We think tattoos are forever. We think certain memories are forever as well… How could either of these fade? How could we ever forget certain people or events and places that have been such pivotal moments in our lives? But as the wheels of time grind on and circumstance washes over me, I realize tattoos do fade into an unreadable mark of beauty and our memories also fade by the time we reach the old and wrinkled stage of our lives. I believe it happens to a lot of folks but not for the writer or poet. It's our responsibility to write and recall the world that surrounds us until we can’t do it any more.
I recently took a job in a factory that makes cabinets, countertops, trim board, and fireplace mantles. I’m in shipping and loading which means for 10 hour shifts I’m lifting anything from cut lumber filled with splinters and sharp edges to finished cabinets and countertops weighing from 20 pounds to 200 pounds. Pushing and pulling them into long trailers steaming with humidity as the hot Florida sun in the parking lot cooks its steel outside. This has become the everyday norm for me. Down here in the south we were hit hard by the economy falling in Sept. of 2008. It seems it has been a slow recovery and sometimes you have to take what is available even if it’s something that makes every part of your body ache while making the almighty dollar. But there is a bright side to this work… The real pay off is being a writer and working in the factories or digging ditches like my last occupation. The people I’m surrounded by are colorful and full of life, mostly because it is a job they might not go home from. I’d already heard the horror stories way before taking this job. Mill-saws with their carbide teeth breaking off and flying like bullets through the tin roof above the cutter or into the cutter; femoral arteries being punctured by long dagger like wood splitting from the saw blade hitting a knot. I’ve even known men that have lost an eye and even lost their life because of these mill blades. So, taking the job, I was well aware of the dangers but I also knew the rewards that could be gained in my writing by working among these man and women who risked life and limb day after day.
I try to always take the good with the bad. This has been my philosophy for many years along with, you don’t know what is coming around the corner, so be optimistic, the tides will eventually change and tomorrow might be the best day of your life.
The first couple of weeks though working this job was a challenge. An Ozzy Osbourne quote rang in my head as I tried to make sense of this new environment. It was from a documentary called, God Bless Ozzy Osbourne. As a child he was raised in Birmingham England. A place where kids growing up had very little choices. When you became an adult you went into the factories, jail, or the Army. Ozzy was working at one of these factories when he had a conversation with a man.
“I remember being in a factory and one bloke I’d say to him, How long you been working here? And he’d go, ‘Oh 35 years this year. I’m retiring and I get a gold watch.’ I thought, f***ing gold watch. 35 years of your life you’ve been in this f***ing factory, 35 years of your life.” Ozzy Osbourne
At least this is what I could make out Ozzy saying. He’s not the easiest person on the planet to understand but I knew exactly what he was talking about those first few weeks of work.
The oldest worker there is 10 years older than me. It’s not a place to grow old and gray at least not with it matching your true age. As I grew to know this man, I asked how long have you been working here? He smiled showing what teeth he had left and looked up toward the ceiling with his grayish blue eyes as to think, “Hmmmmm about 5 years this year.” I then asked how old he was. He replied, “52, no wait 51, I’m 51.” Again he smiled showing most of the few teeth he still had. An hour or so went by and out of the blue he stepped from the assembly line and said to me, “10 years. I’ve been here 10 years not 5 and I get a gold watch in a few weeks.”
Now two things raced through my mind, Ozzy’s voice reminding me how short and precious life really is and to not waste a second doing something you don’t want to do. And this man’s been here so long he not only can’t remember his age he can’t remember how long he's been here.
As the weeks rolled on Ozzy’s voice started to quiet in my mind. I knew with a job, any job, comes money and options even if it’s not a lot of money or options it’s something. But the biggest for me is, if you want to be a good writer you have to go where real life is happening. You have to take the punishment from the heat of the day and the fatigue of long hours to mean what you want to say. You also have to have enough drive and determination to sit down after these long days to type out what’s inside you. Even when your hands don’t feel like closing from being banged around and cut up from lumber.
So as the next week of work begins, I will be waiting to take the good from bad. I’ll be writing my next book in my mind as the mill blade spins into a dull blur of death beside me and the nail-gun shoots in perfect repetition from the man’s finger who doesn’t know how old he is or how long he’s been working there. Yes, I’ll be writing in my head and on my lunch break. Then coming home to punch the day's scribbles into the computer. All because I’m a writer and this is what I do…