Posts Tagged ‘negligence’

Fat-or-Flight Response

August 5, 2020

Steel City Fruit_fat flight


(Dedicated to jocks)

Some people have no idea why their father never spent time with them when they were kids. But I have a pretty good idea why mine was never there.

Growing up in a dying industrial town, I was always disappointed by how few really revolutionary or even creative people were around. “Whatever happened to all the creative agents of change who could make a difference in our dying town’s future,” I used to wonder.

Later, as a young adult in college, I did some research into the 20th Century history of Steel City. And what I found out was that, in the 1930s, there were lots of really smart and revolutionary people doing some very brave and innovative things. There were several types of communist activists, trade unionists, socialists and radical egalitarians. All of them were armed with texts and had large followings in the steel mill and coal mines.

And while these socially-active groups were different from each other in tactics and ideological inspiration, one thing that they had in common was that the Federal Government had the army shoot all their leaders dead in order to maintain our failed capitalist system during the Depression. Literally hundreds of the brightest and bravest Steel City activists were brutally murdered by either the armed forces, or by the Klan or other imported terrorist organizations. And this was a PPP project – private public. Both the government and industry were involved in hiring the killers.

This mass murder of the smart people didn’t just eliminate the most vital and well informed citizens of Steel City –  it also had the (perhaps intended) effect of reducing the value that locals gave to intelligence or education. These things – intelligence and education – had both been growing by leaps and bounds with general literacy and universal school attendance, both introduced in the early 1900s. But by the Great Depression, the powers-that-be decided that education had gone too far – that the steel workers and miners of Steel City had to go back to being ignorant serfs, scared of their own shadows. And that’s exactly what Steel City became.  Along with a haven for drunken hopelessness, of course.
Firing squad

One of the many tragic side effects of the elimination of the smart people of Steel City and the death of ideas in general, was an increased prevalence of morbid obesity. I guess that when people realize that they can be killed for being too smart, all that’s left to do is to eat yourself to death. Also, the inhuman work routines that bosses can dictate in the absence of smart people are often sedentary and psychologically unrewarding or, inversely, physically damaging and mentally exhausting. Being someone’s pet, a serf, is a sure ticket to a decreased life quality and a shorter lifespan. In many people’s eyes, a shorter lifespan might even be a gift to humans trapped in this kind of racket.

Forty years after the killing of the smart, my father was hired as an assistant manager of the paint store in Steel City, the underling of an incredibly obsese manager named Kenneth Trimmenson. Ken weighed almost 300 pounds, and he joked that his girth was due to his social popularity : when he wasn’t sitting down at work with a client, he was sitting down with friends having many, many beers, or sitting down with his family watching movies. Or driving his station wagon – the wood-paneled one with the vista windows in the roof.

When Ken suddenly died of obesity-related causes at the young age of 41, leaving behind a wife and three little girls, my father replaced him as manager. Dad inherited the well-worn vinyl seat that Ken had broken in, returning the picture of Kenneth’s three daughters to Ken’s widowed wife, tears in everyone’s eyes.

Even though Dad was no doubt thrilled to have his salary doubled, I remember him saying to a client how worried he was about becoming obese and unhealthy like Ken. His new Manager position was a purely administration job, and it required him to stay almost motionless for hours at a time, every day. And the busier it was at the store, the less opportunity there would be to burn calories, to go outside – to live some semblance of a healthy, normal human life.

So in order to keep his weight down and his spirits up, my father decided to spend all his free time playing sports, even if this meant never spending more than a few token minutes each day eating or sleeping in proximity to his family. He even brought his golf clubs to family get-togethers, usually escaping from the family within minutes to go shoot some balls far, far away. Anything to control weight and muscle tone. There was no time for getting to know him, or for him to get to know us, his “family.”

This is why I hated sports when I was a child, and it’s why I hate capitalism now.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

click for fruit

Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011


(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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