Last Sunday, I was so exhausted (we'd worked from 5 PM Saturday until 2 AM instead of the usual 3 to 11:30 because one of the line workers had died suddenly during the week, and his funeral was early Saturday afternoon), that I slept through both morning and evening church. Forget about blogging! Nothing turns you into a mute beast of burden (eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work) like 58+ hours of physical labor at an increasingly fast pace over six days.
I had bought a wrist brace after the first week, and my right arm returned to normal—the brace held the sore wrist steady, and also reminded me to be more ambidextrous in movement, switching tools from hand to hand and trying not to stress one side more than the other. Heaven knows I don’t want my right arm to flake out on me again. I wish my right hand had been briefly immobilized on the way to work about ten days ago, though…
Have you ever been thinking about something and you unconsciously begin to act it out, either physically or verbally? I accidentally flicked off the guy in the truck behind me in rush-hour traffic week before last, and I wasn’t at all ill-disposed toward him, but thinking about a Russian class at university more than 20 years ago, when I asked my instructor if there were any nicknames in that language for the fingers. On the American hand, we have in succession: the “pinkie”, the ring finger, the middle finger (with which one “give the bird”—I was counting this one off when I snapped back to the present to realize that I was inadvertently giving an obscene gesture to the world. I quickly began pretending to tick imaginary counted items off on my other digits, but I’m not sure that, or in fact “the bird” itself, was noticed by the truck driver or anybody else, thank the Lord!). And then we have the pointer finger and finally the thumb. I can’t remember what the Russian names are (if you know them—leave it in the comments), but what initially prompted these thoughts was a peculiar spot of roughness on the back side of my steering wheel, which I’d never felt before. The car is showing signs of age (today, I saw that my windshield had spontaneously cracked in a serpentine line up from the bottom passenger-side corner—and I have a $100 deductible to pay on the replacement before my insurance kicks in…), but what caused this?
At the factory, we’re not allowed to wear any jewelry (stud earrings and one necklace that can be tucked into our shirt collars being the exceptions), because of the danger of catching it in or on machinery. As the orientation person said on training day, waggling his hands at us, “You come in with 10, we want you to leave with 10.” So, for the first time in almost two decades I’m not wearing my gold class ring on the middle finger of my left hand. And since I’d worn it essentially 24/7/365, and I’ve had the car 15 years, the ring had in turn worn a rough spot on the steering wheel, which I can only now sense with my naked finger. My hand feels odd without the weight, and I keep looking at my wrist for the time—cell phones are great, but I miss my wristwatch, too!
As to less than pleasant college memories, why did the thin accountant of Week One bother me so much? I took a visceral dislike to him the moment we met, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why, as he has reappeared a couple of times since, and I’ve had the same reaction. I really despised him on sight, and quickly worried that it was some latent group prejudice bubbling up. Then I realized (after all, one of my best friends is an accountant) that he reminded me a lot of the guy with whom I’d been in love in college—the same know-it-all air, the “lo, I have come from on high to instruct you mere mortals” attitude. The accountant said he was there to work, but he didn’t get his hands (or his clothes) dirty—just walked around “observing”, pursing his lips and making notes. All numerical theory and no human practice.
A thousand things have to work properly to assure that an assembly line moves smoothly. It’s all very well for a number-cruncher to say that actions should take “x” amount of time, that “y” output should be produced during a shift, but humans are not machines, and even machines themselves break down. People get tired, their hands fumble, parts are found to be flawed, components break, the unending din proves distracting. There’s time needed for unplanned bathroom breaks, cleaning up the work area, just walking around one’s station replenishing parts. And stretching—even though the risk of repetitive motion injury is reduced by having employees perform a variety of actions, they get stiff over time. I think that the best way for an accountant (or similarly office-centered individual) working for a manufacturing company to comprehend these realities, and to be able to incorporate humanity into his or her calculations and planning, is to have to work, really work, at the labor job for a specified period. Most people don’t understand situations until they’ve lived through them, or observed someone they care about living through them. As an obsessive-compulsive person who likes things (at least in parts of her life—my dining room floor is covered with jewelry components that I haven’t finished sorting, and I’m living out of a suitcase and a clean laundry basket because I haven’t finished getting my new bedroom clothes cabinet back together) in order, neatly compartmentalized, I know the appeal of the clean, arithmetically-balanced worksheet. But treating people as purely mathematical inputs (no matter how innocently meant), leads to an attitude of enslavement, the capitalism without compassion Pope Francis has deplored.
I managed to squeeze in another bank interview before work last week. John had gone in to a local branch to transact business and noticed a “we’re hiring” sign, and asked the representative who was helping him about available positions. She kindly gave him her contact information to pass on to me. So, I dressed up and went to see her in person, copy of my resume in hand. Turns out, that branch ISN’T hiring at present—though she thinks there will be an opening soon—the sign was for the company as a whole, and the gatekeeper for the region is the same woman I encountered at the unsuccessful group interview for the teller position a month or so ago. So, I did try, but I can’t see that effort bearing fruit. Bothersome, though, that the local branches can’t do the hiring themselves—no matter how much their advertising likes to claim the individual isn't forgotten by the corporation, in hiring it’s not a matter of the personal touch (the banker lady who’d given John her card turned out to be someone that had assisted my mother for decades—she hadn’t connected John with her because they have different last names), which could have benefited me in on this occasion.
I don’t know if my brief appearance at the factory in a dress and decent makeup (quickly doffed in the ladies’ locker room for more suitable work gear) contributed to my short-lived femme fatale status among rumor-mongers, but I was called over by Bill, one of the guys I sub for, mid-week and asked, point-blank, “Are you married or dating anybody?” It seems that this had been a topic of discussion on the line, and one or more men (unspecified) was interested in asking me out. Bill was exceedingly diplomatic about all this, and I responded that he was to please inform the guy or guys in question, “Though the attention is greatly appreciated, I did not join the night shift for the social possibilities.” I was so glad that Bill was circumspect in his questions: I was not required to reject one person in particular, but could pass along notice about my general unavailability. Bill and Rob, the other guy in that section, told me, “We’ll get the gossip to stop.” “Good grief,” I thought. “I’m the subject of speculative gossip?!” I had no idea that a 40 (almost) year old spinster’s romantic live would prove such a hot topic on the factory floor! This is clear evidence of the isolation of the night shift—that someone who chews off her lipstick (if she remembers to put any on) within an hour of beginning work, whose mousy hair is liberally seasoned with grey, whose arms are crisscrossed with shallow scratches and grease stains, should be considered a “catch” based solely on her appearance highly amuses, or bemuses, me.
I am so glad to be physically isolated in my area (though frequently forgotten—announcements about breaks often pass me by, and I am seldom offered a menu for the nightly orders of takeout), out of gossip-range! The forklift driver who asked me out thrice in the first few days has been more or less squelched (I don’t know if it was him Bill was asking about—I don’t think so, as they aren’t in direct contact), though we remain on cordial terms. I have gotten to know another driver, a portly and cheerful man with a rich voice and white goatee, who worked on the first phase of the African-American History Museum being constructed in DC. I’d felt instantly comfortable chatting with him, and when I found out that he’d played the role of Santa in years past, it all made sense (when I told him this, he started calling "Ho, ho, ho!" every time he passed my station, and singing snatches of "Jingle Bells"). He claimed not to be able to tell good stories, but he’d mentioned having an orchard in one of our first exchanges, and I countered, “Fifteen pecan trees—that’s a story. How did you end up with those?” “Thirty-five,” he corrected me. “They stand on all that remains of the 2000 acres General Oglethorpe gave my ancestor.” And what followed was a tale about said glorious predecessors, the founding of Washington, GA, and the fact that an archaeological team wants to excavate the remains of two Revolutionary War-era forts on the property. Turns out, his son also has an MA in International Relations, and despite his complete fluency in Spanish is presently working at company that makes banners, for $2 less per hour than I am earning at the factory! These are hard times for multiculturalists…
Despite my accident-prone nature, I've only had one accident thus far. I mashed my left middle finger (the same denuded of the ring and guilty of an unwarranted “birdie”) about three hours into Thursday’s shift. I was torquing a bolt with a power tool and holding the nut on the other end with a wrench, which flipped in the process, pinning the fingernail to first knuckle between the wrench and a very hard (solid steel) place (casing). I managed to pull the wrench loose (one of those adrenaline-will-enable-you-to-do-incredible-feats moments) and inspected my damaged digit—I didn't break the skin (thank you, gloves!) and everything still worked. But gosh, it throbbed. Per protocol, I told my zone leader, and he got me ice and then hunted up some Aleve. I’d hate to sound like a painkiller ad, but that stuff really did the trick, and fast. Within 15 minutes, I was feeling no pain, and back to full-speed, two-handed assembly. The finger hasn’t bothered me since—it’s slightly tender, but nothing that inhibits typing, let alone work. I am really grateful.
Argh. Enough said! I need to head off to bed shortly, so I’ll be back on track for this next week’s work, starting later today. The “night’s sleep” standard doesn’t apply to us nightshifters, with our undead schedules of wakeful dark and sleeping daylight, but I hope I can rest well between now and then.