Timeclocking with Winch:
Industrial Radiography
GeorgeEvery Memorial Day, even when George was a few thousand miles away, I could always hear him growling in my ear, reminding me of the real reason for this holiday.  It’s Memorial Day today, and even though he just passed from this earth, I still hear his gruff voice grunting in my head, even stronger than ever.I worked with George during my first decade as a single parent, had just left my teen years when I started that job, was in the latter part of my twenties when I moved on.  George was my boss most of that time, the best boss I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty, a few hundred, more than I want to count, or even remember.But I’ll always remember George.  He stood by me when times were tough, stood up me when the other bosses had it out for me.  He told me all his stories, showed me the tricks of the trade, measuring from the inch, fixing the forklift, building the latrine, x-raying metal parts, millions of parts, engine blocks and brake calipers, turbine rings for fighter jets, fifth wheels for semi trailers, hooks for helicopters, even Rice Crispy Squares for Kelloggs, most anything they’d send.  George looked like a sergeant in the Army, treated me like I was his own flesh and blood, taught me as much as anyone else I’ve ever known, perhaps most importantly the power of an old man having faith in a younger person.  I don’t know where I’d be today without that.We worked the second shift and without the daytime bosses getting in the way, slowing you down with their demands to go faster, on second shift, we could double the production of day shift and still have time to take an hour lunch.  When the weather warmed as we approached summer, we’d go out behind the shop, at this little spot we’d made into a picnic ground, like a campsite in the woods.  We’d play horseshoes while the steaks sizzled on the grill, and after filling our bellies, we’d sit around the fire and listen to the train blowing its whistle in the distance, and George telling his ghost stories, ones from Depression-era Michigan and Nazi-occupied Germany, back to the States and over in Korea. “You’re sitting by your lonesome and suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up at attention.  You know that feeling?”
“Sure.”  Everybody knows that feeling.
“There’s a reason for that.”
“What’s the reason?”
“That means somebody is standing behind you.”
“A ghost?”
“You might not see him, but he’s there.”  George was as down to earth as a man could be, but he believed in the supernatural, in the spirits of fellow soldiers that had fallen next to him, the friends he had lost, sometimes people he couldn’t identify.  “I never figured out what that ghost wanted with me.”
“Maybe he just wanted someone to notice him.  To be remembered.”
“Everybody wants that.”
“Yep.”  That’s true.George grew up during the Depression and became an adult in the war.  And he gave all of us young guys hope for the future.  He was living proof that even when you’re almost sixty, you could still drink a bottle of Wild Irish Rose and still give your wild Irish girlfriend something to smile about in the morning.
“Who was that lady that dropped you off, George?”
“That was my old girlfriend, the one I’m always talking about.”
“The red has faded, but the spirit remains.”
“You finally looked her up, eh?”
“I was driving home last night, picked up a bottle of Wild Irish Rose, and got that urge.  I may be an old man, but…”
“You showed her a good time?”
“She’ll have something to write home to her mama about to this Christmas.”
“She sure seemed happy.”
“She oughta be.”  George ended up marrying her, stayed with her until the end.

Good old George, he always kept me fed, always made me feel like I was doing him a favor.  “These days, it seems everybody’s a candy-ass.  People won’t even eat a duck egg.”
“I’ll take some.”
“I know that.  That’s why I bought them.”
“The whole carton?”
“Nobody else wants them.”
“No problem.”
“They’re a little tough in the mouth, but they’ll fill the emptiness in your belly.”
“Thanks, George.”
“You’re doing me a favor.”
“Uh-huh.”  If you say so.  “I’ll cook ’em up as soon as I get home.”
“Where’s your lunch today?”
“I ate with my kids before I came to work.”
“This is George you’re talking to.”  He’d look around the lunch table at everyone digging into the lunches their wives had made, greazing on pork chops and pot roasts, pot pies and pasties.  “Did I ever tell you guys about the time I had to dig my way out of a pile of rotting corpses?”
“We don’t want to hear your God damn war stories right now.  We’re trying to enjoy our greaze.”
“Well, I got other stories.  Like this one time, my old friend Matt McHenry was smoking a cigar and siphoning gas…”  George would go on until they all lost their appetites, pushed their plates to the middle of the table–a gesture that meant I’m done, dig in if anybody else wants it.
“Damn it, George.”  They’d walk off shaking their heads.  “George and his stories.”
“I guess they weren’t that hungry after all, eh?”
“Eh.”  It looks that way.
“Well, looks like we’ve got ourselves a feast here.”
“You had that all planned out, eh George?”
“You were looking hungry.”
“Uh-huh.”  Not for long.

We had some tough Michiganders at that shop, Otis and Krawndaddy, folks that made John Wayne look like a sissy, but nobody could hold a torch to George.  He survived fighting the Nazis and serving in Korea, made everyone else I’ve ever known, especially myself, seem rather candy-ass.
“Whaddya doin’ George?”
“What does it look like?  I’m pulling out my tooth.”
“With a rusty pair of pliers?”
“I dipped them in the triclor.”
“Uh-huh.”  Industrial degreaser wasn’t made for cleaning medical instruments.
“You got a better idea?”
“Well.”  There’s always the dentist.
“There is it.”
“Feel better?”
“Sure do.  I didn’t realize how much that was bugging me until I got it out.”
“Didn’t that hurt?”
“I’ll tell you what hurts, it hurts when you’ve got a slug in your side, and you have to plug the hole with your finger and play dead on a pile of corpses all night.”
“I bet.”
“I don’t know why I feel so sleepy.”
“Well.”  We just finished x-raying a truckload of engine blocks, and twenty pallets of connecting rods, and it’s now about midnight and you just pulled out your tooth with a pair of pliers.  “I’m tired and you’re three times my age.”
“That ain’t no reason I should be so tired.”
“What time you get up this morning?”
“Same time every morning, 0-500.”
“What’d you do?”
“Not too much.  Just planted a few acres, dropped the engine from the Olds 88 after lunch.  Then I came to work.”
“Oh.  I have no idea why you’d be tired then.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“Well, it’s nearly the weekend now, eh?”
“Memorial weekend.”
“I know.”
“It ain’t supposed to be a day for chasing skirts or eating Ball Park wieners at the beach.”
“I know George.”
“If someone wants to do some fishing, I’ve got no problem with that.  But they oughta at least stop at the boneyard on the way, or say a prayer for the fallen when they cast out the line.”
“You goin’ fishing this weekend?”
“Does a grizzly bear shit in the woods?”
“Yep.”  I guess he does.
“You comin’?”
“Well.”  Every time, I’d come up to his farm to go fishing, we’d always end up digging rocks from his yard, loading up the bed of his Dodge and hauling the rocks to the dock.  And every time, a storm would hit before he could fire up the outboard, so we’d never actually get to the fishing.
“The wife will watch your kids.”
“Are we actually going fishing?”
“Long as the weather holds up.”
“We’ll haul some rocks on the way.  If you’re up for that.”
“Of course.”  That goes without saying.
“Seems like it always storms on Memorial Day Weekend.”
“Yep.”  And every time I come up to go fishing.
“You coming, eh?”
“Eh.”  Like George always said, You don’t find time to help your friends.  You make time.  Even if that means hauling rocks.  And my “fishing” story always gave the guys something to laugh about at the lunch table.  “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I know.”


from Geor
ge’s last letter:

“The other day, my family doctor asked how I was doing.  I said ‘I have cataracts in both eyes, deaf in both ears, emphysema, and Parkinson’s disease.  Outside of that, I am healthy as a horse.’ I got a big laugh out of him.  None of this has got me down.  I still do real good.  I still bow hunt and climb trees to do it.  It was a great surprise to hear from you.  You have been in my thoughts.  Keep fishing.  It makes life better.  Keep writing your stories.” — George



— winch

(author of Kalamazoo: Growing Up Sideways in the 1970s)

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Poverty can be a bummer, I know that firsthand, poverty as a single parent for example, but at least I didn’t spoil my kids with too much junk, and now…

Last week I was thinking I would never have to worry about being poor again because I went back to school and finally landed a teaching position, the same paycheck every month.  But then I just got my first paycheck.  Oh $12,000 a year gross, that’s not much.  I realized I’ll probably be poor for the rest of my life.  What a relief.

I’ll never have to worry about making a final will and testament because I have nothing much worth talking about, never have to worry about being sued for a million dollars because I’ll never have nothing like that.  Even if some client is just shooting lower, I know what a lawyer would say, it ain’t worth the trouble.  Also, I never have to worry about trying to figure out if a woman I’m involved with is just a money-grubbing gold-digging prostitute disguised as a regular women.  Those women are looking elsewhere.  That’s just a few of the benefits about being poor.  I never have to try to figure out if I can afford this or that, just chuck the junk-mail catalog in the trash where it belongs.  It’s a cinch being poor.

I never have to worry about getting addicted to gambling, certainly ain’t going to give the five dollars I have to some rich company that has plenty of money, that makes no sense to me.  I’ll never get addicted to cocaine, or anything like strippers or prostitutes or something like that.  Oh yeah, stripper girl, please take my last five dollars if you tease me with your goods, that doesn’t make any sense to me.  And those women waiting outside the 7-11 on 82nd, I sure ain’t going to spend my food money for some simulated loving.  “Maybe if you paid me that much I might consider it.”

“You want me to pay you?  You’ve got it all wrong.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”  Let’s just call it even and go our separate ways.  “I’ll catch you later.”

With the holidays coming, I don’t have to worry about going Christmas shopping, getting all hectic and depressed like the rest of them.  My friends and family know I still love them, just don’t have the scratch to get them anything.  And they know not to get too extravagant with my gifts.  That would just make me feel bad.  And anything I get is probably something I don’t have so I’m a cinch to go shopping for.  I’ll truly appreciate a brand-new pair of socks or a 2-ounce bar of chocolate.  My socks need mending, and my belly is always ready for some tasty treats.  I’ll savor that junk.  I’ll never forget wishing I had a glass of OJ in the AM, and a handful of cashews in the evening.  If I’ve got that, that makes me appreciate being alive and not starving to death.   That’s something worth remembering.

That’s what it’s all about, for me at least, appreciating something as simple as a bag of groceries, a walk in the woods,  a night out at the movies.  I never have to consider which flick to see, just wait until they come to the budget theatre.  That makes it easier.  And going to music shows, I never pay more than a few bucks, never get disappointed because I paid 40 to see the show, and if you have a great time at the five-dollar show, that really makes you feel good about that.

And if you’ve got a bunch of money to spend, it starts an ugly cycle.  If you buy an expensive car, you need expensive insurance.  I’ve never paid more than $400 for a car, always sell them for at least that.  My most recent car cost me one dollar so I don’t have to worry about getting expensive insurance.  My bike does me just fine but it only costs five dollars; I doubt if anybody is going to steal it so I don’t have to worry about it.  And if I had indoor heating, my electric bill would go way up.  I’ve got it made in the shade with my blankets.  I fall to sleep with hot tea, wake up with iced tea.   It’s great.

Also, my income taxation is really low.  Sure, I pay some of my income to the State but I get a lot in return, roads and skateboard parks, free books and movies at the local library, hiking trails and sandy beaches.  Someday if I run out of food, I could probably even get food stamps.  I’ll try to avoid that, but that’s good to know, makes me happy to pay a few dollars to the tax man.  Meanwhile, rich people can’t even get food stamps.  That doesn’t seem right to me, taxation without digestion.

That may seem crazy, but think of it this way: what if rich people weren’t allowed to get books at the library, had to buy their own?  What if they couldn’t go to the park because they’ve probably got their own big yard.  It’s the same thing to deprive them the opportunity to get food stamps.  They get the shaft.  If I were rich, I’d be bitter about that.  But I’m poor and get plenty for the taxes I pay.  I’ve got nothing to complain about.  There’s a lot to be grateful for when you’re poor.

And when you finally get a few extra bucks in your pockets, you really get happy about that.  That’s a good feeling, but if your wallet is always packed with Jacksons, I don’t think that would be as much fun.  And plus I’m a so-called artist, and everybody knows that staying hungry is usually the way to go when it comes to finding motivation and inspiration.

Plus nobody gets green with jealousy, wishing they had my life.  My life and my lack of greenbacks makes people feel better about their situations.  As long as you don’t have a hand out for a hand out, people like poor people, and on the other hand, people tend to hate filthy-rich people.  I’m not sure why that is, but that’s the way it seems to me.

That’s how come they made up that dirty name for them.  It doesn’t really make sense to me because they look pretty clean.  Like in Portland, Oregon, poor people are snobby toward rich people, maybe just because the rich people likely had a bit more sense.  There’s no reason to get ugly about it.  It’s weird to me, but I don’t have to worry about being at the raw end of that argument because everybody seems to love a poor man.  I make rich people feel better about what they’ve got and I make the poor happy to have more of their own so they don’t feel all alone.  Poverty works out for me.

I’m part of the 99%, like most of us, that’s why they call it that.  I hate to say it, but I’ve got nothing to complain about.

— winch