Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How I stopped being a factory worker, went to college and became a punk rocker.

Originally posted as a comment at the brilliant DOPE CITY FREE PRESS.

I was working in a locomotive factory in Chicago. I was having sex with a girl who had made it clear that I was just standing in for her real boyfriend, who was in Detroit. At lunch every night, I could get from the time clock, to my car, to the bar, down seven beers, eat a sandwich, run out the door clutching an eighth beer, which I drank in the car, and make it back to the time clock in exactly thirty minutes. The beers would suddenly hit and my knees would become pleasantly rubbery just as I walked away from the time clock.

I hated my job, and fought with a succession of foremen who were sent into my department to get me fired. The old timers thought I was cute, in an asshole sort of way, so they would back me up in all of my beefs. I couldn't be fired. One time the union made the plant manager write me a personal apology. I tore it up and dropped it at his feet.

I worked six days a week because I didn't have anything else to do. I lived in a little house by a stinking polluted lake. My neighbors were in the Ku Klux Klan.

One night while drinking after work, I saw some guys throw a drunk out of the back of a pickup truck and run him over a couple of times. When the cops came, I tried to tell them what I saw. They told me to shut the fuck up and mind my own business or they'd arrest me. The guy died later that night.

I went back in the bar. The guy next to me at the bar had given first aid to the guy who got run over. We were both shaking so hard that we had to hold onto our beers with both hands. He kept saying, "I seen enough of that shit in Nam, man."

After closing time, I would take a six pack to go and sit up late listening to a radio show that was playing records by cool new bands like the Ramones, the Dead Boys and maybe even X Ray Spex.

One day, I got to work and found a new foreman. He was a young guy, not much older than me. He said, "Let's try and work together and see if we can get your production numbers a little higher." Most of the other foremen had said shit like, "I"m here to let you know who runs this place and it ain't you, asshole."

One day the new foreman said, "What I don't understand is why you're working at a job you hate."

I got all pissed off and told him that work was work and I was just doing what I had to do. He told me, "That's bullshit. I'm doing what I have to do. I have a wife, two daughters and a mortgage. You're young and single and you really don't have to do anything you don't feel like doing."

A while later, one of my friends said, "Jon, you know, we work at that job and live in this town because we got our girlfriends pregnant when we were in high school. You're not from around here and you've got no real reason to stay, but if you keep fuckin' around dating our sisters, you're going to get one of them pregnant and then you'll be stuck."

A while later, I went to New York City. I hung out with an old friend and we ended up sleeping together. She knew the Ramones and Debbie Harry and she shot dope on the Lower East Side. We went to a bar near her house and listened to Cheap Trick on the jukebox. It wasn't a very good jukebox. She came to Chicago, but that didn't work out, so she went back to New York a few weeks later. She didn't know the Ramones had made a record.

I went to Detroit to visit with friends. They said they'd take me out to hear all of the local punk bands. We went to the main punk club and there was a really good band. They played a punk version of an Al Green song and then they played a song about Astronauts burning up in outer space. I talked to them afterwards and told them they were great. They said they came from a college town in Southern Indiana.

I asked them if there was a good punk scene there. They said "no". They said that everybody there hated them and listened to bluegrass and they always got in fights when they played.

I said, "Fuck it. Sounds good to me."

When I got home I borrowed a type writer from my next door neighbor. He was a great guy, but he had been shot in the head in 'Nam, so he was a little crazy. I was his only friend and he said he'd miss me, but he helped me type out an essay applying to the college in Southern Indiana.

A few weeks later, I got a letter saying that I'd been accepted to college. I sold my car for a hundred dollars. My neighbor drove me down to the college and left me there. I didn't know anybody, but I had a phone number for the guys in that punk band. They all lived in one house, like the Monkees. I started college a week later.

That's how I stopped being a factory worker and went to college to be a punk rocker. I should add that, among my few possessions were a Harley Davidson sportster leather jacket, a sawed off .410 shotgun and a three volume "Selected Works of VI Lenin." I was fuckin' ready.


Hagar's Daughter said...

Hi Jon:
I stopped by to see if you'd gotten started blogging again. I know you have a lot going on. What should I make of this essay: Are you saying that you want to start something new?

Best wishes in what you do. I almost moved in my RV because I wanted a change of pace, but there are no spaces available in So Cal -can you believe it?

Anything new?

Jon said...

No, this all happened thirty years ago. It was in response to mr. beer n. hockey talking about the people he works with in a sawmill. It made me think about people who had influenced me. I think this is mostly a story about God working in my life in ways that were mysterious indeed. I have no reason to doubt that He continues to do so.

About your RV. Unfortunately, the real estate interests have seen to it that RV living is not a cheap and easy alternative to fixed abodes. There are spaces available here, but they are expensive and you will often have bad neighbors.

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