I can’t believe it has taken me fifty posts to get around to Bernie T. He is the most colorful, the most aggravating, man I have ever worked with. He was working on a blue valley flanging machine on second shift when I was hired. He was middle-age then, a thin lanky guy who made a scarecrow look obese. That first week he walked up behind me and squirted oil onto my back while I was machining a head. First time I ever noticed him. Another time I was machining a head I smelled smoke. So I turned around to find the shop rag hanging out of my back pocket was ablaze, and Bernie standing behind me with a cigarette lighter. I was glad when six months after I started Bernie transferred to first shift. Then we were operating the same machine, he on first and me on second. That gave me opportunities to get back at him. I would tighten down every bolt on that machine as snug as I possibly could. I’d arrive in the afternoon and he’d complain to me, said when he went to set up the machine for a different order he couldn’t get any bolts loose. He was a skeleton covered in skin, no strength at all, and he wasn’t healthy. He said he had to get someone to come and break the bolts loose for him. I told him I didn’t like stuff working loose, that when I made a set-up I wanted everything to stay where I wanted it. But eventually I felt sorry for him and eased up.
When I transferred to first shift in 1979 I was working alongside him again. He told endless stories, mostly about his sexual exploits. He was married, but nearly every weekend he said he went to the strip clubs across the river in Newport, Kentucky. He was the one who supposedly broke up Charley D.’s marriage while Charlie was away fighting in Viet Nam. And he told the corniest jokes. He’d ask, “You ever wake up in an alley behind a bar on Sunday morning with a bad taste in your mouth?” And, “You ever wake up in an alley behind a bar on Sunday morning with a sore butt?” If anyone was the least bit insecure in their marriage, he could sniff it out. He’d torment some young guy and convince him his wife must be having an affair. It was he and Big Roy, the rotten son of a bitch who was fired for drinking on the job when I was first hired, who cornered John M. and did something to him I don’t want to relate. If you knew what was done, you’d day ‘no way’. But if you knew Bernie T., you’d say, ‘yeah, he would do that’.
There was this one young man, Wilson M,, who was goofy and short and fat and had some weird habits. I’ve worked with a lot of men at Brighton who had odd habits, but Wilson was the strangest. He was hired as a helper. That is the way most people were hired. You’d sweep the floors and clean machines and do all kinds of odd jobs for six months or so until a skilled position became available, then you would be promoted and another helper would be hired to take your place. But Wilson M. was never promoted. He couldn’t do anything besides sweep, and he showed no interest in learning. He used to come into the locker room at the end of the shift covered in grease from whatever he had been cleaning and strip down to his undershorts to wash in the sink. We don’t have showers in our locker room, and I have never seen any other man do that. Bernie had a lot of fun with him. He’d chase him around the locker room once he was undressed and grab at him, and Wilson would squeal like a pig. He’d run into a stall and lock the door, but Bernie would climb right over the top of it after him. One time Bernie chased Wilson out of the locker room and had him running around nearly naked through the shop. The plant supervisor Geoff L. finally made Bernie leave him alone.
Another time I was working on a flanging machine alongside Bernie T. and saw this happen with my own eyes. There used to be a scheduler’s office at the front of the shop. The scheduler would assign work and record our times. We’d finish a job, turn the order in to him, then he would give us an order for our next job. The two flanging machines I and Bernie were working on was directly in front of the scheduler’s office. We had this one scheduler who had the irritating habit of sitting there staring at us while we worked. Bernie told him to quit watching him work, said it made him nervous. I don’t like it either. The way I handle it is to flange air. By flanging air, I can make it look like I am busy as hell but don’t get anything done. The way Bernie handled it was by unzipping his pants and pulling out his dick and shaking it at the scheduler. I couldn’t believe it. The scheduler jumped up and walked away. But after that he quit staring at Bernie while he worked. The scheduler later asked me if I thought Bernie was mentally ill. I told him no, it was just Bernie.
In the late 80’s the blue valley flanging machines were phased out, replaced by newer more powerful and versatile machines. Bernie had never shown an interest in operating anything other than blue valleys, so he transferred back into metal cutting, which had been where he worked before becoming a flanging operator. It wasn’t long after that he became disabled. He never had been very healthy, he had a bad back and a weak heart, so I don’t know which finally made him quit working. But as far as I know he’s still alive. He’s come by the shop several times, and I saw him at a funeral once. He’s not moving too fast, but he seems as ornery as ever.