Once long ago, I started to write about Johnny Hotbox. A woman, I knew, who followed my blog, suggested I write about my life and not the life of Johnny Hotbox. I have come to realize that Johnny Hotbox was and still is a part of my life.
I met Johnny Hotbox in the spring 1974 and knew him until fall of 1974. I was married for the first time in the spring of 1974. I needed a job. I got one. I went to school all day and was at the factory by three p.m. for the 3-11 shift, second shift. I was a nineteen year old boy not realizing that I was climbing on to the treadmill of life. I had no conception that at 62 I would still be walking on the treadmill, and beginning to wonder more and more about the purpose of the treadmill.
The purpose of the treadmill for me can not realistically and simply be described as similar to the caveman’s struggle for survival. “Me need food. Me take spear with barely, sharpened rock tied on end and kill wooly mammoth for eat.” I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I am the “walking dead” in caveman world despite my allegedly better communication skills. For example, I can’t grunt and position my friend URG in a good mammoth ambush spot. Caveman eat; Accidental Lawyer die.
I prefer to drive my car to the emporium of the already butchered, pre-skinned, packaged, fully cooked, canned and often processed meat. I enjoy picking through the sorted, piles of clean fruit without trees, of vegetables washed and sorted without dirt. It’s amazing. We can satisfy all of our food needs in one small building. I don’t like canned anything in the fruit and vegetable columns.
However, I prefer this method of hunting, fishing and gathering than stalking the world daily for my next meal. I accept the fact that actual hunting and fishing are now sports. I accept that fruit and vegetable gathering is a weekend or school activity designed to let our children get closer to the world of their ancestors. I accept that real pumpkins are for making jack-o-lanterns and eating pumpkins come primarily in a can.
When I go to the cash register, the checker pushes some buttons or these days scans a line of my collected gatherings and killings which are now accumulated on a conveyor belt. If I have no properly marked paper, metal or a plastic card that is “maxed out,” I can get no food. Thus, oddly enough a material useful for a cooking fire and a material used to make pots, pans, silverware and weapons still largely controls my food gathering. The last just poisons the environment.
My logic must be flawed, but the benefits of being a caveman in the food scenario are to actually know how to kill and gather food and to develop better communication skills with those who actually assist in survival.
Caveman also needed shelter just as I do. Caveman’s name suggests he lived in caves. My cave is a 2,400 square foot building called a house. I have central heating for which I purchase the fuel and adjust the temperature. Caveman had central heating too, a fire in the middle of the cave which was started by his use of hand collected wood, twigs and sticks. Caveman slept on the ground or animal skins. I have a good mattress with down pillows. I have five televisions, no cave painting for me. Clearly, my caveman knowledge is TV and cinema based. It doesn’t matter though; the caveman knew how to live.
Caveman also needed protection for the body. He used animal hides and furs from the beasts he killed for food and to clothe himself, not Calvin Klein, Brookes Brother, Uggs ( although that could be plural for that well known caveman word “Ugg”), Anne Taylor, Adidas etc… etc… etc…. Caveman was always in style, no dilemmas about what should be worn in the morning.
I’m certain that some anthropologists would say I have the whole Caveman thing wrong. I agree, I might, but this is not really about the specific survival life style of the Caveman. It is about Johnny Hotbox and how he became and still is a part of my life.
Johnny Hotbox appeared old when I was nineteen. At some point, I tried to calculate Johnny’s age then I realized, he was an ageless man, and I stopped the calculation. He stood about 5’7″- 5′ 9” tall. Everyday he wore a tattered pair of grayish lederhosen. Beneath the lederhosen straps was a white, V-neck shirt with stains of many colors. His colorful, long sleeved, V-neck white shirt was, of course, tucked into his lederhosen. He wore thin, white socks which fell about his ankles. His shoes were black but scuffed, worn and splattered with remnants of the factory. His hair was grey, and he was clearly balding, yet the hair he still had stood erect, peaking like the flame in a fire pit. He walked with small rapid, little steps. He always seemed to be in a hurry. While walking, he always looked to the floor.
Johnny and I worked in the part of the factory known as the Towers. The Towers were a series of machines that coated and dried tubular wire insulation with acryl. The acryl was kept in stainless steel, rectangular pans similar to those used to hold shaved steak or fried, diced onions for use in preparing steak sandwiches. Once through the acryl, the wire insulation would start its trip up the extremely hot Towers for the purpose of heat drying the acryl. Once at the top of the Towers, the wire insulation coated with acryl would start down the other side of the Towers, further drying the acryl. The dried wire insulation coated with acryl would then wrap around a large spool, much like a larger version of a spool for thread.
At any point along this journey the thin tubular wire insulation could break. When this happened, the worker watching that particular Tower would have to climb a painted black rod iron ladder and walk a long a rod iron cat walk, thirty feet above the ground floor with no side rails. The cat walk floor was spaced like prison bars and the worker carried black scissors in his back pocket to assist in “dropping a line.”
“Dropping a line” was the beginning of the process of splicing the two pieces of the broken wire insulation together. My insulation wire snapped. Johnny Hotbox saw it break, and he offered to help me. My friends and I knew he was the best at “dropping a line.” He would kneel, lean over the edge of the cat walk, tie a piece of heavy duty thread to a washer and drop the line thirty feet over the side to the exact spot where it would be easiest to splice the line. He would then climb down the ladder and tie it off. He “dropped a line” with absolute ease.
My friends and I mocked Johnny Hotbox relentlessly. We made up satirical songs about him, imitated his rapid little steps, his German accent and his clothes. We didn’t do it behind his back but right in front of him face to face. He never said a word in response to us. Often, he chuckled and kept taking those little hurried steps to ensure his job was done correctly.
When he leaned over to “drop my line,” his V-neck shirt dropped a little exposing his upper chest, I saw a tattoo. I have always been fascinated by tattoos so I asked Johnny Hotbox about the tattoo. He answered ” I got it in Germany.” Where did you go to get it? I asked. “Auschwitz,” he replied. “The rest of my family died there.”
Johnny Hotbox knew how to live.