Thursday, July 16, 2015

“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, in a black chaos—; naturally not everybody understands this but chemically dependent person understands it too well.  I don’t think my mother could ever fully understand me being addicted to alcohol the same way she was addicted to smoking cigarettes.
       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 of some 40-years, 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 that company. I had moved out of the neighborhood, called Donkeyland, but I still relished patronizing the two corner bars that seemed to be linked to it.
       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—the same basic motions I had duplicated a hundred times over—and accepted the ride to work with graciousness, gratitude, and a hangover.
       I worked on the Hog-kill assembly line.
       My mother was a Meatpacker in another department, and her boyfriend,   Earnest, was a painter 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 this one particular morning, 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 holding back stentorian tones, that vibrated inside of him, had he let it out would have zoomed up to me but he held his cool out of respect for my mother.
       I kind of knew 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 at all, and with a handover when I did come, well there it is, there was nothing left to do but fire me next time I came in late, that was my best deduction of the situation.

       The old man, that’s what I called the Manager of our department, somehow I frustrated him agonizingly with my outlandish behavior, nonchalantly as if nothing was wrong, as if on an andesitic.
        And the Union—The AFLCIO, at my Mother’s beck and call, and Ernie had a friend in that organization, who had up to now, saved my job twice for me, my mother have them run to the rescue, saving my job.  Now going into the 4th month, God forbid, it be more.  But I knew the Union would try to iron things out for me on their behalf, of my mother and her boyfriend. But I wasn’t making them look too good.
       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 pure hog, and I had to cut the back out of the hog, and flip it over, 180-degrees, and when you do that for eight hours see how you feel. You have to lift them up from the iron-belt and turn them roundabout, after four hours no simple task, after eight hours, you’ve had it.
       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 anyhow and I was not taught to talk back to my elders, to show respect and I did, plus in this case, as you now well know, I was 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, but “Yes sir.” And I calmly left, with a grin or smile, I’m not sure but of goodwill not matter what. I told myself: it’s really long overdue, I deserve to be fire! If anything I was always honest with myself. A dead beat is a dead beat.
       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, he told me of all his wife’s mental problems, I was a good listener. I’m not sure where he was going with this at first, but when he caught himself talking too much, he begged me do a special and speedily job for him, knowing good and well I could, and I did.  I figured he was a good man to stay with an unbalanced perhaps borderline schizophrenic—
       So I’ve deduced after long deliberation on what he had told me that day.
       Anyhow, back to the manager’s office, and ridding him of his pest, me!
       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 intensely.
       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 young.  Like him, he knew both of them, back then, I can see that now.  I had another forty-five years to catch up with him, but I did understand I got his goat, and unintentionally causing him to put on a show, if not demonstration to those around him, had I challenged him, he may have lost face, or what strength he had left, especially if the Union got me back to work!  He was lenient with me in the past. And perchance he needed to reinforce his authority to his subordinates, whatever the case, I was not going to belittle him, or challenge him.
       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 either.

Note: written 5-25-2014 (No: 1066)
Revised and reedited, 7-2015