Shortly after losing my cartooning job, I needed to find something to support my family and something that would provide health insurance for me, my wife, and our three teenage sons. Federal Express is located in Memphis and is a big employer. It is the central location where cargo from around the country arrives by jet, is sorted, and then sent to its city of destination. I applied for a job there, hoping they might have need for an artist in their corporate headquarters. Even with a history of editorial cartooning, they didn’t see much need for that talent. What they did offer me was a night a job in their ‘Hub’, a huge warehouse where all of this work is done. I found myself at the bottom of a large stainless steel chute with sixty other employees who handle these boxes when they arrive and then are put on separate conveyor belts to be sent elsewhere. It is a grueling job. At peak hours during the night, boxes pile up and everyone is working frantically to move them. The more they pile up, the greater the pressure on the boxes at the bottom of the chute where we worked.
There is no telling what people will ship or how they will ship it. One night during one of these hectic peak hours, I noticed a large cardboard box coming toward me that looked wet. The closer it got, the greater the pressure on the box and the wetter it looked. By the time it got to me, the cardboard became completely saturated with water and it exploded! To my surprise, there were more than a dozen saltwater tropical fish everywhere, flopping all over the place, and the pressure on the surrounding boxes started pushing these fish to the floor below next to all the conveyor belts. It was a crazy scene with everyone nearby rushing to help, but in doing so leaving their station. Then boxes started to fall over the ledges at the bottom of the chute from all the added pressure, then falling on the flopping fish. It was pandemonium as even more boxes arrived and starting to pile up even higher!
For some strange reason while all this was happening, I was remembering that hilarious scene from ‘I love Lucy’ where Lucille Ball was in the bakery. She was trying to keep the steady flow of cakes moving along an assembly line. Suddenly she fell behind, and cakes kept coming out and falling all over the place. It’s a hilarious skit. In my case, it was fish and boxes. At a time like this, it is important to keep your head and wits about you. You should also know that I grew up not far from the Gulf of Mexico and in the summer, my parents would take us to Key West, Florida. It was there that I fell in love with tropical fish. I would lay on the docks where boats arrived and watch them come up and nibble the food sources growing on the pilings. The water was so clear that you could see many of them in their rainbow of colors. Because of this. I love fish and until recent years had an aquarium. Therefore, I cared about all these little fish flopping all around me. I knew they needed to be rescued quickly, put back in water, or they would die. Lucky for these little fish that God was taking care of them and this accident happened in front of me! While others around me didn’t have a clue, I knew fish and I knew what to do! I was unafraid to catch them by hand, find the opened bags that still had water, re-tie the bags and collect them in a small area of the floor among all the boxes that were still cascading over the bottom of the chute. I got all of them collected and was handed a new box. I put them the in the box, handed it to a supervisor who had found the soggy remains of the box that had their address of their destination. The box was re-labeled, and off they went. Whew!
As I was driving home in the early morning, I was thinking of those fish. A feeling of joy swept over me. I felt like a hero.