Jack S. looked like a used Q-tip. He was tall and skinny, with a dirty brown wafro (white afro) that was popular back in the 70’s. He was quiet and low-key. He worked quickly to get his work done so he could slack off at the end of the day. He was a good flanger operator who rarely missed. At least at first.
Jack ran the flanging machine that got the first new machining arm. This was in the early 80’s, and we were both on first shift. This machining arm was the prototype. The supervisor, Geoff L, had pushed hard for these new arms, so they were his babies. They were state of the art hydraulic machining arms, and they weren’t cheap. He expected them to be well taken care of. Every day he would come out into the shop just to watch Jack use it, to see how it was working. One day I saw Jack leave his flanging machine to head for the bathroom at the same time Geoff came out to make his rounds. So I found a long four by four and leaned it up against the new machining arm, to make it look like Jack had been using it. On the new machining arm. We were all still leaning on these four by fours on the old machining arms to make them cut better and to keep the chatter out. But the new machining arm didn’t need this. When Geoff arrived and saw that four by four on his new machining arm, he took off for the office like a shot. I heard him page Jack on the intercom. But I never heard what was said. Jack wouldn’t tell me.
I said Jack was low-key. That’s an understatement. He was ice. Nothing on a flanging machine ever upset him. Believe me, there is a lot that can go wrong that can seriously distress you. But not Jack. He was the calmest operator I ever knew at Brighton. When a new flanging machine was bought in the late 70’s, which is still the biggest flanging machine in the shop, Jack was the first to run it. The largest and thickest heads we flange are done on this machine, and he broke it in.
Jack hardly spoke about his personal life. He was divorced. Sort of. It was complicated. And other people were involved. He had a son who was a star baseball player in high school. Who went on to become a county deputy. Jack hunted, mostly I think with a compound bow. He liked to play baseball and poker.
Jack and I got involved with the Steelworkers union at the same time. When Trinity bought Brighton in 1987, most of the old union officers resigned. Being bought out was stressful, and there were a lot of high emotions and raw feelings. I’ll get into the particulars another time, but many of the members blamed the union officers for the pay cut Trinity forced on us. Also, Brighton was a small family-run business, but Trinity was a large conglomerate that owned over 50 companies. Only 3 of which was unionized. Our new owners were strongly anti-union. Ollie B., who had been union president since the local first organized in 1970, resigned and soon after retired. The vice-president, Tom B., took over, but he was part of the old regime everyone was so upset with, so he only lasted a year. Harry S. became president, and he got Jack to be his recording secretary and I became financial secretary. There was no election. No one else wanted the positions. They were all scared of the new owners. But neither me nor Jack gave a damn. Jack for reasons I’ll get into, and me because I’d just gone through my second divorce and was feeling pretty bitter at the time.
I lost track of Jack when I transferred to metal polishing in 1988. The polishing department was in a different part of the plant, even in a different building for a while. So I didn’t see him every day. In fact, I mostly only saw him at the monthly union meetings. In the early 90’s he began missing work. A lot. He started using cocaine. This was before the company began drug testing. He had grown up pretty wild and had always smoked pot, but cocaine is a much bigger beast. When he was at work he was high, you could see it in his eyes. Sometimes he would stand back and watch the head he was running spin and spin, without doing anything to it. By this time Geoff L. had moved him off the big new flanging machine to a smaller one. He and Geoff L. had always been tight, so Geoff helped him get a physical disability, I think on his nerves. He quit working in the early 90’s.
I went to Jack’s funeral. He officially died of a heart attack. But it was the drugs that got him. His kids were all grown by then. He never remarried, which would have been difficult since he never legally divorced. He was buried with a baseball in his hands. Attending funerals is a depressing but important rite. You show respect, and remember what the person was like in their best years. There are plenty more funerals to relate. That’s what happens when you get to be my age. You know a lot of dead people.