The double doors leading to the factory floor swung open to reveal a world I had no idea existed. I might as well have been transported with Scotty, Bones, Spock, Captain Kirk, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise to another dimension. This was another world…and nothing in the world I knew, had prepared me for this.
Let’s start with the smell, it nearly knocked you down. Think of WD-40 and 3in1 oil mixed together and then injected into nose via a fire hose. The smell wrapped around you like saran wrap and tore into your lungs like Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Later I would learn how it permeates into your skin, so even after bathing with all kinds of girly soaps, and things of my wife that I can’t identify, you still smell exactly like the factory. I’m telling you my wife is a very special kind of woman to put up with that.
Then there was the noise, it was deafening. I’ve been next to tornadoes and this was louder. I have been in the front row of a Guns n’ Roses concert and this was louder. It was like having a blunt instrument pound away at the inside of your brain, right between the eyes.
As I stood there reeling from the total effect of this onslaught I realized the man leading me lips were moving. I yelled out as loud as I could, “WHAT?”
He smiled and leaned closer to me, “NEVER BEEN IN A FACTORY BEFORE, HUH?”
Well this man was obviously a genius. Surely I had completely camouflaged my shock. It must have been me staggering backwards when he opened the doors and him having to repeat himself four times before I answered him that blew my carefully formulated cover.
“YEAH SHERLOCK, FIRST TIME.”
He motioned for me to follow him. No problem there. I kept as close to him as a newborn kitten afraid of losing his mother. In fact, now that I think about it, that new born kitten analogy is an accurate portrayal of how I felt. Safe in his Mommy’s womb the newborn fur-ball is thrust into a world that is cold, hard, and completely different from anything the little guy has ever experienced. Nothing has prepared him for this; he has to find nourishment a whole different way, suddenly there is a lot more room, and he still can’t see anything…and that was EXACTLY how I felt. If I could have turned around and drove back home to Susie, crawled into bed beside her, and gone back to sleep my world would have been perfect. Except I couldn’t do any of that. We had lost our bookstore business and, although we weren’t destitute, we could certainly see it from where we were standing. Besides Susie and I hadn’t worked all our lives to lose everything, so I was willing to do whatever was necessary to keep us afloat.
But all of that didn’t keep me from being scared. I was shaking in my new steel toed boots.
It took me nearly six months to begin to grasp how things worked. Eventually I got use to the smell, the noise, and the dirty weld fumes that made you blow out black crud when you blew your nose. I got use to women cussing more than any sailor I ever talked with, but I never got accustomed to men showing me their iphone pictures of the women who, as they put it, were “pounding” vagina. However, after a while I did know who they were and I avoided them like the plague.
I quickly moved up the proverbial corporate ladder and off the factory floor, but I’ve never forgotten the men and woman who are still there. Still working in 110 degree heat in the summer and bone chilling cold in the winter. Still breathing in the fumes and still having the noise assault their senses daily. Still working, because they need the benefits and the pay is the best in this region.
Those men and women will be in my memory forever…I miss them…but not so much the guys with the iphones.