing his job, and I should have been fired long ago."
Well, to be frank, they didn't argue the point.

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