Naps and Pokey Pieces

I think of all the jobs that I’ve held working at a plastics factory might rank as the worst. It was the summer before my first senior year in college. I was 22. During the week I was interning at an AIDS Project in Eau Claire. It was one of those summer internships for credit. So, I was paying to work there. Being a non-profit the AIDS Project didn’t have any money to pay me. During the weekends, to make some money I worked at this plastic factory in Eden Prairie (here in Minnesota). It sucked.

The job was two 12-hour shifts a weekend. You’d work 24 hours and get paid for 30. Not too bad, especially when you are a poor college student. Every Friday after I got done at the AIDS project, I’d swing by and pick up sister #2’s friends Troy aka Burgerboy and Rose (don’t let the name fool you Rose is a boy. His name is Ryan Rose; we just always called him Rose). Burgerboy and Rose were the cutest, funniest little skate punks this side of the Mississippi. But even they couldn’t alleviate the wretched monotony of working in a factory.

Of course, I was the worst factory worker of all time. I have no shame in admitting that. Our shift was 11 p.m. Friday night until 11 a.m. Saturday morning. After work we’d swing by Taco Bell on our way to Shakopee. I’d go to my parent’s house. Burgerboy and Rose would walk the block to sister #2 and her fiancee’s place. Then we’d sleep until about 10 p.m. and start the whole thing over. Working from 11 p.m. Saturday night until 11 a.m. Sunday morning. This schedule was brutal and exhausting. Basically it was our jobs to make Rollerblade wheel hubs and these movie reel things.

Well, we didn’t actually make them. We watched the machines make them. The reels weren’t too bad. You basically had to pull them out of this bin and throw them on a cooling rack. Sometimes you had to trim the flash from them. Dig my technical lingo? Flash is the extra bits of plastic in places where they shouldn’t be. Flash is the enemy. Just remember that. Can you see how this could be boring? Reels weren’t too bad, being as you had to pull them out of the bin-thing (yes, that’s more technical lingo) right away, so they could cool on the racks and flatten out.

The Rollerblade hubs were tough. Well, tough for me because I was the worst factory worker of all time. See, the wheels (that’s what we called them) they just fell down this ramp into a box. Every once in awhile you had to go pick out these pokey plastic pieces that the wheels were attached to. I forget the technical term for the pokey pieces. The pokey pieces weren’t really flash, but they were not elemental to the production of the wheels. In fact the pokey pieces had to be picked out and put into the shredder. I still have nightmares about the shredder.

The shredder is like a paper shredder; only it chops up plastic into itty-bitty reusable pellets of plastic (called material). So it’s like the incredible hulk of shredders. And you’d have all these pokey pieces to put in the shredder. But the opening to the shredder was kind of narrow, so you’d have to use your hand to jam all the pokey pieces into the mouth. Any smart factory worker lived in fear of getting their hand pulled into the shredder. I’ve seen people get gloves pulled off their hands by the shredder. So the combination of the shredder and the pokey pieces was deadly.

Anyway, back to the wheels and how they made me the worst factory worker of all time. So the wheels would shoot out four at a time, along with the pokey pieces. You needed something like 240 wheels to a box. So you just put your box under the ramp and the wheels and pokey pieces would fall in there. You pretty much just had to baby-sit, pulling the pokey pieces out every so often. But, remember how I was working 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.?

I was tired, a lot. I had a full-time job during the week, plus I was only 22 so I had to spend a lot of time in bars. I hardly ever slept. . . except when I was at the factory. I would fall asleep all the time. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a plastic factory, but they are loud and they reek. Plastic does not smell yummy. But I’d still be able to sleep. I fell asleep at the machines I was supposed to be babysitting-pokey pieces and wheels would be everywhere. Every half-hour or so, Burgerboy or Rose would run by and wake me up. ‘Jodi you can’t sleep on the job!’ but I always did.

They hated giving me breaks. I’d go up to the break room for my 15-minute break and promptly fall dead asleep with my feet up on the booth. Often times the supervisor had to come find me when I didn’t come back after 45 minutes. Not that I was hard to find, I was the one sleeping in the break room.

I managed to make it through the entire summer working at that factory. It’s amazing they didn’t fire my napping ass. The following summer I interned at a newspaper, I raised all sorts of hell there too.

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