brillo warhol

Strike Out
by Joseph Lisowski

Workers of Spang Steel were out on strike for the third time.  My dad, once again, was on the picket line fighting management’s efforts to keep the union out.

Worry seemed to seep out of the floorboards and down the walls of our two-bedroom rented row house.  There was no telling if dad would come home bruised, beaten, or broken after a day on the line.  Or if he would come home at all.  And we were dead broke.  Starvation threatened.

My mother just had another baby and my four other younger siblings did all they could to keep from getting in trouble.  I figured I had to do something, so  I went out looking for work, big for my age but still in eighth grade.

After a week of desperate searching I lucked out.  St. M’s hospital hired me to work in its kitchen as pot scrubber and potato peeler. I’d punch in at three and out at nine, earning 75 cents an hour, five days a week.  At that time hospitals were exempt from minimum wage or child labor laws.

March dragged on to become April, then crawled into May.  Luckily, I didn’t have to do much schoolwork, but needed to attend each day.  Working conditions were horrible — hot, always noisy, dank, drear.  I only got 15 minutes for lunch and that to be taken in our basement locker room, which was adjacent to the hospital morgue.  The only time I breathed fresh air and glimpsed the sky was when I hauled the heavy garbage cans from the kitchen to a series of dumpsters overlooking the park’s dirt ballfield.  Having to watch my friends through the cyclone fence playing baseball seemed particularly cruel.

IMAGE: Brillo Box by Andy Warhol (1964).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Lisowski, Ph.D., has taught at several colleges and universities, most notably, Duquesne University, Point Park College, The University of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas serves as the setting for his three published detective fiction novels), J.Sargeant Reynolds Community College,  Elizabeth City State University, and at the Virginia State Penitentiary. Seventeen of his chapbooks have been published, and two — Looting the National Gallery  and John in Prison, Herod Responds are forthcoming from Praxis Press.  Three more chapbook manuscripts are in search of a publisher.  Among his awards, he received the UNC Board of Governors Teacher of the Year award (2013-2014).