BLACK MYRTLE’S GLORY
“‘How fond she is of finding morals in things’ Alice thought to herself.”
L. Carroll “The Mock Turtle’s Story”
Black Myrtle’s Glory
Alex had his plane running like a Swiss watch (albeit a little faster). He had clamped a large piece of steel in the plane’s vise. The tool steel cutting bit was sharpened and he had his cutting oil bucket and brush ready at hand.
The bit was locked in a floating head. On the forward stroke the head locked in place and the bit ripped into the steel work-piece. On the return stroke the head floated up and the bit glided smoothly backward. Rip-ka-chunk – -Rip-ka-chunk. Forward and back, forward and back. Nothing stopped the plane. On each forward stroke the bit cut into the work a quarter inch deep. The metal chip curled up in front of the bit and turned blue. As the bit finished its cut the chip flew into the air with the blue smoke of cutting oil trailing behind it. One or two chips landed on Alex’s bare arm. Curly snake-like burns were to remain for several days.
Alex had been engrossed in his work and failed to notice that someone had walked up behind him. It was Our Lady Person of Perpetual Anger; Pfeffer.
“Hello Alex” it said.
Alex recognized the voice and without turning around said “Hello Pfeffer.”
“What? No hug? No kiss?” Pfeffer asked.
“I might be confused – – – – – but not that confused” answered Alex. After a moment of silence he added “What can I do for you? Sorry about my back but I have to pay diligent attention to this plane or it might bite me.”
“Crap Alex” responded Pfeffer “Machines don’t bite people; people bite people.”
“You spend too much time in the office” said Alex. “Machines are always biting people. Look at all these guys out on the floor. None of them can hear a damn thing. Some of them have lost fingers. One guy has lost both hands to the steel cut-off machine.”
“I’m not here to listen to a litany regarding evil machines. I’m here to tell you that the Coquettish Queen has eyes for you” related Pfeffer.
“Just what I need” said Alex. “I come to the forging works to expand my career and now I am expected to bend over for the Queen of Hearts?”
“It might not be that drastic” answered Pfeffer as she tried to downplay Alex’s concerns. “Just play her coquettish game and you will get promoted.”
“And how is that going to happen?” asked Alex.
“I will promote you out of the forging works if you can keep her happy. You don’t have to bend over like the Four of Clubs at a croquet game. Just keep her on the hook so that the forging works remains productive” said Pfeffer.
“I’ll keep it in mind” responded Alex in a non-committal fashion.
Pfeffer said nothing as she turned and walked away.
Alex continued working on the die he was making. It was the top half of a forging die destined to stamp out a one inch combination wrench. The plane’s chips continued creating missiles of hot blue smoking snakes.
Another voice rose behind Alex. He knew it wasn’t Pfeffer. He also knew it wasn’t any of the workmen in the forge. As he turned around a large black man towered over him. Alex was perplexed by the man’s look. The black man’s eyebrows appeared furrowed in anger; however, he had a large white-toothed grin on his face.
“Hi” said Alex (quite quickly).
The man stood in silence for an uncomfortably long time. “Hi yourself” he finally retorted at Alex.
“What’s going on?” asked Alex.
“Nothin’ goin’ on. I already have eveething on” answered the black man while using his hands to make it obvious that he was speaking of his clothing.
“I mean – – – What’s happening?” said Alex in his most patient voice.
“Nothin’ happinin’ man” responded the black man.
“Can I help you with something?” asked Alex less patiently.
“You not a chalky – – – is you?” queried the black man.
“Hey!” exclaimed Alex before he thought about how big the man facing him was. Alex tacked on a follow-up with a more pleasant tone. “You probably wouldn’t be too pleased if I asked if you were an Oreo – – – – would you?”
The black man asked two questions in a row. “Man. I look like an Oreo? I talk like an Oreo?”
“Well – – – – no” answered Alex somewhat taken aback. “But why did you call me a chalky?”
“I didn’ call you a chalky. I said you was’n a chalky” stated the black man as a fact.
Alex stopped talking and tracked his memory back to the start of the conversation. He realized that the black man was correct. “You not a chalky” is what the black man had stated.
“You are correct. You did not call me a chalky and I did not call you an Oreo” said Alex as he attempted to put himself back on level ground.
“You look more like a honkie” answered the black man (with a big wide grin). All you could see clearly in the smoky atmosphere was that big grin. It was not threatening and it was not mean spirited. It was simply the grin of a man pleased with his existence.
“Now hold on there – – – – whoever you are” said Alex with his dander up.
“Myrtle. They tagged me Myrtle” answered the black man.
“Sorry about that” said Alex. “Sorry about the name” he added trying to keep an upper hand in the conversation.
“Nothin’ ta be sorry for” said Myrtle. “I is down with it.”
“Well Myrtle,” said Alex, “who are you and what can I do for you?”
“I’ze da CFO o’ dis foundry an I here to fine out why you getting’ pay’d so much loot” answered Myrtle.
“I guess I owe you an apology” said Alex as he quickly realized that he was outgunned (position wise, that is).
“No man” responded Myrtle. “Maybe I coulda’ axed my openin’ question better.”
“The ‘chalky’ thing?” asked Alex.
“Yeh” answered Myrtle. “You see, I been watchin’ you an’ I seed you can hear you machine a’workin’. If you can hear den you not usin’ a chalk board. Viola, I tink you not a chalky.”
“Oh hell. I misinterpreted you” apologized Alex.
“You still a honkie” insisted Myrtle.
“Your still a spook” answered Alex defiantly.
“C’mon Alex” said Myrtle smiling like a Cheshire cat. “I mean dat lovin’ly. You hard workin’ dudes from east Europe is Bohemian or Bosnian. An’ you is hunks, which we can discuss privately, so we call you Bohunks. Dat soun’ like Oreo talk so’s I just call you Honkies.
“Thanks for clearing that up but it doesn’t help much” answered Alex; apparently somewhat still miffed.
“Best I can do” explained Myrtle.
“Now, about your name – – – -, how did you get that?” asked Alex.
“Pleased you axed” said Myrtle. “You know what Myrtle is?”
“Yes” answered Alex. “It is a perennial plant with tiny green leaves and grows on the ground like a vine. It has purple flowers in the spring and early summer and grows best in the shade; often found around graveyards.”
“Right on man. I is green, like money, as any CFO should be, and, purple, like any black man should be” answered Myrtle to the unasked question.
“That is pretty deep for a guy named Myrtle” said Alex.
“You mean pretty deep for a Porch Monkey?” responded Myrtle.
“I meant no such thing” retorted Alex. “Why do you keep bringing race into our conversation?” he asked.
“Justice” answered Myrtle.
“Justice? Who’s justice?” asked Alex.
“You justice” Myrtle said without emotion.
“My justice?” asked Alex incredulously.
“Yeh. You Justice Department. You knows who justice. Dat Oreo Holder.” Myrtle had finally laid out his argument.
“Are you speaking of Eric Holder the Attorney General?” queried Alex.
“Yeh, dat justice” clarified Myrtle.
Alex thought for a minute and then asked “What was it that Holder said? I know it was something about America being too cowardly to have a discussion about race.”
Myrtle grinned that big (almost benign) smile that reminded Alex of the Cheshire cat.
“Is that what we are doing?” asked Alex. “Are we having a non-cowardly discussion about race?”
“Yeh” said Myrtle, “an’ you doin’ a good job fo’ a cracker.”
“You are doing one outstanding job yourself – – – – for a dark cloud” responded Alex.
They both got the humor of the situation at the same moment. Myrtle’s smile became downright brotherly and Alex broke into a large toothy grin. They grabbed each others hand for a hearty shake and slapped each other on the back. Their laughter filled the tool room and overtook the clatter of the machines.
“C’mon brother” said Alex. “Let’s go have a coffee. I think we know each other quite intimately. Now we can get to make each other’s acquaintance.
As they walked toward the coffee area Alex gave Myrtle a playful shove. Myrtle returned the friendly play with a forceful shoulder block. Alex bounced off the wall and almost fell. Myrtle grabbed him and queried Alex to see if he was OK. It was a truly touching scene.
Over coffee Alex explained to Myrtle that he was highly paid because he had served an apprenticeship with an alchemist.
Myrtle saw Alex’s point but still had a question. “But you makin’ more money dan me” noted Myrtle.
“It is all supply and demand said Alex. “Do you realize how many CPAs there are?” asked Alex. He followed up with “and how many toolmakers? The colleges are putting out more CPAs than lawyers; and that’s saying something. At the same time no one is training toolmakers and they are dying off left and right.”
“Dat’s fine” said Myrtle, “cuz you gonna die for I do. An’ like good myrtle I’z gonna cover you grave an’ wet you down every four hours or so.”
They both enjoyed a good laugh at the allegory of Myrtle’s graveyard voidance. They shook hands again but this time with each other clasping the handshake with their free hand.
The friendly good-by was enough said to make them trusting friends for life.