Alan Kirker

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Congregation

August 15th, 2020 by

A congregation is a large gathering of people, often for the purpose of worship, and a church is a religious organization or congregation or community that meets in a particular location.

The HAMC conduct monthly club meetings, coyly referred to as “church“, not for religious reasons, but for the gathering, congregating aspect and which are said to occur on regular Sundays. I had the pleasure of knowing and becoming a friend of one such member, a fine gentleman, while their club at the time was a local chapter of the precursor Satan’s Choice. He worked with me in a slaughterhouse where I spent three consecutive summers in order to finance my freewheeling party lifestyle in university residence. This experience taught me alot about human character, how to grow a thick skin, and to recognize and deal with the absolute best and worst individuals. Moreover, how one’s intention can really, well, drive things in a good or bad way. The setting was exactly 98% male – thus very low % ppm ambient atmospheric oxytocin – and everyone walked around with an 8- or 10-inch long boning knife, drawn, and several more on a scabbard over a rubber apron, for eight hours and sixteen-hundred hogs each day.

For the following, I will slide right into colloquial, and so fair warning; this narrative deals with scenes of a graphic and disturbing nature. Please do not read on if you are offended by images of gore, or of animals being harmed.

I could not eat my lunch for the first week, in large part because we, along with the guys from Beef Kill, had our own cafeteria, and which in order to get to from the kill floor one had to cross a catwalk-like pass over the “Pit”, the place down below where the hogs were introduced to St. Pete at those pearly white enamel then crimson tiles via the unholy trinity of stun, shackle, and stick. Thereupon the critters began their grim journey up a macabre ski-tow-like-lift dangling from a rear leg, bleeding out, their weakening bodies at first thrashing violently, then twitching, then slackening before reaching stillness at the top, up there in the clouds, where they’d have their single-leg shackles switched for a gam-hook and be queued on our “disassembly” line. I had no choice but to get used to this several-times-a-day traverse or else not eat or socialize with the boys. I had to hold my breath for several seconds to avoid inhaling the gagging, overpowering ammonia stench of the gallons and gallons of quickly decomposing blood, not to mention the hellscape scene, where, if one so wanted they could reach out and shake the cloven front hoofs of these poor creatures as they ascended to that big grocery-store-shelf in the sky, and say “sorry you’re having a bad day – we’ll meet again, next week for breakfast, maybe after church or something”.

After my first week and removing my big, knee-high, floppy-fitting, fluorescent-yellow, steel-toed billy-boots, as I would at the end of each day for many days yet to come up in the locker room, began noticing a sort of translucent, gelatinous mass ground into the bottom of one or the other of my thick work socks. Completely baffled. Until, I caught the chap doing the dirty deed. Dan (a pseudonym) worked on the “held rail” where he took apart carcasses side-lined with medical issues under the watchful eye of a veterinarian. As part of my initial job and to get oriented, a task was assigned that involved picking up tickets issued by these vets from a couple of stations across the floor, and sticking them into a canister to get vacuum-sucked up a tube into one such network running throughout the factory, as in the days before the interwebs, before the emails, even before the facts machine. This time though, Dan was caught red-handed. The bugger had just slipped a pair of hogs’ eyeballs down the back of my boots while I was talking to the vet at the held rail station, and in so doing revealed the source of that annoying gelatinous mass in my sock soles I was discovering at the end of each work day.

I thus resolved that as there was no sort of “crying to mommy” recourse available under such circumstances, I would need to fight back, and fight back I did. By the end of the summer I was called by my nickname, Macho, or Machoman, or simply Mauch, for short. One chap even making a custom-lettered standard-cotton-work-shirt with that emblazoned over top of my embroidered real first name and punch clock number.

This was an ironic nickname because I was a scrawny, one hundred and thirty-five pound twenty year old with pencil-thin arms and neck. Dan, the jolly easterner who had now become a friend and even a mentor in the black art of slaughterhouse horseplay, once suggested I visit the local funeral home, Ratz-Betchel, and get myself a deal on some muscles. I also had a terribly acne-spattered face for many years. A face which, however, had garnered the nick “china” from a foul-mouthed Aussie some years later outside a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, to which the response was, thanks I will pass your feedback along to my lovely Irish Mum, and by the way did you know there’s nary a splinter nor a shard of Royal Doulton among the whole sorry lot of you crooks? To which he just blinked and I immediately felt awful. The “Macho” naming was in large part due to the  i. simply. could. not. give. one. flying. fuck. about. anything. reckless. attitude I had and that I could give back, sometimes far worse than I got. The specific reason for the Machoman nickname moreover had to do with when as I was just about to embark on a volley of horseplay, I would belt out the opening verse of that same song by the Village People. The guys got so used to it, that by the end of the summer, all I had to do was shout out the opening “Hey, Hey…. Hey-Hey-Hey…” and at least several of them on the floor would carry it from there.

August 19, 2020. Happy interlude: I was just gifted with a lovely sky-written emoji. Thank-you so much to the Pitts Special pilot, who, like my Dad the glider pilot / minister whom you will meet in the next post titled “sermon”, obviously knows the aircraft better than his own hand. And, thank-you to whomever paid for such a wonderful birthday gift, if in fact it was even for me…

Across town, and way, way, way, if you get my drift, downstairs within a motor hotel called the Coronet, as in crown, there was another place with a pit, a club where ladies danced and took off their clothes. This one was officially titled, yep, you guessed it: “The Pit”. It was there I discovered an altogether overwhelming interest in seeing very scantily-clad ladies wrestle very competitively in a ring they had set-up. I didn’t at all care for the mud or oil, but the sight of the ladies themselves tangled up was enough to force one to wriggle in this ladies’ wiggle-room and adjust one’s trousers several times over the course of the evening. A visit during frosh week with some chums from the uni included a rather extraordinary character who became a close friend during those days, and then in a swirling tidal pool of complexity going, well, we’re not sure exactly which way at this point, turns out was himself raised on a hog farm. He came from the west and went all the way up through uni, studying very hard and partying very little, all the way up to the very top of the world of online gambling, even to gracing the cover of Forbes magazine for all of his efforts. I also saw some crazy bands that summer too, up in the motel’s large and popular concert hall, including Blitz and Goddo, no less. The hall and the strip joint downstairs, were favourite watering holes for many members of the local motorcycle club, the Satan’s Choice.

Horst (a pseudonym) was about seven feet tall with a correspondingly healthy girth, blonde curly hair and was what only, and I do stress only, the ladies would call baby-faced cute.. Perhaps between twenty-five and thirty years of age at the time. We had seen each other on occasion at the other Pit, the one across town, where he had nodded to me. I wasn’t exactly sure if he was a full-patch member of the Choice at this point, but maybe by the end of this crazy canter, he would have been. His job on the kill-floor was at the end of the “head table”, an area of four or five people who carefully stripped each hog’s head of its skin. The head was then handed to Horst, who would first use a giant guillotine to split it lengthwise, then he’d pry it apart with both his massive clutch and gas paws. The brain, which got pulled out and put in one tub, made way for him to reach in and with a surgical precision which would have made my Dad’s friend, brain surgeon Wilder Penfield, green with both envy and indigestion, excise the creature’s pituitary gland with a tiny pair of tweezers. It was then carefully placed on a sheet of wax paper within a little stainless steel tray in a manner so as to have them all spaced out evenly and elegantly like hors d’oeuvres in preparation for a cocktail party. Once a summer or so, a small contingent of lab-coat wearing Asian scientists who were each about a third his size would watch him for a half hour or so and make copious notes on their clipboards.

Horst never engaged in any horseplay. He never spoke to anyone. He was focused and did his job. I enjoyed sitting with him at the lunch table. When I had worked up enough courage I would ask a question or two, such as “What do you think of British bikes like Nortons, Triumphs, and BSAs?” I was interested in his thoughts because I had some crazy biker friends down in the Hamilton area who would rocket around on these sorts of machines and engage in all manner of shenanigans. He replied, after an Elon Musk-length introspective pause followed by an equally lengthy sigh in a very serious tone like an older brother advising his younger sibling “Well, I suppose… I suppose they are ok to learn on”.

I got quite reckless with my kill-floor antics and at one point after repeatedly splashing a chap with my workstation hose each time he’d turn around, he reacted. Badly. He was a nasty, brutish and all of about five and a half feet of solid Slovenian brick crap-house who approached me at my workstation, a drill-press affair I used to clean the excess hair and gunk from between the cloven and now amputated front hoofs of the unlucky animals. I thought he was going to repeat his usual expletive-filled tirade but to my face this time and then the next thing I knew there was a terrible ringing in my ear over top of the now muffled-sounding factory din and I was down looking at his boots only they and everything around were sideways. Fortunately, due to my light physical frame and the slippery hockey rink-like floor, I folded up pretty easily. When I got to my feet and collected my hard-hat as he returned to his station I realized he had drifted me with his mesh glove on, and so my face swelled right up for about a week. This didn’t really seem to have any effect whatsoever in terms of my overall horseplay initiatives, however.

As one might anticipate for such a brash student, I was often on the receiving end of many tirades and volleys to one point where I had to temporarily change my blood-curdling war-cry from “Machoman” by the Village People to “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the Human League, with appropriately remixed lyrics. The Portuguese chaps never failed to butcher this one though, emphasizing that first syllable in “… ba-by?” as “… baaaaay-by?” which of course sounded utterly ridiculous. I would be soaked through to the underwear by eleven a.m. and regularly needed to change my white cotton shirt after being bulls-eyed by a lobbed softball of coagulated blood or some such projectile. At one point, to my utter surprise, Horst himself flanked by two others on each slide making a formidable phalanx of human ordnance, came marching down that alley past the furnace and beaters towards yours-truly’s spot in that back corner by the knife sharpening station with a look of grim intent. Upon arrival, members of this posse grabbed my shoulders, upending me, while Horst took me by the ankles and hoisted me way, way up, over top of the giant vat of water and pigs’ feet beside my drill press. I was about to be baptized by this fearsome preacher and his angry elder congregants. I played along though and gave a really good performance only because as this gang were upon me, Horst quickly smiled unbeknownst to the others, and so I knew it was all a show.

Things were really ramping up in the Hog Kill as far as all this horseplay stuff was concerned. I had received several warnings from the foreman. But the boys and myself were looking forward to the upcoming annual “Men’s Picnic” sponsored by the firm, the ladies of course having their own. An afternoon of fascinating variables; all the free beer one could drink, every testosterone-fueled interdepartmental team game you could think of, followed by a delicious full course buffet, all out in the blazing hot Saturday summer sun. Oh, yes, the venue; The Waterloo Rod and Gun Club. Spoiler alert: Horst would wind up needing to give a sermon to this assembled congregation of nine hundred -or so male colleagues.

Outlaw motorcycle clubs have a particular history in Waterloo Region, the details of which are scant due to my arriving here only in the late seventies. In one event the local police chief took extreme measures and raided a Satan’s Choice rival club’s clubhouse with German Shepherd dogs who attacked and bit its members. The story blew up in the press causing many in the community to side with outlaw motorcyclists generally and take the position the police had used unnecessary force as a form of intimidation and public relations which wound up backfiring. The popularity of these groups thus grew with large congregations of “wannabees” materializing around town over the ensuing years, with only rare sightings of the mythical men themselves. These gatherings were often in local coffee shop parking lots leading a friend to affectionately dub one such crowd “The Taster’s Choice”.

In a half-baked attempt to raise my social capital I approached Horst on the crest of a ridge in plain view of all the people gathering in the field at the men’s picnic. With another couple of students, I lit a joint and passed it to him, whereupon in a display of far greater adeptness at such social arts he took the proffered doob, inhaling it completely in two draws before walking off without so much as a nod or a thank-you, as though a linebacker on an NFL sideline just handed a bottle of Gatoraid by a bench-boy.

The afternoon was loads of fun after which everyone gathered to dine across a large array of picnic tables, with the Hog Kill department occupying several of them right in the center of things. In true horseplay form, a food-fight erupted at the table where both Horst and I sat when someone casually flipped their sausage onto someone else’s plate. Things quickly escalated and in under fifteen seconds there was full blown pitching and strafing of sausage, pig tail, wings, ribs, and all the fixings. People from other departments turned in their seats to take in the spectacle. Horst, however, was having none of it. He sat there stoically shoveling from his plate while chaos reigned all around, obviously upset at the childish behaviour of his colleagues. When I next looked at him there was a scoop-sized clot of potato salad perched over his right eye, completely occluding his vision on that side. Quickly, his sunburn began turning a deeper shade of red.

( to be continued …)

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