The Iceman is special to the Mirror by Michael C. Jordan
As the boy entered the massive icehouse door facing the Cabin Branch tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the brutally cold air stunned him. The shock reminded him of how his skin felt last November, when on a dare, he dove into the frigid water of a swimming pool.
As his eyes became accustomed to the poorly lit chamber, he focused on the large cakes of ice stored there. Each one weighed at least three hundred and sixty pounds; three times his own weight. The task at hand was dangerous for a grown man, let alone a twelve-year-old boy. He had seen these massive cakes fall and break into chunks of ice capable of doing great bodily harm. If one of these whole cakes fell on him, it would kill him or cripple him for life. He was afraid… but he had something to prove.
He had the equipment he needed: heavy gloves, ice tongs and an ice pick that was sharp, straight, and true. He thought of wearing his steel-toed boots, but he knew that if a full cake of ice fell on those boots as he was lowering it to the floor, it could collapse the steel and sever the toes from his feet. Crushed toes could heal, but severed toes were… well… severed.
Earlier that morning he had asked for a pay raise. He had been working at the icehouse for several months, alongside men who made twenty times his rate of pay. He felt that if he did the same work as the men, he should receive the same pay. But his employer did not share his logic.
His employer, who also happened to be his father, shared very little of his son’s logic or few of his opinions on life in general. When the boy approached him, armed with what he thought to impeccable logic concerning the disparity of the current pay scale, he was rebuffed with an opposing impeccable logic. To wit, “Son, if you want to be paid like a full-fledge Iceman, you must be able to do all the work required of one”. He told the boy that when he could lay down a cake of ice and cut it into twelve equal pieces without breakage, then and only then, could he hope to be paid as a full-fledged Iceman.
Not long after their conversation, the boy stood alone in the frosty room, facing the great dangerous masses of frozen water. He had witnessed the procedure used to lower these heavy monoliths many times, but with varying results. Sometimes the cake was lowered with ease and grace, if the ice tongs bit sharply and deeply into the top section of the ice before it was lowered, and the Iceman was strong enough to gently place it on the floor. He had also seen those three-hundred-and-sixty-pound-giants slip from a man’s hands and crash to the floor as the man scrambled to avoid the ice from crushing a part of his body.
The boy blinked. . .then, with the aid of his tongs, he pried one of the cakes loose from the others. Each of the cakes of ice stood about four feet high, were two and one-half feet wide and ten inches deep. After securing the tongs to the top edge of the cake and placing his left foot at its base, he pulled. The cake tilted, its forward edge became a temporary fulcrum balancing its own massive weight for just an instant before the strain of hundreds of pounds of ice were transferred to the boy’s muscles. He took up the strain of the falling mass and lowered the ice gently and gracefully to the floor with no breakage. This was followed by the laying down of two other cakes with similar results. Finally, by multiple thrusts of his ice pick he completed the job of reducing the three cakes of ice into separate piles of twelve equal pieces. He had met, and then exceeded, his father’s challenge.
He attempted to a second time that day to secure an increase in pay. But again, he was refused based on his inability to perform all the duties required of an Iceman. At that point in the conversation, he led his employer to not one, but three successfully lowered and dissected cakes of ice, whereupon he was granted a pay raise. Not equal to the men, but a raise tripling the amount of is current salary. No longer would he receive one dollar per eight-hour workday; he would now receive three, in recognition of his ability to execute gently and gracefully the duties of a full-fledged Iceman.
Note: The boy in this story is, of course, me growing up in Baltimore. It is an account of my psychological passage to manhood. Additionally, my paternal grandfather was witness to this vignette, and only chuckled in delight at my achievement!