A Dog’s World — Nine


Factory Tails — Short Story Nine
by Barbara Anne Helberg

***The Pawboot

Georgio and Harold, ancient Golden-Lab mixes, sat side by side on their haunches, tails flaired behind them, facing the sunset just outside the west side door of The Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc. plant. Harold was a Big Blackie veteran who had spent most of his adult working life, over 14 years, at the Northwest Ohio company.

Georgio, younger by four years, was a transfer from GrowRight Gourmet out of Cleveland. He had just filled Harold in on the demise of Amelia, the popular and grand Kerry Blue Terrier of executive stock who had championed the working lineage and lost everything in the now infamous pawboot incident. Harold remembered Boatsway, The Big Blackie president who had trashed Amelia, then died months later under the wheels of one of his own trucks. Foul play had been suspected but never proven in a weak attempt to sort out the circumstances of the apparent accident.

The story was, following Amelia’s electric selection as Union executive secretary, Boatsway, a powerfully built St. Bernard and the company’s unchallenged enforcer as chief executive officer, had called Amelia into his courtyard. He faced Amelia across the negotiation table. “This,” he announced, “is the way it works, Union bitch. Kiss my butt.”

Amelia started. She leaned forward slightly, pressing her minimal terrier weight over slim front legs. “I beg your pardon?”

Boatsway rose from the gold-lined courtyard sitting pad and turned tall toward Amelia. “Kiss my butt,” he commanded from behind his rear end.

Amelia was astounded. She shook her fuzzy Kerry Blue beard, thinking red.

Boatsway wiggled his superior caboose at her. “Well?”

Amelia’s jowls heated with embarrassment and consternation. And then she knew what she needed to do. She inhaled deeply and delivered the “kiss”, a stiff pawboot to Boatsway’s offered rear end.

Boatsway, the humbled, ached for a week.

Amelia, of course, left the plant. She hated to lose her Senior Biscuit Option and Security for Ten and Over Plan, but there simply was no choice.

The Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc., GrowRight Gourmet factory outlet had no room for a saucy female who couldn’t fit into officerdom in a contrite manner, Boatsway faxed everyone.

“And, of course, actually pawbooting the company’s senior exec,” Georgio explained unnecessarily, “was considered indefensible at all other competing company outlets, too, believe it, or not.” Georgio nodded at Harold. “Amelia was blackballed. Her ending was a sad one. She had no work for months. At her age… well, she lost her dwelling and drifted, lived by her wits mostly for about a year. A street bitch. But the inevitable caught up to her. She checked into the local society, starved and homeless.

“They say she faced the needle bravely,” Georgio said.

Harold answered minimally, gutterally.

Georgio sighed. “We should all be so full of grace and courage at the end, eh?”

Harold growled a deep, low pitch at the sunset.

Then the two friends turned and entered the west door of the plant, their break over. Many more biscuits and parts were needed and required before the sun rose again.


Photo ArtWork and Story from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg


A Dog’s World — Eight



Factory Tails — Short Story Eight
by Barbara Anne Helberg

***Whisper or Scream

“It’s all in your attitude, kid,” Harold said in his rough, scraping teaching voice. “You can make that machine whisper or you can make it scream.”

The look on the kid’s face didn’t display understanding.

Harold, a Big Blackie Lifer (over the age of fifteen — well over: he was nineteen, as a matter of fact) tried again. “Well, kid, you can fight that machine, or you can become one with it.”

A light appeared in the back of the young Black Lab’s dark eyes.

He nodded almost before Harold scratched out his explanation: “Ever take a motorcycle at death’s angle around a curve?” Harold winked. “Obviously, you lived to tell about it.”

“Because…” the young Lab began.

“You became one with the machine for those few seconds in that lay down position that can wipe you out if you don’t have the right grip mentally or the right touch physically.”

The young Lab’s jaws hung open; his tongue lolled out the side of his smiley, white-toothed mouth.

“You savvy, kid?” Harold asked.

The youngster nodded his head. His ears flopped forward. “Yeah, yeah, got’cha!”

Harold smiled. “Got a name, kid?”

Young Lab nodded, informed his teacher, “Mick.”

Nodding back, Harold thought: He doesn’t have a clue. But he might some day. Anyway, the kid’s got possibilities. He pointed a paw at the T-Boner press at the top of the wide, sturdy staircase. The T-Bone Express was a towering mass of iron, huge gears and air and water pipes, gigantic wheels and pulleys. “Come on, kid. I can show you a trick or two about the T-Boner. A delicate touch on her makes great biscuits.”

The lop-eared Lab spun around with the agility enjoyed by youth. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“You’ll do fine, kid,” Harold said. Any pup that could remember the words “yes” and “sir” in the same sentence when addressing his elders could prove to be teachable.


Photo courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

A Dog’s World — Seven



Factory Tails — Short Story Seven
by Barbara Anne Helberg


Loose Lips, a grand mixed shepherd of great paws and a large head with big, unusually erect, pointy ears, hailed the Shift Supervisor.

The Super sighed with his shoulders in a gesture of unwillingness familiar to those in Operator’s Row.

Craning their necks and pricking their ears, the other press operators leaned into various angles, ready to catch the gist of a trouble call. At Loose Lips’ press, the red call light had been blipping for several minutes. Red lights alerted the Shift Super that he was needed to check out an operational malfunction. A yellow call light signaled for a Quality Control Inspector.

A very tall, thin St. Bernard, the Shift Super dragged on his Marlboro, then said, “What’cha got, Melvin?” using Loose Lips’ given name.

Loose Lips responded with a guttural rash of explanatory complaints on the current run of bad parts at his press, “Blah, blah. Blah…” he indicated. “Blah…blah.”

The Super sighed, nodding.

“Blah…blah,” Loose Lips continued.

The Super nodded.

“Blah, blah,” Loose Lips continued. “Blah…blah…blah…blah…blah…blah–”

“Yeah,” the Super said, cutting Melvin off. His ears twitched forward. He lifted one part from the drop tray beneath the press and inspected it nonchalantly.

Loose Lips wiggled on his press chair, which, essentially, was a metal stool with a metal back supported only by two thin, short poles. “Blah, blah,” he said as the Super continued his inspection. “Blah, blah, blah. Blah…blah…blah…blah…blah.”

The Super’s ears dropped half way. He nodded, letting the part he’d looked at trickle off his paw nails back into the tray.

“Blah, blah, blah,” Loose Lips told him. “Blah…blah…blah…blah…blah…blah.”

The Super’s ears reached full droop. “Yeah,” he replied to Melvin.

Loose Lips changed his low position on the press chair. “Blah, blah, blah,” he pointed out. “Blah, blah, blah! Blah, blah! Blah…blah…blah…blah…blah!” He stared at the Super.

The Super’s eyes glazed over. He nodded droopily. “Yeah. Okay. Just keep running.” He turned away and padded off.

Loose Lips’ eyes stabbed the Super’s back as the St. Bernard shuffled away. “Blah, blah, blah!” he said under his breath. “Blah!”


*** Credit:
Story and Photo from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg

A Dog’s World — Six



Factory Tails — Short Story Six
by Barbara Anne Helberg

*** Lost Parts

The black knit cap on Lady Dill’s head normally sat tilted, but just now it slipped forward a little, and Jethro, across the aisle, felt embarrassed as he sneaked a peak at Lady Dill’s swift adjustments. Everydog wondered about Lady Dill’s cap. Were the ears still under there?

Jethro started. She was looking directly at him from behind The Glazer, the Health Biscuit press she humbly had accepted after twelve company championship show seasons. Lady Dill sat still, oblivious to the lunch traffic moving past her, and continued to look at him through the square opening formed by The Glazer’s top and bottom dies and its tall green iron sides.

The break buzzer had rung. It was time for lunch. Yet Jethro, too, was immobilized.

Jethro had heard the rumors about the champion St. Bernard’s cap. Everydog wanted to know. He, too, just two months on the job at Northwest Ohio Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc. had begun to navigate coy glances in the direction of Lady Dill’s head. She was an elderly red and white long-haired St. Bernard bitch of company showmanship stock, and Jethro was a young pup, brown and tan and white, a shaggy-haired mixed terrier of mixed parents with no hope of living a charmed life of champion ribbons and wreaths. Lady Dill’s repeated surgeries the last several months had reduced her to press operator status, the same lowly beginner’s rank as Jethro. And everydog on operator’s row wanted to know. What about the ears?

Jethro wrecked off his press stool, crashing awkwardly onto three paws, barely maintaining upright control. The owner of the ears, or non-ears, in question was headed straight for him. He gulped.

Lady Dill gathered her full ruff and bosom, substantial for a small St. Bernard bitch. She stopped in front of him.

Jethro quivered. He was large for a terrier mix, but Lady Dill towered above him.

“You may as well get it from the bitch’s mouth, my young pup,” she said.

He was mortified, momentarily. Her voice was, surprisingly, sweet, as always. Her kind eyes showed no malice, no purposeful intent. Jethro saw only dim, gray motherliness, and yet that in itself prompted fear and a sense of uneasiness and inadequacy in him, for his own mother had been a stern, no nonsense shepherd.

Lady Dill rattled on about her illness, and Jethro further cringed. His unwilling ears nonetheless pricked forward as Lady Dill continued. He could feel his fur standing on end across his back and the flush on his fuzzy face. So personal, he thought. He knew he didn’t want to hear all. What had made him think he needed the sordid details? Everydog had speculated about Lady Dill’s illness. Now hearing about it first hand was not so exciting, Jethro decided. It was…embarrassing and dreadful.

No ears, Jethro thought.

“That was just the beginning, you see, the loss of my hearing — perhaps you’d noticed, before the cap, of course, that I didn’t wear ear plugs in here. After my hearing fled entirely, I began to have less social life, of course, you understand. It was totally degrading. I couldn’t compete any longer.

“My championships over the last two seasons at nine show grounds were banished, revoked, my good young pup, because the standing judges said there was no way to prove, or disprove, that I already had been deaf when I won my ribbons. Imagine! Accusing me, the highest ranking bitch of our honored championship line, of deceit!

“My stars! Of course, I protested. But then I began losing tufts of hair around my ears, and the trips to veterinary clinics began, and the awards, the ribbons, seemed so small, far away. The Greyhound Whiz himself, the highly regarded Doctor Shim Azute, attended me. But it was no use. The Icky Bub had metastasized. I’m doomed. My ears were the first to go.”

Jethro shivered. They’re really gone? he thought.

“More hair loss, then the seepage and infection fevers.” She laughed, almost shrilled.

Jethro unconsciously pawed his own healthy ears, relieved to find them in place. He allowed himself a little sigh as he lowered his paws.

“Oh, my dear young pup. It’s not fair, of course — life. But we do die a little every day after maturity, don’t we?”

You’re dying, then? Jethro thought, and he tucked his tail close to his body. He suddenly shivered into a need to keep all his parts collected together.

Lady Dill seemed not to catch on to his compounding fears. Apparently, she had already looked the subject of death in the eye and found it mostly bearable. She went on: “Such a come down –” she glanced slowly around “– ending here in this greasy, smelly plant. I was born for something classier. Well, disease alters that. But I won’t sit at Golden Paw Society and fade away. The disease will win, of course, but before it does, I’ll make myself useful.

“At least they put me on The Glazer, where I can concentrate on contributing the Health Biscuit to growing, potential champion offspring in our line. I requested it, of course, you know, when they said they were going to declassify me from company Showmanship Team to press operator. It’s something to go with. Of course, I’ll get uglier and weaker; probably the ruff next, you know, Doctor Azute says. It eats away everything, you know, The Icky Bug. Everything ends, of course, doesn’t it?”

The Icky Bug, Jethro thought, shivering. He couldn’t help it. He lifted both paws to his head and hugged his ears. The Icky Bug was a deadly mutant insect that had developed after the wipeout of fleas. There was no cure for the disease spread by The Icky Bug.

Lady Dill smiled and pulled off the black knit cap.

Jethro shook. Gone! No ears! Red stubs instead. With pink, wet, squishy spots. He whined uncontrollably. Everything ends!

After the encounter with Lady Dill, Jethro inquired about the company health care plan. He decided he was not too young to enroll. It was just like his Grandpa had warned him. Heath insurance was the thing. “Can’t have enough of it,” Grandpa Cause had said. “Too many infectious bugs around these days.”

Any dog could catch The Icky Bug.


*** Credit:
Story and Photo from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg

A Dog’s World — Five



Factory Tails — Short Story Five
by Barbara Anne Helberg

*** Partials

Charles, second shift quality inspector at the Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc. Henry County, Ohio, plant, recognized Chuk’s mood as testy before he’d heard Chuk’s second sentence. Chuk’s first comment seared: “Hey, Charles. Ready for another sparkling day at the millstone? Bad dough. Bad parts. Bad operator.”

“Get loose, Chuk. You can’t be having a bad day already. It’s just three-fifteen, fifteen minutes into your shift.”

“Yeah. Whoopie. Eight hours and fifteen minutes to go. It’s the same old thing, you know. Six checks and gauges and tests per shift. Check that. Test this. Gauge it again. If it checks out all right, toss it into the ship bin. If it doesn’t check out, hit it with a tenderizer hammer, make it two — partials — and send it out. Cram it on the gauge, stomp on it, straighten it, ignore it, but send it out the cotton-picking door! And don’t even think there’s a chance of doing it right because first shift sent it out perfect and you second shifters are second best rift raft who can’t even pick up your scrap!”

Charles, a strikingly large St. Bernard with a close cut that made him appear longer and lankier than the normal male member of his breed, had been in quality control for five years. He’d seen it before, heard it before, and wasn’t put off by hyper types like Chuk. They just made his rounds more interesting. Chuk was a medium-sized mix with shepherd and chow-chow features, including a stubby nose through which he snorted frequent displeasure. Charles had encouraged him to train for a quality control position. Some superiorly intelligent mixes sometimes made the grade for such promotions. But Chuk seemed bent on remaining a press operator so he cold complain without having to take the responsibility for improvement that a higher position would demand of him. Chuk denied that, of course.

Chuk’s forepaws shook a bit as he hopped tailend onto the metal stool most operators preferred at this station. The press was higher off the concrete than most, and operators needed a boost to reach the paw-push buttons.

Chuk’s nervous shake, Charles thought, had less to do with anxiety than it did with anger. The shake became noticeable when Chuk got on a disgruntled binge. Parts quality versus production quantity went around in Chuk’s head until he became dizzy, apparently. Charles had heard Chuk’s fellow workers refer to it as Chuk’s revolving migraine because there was no resolution to the problem, only a new day and a new headache.

Chuk snorted and pushed the paw-push buttons three times and looked through the protective plexiglass shield.

Charles peeked at the freshly pressed parts from behind Chuk’s shoulder, only to see the first three Q-Three biscuits had fallen into the chute with underdeveloped tops.

Chuk groaned. “I can’t gauge those,” he complained to Charles.

“Nope, you can’t,” said Charles. And he couldn’t approve them to start the shift’s operation at this press. “Run three more,” he told Chuk.

Chuk tightened his dry lips, snorted — it was hot in the plant — and paw-pushed three more parts with the same result: the top half of the “Q” was missing.

“Down time, my friend,” Charles declared. “I’ll tell Supervisor Quincey.”

Chuk, black, white, and bronze, slithered off the stool butt first and padded to the test stand, where he grabbed his timecard. “Well, Quincey can’t say ‘run’ on parts like that,” Chuk growled.

Charles winked. “We never know,” he said.

“Oh, filth!” Chuk screeched, not appreciating Charles’ attempt to humor him. Chuk snorted and shrugged back down to all fours and trudged off toward the time clock. “Partials,” he muttered.

Probably right, Charles thought. Supervisor Quincey would just say break the bad parts into partials and keep running, instead of fixing, or adjusting, anything on the Q-Three on a busily scheduled day like today. Partials boxes didn’t make money. In fact, they were donated by the bin to the Golden Societies, homes for aged, plant-retired canines that dotted the landscape of industrial Northwest Ohio. Supervisor Quincey, Charles thought, shouldn’t settle for partials so often. It was flirting with the capital strength of the company.

But Charles knew he wouldn’t have the final say. He over-looked the press operators’ work. He didn’t decide.

He looked after Chuk, heard him snort his displeasure as he leveled his timecard and watched the time clock punch out his down time.

Three-twenty-five. That hadn’t taken long, Charles thought.


*** Credit:
Story and Artwork from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg

A Dog’s World — Four


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Factory Tails — Short Story Four
by Barbara Anne Helberg

*** “What’s Wrong?”

“What’s wrong?! This table! I can’t reach!” Pekingese Horace stood on hind legs to reach the top of a sorting table. The rectangular table was loaded with stacked biscuits that had to be sorted for chips and cracks, then reboxed. A typical situation, Horace thought as he glared at his Supervisor. His breed, lamented Horace, was always picked out to get the junk jobs at Big Blackie Biscuits and Specialty Items of Northwest Ohio, Inc. What dignity was there in searching through a Corndog’s mistakes? It was part of the press operator’s job to catch these bad parts and scrap them out.

“You might be a bit more careful, Horace. We want whole biscuits, you know. It’s rather the point of this resort,” said Supervisor Felix, a large Beagle, as Horace continued to sling resorted biscuits into a clean packing box.

Horace hardened his glare, knowing to complain about a cheap-labor Corndog was useless. Cornbred Sifty had run the T-Bone Express press on third shift. Cornbreds were considered none too bright by most Purebreds, and Horace thoroughly agreed. Should have opted for The Sohoe Plant when I had the chance, he thought. “Can I get the table adjusted?” he asked sourly.

“I’ll get maintenance over here to adjust the table, Horace,” Felix said with grand tones. Horace glared.

Horace was good at running the T-Bone Express press, not that any special recognition came his way. It was his usual second shift assignment, but today he’d been put at a sorting table to sift through the extra mess produced by a first shift rookie who merely had followed Corndog Sifty’s mistakes. Horace actually had pangs of jealousy when another dog was given the press, instead of him. He had bid on the job a year ago, and right was right. He should be on the press. It was his job. Horace knew they assigned a rookie to the T-Boner every now and then on first shift, leaving Horace with the second shift sort. All to annoy him while the T-Boner was down, waiting for maintenance . It was management’s way of putting off a dog like himself who had brains enough to question procedure.

Management didn’t want dogs with brains, Horace thought grimly. They wanted dogs with work-like-a-dog mentalities. Work like a dog for us under the conditions we give you. Can’t even get a height adjustment on a table, Horace fumed. Then we’ll give you retirement at some staid Golden Society kennel that barely has essential accommodations.

“What’s wrong, he asks,” Horace muttered. Humph! Everything at Big Blackie is wrong!


*** Credit:
Story and Photo from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg

A Dog’s World — Three



Factory Tails — Short Story Three
by Barbara Anne Helberg

*** Rocky

The Dartmouth truck sat next to the huge concrete bay, while its driver, Rocky, a huge black and white male Newfoundland, dramatically paced before the black plastic drapery that kept a cold, sweeping December wind from penetrating the factory’s innards. Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc. of Northwest Ohio, the U.S.A.’s main dog food, biscuit, and tag and chain factory, was warm inside, as always, Rocky noted.

He gave a great shake of warmth as he watched two Golden Retrievers (G.R.s) with square, red tags scurry from the shipping office. Rocky lit a cigarette. Smoking inside was against plant regulations, but no dog gave him any resistance.

There were blue triangular tags on the necks of two Great Danes (G.D.s) who observed the mechanics of a monster green and yellow ram press situated near the center of the plant’s truck receiving wing.

The press being closely observed was the infamous T-Bone Express biscuit maker. It was as tall as a ten-story doghouse with tonnage of over 600 and a driving ram force that could wipe out a large brick doghouse in a single stroke. All the truck drivers knew about the T-Boner. It produced an incredibly delicate “T” dog biscuit by cookie cutter principle. Eight cutouts were shaped per single stroke of the T-Boner’s ram. Orders for the tasty Glazed T-Bone Biscuit boasted of having fifty trucks always in transportation mode just to deliver the T-Bones in countryside areas north, south, east, and west.

Quality and production problems frequently revolved around the T-Bone Express, for its sheer size and power and its ram stroke prolificity caused maintenance nightmares. The T-Bone area was in constant uproar. Quality of product versus production numbers prompted head-on collisions between the quality control department and the production number supervisors.

Glazing the T-Bone Biscuit before, or after, cutouts constituted a major argument among maintenance, quality, and production heads. Opinions crashed, heads butted heads, over prolificity of ram stroke, quality of product, and production numbers, in an attempt to fill vast orders. The argument over pre-glazing, or post-glazing, ultimately was left unsettled as first shift pressies were told to run one way and second shift opinion changed the run. The quality department remained stumped, and engineers stayed at the drawing boards. Production chiefs sweated blood on and on for higher numbers, and plant management screamed at them to produce more, more, more!

Rocky smiled as he held out a paw toward Red, the G.R. shipping supervisor, who had beelined to him as he sent Oscar, the other G.R. he’d been talking with, toward the T-Boner.

“Hello, Rocky,” Red grinned. He gripped Rocky’s paw, but, knowing the Newfie’s crushing strength, quickly released. “Still the fastest driver in the west, aren’t you now?”

“Guess so,” answered the soft-spoken Newf. Drivers were told to drive fast, Rocky thought. He guessed a shipping chief was motivated to move rapidly, as well.

“We’ll have you loaded and out of here in half an hour,” Red claimed.

Red was trotting off even before Rocky could nod.

Busy, but a good dog, Rocky thought. Soon, he’d be back out in the cold, but in 48 hours, Red’s warm and bustling shipping department would welcome him again. Keep’em rolling, Rocky thought as he pulled his jacket closer around his shoulders.


*** Credit:
Story and Artwork from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg