Photo by Lance Booth.

A NOTE TO READERS: Coal miners cuss. We’ve “encrypted” the expletives but tried not to tamper with the underlying flavor of the language. If you like your fare less salty, please read accordingly. This week’s column also describes actions that some may find upsetting. — Ed.

It’s dark, damp, and nasty inside a coal mine – just like the minds of some of the men I worked with.

I’m not saying K.J. wasn’t easy to despise. He would stand there laughing with his pretty-boy grin, never taking the job seriously because his family’s status would take care of him. What could happen? He might have to sell his Corvette, his Hummer, or maybe the pontoon boat he had bought the week before.

I wasn’t the only guy on the crew that hated K.J. None of crew cared for him. He was young, loud, cocky, and quick to tell everyone that if he ever wanted to quit working, he would. In his own words, “My daddy is the goddamn county judge executive.”

And he was always bragging about the size of certain parts of his male anatomy.

One shift, some of the crew had gotten enough of K.J., and they started talking.

“I’m sick of that little prick always acting so cocky ’cause his daddy’s got some money and a little pull.”

“It’s about time we teach that kid a lesson in being a man, see how big his d-ck is then.”

“Ol’ Pat will scare the s–t out of him, I’m sure of it.”

“We’ll catch him down by the slope car, he’ll prolly piss himself.”

No one ever told me what was going on that day. I preferred not being involved in the pranks and harassment that went on underground. No one gave me a hard time, and I didn’t bother anyone else because, these men scared the sh-t out of me. But K.J. never seemed intimidated by anyone. He showed no signs of fear or worry. And he had a never ending line of B.S.

“Hey Bobby, I’ll come up after work. You know your girl would look good riding down Route 7 in my Corvette. Maybe I could take her to prom this year.”

K.J. loved to run his mouth. He bragged about his boat, his parent’s house boat, or how he had rubbed himself on Squirrel’s bologna sandwich just before Squirrel ate it.

“It’s a good thing his mommy and daddy’s got plenty of money,” I overheard Bobby say. “That dumb son of a bitch is gonna get himself killed. Either in here actin’ goofy or outside runnin’ his mouth, and I hope I’m right there to see it all.”

Something made me leery. I casually made my way to the bottom of the slope to avoid riding out with the rest of the crew on the mantrip. At the bottom of the slope, I could wait for the cable car and ride out alone. I made my way through the cross cuts and across the tracks. When I stepped through the airlock doors, the cold air pulled from the outside sent chills up my spine. The dust swirled around me as the air lock doors closed behind me.

I opened my eyes as the dust settled to find K.J. on the ground before me. He was hog-tied, his ankles bound with yellow rope, his wrist wrapped tightly with electrical tape. His clothes were rolled up, underneath his head like a pillow, his cap light and hat on the ground. He was silent. My ears popped from the air pressure changing, a clear sign someone would be coming through the airlock doors behind me. I could see the fear in K.J. His eyes began to race around the area. He was defenseless.

I was too concerned about not being involved to offer any help, so I stepped around the corner out of sight. I heard the doors slam shut. When I peeked, I saw 6 feet 8 inches, 275 pounds of muscle, and as everyone at the mine had seen, the genitalia to go along with it. It was Pat, a good dude who was raised rough and knew nothing but hard work and fighting. Pat grew up as a black man in the late 70s and early 80s in Southeastern Kentucky, a region that had few blacks. He had lived a hard life. He didn’t take sh-t from the rest of the world like most people did. Pat was a good man and wanted to take care of people he loved.

More than anyone else in the mine, Pat taught me and helped me hone my skills. But he had an interesting sense of humor, and he had to get a laugh in before the lessons could start.

“Hey Gary, come help me lift this miner cable. It’s got my hand pinched and I can’t get it off my leg.”

He had the miner cable alright, but his manhood was draped across the top of it. All 10 inches of Lil’ Pat, as he liked to call his genitalia. I guess the look on my face said it all, because Pat started chuckling.

“Oh, come on, I know he ain’t nothing special. But you gotta admit it’s gonna take a lot of blood to get Lil’ Pat up and on the move. I’ll probably have a heart attack.”

Pat never bothered me or tried to intimidate me after that incident. He always gave advice, helped me make repairs, and offered me some of the lunch his wife had sent with him.

However, this was the end of shift. Pat wasn’t coming to offer help or lunch, and K.J. was crying and begging Pat not to hurt him.

“Please, Pat, please. Don’t do it man, don’t do it. Come on, Pat, I ain’t never done anything to you, man.”

I watched the tears roll down K.J.’s cheeks, his skin turned pale and the fear I saw in him made me want to throw up. I had never seen a grown man so scared. I could only imagine what hell was going through his mind. What was I about to witness? Pat stopped, his mouth open.

“Hey dude, what the f–k K.J.? You on some kind of dope or something?”

“Man, Bobby and them tied me up, squirted bearing grease all over my ass, and said they was going to send you down here to teach me a lesson.”

“Ah, K.J. you know they are just f–king with you cause you won’t ever shut up and you’re always talking sh-t about how big you are, how much money you got, and how you’re going to screw everyone’s daughters. You should have figured it was about time they got their revenge.”

“This ain’t funny, Pat. Untie me. This is too far. I just want to go home, man.”

Pat began to untie K.J. I walked over to help. The ropes had cut into the skin on his ankles, and he flinched as I unraveled them. Pat put his hand on K.J.’s shoulder.

“Just tell them boys that Lil’ Pat wasn’t no match for you.”

“Nah Pat, I’m done with that mess. I ain’t joking around anymore.”

We all got on the slope car and rode up together. The car moved slowly to the top and the sunlight started to break through the edge of the portal. I watched K.C. from the seat behind him. He was still crying, arms trembling, never going to be the same person again.

Gary Bentley is a former underground coal miner from Eastern Kentucky.

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