In high school and college, I spent most of my summers working in factories.
I spent two summers in a liquor factory (I’ll never drink straight tequila again , it’s what we used to clean the concrete floors). Another summer was in a factory that made folding tables , the kind you see at church picnics with the fake walnut wood grain. The highlight there was working alongside a guy named (honest now) Meatfart, who communicated in grunts and sounds that he could make using his internal organs.
And then I spent one long summer building and staining exterior doors at Therma-Tru door company , my first woodworking job.
If you’ve ever worked in a factory, you know there’s a caste system. If you haven’t worked in a factory, then read the rest of this paragraph: At the top of the caste are the people “in the office.” These are the secretaries, corporate managers and other people who make cameo appearances on the shop floor, usually to deliver bad news (you’re fired) or to be wolf-whistled at by the unwashed.
Below the office types are the people who run the maintenance shed, the forklift drivers and the floor managers. These are usually people who started out as grunts on the shop floor and worked their entire lives for the privilege of wrangling the grunts on the floor.
Below that rung are the grunts, who are the backbone, hands and legs of the operation. And believe or not there are people below the grunts: the temps. And that was my lot in life. If you had to fetch a loose part from inside a running machine, you told a temp to do it. If the job was messy, hot or near Meatfart, it was a temp job.
Being a temp convinced me to stay in college if but for one reason: To work “in the office.” I had no idea what happened in “the office,” but it didn’t involve 50-pound bags of sugar, being someone’s pillow during break time or having to use a restroom that would make a Roman bath look like a private garden spot (10 holes, two sinks, zero loitering).
It’s been almost 20 years since I punched a time clock in a factory. But the funny thing is that now I do everything I can to escape the office and get onto the shop floor here at the magazine. I love the noise, the dust, the heavy lifting. Heck, I like taking out the garbage and fishing unknown objects out of the dust collector.
The only things missing are a few wolf whistles and some organic offgassing and I’d by 18 all over again.
P.S. Who is now headed back to the shop to build a blanket chest for the Summer 2008 issue of Woodworking Magazine.