When I was a lad,
It seems a thousand centuries ago
But really it was 1969,
I began my working life
At the bottom
Of a road construction ditch.
I was a navvy.
Better known today
As a manual laborer.
I shoveled the shit
That had accumulated within the ditch.
From the bottom of it
To the top.
And sometimes vice versa.
Our gang boss was named Arthur.
He was the toughest boss there was!
He was feared by all,
For he could be a violent man
When he felt he’d been disrespected.
Or when the men slacked off too much.
Or if he just happened to be feeling that way.
Yes! He was ready with his fists!
His language was fierce too,
The most ferocious at the depot,
(And although I’m tempted for old time’s sake)
Too ferocious to repeat here.
Adding to his reputation
As one tough son-of-a-bitch gang boss
Who didn’t take any crap
A reputation of which he was proud.
When I first began working
In the ditches
I was sixteen-years-old.
Still a schoolboy really.
I hadn’t spent much time
In the company of grown men yet,
And hadn’t begun to understand their ways.
So I was afraid of Arthur.
He detected this, and seeing the men saw it also,
For he was very observant
And always conscious of being the boss,
He treated me with extra hostility,
As if to break my spirit
And bend me to his will.
To show me who was the boss.
And he made sure the men saw it!
“Watch out for Arthur.”
They warned me.
“He’s a mean one.”
Then one day while
Shoveling you-know-what from the ditches,
I was struck in the foot with a pick.
It bled terribly and hurt like hell!
The pick had stuck in my foot
And wouldn’t come out,
Much to the amusement of my workmates
Standing in the muddy ditch with me,
Who didn’t immediately comprehend
The severity of the situation.
I didn’t either, never having been struck
In the foot with a pick before,
And I laughed and pointed, saying,
“Somebody take a picture!”
And other witty nonsense
As my boot filled with blood.
Not Arthur, though.
He understood right away.
And he did something about it!
He jumped into the ditch,
Pushing the other workers aside,
And hoisted me out.
Then without removing the pick
He applied a tourniquet above my ankle
With the sweaty bandana from round his neck,
After ordering one of the men to fetch
His goddamned truck and be quick about it
So he could take me to hospital.
That’s when I passed out.
I awoke in hospital.
All clean and warm and dry.
My foot throbbed a little.
But otherwise I felt fine.
“Bless you,” I said to those
Around me dressed in white,
Feeling very grateful
To the doctors.
They just smiled and took my pulse.
“You’ll be okay, you little shit!”
Said Arthur when he came
To visit me the next day.
He didn’t say anything else
About my accident,
And when I tried to say something
To thank him for his help,
He wouldn’t allow that, either.
“Shut your freakin cake hole,”
Was how he put it.
Only with more curse words.
“Forget it!” he added.
Then he left.
To be continued...