in the new factory
Rhode Island 1974
photo by Clinker
The first time I approached the shop, my excitement at a new job - blinded me to certain facts I should have noticed.
The building was new and modern and painted a cheerful yellow. Well, that should have warned me right there. Exactly why was it necessary to paint a factory cheerful yellow? What was that hiding?
I should have also noticed the fact that, except for the small guard window looking out to surveil what people were doing in the parking lot, there were absolutely no windows in its huge four acre expanse of a steel frame building. Oh, there were windows in the front brick section where the white collars worked. But, in the back, in gigantic box on a concrete slab where things were made - was nary a window to be found.
I should have noticed when I walked into the building from the sunlight into to the huge, dark expanse. I felt blind. I should have taken that as a hint. I should have noticed the smell in the darkness as my eyes adjusted; the grayness of smoke with whiffs of things inorganic and unnatural hanging chemicals in the lost transparency of the air.
But I didn’t .
I walked down aisles lit by by glaring but insufficient mercury vapor lamps to find my workstation near the back of the building. There I found the time clock surrounded by the rack of time cards which would measure us. I searched among them for one with my name on it. I think your stomach feels this no matter who you are on the first day. You know that a week ago or so you answered the add, filled out the application, and you told your little lies in the interview. You know someone in a white shirt shook your hand and told you you were hired and that you should report on this day before 7 am with your tools and ready to work. But, there is still a question. Are you really hired? Did they really buy it? Do you really work here? Do you really have a card with your name on it among all these others? Can you depend now on taking that first magical step toward a pay check?
I scan the cards sticking their head out of the gray rack, feeling like a youth reading a list of names who made the team. I feel the eyes of workers who are still strangers to me on my back. Is it there? Am I in? Finally, at the bottom I find it. Panic eases. My name is handwritten unlike the others, obviously not yet completely affirmed by the fuller investment of computer payroll integration. “Clinker - 573.” So that’s it. “Clinker - 573.” I am 573. I punch the clock. It is 6:53 and the time clock’s thud and vibration for once feels good at the start of a day and not its end.
The grey machines stand there in a row. Other workers huddle in small groups talking here and there or are already at their stations puttering with tools to get ready for the beginning. Here I stand, among them but apart; unassigned to a machine. I notice the machinist tool chests many have opened and I try not to stand out as I hold my pitifully small fishing tackle box with a few wrenches and screwdrives I have brought from home. I am as green as new grass, trying to look like I have some possible clue as to what the fuck I am doing.
But I must learn, and these men, and these grey monster machines are my teachers.
Then comes the hideous noise. It has become 7 AM. It is not the romantic steam whistle of yesteryear, but the glaring blaring nasal electric horn. Switches are thown and the noise begins in earnest as the new shift takes over. It builds to a whining growl, as tool bits bite into spinning metal, punctuated by the clanging of hammers and crackle and flashing of electric welding arcs in work areas near our own.
I should have known when I heard the noise.
An old man walks over in a white open collar shirt. He is the front line in management’s defense. “You Clinker?,” he says. I nod. “You ran a lathe before before, right?” I stupidly say “Yes.” It begins.
CLINKER COPYRIGHT 2017