(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Framed by the songs of Dinah Washington, this story falls into four parts. As it opens, the narrator recalls his work as a punch-press operator at Electronic Masters Incorporated, a company that molds sheet steel into frames for radio and television speakers. The work is demanding, the pay minimal, the heat maximal, the foremen constantly pushing workers to go faster, and the machines intolerably noisy. The work is almost more than he can bear: “I get to thinking about all that noise that that big ugly punch press makes, and me sweating, scuffing, trying to make my rates, and man I get eeevil.”

Two things keep him going—his love of Dinah Washington’s music that he hears over the cacophony of the shop, and his admiration for his fellow-worker, Daddy-o, who enjoys Dinah even more than he does. Daddy-o is known by a nickname because his real name, James, is not mythical enough. He is tall, strong, and dark-skinned, and he has a powerful voice. “Actually, sometimes Daddy-o scares you.” He is the model against whom other men judge themselves.

On the fateful day of the second part, Daddy-o’s behavior is unaccountably strange. He arrives three hours late, dressed in his best suit, shirt, tie, shoes, and hat, and he stands smoking under the giant “No Smoking” sign. He struts over to his punch press with an odd and jaunty glint in his eye. This is strange enough, but when he does the unthinkable and tries to stick his hand into the...

(The entire section is 552 words.)