Monday, February 22, 2010

Fragment 31: Proletarian Order

It was three days after the plant closed its doors for the last time that I got in my Ford pick-up truck and pulled away from the bungalow, 6 a.m., with Martha and the kids left behind still sleeping.

I had told her nothing, but had written the note. I felt she would understand.

Boris had his little fishing shack two hours out of town in cottage country.

I remember him telling me, God knows how many times, about his grandfather picking the place up in the 1940's for this tiny fucking sum of money, like two hundred bucks or some ridiculous shit, and now he was surrounded by rich folks and million dollar lakeside palaces.

But that is the way it always is, we start it and they fuck it up.

I love the way gravel sounds under the pick-up tires, and the road to Douglas Lake was all gravel once you pull off the 410. It is a beautiful noise, so I immerse myself. With twelve hundred a month going to the house, five hundred twenty to the part-time daycare, and all the other expenses of an average life in a mid-sized city, I think I can kiss the truck goodbye. Martha's four nights a week at the KFC won't cut it much with the bank when the severance runs out.

And for me that will only be....well not all that long.

This fucking truck was my reward to myself for six years of double shifts. It'll be the first thing to go.

July. Thirty degrees and perfectly sunny. Slowing slightly for shirtless kids in shorts walking roadside, pulling in past the tacky old sign that he bought with Janice the year before she died in the accident down at the turnpike (phone ringing at 4 am, Boris frantic, telling me he needed me to come out, telling me he just couldn't identify her alone...)...Chez BOJA with two cartoonish sunbathers grasping fancy looking drinks entwined on what seemed a single deckchair.

Down the stairs past the cabin to the dock.

There, by perfect blue is Boris, staring blankly across the small lake to the other shore.

As always the fishing rod lies at his side. Meaningless, he hasn't fished in years. You can't actually fish in a small lake with sixty cottages on it and a bunch of drunk stock brokers driving loud motor boats stupid fast as some kind of cock extension.

We sit for ten fucking minutes before he says a word.

The lake placid, the joy of kids laughing, jumping from some offshore swimming dock, a skinny teenager holding her hand up, swerving to-and-fro, waterskiing.


Boris has this huge beard, Karl Marx big he likes to say, greying round the edges, and monster tattooed arms. Only thing he wears for summer weather is the wife-beater and one of what seems to be two pairs of all together too tight shorts (not flattering, I remember he once insisted that the guy at the union sensitivity meeting was coming on to him, but given my faith in the average gay man's sense of good taste I sincerely doubt that that wrinkled ass would have gotten a second's glance from Philip).

Boris pulls out a 100 menthol Slim and lights it, drawing smoke in deeply. Its a lady's cigarette, but when Jackson, drunk, made the mistake of pointing that out one night he found that a pool cue can, in fact, serve two functions.

-How's Martha?

Always the same shit. He knows full well Martha is fine. He talked to me yesterday. Chivalry. (Seeing me, really loaded, leaning over, touching Cynthia's leg...I'm in the can and there comes Boris saying what the fuck are you doing man, what about Martha you prick...)

How's Martha? How's Martha? Well frankly, last time I saw her she was crying at that stupid fucking "retro" breakfast table we bought in 2008. It didn't seem to matter how many times I told her, she just couldn't accept that I had no fucking clue what we were going to do...

-Were you there for the last unit?

Yeah, that's right Boris, I waited around with all those other poor fuckers, tears streaming down their faces, holding hands like it was fucking 9/11 or something, as that last fucking air conditioner rolled off the line, signing their names to the fucking thing like it was an atom bomb. You can be sure that after that management threw the little fucker straight into the garbage.

Not me, sorry, but I was already drinking, blowing that payoff, knowing that the three dollars for the Bud was a day's pay for the poor bastard working the twelve hour shift at the new facility in Shanghai. I thought those fuckers were supposed to be Communists...well, we all know that in practice the powerful find a way to fuck us all, regardless of what they deign to call themselves.

-what are you proud of...

I know what he is proud of, fourth beer open, why talk...

-I remember I walked into that plant, twenty-eight years ago and the first shift I fought so goddamn hard to keep pace. That night when I got back to the old apartment we had at the time I hurt so much that I wept like a three-year old....

Some kind of singing, distant yet unmistakeable.

-But nothing compares to when I got voted onto the committee.

Vague mint odour wafting across, one cigarette lit upon another, consummate old-school chain smoker, soon to go from Miller to Rye.

Always from Miller to Rye.

-Remember the strike in '98?

(How the fuck could I remember a strike three years before I started?)

-You know what got wasn't the bosses holding out or the office types, even the secretaries crossing the line, it was when that asshole down at the coffee shop came up to the picket and told me that I was a lazy mother-fucker and that I should stop complaining and be happy I have a job.

The sound, louder than it should be, of a helicopter overhead, reminding that this all became a whole lot less rustic when they opened the airport ten minutes drive north.

-Thing was I had been going to his shop for ten fucking years, must have spent 2 dollars plus a day, 300 fucking days out of the calendar, and here was this asshole, six fucking grand plus richer because of me, and he's calling me a lazy mother-fucker.

(Boris, four years ago, college kids drunk, telling him that he could wash their office floors one day, dislocating my shoulder as he pushed past me, breaking that one arrogant asshole's nose)

-Well, after the strike I went over there, ordered a latte, and when that timid little prick brought it over, with his sad fucking that'll be $2.25 sir, I took that fucking cup of shit and tossed it right over the counter at him. I think I said "shove those two dollars a day up your ass".

He's yelling, angry loud, and the kids a little over are staring across...startled...

-Boris, c'mon man, tone down...

-Did you go to any of the rallies?

Calmer, now, leaning back, opening another pack, a bit of a breeze accentuating his immense mane of hair, he staring off to his right, avoiding eye-contact...Boris, when angry, always avoids eye-contact...doesn't even matter if he's mad at you, he can't look over.

-No, Boris, you know I didn't. I didn't see the point. We could have protested every day for the last seven months after we got the fucking news and you know that it wouldn't have made any difference at all.

Boris keeps staring away, I should have just shut up...

-Look, be as mad as you want, and I am not saying that going wasn't worthwhile, but I spent the time with the kids. A Sunday is a Sunday and the kids don't give a shit about protesting if it means that we don't play basketball in the driveway.

-You could have brought them, teach them a thing or two about the union, you know all these teenies don't care at all about what we fought for and your kids will be teenagers soon enough...and then, who knows, maybe one of those endless stream of twenty somethings doing the minimum wage thing, hating unions because the asshole manager at Wal Mart that they work for tells them to...

Why disagree with him? He's not wrong, I guess (though I am sure that like all older people his opinion of the young is about as interesting and enlightened as is the average young person's view of him), but I just hadn't cared. Deer in the headlights, fucking Stockholm Syndrome, I don't know, I just wanted to move on, I just wanted to get out of there. Maybe it hurt too much.

-I knew you never came, of course, not like I couldn't see...You know you are part right. I remember the last of the three that NDP guy came. He got up and he sounded great, going on about how if they had been in power, if the worker's had been represented in government, it would never have happened, we would all still have our jobs because they would have a "Made in Ontario" industrial strategy or some such shit. We all know its fucking nonsense though...NDP or no NDP they can move their factory anywhere they want. Small changes seem to change nothing at all.

Silence, gentle waves ripple past, that midday quiet that comes between lunch and late afternoon, where everyone retires for an hour or so...a Canadian summer siesta.

-I wonder, you know, is it really so awful if working people get a decent shake...I mean, to not have an education or office job, does it really mean that we should get some shit wage or have other poor folks get mad if they don't have a union job with union pay? There is just no solidarity at all out there anymore. Its like it is somehow my fault that other people are getting even more fucked by their bosses than I am, like they just can't see that its not me...

-I should go Boris...

I want to leave. I feel even worse than when I came...and that is actually saying something.

Boris doesn't even answer, gaze still off aside...

-You know, I only ever liked you because of baseball.

Now this is something of a shock...

-What are you talking about..

Laughing, first time in days...

-Well, we were all over at the Golden Goose, Friday night, shift's end, and they had some godawful Bob Seger rip-off band singing about all that old time fucking rock-and-roll, and there you were, alone at the bar, staring up at the T.V. totally immersed in the Blue Jay's game, even though we were having a .400 season at the time. I thought, now that is dedication. This guy sticks with things.

The sky is now absolutely clear and the sun is brutal hot, beating down, no shade. Beer, fresh from the cooler is lukewarm in moments...

-Up till then I kind of thought you were just another young asshole. But you joined the bowling league, and you were there for all the hockey games...and you were the best goddamn outfielder we ever had on the plant team...

I loved those nights, so hot, humid, lights way too bright, ridiculous bad quality play, always some jackass who took it way too seriously, drinks at the Kat's Kaboose after, Screwdrivers, Molsons, bad wine...happy in the knowledge that the weekend lay ahead...

Boris and I, winning that stupid trophy, autoworkers glaring at us, but all in good fun, Sandy calls for Springsteen and the bartender obliges...

Boris is now, five years later, very drunk already, and kicks out forward knocking the bottle of Alberta's Finest over. He seems almost dizzy and uncertain. Voice wistful...sad...

-we'll never take that fucking title again, will we?

I suppose not.

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