Friday, May 26, 2006

Horrible Howard and Jerky Jerry

My coworkers were at it again yesterday. They were acting like junior high kids, doing things boys do when they're immature: goosing each other, playing grabass, a little slap-and-tickle. These guys are buddies; they hang out after work, go to each other's houses.

Do guys ever grow up? Both of these guys are in their early fifties.

Years ago, 1974, I was a shipper in a dried food plant. I worked with a couple of guys, Howard and Jerry, who were a lot like my current coworkers. In those days we were in our mid-twenties, which was Jerry's age, but Howard was 10 years older.

They were both rednecks, but unlike the stereotyped "Southern" redneck, these guys both came from different parts of the country. Jerry had been raised in Northern California and Howard in Minnesota. In all other respects they were rednecks, pure and simple. Howard and Jerry met at the plant. They had some things in common: They both drank a lot, they were both divorced, and they both hated women.

Howard was quite a misogynist. Anne, who was a 60-something woman working at the plant thought Howard needed a "good woman" to settle him down and he'd be OK. She told him that and he said, "There are lots of good women, but they're all in the cemetery."

Howard was taller than Jerry, with a pompadour hairdo, and wore a small mustache. Jerry had reddish-blonde, longish hair and a buckaroo mustache. They both had missing teeth: Howard was missing a canine tooth and Jerry was missing both front teeth. Howard had one eye that would wander toward the bridge of his nose, giving him a cross-eyed look. They were quite the dapper pair!

They soon moved into a house together and started some serious bingeing. Jerry had vowed he would save some money so he could buy some front teeth, but he spent all of his money on beer. Every night when they'd punch out they'd yell, "It'll be the beer!" and off they'd go in Howard's old pickup truck to 7-Eleven to pick up a cold case or two. At home they would drink, holler, listen to country music, generally whoop it up until it was time to come to work, at which time they'd stagger in the door, red-eyed and tipsy.

Unlike Howard, Jerry wasn't quite as much of a woman-hater. He liked women for sex, anyway. A young girl, Ruth, started work on the can line Jerry ran, putting dried food in #10 cans. Jerry thought she was really cute and tried his best to seduce her. She was a young Mormon girl, no more than 18 or so, and tried to be nice, but discourage him at the same time. Like most men he was too dense for subtlety so he kept up his ardent pursuit. In 1974 if sexual harassment was called that it was a concept unknown to us. It wasn't our company's policy to prevent or discourage it, that's for sure. A girl went into the production room and she was fair game for the guys, who made sure she knew she was working with guys: crude comments, farting, boisterous and offensive behavior even by the standards of the day.

Ruth ended up at a party where Jerry and Howard were. I've forgotten all the details. Maybe Jerry invited her, although I don't think she went with him. There was a lot of drinking, loud music, real partying. Ruthie was getting the attention of the guys and Jerry got upset. He was drunk enough and horny enough that he grabbed her and dragged her toward the bedroom, yelling, "C'mon, Ruthie! Let's go in the bedroom and fuck!" Ruth began to cry, sobbing, "No! No!" Jerry stopped pulling her, and got in her face. He opened his gap-toothed mouth and screamed, "It's this, ain't it! It's this!" pointing at where his front teeth would be if they were still in his head.

The rest of the story is a bit murky in my mind. Ruth either quit her job the next day or lasted a day or two, working with Jerry's surly silence. Either way she was gone very quickly. Jerry took it out on the guys who worked with him. Howard was very upset because Jerry had let himself be made a fool by a girl.

Shortly after that Howard and Jerry went to Wyoming to visit Howard's brother. They took a couple of days off work, but on their second day gone my leadman, Ken, came up to me, pale and shaking. He said, "Howard's been killed!" Howard and Jerry had been on a state highway, drunk, and Howard rolled his pickup truck. He was ejected and killed. Jerry ended up in the hospital. Later Ken told me that he drove to the hospital where Jerry was and when Jerry saw Ken he sat up in bed, sobbing, "I've killed my best friend!" I don't remember ever seeing Jerry again.

The day we learned that Howard had been killed the news spread quickly through the plant. We all gravitated toward the break area. We sat around in silence, or making small talk about Howard, wondering about Jerry's condition. My boss gave us a little speech on how "Howard would want everyone to go back to work." We slowly got back up to go to our workstations. I was looking at Anne, who had been sitting on the edge of a work counter, her head down. She looked up at me, her eyes misting, and said, "Well, now Howard is with those good women."

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