I am a Byproduct
I’m a product of my father. His work ethic has been transferred to me.
I started working occasionally when I was about ten at Tiger Press print shop where he worked. My dad operated a folding machine and cutter. He was also the business’s jack-of-all-trades. He’d cut the grass around the Tiger Press building and other odd jobs like taking out the trash at night. On the weekends he occasionally worked at Reza’s (the boss) million dollar mansion in Sunderland.
My dad worked there for more than 20 years and he gave everything to it; then one day Reza called him into his office and laid him off without batting an eye.
Just like that.
Hard times he said.
That was during my first semester of college; I was in Virginia and cried myself to sleep the night I heard the news.
My dad’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen: I remember seeing him run across the work floor carrying a bag of trash in each hand; and jumping into the dumpster to force in more garbage.
He does everything with a sense of urgency.
Tiger Press was a startup company and at times staffing was low. During those times my dad would come home from work in a hurry and ask us kids if we wanted to earn a few extra bucks to supplement our 25 cent weekly allowance.
Of course we wanted to.
My two older brothers and I would jump into the family van and off we’d go through the dark streets of Northampton down Industrial Drive to Tiger Press.
Dad would unlock the building and shut off the alarm and we’d collate product together for hours past midnight — collating is essentially putting together pages of a print job. Deadlines were everything in the industry so there was always a pervading sense of time hanging over us.
We’d walk in circles around a fold-out table piled high with paper fresh off the press, grabbing sheets and putting them on top of more sheets on top of more sheets. Then we’d put the bundles onto a wood pallet.
Dad would pull the pallet onto the work floor with a hand jack and slap down another in its place. The scent of that building has lingered with me after all these years: a mixture of stale ink and dust. It was so dry I’d have to run to the bubbler every half-hour or so for a disposable cup of water.
Other times Reza would ask us if we wanted to come out to his mansion to weed the garden, stack wood or clear land so that he could build a new barn.
His wife loved horses.
The work was hard: sweating bullets under the scorching sun, yanking up tree stumps and removing rocks in a wheelbarrow.
Dad swung the pickaxe and us boys would haul the rocks down to the tree line and dump them into the woods. Sometimes we’d go inside to the air conditioning and Reza would make us cold cut wraps. One time he told me that I was a lucky kid to earn ten bucks an hour at such a young age.
He said that’s what a man earned.
When I was 11 I got a paper route on Barrett Street in Northampton and delivered the Daily Hampshire Gazette after school. It wasn’t so bad; took about an hour and a half and a sore shoulder.
Every Thursday I’d get a 15 dollar check in the mail; every Thursday I would walk down to Walmart and buy a stack of Pringles and a five dollar movie.
I bought a bike and the route went faster.
My two older brother’s also had routes on Ridgewood Terrace and Gleason Road. On the weekends dad would drive us because the papers were heavier.
A few years after that I switched from Barrett Street to the coveted Emily Lane route — a section of town that was known to pay well in tips.
And then the Gazette changed their delivery time to by 7 a.m. I would wake up and trudge the route at 6 a.m. rain or shine, snow or hail.
Often, I’d watch the sunrise.