Working five years at the American Thread Company in the little town of Natchaug had been like laboring as a galley slave throughout the middle ages. It had been a fruitless period and had seemed interminable. But the thing that was really depressing to contemplate was that Caleb, the fellow who worked the threading machine next to mine, had completed 20 years of faithful service, all of it on the same machine. And he took pride in this longevity. He had been paid poorly to continually perform a job requiring such motions, coordinations, strength, and mental dexterity as could be acquired by a ten year old child in the space of one hour. It further depressed me to know that Caleb had carried the same black lunch pail for 20 years, and he was proud of it.
If he was a content man who was satisfied with his life work, I was his foil. Nevertheless, I was overtly kind toward him. But when I meditated upon his accomplishments in life, what was to be his immortality, and the milestones he had attained, I grew sick at heart. And he is not considered to be a drudge by society. On the contrary, many would view him as a success. After all, he is reliable and mature, and is a conforming citizen. There are multitudinous Calebs, and each is regarded as a success by many of the other Calebs.
"Caleb is a fine, upstanding, honest citizen," they proclaimed on the day he retired, "and he has been an acute and conscientious worker at The American Thread Company these 20 years. Good luck, Caleb, and may God bless you and keep you well in the years before you." And the company awarded him a gold pocket watch.
Three days later one of the thread mill trucks knocked Caleb to the ground and he died at once. It had been an unfortunate accident and it was concluded that no one was to blame.
Caleb's death had been a turning point in my own career. It had precipitated the predisposing thoughts which my mind had housed for five long years. I began to ask myself why I worked, and why people work. We work in order to have food, clothing, a shelter and certain scant luxuries. That is why most people work, unless, possible, there is some satisfaction in the work itself. But some of us are thinking of becoming wealthy through working. Why do people hope to become rich? So that they can purchase finer luxuries? Yes, but more important than that, to free themselves from work, to attain the ultimate luxury, the luxury of leisure. This means we work in order to make enough money to avoid work or, in short, we work in order to avoid work. Isn't it ironical that we must work in order to do so? Thus I reasoned and my conclusion to the problem was to abandon all work and consider other avenues.
So I quit my job. When asked why I wished to resign, I said I was going to leave the city of Natchaug and perhaps even leave the state of Connecticut to look for a better job. I also told my closer friends that I was leaving for New York, the Big Apple. I did leave Natchaug, but my immediate destination was not to be New York.
Upon arriving in Hartford, I immediately registered at a hotel which was located on the busy State Street section. Although I registered under the name of Herman Melville, the clerk did not seem surprised. I didn't wish to attract attention. But such pranks are an obsession with me.
It took me over six weeks to grow a thick, black beard and an accompanying black mustache. I also let my hair become long and unruly. I then had my car stored and procured a rental car. During the five previous weeks I had thought through my plan dozens of times. I now knew exactly how I was going to rob the American Thread Company in Natchaug of its payroll.
For the reader for whom the iotacism in this story has become tedious, we will now change the mode of delivery from the first to the third person. We will continue to refer to our main character, the erstwhile mill worker, as Herman Melville. This will give the writer of this tale the experience of having written a story in which the creator of Moby Dick is the main character. We are now ready to commence the robbery.
Herman drove the rented car to Natchaug. He arrived at the American Thread Company just as the people who worked the night shift were leaving the factory to return to their homes. They walked in groups like wooden robots. Their eyes were red and staring, their mouths agap. Herman parked his vehicle and walked quickly past the rotary and across the street, feeling that it was unlikely that he would be recognized. He continued along the sidewalk until he was within ten feet of the bridge which spans the Coventry River. He entered a door on his left and then hurried down a long, dark hallway. When he gained the doorway at the other end, he halted momentarily and looked furtively to right and left. He syncronized his watch with mill time. Then he sat on the floor in a corner and scrutinized the face of his watch.
Is the tension and suspense making you uneasy, reader? Well, since you are eager to find out how Herman Melville fared, let's let 45 minutes elapse and see what he is doing.
He is in the rented car and driving toward New London. He will take a train to New York the next morning. His plans were not specific beyond that. Yes, he had the money, three-hundred thousand dollars in cash, intended for payroll. Luckily, he didn't have to use his gun.
back to the Short Story Page.Local Boy Makes Good, 3 August 2005