I had the dream job for a summer. It paid great money and it was the perfect segue into grad school. Unfortunately it was a demanding job in many ways. I worked at The Beer Can Factory. The factory was loud and one could barely think. The workers loved to sneak up on each other and pull out their earplugs. That seemed cruel to me but I was new to blue collar work. On the first day on the job, I was given a pitchfork, and a large pile of sheet metal. I was told that I should shovel all the sheet metal into another bin. I have no idea what they were going to do with it. Of course I worked as hard as I could and was about 2/3 of the way through the pile only half the day had passed.
After this day I was issued a magical stick. The magical stick was a simple metal stick bent to easily pick up beer cans. I must have passed some type of initiation.
I have no idea how people ate their lunches. I walked into the lunchroom grimy, sweaty and somewhat bloody in my hands. A colleague sat down at the table with me and said ‘Hey buddy you‚are working too fast.” He said if I completed that task, they just give you something else to do. Every single day of that summer I wished to get assigned to this task again. At least it was outside.
I was young, I was naive and the only way I knew how to work was as hard as I possibly could. In retrospect, pacing herself was not a bad idea. By the end of the day my wrist hurts so bad that I had to see the nurse the following day. My entire family were blue-collar workers, however this is not my strength. I‚am not good with tools, and I am especially inept with with continuous repetition.
We worked three 12-hour days, had a day off, worked three more 12-hour days and then had three days off. During the summer it would switch from working all day long to working all night long. I preferred evenings, as it was cooler. I was in charge of this watching a giant grey machine that was used for drying cans after they were painted. Thousand‚ of beer cans passed by me every single minute and it was my job to look for defects and shut down the assembly line accordingly. I didn’t know what they were looking. Generally, when I found it I was usually correct. Either the paint didn’t‚look right, cans were crushed, disfigured or sometimes simply missing. If something wasn’t right on the assembly line I could shut it down. And there were times I shut it down incorrectly. One time I shut down the assembly line thinking we had defects and I must have been seeing things. A supervisor came over to me and said you realize you‚ are costing us a lot of money by shutting down the assembly line.
I was an outsider at The Beer Can Factory. I worked with a crew of unionized workers who are lifers and loyal to the Budweiser way of life. I was here for the summer, and I was looking forward to starting grad school in the fall. I strongly detested this job, however the people I worked with were rather interesting. It was a fun summer of getting to know them.
They took me out sailing on the Chesapeake Bay on occasion. It was easy to make friends when The Beer Can Plant was the enemy. I ended up in a car pool and drove back-and-forth with some of my coworkers. There is nothing like sharing a six-pack of Michelob dark at 6:30 in the morning with your coworkers, it‚is a bonding experience. Yes there were a few people who didn’t like me. I was a snooty kid who‚was headed off to grad school. I was the same aloof kid who inappropriately shut down the assembly line.
My last week on the job I was sitting at my post, probably writing poems, and I noticed some cans were jammed a few stories up towards the ceiling. The cans were transported around the plant on little roller coaster like apparatus going from station to station. At this point, I was confidant and thought I would save the day. I saw the jam, grabbed my magic stick for unjamming and proceeded up the ladder. I never thought about being scared of heights. I‚am terrified, and respect, anything that can kill you instantly. I said to myself just don’t look down, and proceeded to go up two more stories until I was right next to the jam. I grabbed my stick, tapped the offending jam, and the entire assembly line was back to working like it was supposed to. I stood gloating, four stories above the assembly line floor.
There was one problem, I was four stories above the assembly line floor. Getting up there with no problem, getting down that’s another story. I started shaking, sweating and my legs felt weak. This was my worst nightmare. Fortunately everyone got back to work and paid little attention to me. My post remained unattended as I hovered four stories about the plant trying to figure out how to get down.
I was truly terrified, in a recurring nightmare kind of way.
Obviously, I made it down. I have no memory of how. I don’t remember flying, and crawling was not an option. I completed my last week at the Beer Can Factory without further incident.
I did receive a note to follow up in my last paycheck. They said they would not hire me back next summer because they suspected that I wrote poetry while working. I’m sure one of the poems was about how much I didn’t want to work there the next summer.
José Guadalupe Posada