I picked up a job at Medicote. Night shift. Minimum wage: $8.65 an hour. I processed bus bumpers, moving them from the paint line to the drying line, from a horizontal rack to a vertical rack. They weighed about a hundred pounds each.
My trainer was Petey. Nice little guy. He was five-foot-three and about a hundred and thirty pounds. And he could move them like they were nothing. After the first hour I could not keep my quota. Not even close. I was six-two and one-eighty at that time. I thought I was strong but I had really learned something that day: I wasn’t. I was so far from strong that it wasn’t even a blip on my radar. And this little guy so calm in demeanor to the point of achieving Buddhist Zen could throw me around the factory floor while eating his lunch and texting his girlfriend. Now here he was doing double the workload because of me.
I really needed a boost at that point, something to put me back on my feet at least in perspective as things were not generally going so well. And this wasn’t it.
Petey must have seen something in my face at that moment. He’s seen it before, and he explained to me the nights where temps would leave halfway through the shift yelling, “Fuck this!” Or after the first hour. Or after trying their hand at a couple then staring at Petey with disbelief and fright at the ease in which he handled those heavy fuckers and scrambling away from him when he went to shake their hand goodbye.
Petey placed a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, Man. It’ll get better.” I’m glad he didn’t squeeze or I probably wouldn’t have a shoulder left. Arm-wrestling was definitely out of the question.
I looked up at him then I looked around the metallic Hell of the factory floor that surrounded me at 3AM –sparks flying out from the arc welders, tow motors frantically speeding skids every which way, the maintenance crew all gathered around another broken machine scratching their heads.
I asked bitterly. “How the fuck would you know?”
He smiled. It was entirely without malice because all he had was patience and understanding because he was just so much better than me in every way.
I stayed until the end of my shift. Not once was there a time that I thought I could manage another night, another week or a month. Not once.
Six months later I was a data-entry filing clerk at a health firm along the Grand river. It wasn’t developing business applications but it wasn’t slinging bus bumpers either. It was an easy and aesthetic place where I got to dress well and eat lunch on a grassy knoll right beside the river. After the first week a wonderful brunette took fancy to me and began spending her lunch hours at my side. The first time she did I remember so well her asking me if she could join me as I looked up at her tall, glowing, statuesque frame.
Good God, really? For me?
So what if I wasn’t the hardest motherfucker to ever walk the face of the earth? It was alright. At that moment it was very much okay with me as I made room for her to sit down.
Petey was right, things did get better. And at that point I imagined he was still moving bus bumpers from horizontal to vertical drying rack throughout the night at Meticoke; as strong, patient and naturally content as any human being could be. Some things hit you hard in the gut and this was one of them. I still could not fully piece together why. But I do know one thing: I still wouldn’t fuck with him.
And I still can’t look away from him either.
Not Without a Fight
You’re not going to get much of anywhere
without a fight.
You have to want it
to keep going for it
with the understanding
that you may never have it.
It may break your back.
It may wreck your mind.
But you have got to keep
even if it doesn’t
amount to anything in the end.
And if that doesn’t work for you,
than might I suggest
that you move out of the way
You Go Live Your Own Will
I’ve seen people
out of nothing
but their own will
so don’t you sit there
and tell me
that I can’t do anything
based on yours.