Shoveling Coal

by Bill Newman

One day George (The Chinese Laundry) lead me to the back of his laundry shop. It was furnished with a canvas cot, an old kitchen table, a chair, an ironing board and a large flat top coal stove. A few articles of clothing hung from nails on the wall, a naked light bulb hung from the ceiling and against the wall was a large wooden box that was partially filled with coal.

George demonstrated how he worked. He had the shirts to be ironed in a large basket, on the stove were four irons, as the iron he used became cool it was replaced on the stove and a hot iron was picked up so no time was ever lost waiting for an iron to get hot. A fire continually burned in the stove.

Once again George demonstrated his need. Someone was needed to bring up coal from the cellar to keep the wooden box filled. George could do this himself but it would mean a break from working and leaving the shop unattended. Salary was never discussed and I became the "coal box filler"

The first time I did the job it took me about two hours and I was rewarded with a .25¢ piece. Though I was exhausted and covered with coal dust I was delighted with my new found riches. I did this job many times till a mysterious event took place.

One day on the way home from school I saw a crowd in front of the laundry and several policemen. The story I got from people in the crowd was that two men had tried to get money from George. Others said that George belonged to a tong that was at war with another tong. Whatever the case the two men took George to the rear of the shop for the purpose of giving him a going over.

As they reached the shop rear George grabbed a hot iron from the stove and pressed it to the face of one of the men. Then both ran from the shop , one screaming in pain.

That day things changed. I was never asked to do anymore coal shoveling and I never spent anymore time talking to George. When I did stop in to see George after a "hello" George would say, "You go home, no good you stay here."

"Young's Hand Laundry" was still in business when my family moved from the neighborhood. When I returned years later the laundry was gone. no one seemed to know what had happened to George and many others never knew he existed.


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