I swipe my card at the turnstile and step into the plant. The turnstile became to be know as the grinder. A grinder of souls. A grinder of dreams. Fuck, how do these people make a career out of this garbage? Joked during our smoke breaks comparing the Soviet Gulag to Seaboard to where the company paid just enough to keep the employees from complaining but everyone here was exhausted from practically living at work. No one here likes their job. Damn, looking around and oh so glad I have no kids or a wife, I am not stuck here but I still felt like I had a gun to my head every time I went through the grinder entering the plant that either smelled like crap or dog food. I’d turn in my token with a illustration resembling Porky Pig to the uniform department where I’d get my smock and pants that I’d throw over two layers of clothing for warmth and make my way to the Cut Floor.
Tossing shoulders of dead pigs six days and at least 50 hours a week on the Picnic Line.
The shoulders weighed anywhere from five to 15 lb. coming at me every one to three seconds. Using my hands as I have never used them before they painfully swelled up to ridiculous size and I ate a steady diet of ibuprofen for a week. I was at the end of the line next to a metal detector as a Quality Assurance or QA for short. A Support Management Rat that was the lowest of the low making sure the pork food product had no contaminants. Metal of course which could come from the machines in forms of nuts, bolts and bearings. Or the shavings from the blades of the 30+ cutters working on the shoulders, each trimming away their pointed out cut. Pieces of rubber from gloves or twine from e-coli tags would also make appearances where the QA’s were to collect and bag whatever we found that didn’t belong.
The abscess was nasty. A beautiful green tone the pus resembles wasabi, key-lime pie or avocado dip. If on the belt the line had to be immediately stopped and washed off with 180 degree water causing the disrupted hard working immigrants to chant like apes. If abscess is on the product it’s sent to rework to be cut out or discard if the meat is too far gone. Abscesses comes in the form of pustules that are individual or a series of huge zits that can be busted. Push too hard on one of purplish green lumps it pops like a zit and shoots like a classified caliber, hitting my face net with a violent dead smell ready to intoxicate. I gagged and replaced my net and got back to work.
I found a missing link in the plastic conveyor belt, 300 seconds it took to come back a round to me, 5 miles per hour this belt went I calculated. I counted everything. I counted found cartilage, the beautiful rounded marbleized bone shavings, the minutes on the clock, the minutes during break, the minutes during lunch. My 15 minute break worked out to about eight minutes and my half-hour lunch worked out to about 20 minutes. Chasing the clock, power jogging in rubber boots and white frocks to squeeze out as many seconds as I could.
It was important to stay busy, not for the sake of production but to keep the body from getting cold as the high powered fans blew even colder air right on us without any resistance. The room was a cavernous expansion of the plant that was kept around 42 degrees so bacteria and e-coli could not breed and harvest. If I slacked and toned down the tossing of shoulders my hands would start to go cold stiffening up where I could barely grasp the abstract hunk of raw meet. I danced in place, singing songs over and over in my head to keep some sort of jive to move to, tossing the shoulders this way and that to break up the monotony and stay busy. The feet were another story. Standing in one spot they went numb quick. I’d stand on one foot while kicking the other and switch, bounce back and forth in a bad dance to keep the blood flowing. That was all there was to it keep the blood flowing to stay warm.
Mind you the minutes of the breaks were cherished. I was the last to leave the line, the continuous line that never stops, the dead disassembled 300+ pound hogs that have priority over the employees. Production must go on. I’d eat lunch, scarfing down my two PB&J with banana sandwiches so I could enjoy three back to back smokes which I rolled before I left for work. 10:45 PM was a so called 5 minute break for QA’s which by no fault worked out to seven or eight minutes by the time I made it from the cut floor, down the hallway, through another hallway and into the commons area. Should I take a piss that I’ve been holding for the last 7 hours or indulge in a smoke? I usually smoked. I learned extremely quick when to stop my fluid intake before I left for work which started at 3pm. If I stopped by 1pm, I could hold my piss usually till after work. If time is spent to stand in line for a urinal the break is over before it started. The lines are ridiculous, people are hollering in 17 different languages to hurry up but I took my time. If someone pushes me to hurry I naturally froze up, their problem not mine. The toilet stalls are something else as shit-paper was thrown on the floor as third-world plumbing can’t handle the paper. It’s what these people from all over the world were use to. Upon arrival to the States and after the Pledge of Allegiance I doubt they were told it was OK to flush toilet paper.
I really felt my skin color here standing out for once as the minority, I made it a point to get on well with everyone. Seemed like there may have been 10 white people working at the plant which of course is an exaggeration but not far from it. Here in the panhandle of Oklahoma where one would think is as white-bread as a place can get, the population is mainly Mexican/Latin American peppered with Vietnamese, Caribbean, Cuban, Sudanese and Burmese, many being refugees of civil-wars. The people were great and some of their stories of trials and tribulations were eye opening, especially members of what would come to be know as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
I’d get home from work around 1:30am. Pedaling a bicycle the 3 miles each way which took me 20 minutes there and sometimes up to 45 minutes on the way home. I was the guy on the bike at the plant. I’d make a grilled cheese and a bowl of ramen and read and made it a point to be asleep before 3am and set the alarm for 10 AM so I’d have four hours to kill before going back to work. Pedaling to work wasn’t bad as it was the only thing I looked forward to during my stint. In the Panhandle there’s no hills but there’s the wind. Wind so fierce it can push you backwards dust blowing in your eyes as a red cloud touches the horizon just yonder and yelling in the ears. Traffic wasn’t bad, they gave me room and got used to me.
The plant work sucked but the disassembly of the pig to food was extremely interesting. It was a good experience and one I was pining for to gain a bit more of an understanding of the crap that immigrants are putting up with. This industry should be unionized and I clearly see why Seaboard targets immigrants as the $10 – $13 an hour job is just enough money to keep them content and participate in the Wal-Mart experience for a taste of the Material American Dream. Regardless it was what I was looking for. A paycheck and something new. I did it for 2 months, worked with wonderful people from the other side of the planet and earned enough money to live another 6 months on the road. It was the shittiest best experience I could have asked for. Get out of the box, get out of the routine, put yourself where it’s truly new and see what happens. That’s living.
And yes, I still eat pork.