John M. was a press operator about 20 years older than me. He was another one of those old guys (I was in my early twenties at the time, so he seemed old) who worked on second shift so he could hold down a day job. Only in his case his day job was his business. His company did construction and remodeling. He hired several people on second shift to work part-time for him. He used them as laborers on his sites. I never did work for him. At the time one job was enough for me. Although later I held several part-time jobs (another post).
John was a blustery guy. What I mean by that is he talked tough, but I never saw him actually hurt anybody. But he did carry a gun in his car, which I heard he pointed at people on occasion. He probably did this on account of what happened between him and Bernie T. and Big Roy. Big Roy was one of the three men fired for drinking on company property about a year after I started work here. He was huge and crazy mean and strong as a bull. Most everybody was glad to see him go. I won’t go into what happened between the three of them because the story is way too ribald, and I don’t know if it’s even true. I didn’t see it happen, thank God, so it’s merely hearsay. But if it’s true I can understand why John would want to carry a gun to work. The confrontation came about because of John’s penchant for telling tall tales. How much he actually lied about I don’t know. But he had that reputation.
John could cuss a blue streak. During the 80’s there was a fashion to put as many running lights as could fit on pick-up trucks. In the parking lot at Brighton, pick-up trucks outnumber cars at least 2 to 1. Anyway, John’s pick-up had more running lights on it than anybody’s. I told him it looked like he was driving a Christmas tree. I’d catch him starting it up in the parking lot after work and when all those lights came on I’d start singing Christmas carols. Then he’d roll down his window and the cussing would commence. Eventually, the fashion ran its course, like they all do, and our parking lot grew dimmer.
John was vain about his appearance. He had a thick shock of blond hair, which many claimed he bleached. He denied it, but it remained a shiny blond into his sixties.
John operated the largest press in the shop. He climbed a tall set of metal stairs to reach the metal platform that was twenty feet or so in the air, high enough so he could look down to see what was going on inside the huge heads he pressed. The small platform was surrounded by a waist-high railing, and was just big enough for the controls and a chair. One night I came by and saw him dozing off in the chair, with the press running on automatic. So I found a sledgehammer and BANGED!! the bottom of the stairs. I swear to God I thought he was going to nose-dive into the head. He shot up up out of his chair and was half-way over the railing before he caught himself. I doubled over laughing. Until he came charging down the stairs, cussing of course. But like I said he was an old man and I was in my early twenties, so I easily outran him.
It was said, once again mere hearsay, I never saw it happen, that whenever supplies came into the shop, like brooms or shovels or such, half of them would end up in the back of his pick-up. I could see where those things would be useful with his business.
John M. worked at Brighton into his 60’s. Why I don’t know. His construction business was successful, and he had more money than he could spend. And he was free with it. Whenever a collection was taken up for someone who was off from work because of an injury or illness, or for someone who had lost a family member, he always gave at least twice as much as anybody else. Once when he was off from work, I forget why, we took up a collection for him. He gave it back. We knew he didn’t need the money, it’s more the thought that counts, and I thought it ungracious of him. Only time I’ve ever seen someone turn down a collection.
One day at one of his job sites John drove his pick-up truck through a garage door of a house he was building. He’d had a heart attack at the wheel, and died. I went to his funeral, one of many I’ve attended of co-workers. Dying like John did is something I dread. He worked, at two jobs, until his dying day. I want some time off. I want to relax a while. I want to enjoy this little bit of money I’ve saved up. I feel healthy enough at 64 to continue working, but I’m not going to. I’m retiring at 65. I’m going to travel and write and hike and read and ride my bicycle, while I’ve still got a body and mind that functions.