Meet Jurgis. He’s straight off the boat and cannot speak a word of English. He has 500 dollars in his hidden pants pocket and his id to get in. He has been in a terrible war and was a refugee. He has come seeking the opportunity that some of the rest of America cannot see because of their sight problem. He has a cousin in Iowa and he shall travel there to see what job he can find. At the bus station this tall black haired, strong looking guy with piercing brown eyes has struck up a conversation in his native tongue and they are laughing mercilessly. A local police officer wanders over to them thinking there is trouble. He walks up and introduces himself to the gentleman and the one guy who is not Jurgis starts acting strange and nervous. Jurgis asks him what is going on. The officer asks Jurgis for his ID and the man we can call Israel translates this to Jurgis. Jurgis hands over the ID he was carrying and waits.
The officer calls on his radio and says that they are to wait. He informs Jurgis after a long pause punctuated by awkwardness that he has a fine here of 300 dollars for an outstanding warrant. He could pay now or go to jail and be charged 500. Israel informs Jurgis of this and Jurgis freaks out, jumps the rail and takes off through the veranda with the cop in hot pursuit. He has a little bit of a lead and little bit more speed than the young cop pursuing him. Jurgis is unfamiliar with these streets, the town itself is arranged nothing like his hometown and his people. This town is weird to him and he runs everywhere he is able. Thirteen blocks later he chances a look back and sees that he is safe.
“I don’t know what just happened” he thinks aloud to himself in his native tongue. He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has never been to America before and there is no way that man in the blue uniform had proof of that warrant or proof that he was going to take that money and pay the fine. A million thoughts rang through our friend Jurgis’ mind. His main focus is finding some water to drink and a place to converse with people to find out what to do next.
Out walking several more blocks through what appears to be a very rough neighborhood he is approached by three men wearing the same colors and carrying what looks like a knife. They rush up to him and start yelling at him in a language he has never heard before. He tries to explain he cannot understand them but they take this to mean he is defiant. They pull out two more knives and one thing that is round, fits on a persons knuckles and looks like brass. Next thing Jurgis knows he is greeted by swift blows and a sharp pain in his thigh and upper arm. He battles them off but not before they take his ID. He hangs on to his arm with his free hand after the fight and is lost in a daze. A daze that reminds him of springtime the year before when Ona his then wife had been shot in a shootout involving the cartel and the law. He watched her body drop and dance and jerk like a marionette swinging from the rafters after a play. He watched the blood and the spirit leave her body and it reminded him of this feeling that he now felt.
It could have been hours or minutes or days when next Jurgis regains consciousness and comes to. His arm is bandaged and stiff, sore but better feeling, his thigh is on fire but it too is bandaged. He has a massive headache and his eyeballs feel about to burst out of his skull. He looks around and sees a nice walnut table beside the bed with a whole slew of papers and above the desk he sees a locker, another walnut table and some strange looking steel table with sharp peculiar knives on it. He jumps straight out of bed or tries to when he realizes he is chained. Out somewhere behind him he hears what appears to be a cow mooing and then a shot and then metal clanking together. Then he hears the unmistakable click of a bullet loading into a chamber. Then another shot and for a moment, silence. Then out from the other direction, the direction that sounds like the opposite of the gun his ears pick up a doorbell. Then a fast and flourid conversation then a couple of beeps then the doorbell followed by silence.
Here he thinks to himself is where they bring people who don’t pay the blue man and this, he thinks, is his destiny. He pulls his rock that he has had from the age of 10 when his dad was dropped into a pit and the soldiers were there shooting at him. He as a little boy tried to get them to stop. Tried to get them to explain what his father did wrong but no one would or could. All he could do was watch. Afterwards he looked down at his wonderful father with contempt like he was a bad man and picked up a rock which he was about to throw at the man laying dead, when a pretty girl walked past and stopped his arm. She looked him in his eyes and said that there is no point in his anger, his dad was not a bad man, rather was standing up for what he believed in. She made him think before throwing the rock and finally just put it in his pocket.
She looked again and asked him his name. He fumbled with the words but sputtered that it was Jurgis. She gave him a hug and said that her name was Ona. From that day forward until the next fateful day in his life they intertwined their lives together so beautifully, so amazingly that they knew nothing else but their love and created the life that they hoped for.
This room became his prison for who knows how long. He had time to reflect and time to ponder what it was that brought him here in the first place. He was seeking a new life. One where he could go where his ability enabled him and not just be a puppet. He wanted freedom. He wanted to know that he could rise above anything and everything to get rewarded beyond mere poverty. He wanted a chance to change his world. He needed to succeed and to be recognized as a success. He wanted the money and not the fame. His whole life’s ambition was to run his own meat shop. Something he had done since he was a little child helping in his Uncle’s store. Ted Folo was his name and he had a local meat shop back home with a name the locals couldn’t even figure the meaning out.
He knew these sounds he was hearing very well. He had heard them and been part of them since he was very little. His mind understood them all so very well that he could trace his fingers lovingly over the shackles that hold the animal to the worn stock of the gun. He could pull a shell out of his pocket and caress it with such a profound sense of awe at the ability produced by the simple lead and brass. He could trace its three rings around the cap of the .22 caliber bullet and the indented words saying Precision on the bottom. He could feel how many he had left in his left front pocket without having to count them by sight. He could pull another out so deftly in his left hand while dropping the clip in his right hand and seamlessly putting them together to make a wonderful thing happen next. He could hear the click as the 10 round magazine was injected into the rifle with the smooth click of one going into the chamber as well as the barely audible click of that safety switching from dark black to bright red.
He could visually see the target that was inside of the cattle’s head. The little space between his ears and his eyes became something so remarkable and accurate that he, if blind, could hit it by feel rather than sight. The x that lined up so exactly as God has crafted all of His creations to be so simple, complex and precise. The smell of the animals’ breath of corn and grass after the regurgitation process of the animal. The freshly dropped dung before the door was shut from the outside. He knew what the feeling was about. The heart beat and breathing rhythym matching and aligning to the perfect moment where the trigger was squeezed and began the next process. He lovingly could stroke the latch pin that held the gate shut and could identify it by feel in his mind.
Suddenly startled out of his thoughts by a door swinging open and a familiar face looking sideways at him, he leapt off the cot and straight to the floor. In a heap and a cursing flurry of rushed words he looked up again at Israel who was about as startled as he was.
Israel extended a hand to help him up and upright him to his former place on the cot. “Well,” he said finally. “Welcome friend Jurgis to the Fourth Street Locker.” “There is fear on my end as to why you ran which is why you are currently cuffed to this cot. I tend to sleep here often as I’m starting to butcher at 1 am every weekday morning. I feel very relaxed here at my shop and I’d like to be able to learn more about you to feel relaxed enough to let the cuffs dangle freely and you to have the opportunity to be free as well.”
Jurgis looked up and grumbled something akin to a “thank you.” He said in short, raspy breathless words that he had never been a criminal nor engaged in criminal activities before. He further explained to Israel that he had smoked pot early in his twenties but had stopped when he had finally gotten the courage up to ask Ona to marry him.
With that he was brought another memory to mind of which he was so fond and longingly wished it were real once again. The memory of his asking Ona his soulmate for her hand in a marriage that only The Creator could have arranged. The memory of the nervous, sweaty palms which seemed to suddenly be carrying a huge, heavy weight. The ring that felt ridiculously warm in his right front pocket. The location which included his favorite spot in the whole world and was dear to his heart. A warmly wonderful overview overlooking his city which few knew about and even few less cared about due to its location. It was enrapturing to see the city from but it also was next to the garbage dump and smelled like moldy chicken, dirty diapers warmed up in an oven, obnoxiously varied odors of death, decay and like canisters of deodorant exploding in the daylight. However nasty the smell was the sights and sounds available was well worth being there for. He and Ona loved this place more than the bombed and battered shelter that afforded them a place out of the elements and the unusually high temperature of the unadulterated sunlight streaming and seemingly passing through a magnifier lens on its way to earth.
“JURGIS!” Snapped Israel, as he watched our friends’ eyes zone frantically for several seconds. “Hey man, I don’t want to talk to thin air so if you don’t mind I’d like you to come back and be here in the now.”
“What?” Replied a coolly complacent Jurgis who longed to go back to that previous memory of times and days happier.
“Why did you take off running from the cop?”
“He wanted my money and I was not about to hand it over to him.” Was the reply that proffered forth from Jurgis.
“He was actually going to help you Jurgis because he is a friend of mine. I was nervous because I had thought he was coming to tell me that he had found my sister who took off last week from home. She has not been seen since and I didn’t want to hear the news about her. He was wanting the money from you to make your papers legal. He wanted to get you the right papers to avoid any future pains in the future. I should have said this to you beforehand. I should have told you his intent was not to harm you nor take all your money but to help you avoid the pitfalls of this great new country you’ve entered into illegally. After you took off running I was forced to follow you at a great distance and see where you would wind up. I finally found you laying on the road on 5th street and you were in bad shape. I brought you here and had my wife treat your wounds. She is the one up front taking care of customers that you might have heard the doorbell announcing. I was back helping Viilsjic butcher a cow for he just started two weeks ago and has not had the balls to shoot the beef yet.”
Jurgis thought about all this and asked if he could get a drink of something wet.
“Why certainly,” replied Israel. “I will get you a drink of water now.”
As the water dispensing jug gurgled and bubbled it reminded poor Jurgis of his little brother Yolty swimming in the river way back when they were little kids. It reminded him that Yolty almost drowned and choked, gurgled and bubbled before Jurgis could get to him and then drag him to safety. The life that Jurgis has lived has not been one of luxury, opulence or ostentatious behavior. It has instead been one of harsh reality followed closely by associations and brushes with sorrow, emotional havoc and death. He has survived all that to bring himself here. He drifts to the place where his story started and changed him forever for a purpose. Sure the beginning has its ending and the ending its beginning but he never could quite figure out how to change it. He knew deep down that something kept bringing him back to positions of meat cutting but for his current sake he could not figure out what. He could not figure out why. He could not figure out what to do with it.
In his home country he was lauded as a saint. He was a hero, not just any hero either, but a hero with a great platform and a huge amount of well deserved respect. He had what he wanted. He beat the competition to win his beautiful Ona’s hand in marriage and remained the strongest through the trials. But now, but here he had been afraid and it had hurt him dearly. Here he was nothing, a puke, a vagabond, a punk, another immigrant who knew not the language. He did not have the respect of hero status nor did he have his fountain of strength. His poor Ona was the one who gave him the strength of Samson. A character his mother had read about aloud to him at every chance she could get. So if he ever was short on a hero he would think back to Samson and the means he found to showcase his final dosage of strength. He didn’t see the point in pulling down the columns, however. He instead just wanted his strength and none of his weakness. Here he was, notwithstanding, banged up, facing a weakness, wounded, crippled, perplexed, sad, lonely, weeping on the inside, caged and chained. He was having a real tough welcome into America. His humble nature, despite hero status, was something that always had afforded him a certain resiliency to the woes and trials of life. Now, though, in this moment at this time in this place he found the strength no more in himself and started weeping. He didn’t care if Israel and his wife saw him cry. He only could take no more.
After a moment of allowing this episode of weeping to continue, Israel said, “my, oh my. I really hope that you get all that off your chest because I’m not about to help a whining, helpless nitwit who is going to fall apart at every whipstitch.”
“I understand.” Replied the taken aback Jurgis but with reserved understanding in his voice.
The water cup was proffered to Jurgis which made its way to his lips in one deft maneuver and was gone into his throat and down the gullet even faster than that. There is no way to tell how many glasses of water that single one felt like or how that crappy water became the greatest thing Jurgis had ever tasted. It could have been laced with something and still would have hit Jurgis’ palette with much relief and internal stomach, body happiness.
“So what is your story?” Asking Israel about his background was soon to be revealed not a good idea at all.
“Shhhh, Silence.” Israel whispered as his head cocked to the side and twitched.
The place was quiet, too quiet it seemed. It had been for longer than poor Jurgis had realized. Rationalizing to himself that he was mentally exhausted and therefore did not notice the absence of noise. Yet, he still had missed it. Why had he missed that lack of noise. It sounded like a great big void which was void of sound. Silence resonated, deeply disturbing our dark haired friend. Lips were puckered and pulled into a half snarl while listening intently and waiting for a sound, movement or something to jar this into reality again.
The clock’s little tick seemed to jump a whole catastrophe in motion and the events took on a certain frightening demeanor within the next few ticks and movements from the clock.
BOOM!!!! A huge explosion sounding from the front part of the store and quickly followed by a door in between front and back, being picked up from its hinges and hurled most expeditiously through the air. Hitting Israel in the shoulder and dropping him from the force of the blow. He was slammed into a wall and slumped sickly over in the corner he hit. Jurgis spun around in time to see a great big streaking flash of movement sweep across his vision and BAM! Nothing.
He awoke to a sound of a lightbulb crashing and yelling taking place. The voices seemed distant but still loud. The glass seemed close yet distant. So his mind starts racing through the possibilities and he engages his senses to learn more valuable information from the sounds going on. His vision was blurry and he felt stickiness on the back of his head. Probably where someone hit him with whatever object his vision didn’t assimilate fast enough to make sense of. His arm hurt and when trying to move his leg he realized that he was anchored again with some type of leg restraint. His shoulders hurt like he had gone ten rounds with Ali and his legs ached like he had spent ten hours on a jet ski. His assailants or assailant had not quite made him comfortable as Israel had. His friend Israel. That snapped his thoughts back to a short while ago and he realized he had no clue what Israel would have been involved in to make men attack or blow things up or whatever.
“Come on, piggy.” A voice shouted as if underwater. “It’s okay piggy get up there.”
“Watch out Malo, here comes the Puerco,” shouted a second strange underwater voice.
“Use that Taser on him, that should light him up.”
“Alright, here he comes, shoot him.”
Wow, thought Jurgis, a second meat processing facility? Crazy! His ears hear a faint metallic sound all too familiar again. Then the explosion and then the pig’s violent death throes take place as the pig is undoubtedly writhing on the floor and smashing, bashing and crashing into everything. Watch out thinks Jurgis as he reflects on all the pigaliglets that have just about taken him out and down because of their flopping. He remembers all too well the instantaneous craziness that begins as soon as that pig’s eyes are twitching and the body hits the ground. What a weird thing. Two meat processing centers in one day or many or however many this has been. He starts again to think about yanking that pig up by shackles on his rear leg and slicing around his throat in midair. He was told and showed how to keep the jowls on and skin that way but it isn’t fast enough for him. He likes slicing around and hitting that axis bone and doing a Marine style snap and off with his head.
He wants speed not weight, which greedy or smart business people are concerned about. Although it is peculiar to him that only the big producers are actually able to save every single ounce of extra weight they can. They peel the skin off in layers to keep that fat and charge for it. They use the fat off the trim to make lard and boil it down to cracklins. They are able to use the head, hide, snout, legs, eyeballs, ears and all else except for the squeal. The big companies are pros at plying every single advantage over the little meat mom and pop shops. The hassle they find is they can’t take away enough of this spillover, leftover business to shut down these thorn in the side shops who live off their scraps. The big business looks at the local shops with disdain in their eyes and dollar signs where their hearts used to reside. The workers are numerous and there is always someone else willing to step up and take the place of one who can’t hack it. The lines are always waiting outside the employment centers and temp settings just waiting and watching and circling like turkey buzzards eyeballing their next precious meal.
Jurgis knows this place very well. He used to be here and one person waiting in line and watching with open eyes as the next batch of willing replacements stepped up to get their big wage and benefits and health insurance, 401k’s and their slice of the “pie”. “Life isn’t bleeding I am” was Jurgis’ favorite quote as he cranked his shoulder to slice through another pig shoulder and round it off for the pretty factor. His job ten hours a day was to simply stand there and bring his right arm over and aim the knife at a 38 degree angle to the shoulder side where the fat resides. His other arm, injured after a week, was supposed to hold down the shoulder butt while the other shoulder tore the rotator trying to cut it. All day long, all throughout his shift he would have to endure the pain and the nausea and the tingling in his shoulders with hands aching from his knife holding attempts at putting a roof over his family.
He made few friends in the time he was there. His attention could never be turned to motivation no matter what amount of money they paid per hour. Ten thousand hog shoulders a ten, sometimes thirty thousand swipes per day, and nothing to think about but bad thoughts that harangued him all of his days. He might have tried something different like headphones and music could he have afforded them. The coworkers near him spoke an even different language than him and they seemed to look over and laugh at him every minute of every day in a threatening way. His boredom was intense there. His pain was masked daily by multiple doses of Aleve and other pain relieving OTC or over the counter medications. Some people were downright afraid to do or say anything out of the norm but they were high and enjoyed the lack of drug tests. They were afforded a great luxury by keeping their heads down, the supervisors never had them tested. Jurgis was slightly scared of being that close to a drugged out person with a sharp 8 inch knife and amazing speeds of fury. He instinctively tried to keep his head down, but he saw wrong and said something about it. He was punished mercilessly for it. At one point they even stole some of his equipment which was high dollar stuff that he personally had to pay for.
He hated the fact that Ona had to take a job there too because the money he made barely covered the gas to get them from their city to the plant for work. It was 39 miles one way to work. It turned out to be about 49 miles in the winter because the one road was on a hill and shut down every winter. It also turned out that his route that gave him an alternative was way out of the way and not even convenient but the only one remaining. At $3.70 per gallon, he was barely scraping by. Not only was he travelling that far and it was costing him about 5 gallons per day in the small car and 12 in his truck in the winter, he also lost hours of his life on the commute. It was very beneficial at first when he and Ona were able to ride together and have time together, but soon the tired, haggardly perpetual condition they resided in started causing some very big rifts between the two. He hung his head every day and prayed, thinking today God would deliver him from this hell. This place where he would always need a second income and be a man not able to provide for his wife as a man should. The crazy part of it was, they had nothing even after working, the both of them, not even with overtime. That was no kind of life in Jurgis’ eyes. He wanted more money and wanted his beautiful wife to not have to damage her hands and her mind on these trivial meaningless tasks. Ten thousand hogs a day he thought to himself. Still thinking to himself that even God didn’t like what Henry Ford had created. A monster. A terrible, blood spitting, fire breathing, hatred inducing monster capable of great suck your soul out of a person moments. In fact, to have its sole purpose for the sucking enjoyment out of as many peoples’ lives as possible. No. Not at all what Jurgis had in mind. He wanted a shot at earning a decent living. They had no emergency fund anymore. That had been depleted when Ona fell into a hole on the city street and Jurgis had no insurance yet. The city should have paid to fix it but like all other matters, they washed and they lawyered up and nothing was able to be done. “Sorry,” they said in fake lamenting. “Nothing we did, not our fault, call corporate, good luck finding other gainful work.” Jurgis almost lost his job as it turned out. The city was employing a brother supervisor in the factory. This complicated things immensely, and almost led to Jurgis being tarred and feathered had people still done that. Either way, he was blacklisted as someone making waves and sending aftershocks throughout their peaceful slave trading corporation. The next batch was always more willing to leave their past country behind to have a shot at the opportunity left behind by those too wild to be broke like a horse in a factory. “Life isn’t bleeding, I am.” That quote from Shoobey became quite the centerpiece of Jurgis’ thoughts in the interim. Craziness.
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