workzine

Mike Berger, 2/13/2012

Current Occupation: PhD in Clinical and Research Psychology, Utah State University.
Former Occupation: Weber County Mental Health, 1961-1991. Senior therapist on the youth team. Specialized in ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in children.
Contact Information: Mike Berger is an MFA, He is retired and writes poetry and short stories full time. He has been writing poetry for less than two years. His work appears in seventy-one journals. He has published two books of short stories and five poetry chapbooks, He is a member of The Academy of American Poets.

###

Sorry Ass Fred

Everyone called him Sorry Ass Fred.

It wasn’t a put down that it wasn’t a

term of endearment either. Fred was

injured while working at the smelter.

His broken leg never healed right. He

walked with a deep limp.

The company gave him a nasty job

for which they paid him a penance.

He collected the gunny sacks used

to filter the flue gases before they

went up the smoke stack. The sacks

were laden with arsenic. Most of us

gave Sorry Ass Fred about five years

to live.

Every day for ten years Fred made

his rounds. He treated those sacks

like they were made of silk as he

gently loaded them into his cart.

One day Fred didn’t appear. People

imagined that he had died. Then

word got around. Each day Fred would

burn those gunnysack’s. Each sack

contained a small amount of gold. Fred

collected the gold over the years. They

say he is living a life of luxury with a

brown skinned woman on the coast

of Belize. They call old Sorry Ass

Fred “Mister Fred, Sir.”

#

The Mining Life

I started working in the mine when I turned

ten. I worked twelve hours a day, six days a

week. My job was to carry water to thirsty

miners. I’d make the rounds and refill the

buckets and make the rounds again.

Most of the miners look forward to my coming.

They reeked of sweat, and the cold water

slaked their thirst. For the miners the water was

more than a welcome relief. They paid me two

dollars a week. I gave the money to my mother.

After my dad and brother were killed in the mine,

she needed the money to put food on the table.

At thirteen I got promoted. I now was the powder

Monkey’s roustabout. I carried the boxes of

black powder to the drill site. While the monkey

was tamping the hole, I went after the fuse.

They paid me three dollars a week.

I was big for my age so at sixteen they let me

hold the drill bar. The clanging of hammer

made me deaf for several hours after I got home.

They paid me six dollars a week. I couldn’t believe

it. I was making a dollar a day.

When I was eighteen I started swinging the sledge.

The union boys were trying to organize us. They

said that we had dug a million dollars out of that

hole. They said we deserved our fair share.

The strike was nasty as we battle the cops, scabs

and company thugs. The strike lasted three months.

We won three major concessions. The minimum

wage jumped to four dollars a day. We ask for

and got over time for anything over eight hours.

Perhaps the best of the concessions was the

provision, no more kids working in the mines.

You had to be at least fourteen. The younger kids

would stay home and go to school where they

would learn to read and write.

#

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