Shape Up!

"Shape up".......I remember working for Hoffman sodas in 1964, right in the part of N.Y. that "Waterfront" was set (though it was filmed largely in Hoboken). 'Shape Up' was still alive and well, I recall. We'd get to the docks at 7:AM and wait to see if our name was called. Then this goon in an acute NY state of mind and accent would yack out something like: "Winnikuh....Weeerhouse," or I'd work off a delivery truck all day, or on the assembly line. I had to join the teamsters union and they didn't fool around. The wages were good, the work grueling, and frankly, more times than not I just as well hoped that they wouldn't call me during 'shape-up' so I could 'shape-down'....get back on the subway and a couple of busses then go back to sleep.

One day when I was in the "weerhouse" I cut my hand pretty good sorting bottles. I was bleeding all over the friggin' place. I got up and set out for the bathroom to wash up. But the foreman caught me and said 'I had to stay on the line until I was authorized to go!' Jeepers! I could have been spreading all kinds of virulent diseases all over the N.Y. metropolitan area. Maybe I did!

Then on a delivery truck, in 101 degree NY heat, lifting a crated dozen of 32 Oz. full bottles of soda, sending them down a chute (if we were lucky) or just hand carrying them to the local markets etc. The driver was this grisly, gaunt old Irish chap with that proverbial chiseled chin and ‘the cap,’ of course. He sure knew how to milk the overtime...stopping at several taverns along the way back for a shot of Whiskey or Rye, then getting back on the perpetual snarl of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. We'd return a couple of hours late but with time and -a-half! The rides back were the best part of the job.

At Hoffman, they gave you free soda.....all day, all you could drink. So everybody was belching about all the time. As it was summer, the soda kept a flowin' and the guys kept a blowin.'

My last day there I was assigned "crate inspection." One-Hundred wooden crates would pass by your weary, jaundiced eye every hour. I don't know how they expected anyone not to miss a few crates that were unsuitable for sustaining the weight of the dozen 32Oz. full bottles of Cream Soda (or whatever) that were about to be dropped, rather mercilessly, into the awaiting wood. Almost as if to test the hypothesis, I blithely let one suspicious box go by.

The next thing I knew the whole assembly line crashed as the bottles splattered pitilessly, bludgeoning the machinery while splashing perfectly good soda pop all over the place. The foreman, in no uncertain terms, told me to "git outta here kid." Which I did, proceeding into the early morning rush, embarrassed, wet, sugar coated, and very much relieved.

I never did go back….never did exactly: ‘shape up.’

Marc Twang

 

See Marc Twang’s Essays Archive by clicking here.