Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552
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 back of the machine, where all the electrical switches are, everyone stops to watch. Charlie Wicowycz, the foreman, and Mr. Grobber, the boss, try to lead Daddy-o away from the machine. At this, Daddy-o looks at each worker in turn, smiles, and makes a gesture of possession, his arms and legs spread in front of the machine: “Ain’t nobody getting this machine. I own this machine, baby. This is mine. Ten years! On this machine. Baby, this belongs to me.”
The third part reveals how the company deals with Daddy-o’s illness and his claims of ownership. Although the sympathetic narrator tries to call Daddy-o’s wife, the boss and foreman use the routine method of dealing with a troublemaker: They call the police. For all his strength and ten years of labor, Daddy-o is worn out and therefore expendable. When a big, mean-looking police officer with icewater eyes starts to bludgeon Daddy-o, the narrator again intervenes by leading him to the paddy wagon. Daddy-o walks out reluctantly. When he stops to look back at his machine, the officer clubs him, and he falls into the wagon. “I swear I could have cried,” the narrator recalls.
The narrator is reminiscing again as the story concludes. He looks at Daddy-o’s machine. It does not seem right without his friend. At first he is proud of how fine a worker Daddy-o was and how sharp he looked today. Then he realizes that his own situation is not much different. “I got to think about my machine. . . . Seemed funny to think it wasn’t really mine. It sure seemed like mine.” Like Daddy-o, he sings to keep from crying, singing Dinah’s song “Blow Top Blues”—a song about a person driven insane by the pace of urban life.
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