Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve At Koos?

On Wednesday December 24, 1975, 6:00 AM came much too early. Besides being ungodly cold, it was Christmas Eve and I was sitting on a picnic table in the filthy Jap Shack at Koos Inc. Something was wrong with this picture. 

Let me recap for you. It was way too early. It was bitter cold and I was working in an old and decrepit building with no heat. And most importantly, it was Christmas Eve morning. Yikes, how was I supposed to handle spending Christmas Eve at Koos?

The solution was simple. Drink alcohol.

Before you get the impression that I was some sort of juvenile delinquent with a drinking problem, please keep two things in mind. First of all, in 1975 it was legal to consume alcohol at the age of 18 in the state of Wisconsin. Secondly, isn’t it traditional to celebrate Christmas Eve by having a party featuring adult beverages? See, it makes perfect sense.

There was only one small detail. I was at work.

Admittedly, drinking while at work isn’t the brightest thing to do. Okay, it’s a pretty idiotic thing to do, but I wasn’t alone in this stupidity. It was actually a plant wide event that was planned the night before at Slim’s Tap after a city league basketball game. Everyone was instructed to bring their favorite spirits.

Hey, I was young and impressionable and everyone was doing it. Honest. Well, almost everyone.

On that particular Christmas Eve, everyone in the plant at 4500 13th Court was consuming alcohol; even the supervisors. Everyone, that is, but the iconic Arno Schubert. It seems the crusty old Kraut had picked the holidays to go on the wagon. Who would have guessed? 

After punching in, the group of us trudged across the ice-covered yard armed with brown paper bags that concealed every type of booze imaginable. Beer, wine, whiskey… You name it, we had it. My contribution to the party was my favorite flavor of beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

At first we tried to be discrete around the bosses, we weren’t quite sure how they would react to us drinking on the job. We were afraid of potential repercussions. Those fears quickly disappeared when bagging supervisor Russell Thompson offered us a hit off of the bottle of Wild Turkey he pulled out of his coveralls.

The party was on.

Eventually all of the liquor we smuggled into the plant was consumed. That however didn’t stop the crew at Koos. We simply passed the hat and sent Sven Sievert over the railroad tracks to the Beer Depot on Sheridan Road for pints of blackberry brandy. When those were polished off, the process was repeated. Sort of like shampooing your hair. 

Over and over again…

Ultimately the intoxicating refreshment took its toll on the employees. Forklifts were traveling a little slower and production began to sputter. The only one who wanted to work was the tee-totaling Arno. But as drunk as we were, nobody really was paying any attention to the foul-mouthed German.

At one point, Harry Leipzig turned to me and announced that he was going to the Jap Shack to take a piss. He never returned. Later he was discovered passed out on a picnic table. Without Harry, Line 3 needed someone to seal bags. Munk Ekern graciously volunteered to help out to keep production going. 

Regrettably, the result of the gallant gesture was less than spectacular because Munk never actually sealed any bags. You see, I was the bagger and looking back, the whole scene was somewhat comical. The conversation went something like this:

Drunk Puddles (me): “Okay Munk, here they come.”
Drunker Munk: “Wait Puddles, you seal.”
Drunk Puddles: “Okay, but who’s gonna run the bagger?”
Drunker Munk: “You are.”
Drunk Puddles: “Okay, then who’s gonna seal?”
Drunker Munk: “You are, Puddles.”

That nonsensical exchange went on for about five minutes. Eventually, Munk would stumble off to join Harry in the Jap Shack. Did Line 3 ever start up again on that drunken Christmas Eve at Koos? I honestly don’t remember. Things were kind of fuzzy at that point.

Before you knew it, it was almost noon and the second shift crew was arriving to a plant full of intoxicated first-shifters. There were guys spread out all over the plant, a small number were standing, others were sitting and a few were laying down. But nobody was working.

Not even Arno. By this time he had given up hope of getting anything accomplished. He was just standing against the wall fuming with his arms folded across his chest and a crooked frown on his face. He was so upset he wasn’t even cursing anymore.

When the clock finally hit noon, we wobbled out of the plant and went home, having spent Christmas Eve at Koos. Remarkably, the alcohol impaired six-hour shift ended without incident. Although not much work got done, no one got in trouble or was hurt. Everyone was fine.

Until the following Monday. 

Despite the supervisors being cool with our impromptu Christmas Eve party, plant manager Frank Niebling was not. No one was quite sure how he found out, but he did. And he was furious.

Determined to show us that this type of behavior was not acceptable, he called our union steward, Danny Fliess into his office. He immediately told Danny that he was going to make an example of him and proceeded to suspend him for a week with no pay.

When Danny objected and tried to plead his case, Frank exploded. Pointing a finger in the startled union steward’s face, he blurted out, “Don’t think for a minute that you guys can get away with this shit just because I wasn’t here!” Unwisely, Danny explained that nobody know he wasn’t there on Christmas Eve. 

Just like that his suspension became 2 weeks without play.

I hope you enjoyed this Koos Inc. masterpiece. Each time I read one of these classics, memories are sparked. Ugly, horrible, twisted memories. Working at Koos Inc. with people like Arno Schubert will do that to you. 

Please have fun at your Christmas Eve parties and be thankful that you’re not at Koos working. Merry Christmas to all. Until next time…from the booth.

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