by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s blog on March 31, 2019, as “Line of Fire.” It is republished here with the author’s permission.
A couple of days ago, my youngest son, Stefan, stopped at our house after working fourteen hours at some hellish foundry in West Allis. He is not an employee of the foundry (thank God), but the union sent him there to do some mechanical work to get the foundry’s ancient equipment functioning one last time before OSHA shut the place down for good.
Stefan stood before me: exhausted, incredibly dirty, and bone tired. Our two dogs barked noisily at him as he came through the door. I screamed at the dogs, “Shut the fuck up!”
Stefan eyed me warily, and said, “You sound a little grumpy.”
“Yeah, I am. The girl went to jail this afternoon, and your mom and I had to bring home all of her stuff from the motel,” as I waved my hand at a pile of bags and boxes.
Stefan rolled his eyes and walked into the kitchen. I offered him a beer. He took a swig and winced. He asked me, “How do you drink this? What’s in it? 8.4% alcohol? Christ, this stuff is brutal.”
I shrugged. “It’s what I got in the house.”
Stefan nodded, and he took another drink. This time it seemed easier. I asked him, “So, where were you all day?”
He stared at me bleary-eyed, and said, “Motor Castings.”
I thought to myself for a moment. I wasn’t sure if that was the same foundry where my grandfather worked for all those years. I couldn’t remember.
Stefan said to me, “What a hellhole. I guess OSHA went in there and did some checks on the maintenance guys there. They all got miner’s lung. They all got an inch of black dust at the bottom of their lungs. I heard that OSHA told the company to fix up a bunch of things, or close down. They are closing down.”
I asked him, “So, why were you there?”
He replied, “Well, the maintenance guys there don’t want to fix the hard stuff, so they go to the union to get guys to crawl under their fucking nasty machines and get them running again. That’s what I was doing.”
“Why do they bother if they are closing down?”
Stefan drank some more. “They have one last job to do for NASCAR. They need the shit to work one more time.”
I said, “I’ve been in foundries before. They are all nasty: dark, dirty, dangerous.”
Stefan nodded. “The only guys who work there are the undocumented, and the guys who are high as hell. With your hard hat pulled low, and dark glasses on, and a scarf around your face, nobody can tell that you’re all fucked up.”
We changed the subject. I told Stefan about the latest, scary developments concerning a girl we love. He shrugged, smiled grimly, and said, “You almost have to laugh. She made her choices. Things happened. It wasn’t your fault. You’re collateral damage. You just got caught in the line of fire.”
Yeah, I guess so. I don’t like to be labeled as collateral damage. That sounds pathetic.
I asked him, “What are you doing now?”
He sighed. “I’m going home. I need to sleep.”
“You want something to eat?”
“No, I’ll just go.”
“Okay, well, be careful driving home.”
Stefan smiled, “It’s only a ten-minute drive.”
I told him, “A lot can happen in ten minutes.”
He said to me, “I got to get something out of your garage. Close the door on it after I go.”
He got what he needed. I hit the switch on the garage door opener.
He shouted to me, “Thanks! I love you!”
“I love you too!”
The door closed.