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Forty Thousand Pounds by Mike Boyle

10/17/2006

“Some people say a man is made outta mud”
- Tennessee Ernie Ford


They rolled 3 old presses out of the Harris room, (the room I work in) last week to make way for the used 5-color they bought in California which arrived yesterday. Huge damn thing, 26’ long & it took the riggers all day to get it in place. It wouldn’t have taken so long if the dock hadn’t broken. Yeah, concrete collapsed under all that weight & they almost lost it. Going in today, I saw the hole but press in place & the tech setting it up & electrician running wires. Big changes going on, Nick, who runs the press next to mine is to be the helper & the 4-color guy going to the 5-color.
   Don, who runs the press on the other side of me, was angry. As soon as I got there, I heard it.
   “There was a skid of parts sitting in front of my press this morning when I came in. You know what I did?”
  “You moved it.”
   “Goddamned right I did! This is my area!”
   “Well…” I said & went to talk to the super, see what he had lined up for me today.
  He told me & then I went about my early morning routine of getting my press inked up & such. I went to the break room & got a glass of water, saw Donna in there, in the pre-press room looking at her computer screen. Hiya Donna.
  “Hi Mike. How’s things out there?”
  “Ridiculous.”
  “How’s the bear?”
  “What?”
  “The bear, you know.”
  Yeah, I knew but didn’t know she knew.
  “The bear is angry,” I said.
  “He-he.”
  “Ha-ha.”
  I went back out & started my next job. Don was over there glaring at me. What?
  “There’s gonna be a conflict here,” he said, “I might get fired. THIS IS MY AREA!”
  He was already running some job, got there early, at 6am.
  “Look man, it’s Matt’s; all of it,” I said.
  “It’s mine while I’m here,” he insisted.
  I walked back to my press & ran the damn thing. Knew I’d be running black for a while & then had to wash up, throw some colors on some things. I’ve known some prima-donna’s over the years doing this kind of work but Don had to take the cake. The bear was territorial & the bear was big & bad & the bear had stories; many which had BOOM! in the story line. I didn’t & don’t much care. It’s just a job & I’d been through 3 different places like this in the last 2 years, all with their different characters & dramas but all much the same. There’s usually some guy that thinks he’s the alpha male & he’s usually a bit paranoid & thinks everyone wants his stupid job. Usually the owners love these guys, get them doing 2 or 3 jobs at once & they tell you how they run the place & sometimes, tell you how they only get 50 cents an hour to do all the extra shit but…
  The world is full of kings of small hills.
  And Matt doesn’t much like the bear, he’s loud & obnoxious.

When Matt came in he checked in with the tech’s & then told Don that he’d have to clear one of his tables to make space for the feeding area of the new press. Don told him there was gonna be a problem, that it wasn’t gonna work & Matt said, oh, yes it will & walked away. I was running some job for the Catholics, some junk mail thing decrying the blasphemy of that book, The Da Vinci Code & if you just send some $, you can stop the movie which would surely be a horrible thing. I noted the boxes for the recipients to check. The lowest amount was $50 & it went up to $500 & there was a box for more, of course.
  The bear stood there for a minute & then started clearing his table; he had two where I just had one & the table he was asked to get rid of just held his radio & newspaper & a bunch of junk. I didn’t really notice when he threw his radio in the trashcan. There was space on his other table but the bear is the bear & I was busy. There was some gossip & talk about who would have the balls to take his radio out of the trash but nobody did.
  When the lunch truck came, the bear didn’t go out. He was packing his stuff into a box.
  “You see what I’m doing, right?”
  “Yes,” I said.
  I went out & got a chicken sandwich & talked to Joe for a bit. Then I had a smoke & bullshitted like we do when Joe’s lunch truck comes. It was nice outside, not bad for an early November day. Some birds were sitting on the high wires above the train tracks next to the building. My head felt fluffy somehow, like I could shut out all the internal dialogue & survive. Vhin, the Vietnamese guy that ran the folder was clowning &, although he’s been in this country for 20 years, he’s still hard to understand. I think he only talks English at work & heard some stories how he fought when he was a kid in ‘Nam, carried a rifle. Now he clowns with us round-eyes.

The day wore on & I was busy. Nick & Bill, the 4-color guy, were helping the technician get the 5-c together. Don moped & left with his box of stuff. The guy that sold them the press came in & I talked to him.
  “How much does that thing weigh?” I asked.
  “Oh, hell. I dunno. It’s in the book.”
  “40,000 lbs?”
  “Maybe. Yeah, that sounds about right,” he said.
  “39, 650,” Matt said as he walked back in. “The bear leave?”
  “Elvis has left the building,” I said.

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Mike Boyle lives & writes from Harrisburg, PA. Recent work has appeared in 99 Burning, Thieves Jargon, Anti-Muse & Spent Meat. His first novel is slated to be published early '07.

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