‘Code 13’ of the 14 Point Code of the Arka Brotherhood refers to the need for men to stay in relationship with each other. This is important for many reasons, some of which touch directly on the nature of the male psyche and ego. Put simply, men can suck at communication. (Needless to say, women can be terrible also, but usually in different ways). To illustrate this point, I’ll share a few anecdotes from my rough and tumble early years.
Some (True) Tales of Bullshit
A meat boner is a guy who stands in front of a conveyor belt and pulls off cuts of cattle such as butts (yes), flanks, loins, and so on,
From 1976 to 1980 I worked in a meat packing plant in Montreal in order to pay my way through college and university. I got this job easily enough because my father was one of the co-owners of the plant, having worked his way up to that position over many years of toil. He had immigrated to Canada from Austria in the early 1950s. He began work at the plant as a boner. (Yes, they are indeed called boners). A meat boner is a guy who stands in front of a conveyor belt and pulls off cuts of cattle such as butts (yes), flanks, loins, and so on, and then cuts the bones out of them. To do this, he works with an assortment of huge knives. He wears a white apron, a hat, and is equipped with protection for his hands and arms so that he doesn’t lose a finger while deboning a butt.
These guys were paid fairly well back then (comparatively less so now, doubtless due to huge increases in cost of living). Despite that, most didn’t exactly bring a stellar attitude to work. And who could blame them? The atmosphere was in some ways hellish: standing for eight hours a day in a freezing cold factory at one spot by a conveyor belt, waiting for a cattle butt to be delivered to you and your knives, wearing a blood-stained apron, surrounded by blood-stained men with huge knives. These blue-collar guys were doing an honest job, but it was nothing more than that to them. They lived for their paycheck and the end of the week. They were not exactly there because of each other.
A problem was that these men were basically stuck in one position, and so were equally stuck with whoever was placed on either side of them. They had to deal with their relationships with guys that they didn’t necessarily like, let alone got along with. And they couldn’t escape them, unless they quit their job.
I was not a boner. I was a mere box-strapper, freezer guy, forklift driver, and all-around boner’s grunt. And I was paid much less. But at least I didn’t have to stand in one position for an entire shift.
The freezer was a separate room within the greater factory where the boners worked. Nobody ever went in there except for the grunts like me who drove the forklifts. And for good reason. If the factory itself was cold, the freezer was downright frigid, well below freezing, a type of meat-packing Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell. It was a huge room, full of icy boxed cuts of meat that were ready to be shipped out to retailers—a kind of Dexter’s meat lair. I still remember the giant metal door that sealed off the room. When alone in that room moving boxes to and fro, one always had in the back of one’s mind the Twilight Zone possibility of that damn door closing and locking, leaving one to contemplate one’s imminent death among frozen rib-eye steaks.
Back in the main factory, at the conveyor belt deboning line, the boners had their ways of dealing with each other. The main sport was endlessly mocking and making fun of the men around them. One obese guy used to get picked on especially. This culminated one day when after retreating to his locker on lunch break to get his packed lunch, he discovered that some prick had taken exactly one bite out of each of his sandwiches and then carefully placed them back in his lunch bag. He stormed out of the locker room, hollering about “one bite taken from each of my sandwiches!”, while waving around the bitten pieces of bread like some courtroom exhibit. The rest of the men snickered and laughed and scurried about, some looking scared of the angry huge fat guy on the storm with his fucked-up sandwiches, but no one admitted to the deed.
At the end of each day, the cleaner showed up. Meat plants have strict government-imposed regulations regarding cleaning, and this guy came prepared. He was an old Russian guy who spoke loudly in a thick accent. He came armed with giant hoses that emitted powerful blasts of hot water. After all the meat was cleared from the room, he let fly. The whole damned room was soaked by his hoses, and the steam was so thick that you could barely make out the cleaner. He moved about like some ghost in the steam, aggressively hollering at remaining stragglers to get the fuck out of his room, his loud, broken English sounding like a cracked foghorn. Men with knives retreated in their blood-stained cloaks, some hollering curses back at the old Russian firing his mega-hose.
The fat guy and the Russian seemed to have it in for each other. When the Russian yelled, he sounded uncannily like a dog barking. The fat guy picked up on this and used to imitate the Russian by making loud barking sounds at him. It was like being in a kennel. One guy barking at the other, and the other guy yelling back in broken English in such a manner that he indeed sounded like another dog. The room filled with steam as the cleaner’s hose blasted away, the boners retreating for the day, and the fat guy barking at the cleaner who was barking back. What a bizarre scene. Caveman communication 101.
Over the decades my father had worked his way up from grunt, to boner, to plant foreman. As plant foreman he didn’t have to wear a hardhat anymore and more importantly, he didn’t have to stand at that conveyor belt and wait for some giant cattle butt to be delivered to him and his knives. Instead he got to wear a paper hat and stand around looking officious, occasionally giving orders. And he was paid a bit more.
My father and the gang of boners and grunts had their routines, one of which was to pitch in on a weekly group lottery pool. They used to buy some tickets for Lotto ‘6-36’ as it was called back then, every Friday. Now, anyone who has played lotteries, and has a functioning brain, understands that the math behind it all is decidedly stacked in favor of the ‘house’. Chances are very good you will never win more than ten bucks or so on one of those draws. And most of the time you will win absolutely nothing.
Despite that, lo and behold my father and his gang—I think it was about ten of them pooling that week—had all the numbers correct and won the big prize of the lotto. Someone had won the week before also, so the pot was at a minimum, about $180,000. The ten of them got about 18 grand each. Still, 18 grand back in 1978 was worth something, about 65 grand in 2019 moola.
The youngest guy in the Gang of Ten was Lorne, who as I recall was around 18 years old. (I try to compare him to a kid that age now, and it’s remarkable. Lorne was young but had the bearing of a guy about 25 in current times. No question that men grow up slower now).
Relatively grown up or not, Lorne could not resist the power of lottery lucre, and within a week, restless and distracted, he bought a van, a boat, and then quit his job, in that order. (And yes, it’s equally remarkable that in the late 1970s you could buy a new van and a boat for less than 18 grand).
Quitting his job was a bad decision, however, and within a few months Lorne was back, lucky to be rehired. He was also broke. But he had nice van and a boat he barely used. The men teased him mercilessly. He was probably sleeping in his boat (in Vancouver that may not be a big deal, but in Montreal, it was).
Another noteworthy character who worked there was Joe, a Jamaican who was the chief box-strapper. Joe stood at his post near the main office where he could see many of the boners and other butchers. His day consisted of strapping boxes of meat using a noisy mechanical contraption.
Joe was an upbeat guy, probably the most likeable man in the plant. He did struggle with the cold, however. It was pretty much the only thing he used to complain about, which was remarkable, given that most of the other men there complained about pretty much everything else.
I used to work near Joe, so we had some banter going on. I had a young dog at that time, a female crossbreed. Joe asked me once, ‘when are you all going to have her make babies?’ His innocent toothy grin was hard to fault. But his question seemed ridiculous. One dog was enough for me. Why should I want seven or eight? What was I, an Inuit with a dogsled?
Joe turned out to be something of a meat-packing prophet, however. A year later my dog mysteriously became pregnant (we always guessed the neighbour’s suspicious male mongrel was the culprit), and she indeed had babies. Many babies. We had eight puppies running around the house for three months, and even kept one of them. We gave the rest away. One of the puppies went to Bobby, a meat-plant worker who had a young family and figured he’d give them a new companion. A few months later I asked Bobby how it was going with the puppy. He feigned ignorance at first, but I persisted. He suddenly looked both guilty and irritated. ‘Oh, that. We gave him away. He was way too yappy’.
Past the Bullshit
You may be wondering why I’m recounting all these bullshit and eminently forgettable tales, but there is a reason. The reason is to illustrate the male tendency to communicate inefficiently, or more to the point, to avoid each other. The workers at the meat plant were forced by circumstances to be in physical proximity to each other but that didn’t necessarily mean that they actually communicated, much less in a clear fashion.
Being in physical proximity does not equate to staying in relationship, because we men have the ability disconnect, to dissociate, to zone out and tune out, regardless of where our bodies are.
Being in physical proximity does not equate to staying in relationship, because we men have the ability disconnect, to dissociate, to zone out and tune out, regardless of where our bodies are. Therefore, blaming modern technology, such as smartphones and laptops and ipads and i-fucking-whatever tools, is sort of a red herring. Men can be lousy at communicating and staying connected to each other with or without these devices. In the end, they make little difference. If you avoid staying connected to men with all your devices, you probably would do the same without them.
Men also tend towards the ability to not give a shit, or to be competitive, both overtly and more problematically, covertly, with each other. Much of this has its roots in ancient instincts related to survival, and more psychologically, to mistrust of the father (or any authoritative symbolism). One of our groups mottos is ‘I have your back’. These words were chosen with very conscious intention, because most men have a hard time believing that other men around them truly have their backs—especially when the proverbial push comes to shove.
We learn little about ourselves in life until we are challenged, or until we face some adversarial conditions. Then the shit surfaces, as well as the gems. We see our worst and best qualities when confronted by seeming obstacles.
If we tend to sense that as the temperature rises other men seem less and less to ‘have our backs’, or worse, to even threaten our progress, it becomes grounds for doing some excellent work on ourselves. That is because at the very moment we think others are not supporting us, is to look long and hard at the quality of our own giving. How selfish are we, when we really get down to it?
Most men, if ruthlessly honest with themselves, can see their selfish tendencies.
Most men, if ruthlessly honest with themselves, can see their selfish tendencies. The oldest teaching of most wisdom traditions reduces to give what you want to get. If you want support, then give it. If you want prosperity, then demonstrate prosperous thinking. And so forth.
However, this is only the outer level of the teaching. The deeper, inner level of the teaching is that just giving what we want to get often fails to result in significant changes in our life. That is because what is really required is to become what we want to get.
If wanting support, become a supportive man. If wanting patience, become a patient man. If wanting prosperity, become prosperous via your actions (even if you are down to your last dollar)—that is, demonstrate generosity of spirit.
The ways we act largely determine who we actually are. It’s no good to hide behind the notion that your life as it is now is just some dress rehearsal for your real life waiting for you in the future. That’s not how it works.
Don’t live for the unforeseeable future. And that doesn’t mean to be an irresponsible asshole, never save money, never plan, etc. I’m not talking about any of that pseudo-spiritual bullshit. I’m talking about real mindfulness, real attention paid the quality of each and every day that you live.
Becoming and Staying Connected
Men best become what they want to get, by staying connected to each other. Again, we need to push past superficial interpretations of what this means. To ‘stay connected’ does not mean selling out your values in order to have assholes in your life rather than no one at all. You don’t have to cut a deal with the devil, or hang with the self-loathing crowd, in order to have community. And a man does have to learn how to enjoy his aloneness. But staying in relationship means, above all, extending.
Men resist extending to other men owing mainly to doubts about self-worth, and whether other men will, indeed, ‘have my back’. To push back against that negative belief involves, above all, demonstrating. We demonstrate self-worth when we extend to other men. In so doing, we learn to see men not as mere obstacles in the way of our successes in life, but rather as fellow travelers wanting more or less just what we want.
When we finally get it that the underlying interests of other men are not separate from our own interests—even if the shape and form of these interests is unique to each man—we begin to move beyond the boundaries of ego and feeling threatened by everything, into a more inclusive and relaxed state of mind.
Code 13: Stay in Relationship, is the antidote to Pogo’s maxim, ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’
Fantastic article on the importance of extending to others, and looking at our own barriers to healthy relationship with other men.
Great article. Great story telling. Perfect for the holiday season. Thanks T!