Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I met Tony Jr.–his full name was Anthony Borkowski Jr.–when I worked at Derby Foods, 3327 W. 47th Place, home of Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Derby Tamales. His father, Anthony Borkowski Sr.–also called Tony–wanted his son to work while he attended school at DeVry. Tony Sr. thought his son was getting too lazy by just going to school and not working. Tony Jr. was already twenty-two, but still had not graduated from college. He was a student at the University of Illinois Circle Campus–before it became the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)–and belonged to a fraternity, so he partied a little too much for his father’s liking. So Tony Jr. transeferred to DeVry and started working at Derby Foods.

Tony Jr. towered over me whenever we talked. He had dark blond hair and wore round wire-rimmed glasses. He looked flabby, but was actually rather muscular. He could do any job at Derby Foods, including unloading the 135-pound bags of raw peanuts from the railroad boxcars (somthing I could only do for more than a few days at a time because that job exhausted me). He was always on time for work because his father always woke him and they went to work together, even if Tony Jr. had been out partying all night. Tony Sr. would pull off the blankets and announce, “Time to go to work!” with his heavy Polish accent. If Tony Jr. still didn’t get up, his father would push him out of bed and shout, “If I have to go to work, you have to go to work!’ Some mornings, Tony Jr. was a walking zombie.

Tony Sr. was a minuturized version of his son who never missed a day of work because he loved his job. He was quite a character in his own right, a man who was quite liked by everyone because he was friendly, had a good sense of humor, and could take a joke. Of course, people often tired of his standard greeting that always made him laugh, but no one else. In the morning, he would greet the women by saying, “Hey, good looking! What you got cooking?” No one ever responded to his question, so he would answer it himself with either, “Chicken! You wanna neck?” or “Bacon! You wanna strip?” The first time someone heard Tony Sr. say that, they laughed. Then after about the third time, they were just tired old jokes. After about the hundreth time, those lines became funny again when he used them on new empoyees. But everyone humored him because he was such a friendly guy.

On the other hand, he was disliked because he was a foreman and always wanted to earn his annual bonus by increasing productivity on the peanut butter production line. Number one on his agenda at work was that his peanut butter production line produce at least 100%. Sometimes, he would work harder than his workers rather than just stand there idly and merely supervise. He also was concerned about job security–so much so that he never told anyone how to start up the peanut butter processing machinery. He was so afraid that he would be replaced if someone else learned his trade secrets, so he would come in early Monday morning before anyone was at the factory to start everything up. He even did this while he was on vacation. Once he he was so deathly ill that he didn’t come in at 3:30 a.m. as he usually did. The shift started at 7:00 a.m. and there was no sign of Tony Sr. who had not called in sick. Since he had never missed a day of work, not even due to illness, everyone thought he had died. Even Tony Jr. was MIA. The assistant foreman drove to the Borkowski home and Tony Jr. answered the door. His father was so sick that he had overslept. Tony Sr. immediately got dressed and went to Derby Foods rather than reveal how to start up the machinery to his assistant foreman. The plant was then up and running, albeit a little later than usual. And no one learned how to start up the machinery until about two months before Tony Sr. retired. Tony Sr. insisted that it would take a lifetime to learn what he would attempt to teach in a mere two months. In order to avoid another plant startup fiasco due to illness, the plant superintendent decided that Tony Sr. would train three people to learn the startup procedure. Tony Sr. then started bragging, “See how important I am at Derby Foods. It takes three people to replace me! Maybe I shouldn’t retire.” But everyone insisted that he retire.

But back to Tony Jr. who was promoted from laborer to mechanic because he was intelligent, a DeVry student, and had great clout because his father was a foreman. He would have preferred to remain a laborer while he was in school, but his father insisted he get ahead at Derby Foods in case he wanted to make a career of it. Because of his father’s encouragement, Tony Jr. spent less time drinking and more time studying. It was about this time that Tony Jr. and I became fairly good friends at work. Sometimes we would go out to lunch together. The very first time we went, I had to laugh for two reasons. First, he said we should drive to the hot dog stand that was a block away, but he pointed out that we only had thirty minutes for lunch, so it was actually a very practical suggestion. Second, I laughed when I saw his car. He drove this tiny little Honda Accord. When I explained to him why I laughed, he told me that since he was so tall and husky, he had to shop around for car in which he would fit comfortably. The Accord offered him the most room. He was always very practical like that.

One day, he asked me for help with a composition he was writing for his composition class. I was surprised he asked me because I was not known for my intelligence at Derby Foods. In fact, everyone thought of me as the kid who dropped out of high school in order to work in a factory. Anyway, I told Tony Jr., “Why do you want my help? I only have a GED! You’re a college student!” I really thought I had him there! But no! He said, “You’re a published writer!” Okay, he had me there. I had some local publications. Whenever I was at Derby Foods, I often forgot about my accomplishments. But the main reason he wanted my help was because he had once seen me reading a grammar book. I can read grammar books the most kids read comic books. This really impressed him, so he asked me for help. Needless to say, he got an A on his composition!

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David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.