untitled film still paintings
if I died in a combat zone

tour of duty
soda man
my father asks what's going on?

For 35 years my father worked the production line and drove a forklift for the Vess Soda Company. Over this time his labour was embedded in the commodity. Sustaining numerous debilitating injuries on the job I witnessed the degradation of my father's body. Today, Soda Man consists of my father's weight in Vess Soda purchased the year of his retirement. The soda will be consumed by me the year of his death. At which time the empty cans are to be exhibited uncased and placed side-by-side, spread out atop a table.

Soda Man

In 1971, twenty-three years after his mother's death, twelve years after leaving the orphanage where he grew up, nine years after dropping out of high school, two years after returning from the war in Vietnam, and four months after marrying the woman he loved, at the age of twenty-five (the age I find myself at this writing), Joseph Valentine Bozif, my father, began working for Vess Soda Company in St. Louis, Missouri, and continued to do so for the next thirty-five years.

One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood is the excitement I used to get from going downstairs and standing between the towering stacks of soda that my family, since before I can remember, had always stored, stockpiled, like hoarded, in the cool recesses of our basement. I regularly drank around five cans a day, and I can still see, on either side of the TV that I'd watch and play video games on after school, the piles of empty cans that would gradually accumulate. It didn't take long for me to realize that soda, at least for most kids my age, was only an occasional treat. Sticky, sugary, and caffeinated, effectively a drug, it was strongly regulated by most grownups——most grownups save my parents that is. Because I could drink the stuff at will and my supply, ostensibly, was never ending, I thought myself special. I always took great pleasure (and still do) when together with the boys in my class we’d compete, like young boys often do, to see which one among us had the coolest dad,(1) in being able to say that my old man made soda for a living.(2) It was like having Willy Wonka for a dad. Every day, at around three o’clock, when he would get back from work, I'd always hurry out, not only to welcome him home, but to see if he'd brought anything back with him. If he had, I was only too eager to help unload the truck and proudly carry the stash inside.

But it was not until I was much older that I began to realize that my father was coming home from work with more than just soda. By the time I was ten he was coming home with less-and-less soda and more-and-more complaints, exhaustion, irritability, and pain. In 1993 he was injured on the job when his right ankle was accidentally run over by a forklift. His ankle was crushed and required fusion. Four orthopedic pins were inserted throughout his foot, ankle, and lower leg and had to remain protruding for six weeks, after which the pins were removed. Fused at a 90˚ angle to his leg, his foot was left completely immobile, atrophying his calf muscle, and causing him to walk with a bowlegged gait. In 1996 his right ankle was again injured when he was once again hit by a forklift and dragged for several hundred feet. Additional and long-term injuries, causing permanent or partial disability to both shoulders, both knees, and both hands, by incident or due to the stress of repeated activity, continued to occur or were later diagnosed.

On May 31, 2006, while moving a fuel tank, my father felt something "click" and developed excruciating pain in his left shoulder and arm and was sent home. An MRI would later reveal advanced arthritic changes, tears of the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons and tendonopathy and tear of the long head of the biceps.This was simply the next in a long list of work related injuries. In a 2007 medical examination report, Dr. Eli R. Shuter writes:

Mr. Bozif also has pre-existing permanent partial disability of 25 percent of the right wrist and 25 percent of the left wrist due to carpal tunnel syndrome, pre-existing permanent partial disability of 55 percent of the right upper extremity at the level of the shoulder and 50 percent of the left upper extremity at the level of the shoulder due to osteoarthritis, 50 percent of the right lower extremity at the level of the ankle due to ankylosis, 35 percent of a person due to herniated intervertebral disc, osteoarthritis and multiple chronic straining injuries of the lumbar spine, 20 percent of a person due to bilateral inguinal hernias treated surgically with insertion of mesh, 60 percent permanent partial disability of the left lower extremity at the level of the knee and 20 percent of the right lower extremity at the level of the knee due to osteoarthritis. Furthermore it is my opinion that the present disability due to the condition of the left shoulder combines with the pre-existing disabilities due to the conditions of the right hand, left hand, right shoulder, left shoulder, lumbar spine, bilateral inguinal hernias, right knee, left knee, and right ankle so the Mr. Bozif is unable to compete in the open labor market and is totally and permanently disabled. All of the above conditions are hindrances or obstacles to obtaining and maintaining employment.

In addition to his complaints, his exhaustion, his irritability, his pain, his boredom, and his sadness, I was a witness to the objectification, that is, the reification, of my own father and the deterioration of his body. When Marx writes about the "congealed quantities of homogeneous human labour-power" embedded in the commodity, he's quick to point out, rightly, that "labour-power becomes a reality only by being expressed; it is activated only through labour. But in the course of this activity, i.e. labour, a definite quantity of human muscle, nerve, brain, etc. is expended, and these things have to be replaced."(3) Replaced of course by the next generation of workers. By invoking, on numerous occasions, "get that education," one of his favorite epithets, my father made it quite clear to my older sister and I that his goal was to prevent just that, our having to become the next generation of workers, by providing for us, through his own sacrifice, the educational opportunities necessary so that we might not have to share with him the same fate.
However, the effects of this decision were taken so far to the extreme that unlike most sons who would be obliged by their fathers to share in the responsibility for yard work, automotive maintenance, repair, and various chores around the house, i.e. manual labor, my father instead would go out of his way to insure that any physical effort on my part was strictly uncalled for, unnecessary, and prohibited, while at the same time openly criticizing those who were lazy, incompetent, and effeminate. Literally helpless, watching, I developed the intense feeling of indebtedness, verging on guilt, that I've known ever since. Guilt, for never having given my own sacrifice, a sacrifice I believed would have, as a young person, proved something in the eye's of my father, and resentment, for never being given the opportunity, for never being asked, for never having been obliged to do anything that might prove something.

As long as I've known him, my father has identified himself with his work, that is, both with Vess(4) and with "working hard." He had come to embrace the brandedness of his position and to understand himself as a means of production. But for men like my father, working hard was not simply a virtue, but something like a moral imperative, symptomatic of an obsessional neurosis, resembling a compulsive disorder, or perhaps more precisely, a machine——which is only to say——some undead thing. My father has been consumed, to this day, by such frenetic activities as waking up in the middle of the night to insure that the house is in order, "straightened," every object aligned, as if in a military march——things put in their proper places. His ability to manipulate, to order, to physically master his environment through the exertion of his strength and the extension of his body, is a fact that has fundamentally structured and is itself an extension of my father's ego and the ego-ideal his person has come to symbolically represent for me. But over (labor) time, as the body begins to break down, so too does the meaning of its symbolic dimension, so too does the machine. Marx writes:

The lifetime of an instrument of labour is thus spent in the repetition of a greater or lesser number of similar operations. The instrument suffers the same fate as the man. Every day brings a man twenty-four hours nearer to his grave, although no one can tell accurately, merely by looking at a man, how many days he has still to travel on that road.(5)

As my father's body began to break down his mind became more and more preoccupied with his own mortality. In almost every meandering conversation, his words found their way back to the body from whence they came, to the pain he felt, and to the topic of his own death. And like the obsessional——who by patiently waiting for their father’s death while at the same time identifying with him (an imagined dead man) and whose psyche becomes structured by the fundamental questions of mortality and comes to resemble themselves a dead person(6)——I had become consumed with the terrifying image of my father’s inevitable death.(7)

And taking the cup, he gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, "All of you drink of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26: 27-28)

Like the tool's value that, as it breaks down over time, is gradually transferred to the object for which it was employed to make, I came to the realization that my father, as a means of production, had gradually transferred the value of his labor-time, his body, and in a sense his person, to the commodity for which he was employed to produce. It should be easy to see now that for me, located in every Vess soda, was not only his labor-time embedded in the commodity, sealed inside its can, but also his very body. This was transubstantiation and for me to drink Vess soda was for it to become sacramental, a symbolic communion.(8) Of course, the Catholic Eucharist is a celebration not of the death of Christ, at once the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit, but of his body, of the word made flesh, through which all sins might be forgiven, and so, just maybe, or at least in my own mind perhaps, through my own consumption of my father, through our communion, perhaps too my guilt might be reconciled, my laziness, my selfishness, my unobliged consumption, i.e. my sins, might be forgiven.

May 31, 2006 would prove to be my father's last day of work. His retirement was not made official until 2007, but at 61, after 35 years at Vess Soda Company,he had finally retired.

Curt Bozif
Soda Man, 2007, vess soda, 185 lbs

Curt Bozif
my father, at the age of two, captured with a vess bottle, 1948

Curt Bozif

Curt Bozif




(1) Here I find that the father often functions, among adolescent boys in the foggy midst of latency, as a kind of phallic substitute through which each boy might vie for power by way of their father’s image.

"Living" as in "working for a living." What one did as work, significantly, was understood, even at ten years old, as the one thing that most helped to define just who a person was.

Karl Marx, Ben Fowkes, trans., Capital, Volume 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 274–275.

Curt Bozif

For many years my father has collected antique Vess memorabilia from old glass bottles, to Vess salt and pepper shakers, wooden bottle crates, t-shirts, jackets, cloth patches, and even metal toy trucks complete with the colorful Vess logo and design. All this while at the same time cursing the company and condemning his own union for their ineffectiveness during contract negotiations.

Karl Marx, Ben Fowkes, trans., Capital, Volume 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 311.

Jacques Lacan, Bruce Fink, trans., Ecrits (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2006), 249–250, 258–259.

The future event made more easily accessible to my imagination by his stories, pictures, and effects from having served in Vietnam. The possibility that he might have been killed in the war, and in turn, the possibility of my own non-existence, became the very real subject of my brooding for years. Why was it that he'd come back alive while so many others had not? How many close calls lay between my Being, with a capital "B" and the rice patties of Quang Nam province, how many converging forces had it taken, what was the probability, how was it that my existence was even made possible?

(8) This becomes especially true for someone like myself who was raised Catholic and survivied twelve years of Catholic education.