Monday, August 30, 2010

Gong Show

Summer’s almost over, yet I carry on. Yes, I haven’t posted in over two months. Let’s just say I’m noodling about summer jobs, not making it one.

Now, a last one for you.

Each of my stupid summer jobs taught me something. For instance, nail guns are fun. I learned their potential the summer I turned 16. Deploy one liberally into the washroom door next time someone deserving is inside. But of every possible permanence my collection of summer jobs has imprinted on my character, nothing has stuck with me more than one experience that I will take to my grave. It didn’t even come from a nail gun.

The summer I graduated high school I took a job at a factory where they made ultralight airplanes. Motorized kites, really. They’ve got enough lift to carry people who want to mutually experience a death wish.

My job was in the shipping and receiving department. We shelved parts, retrieved parts, and lost parts. My main duty was operating the forklift. I fetched and misplaced the big stuff.

One day my boss asked me to bring a palette of sheeting down from the top shelf of our warehouse racking. That’s like reaching up to the attic of a ridiculously tall house. Palettes, for those unfamiliar with the term, are those wooden platforms we shipper receivers pile all our crap on. They’ve slots for our forklifts so we can easily lift the works. In this case, the palette had about 50 lengths of aeronautical-grade metal sheeting on it. Think lasagna noodles the size of a table, and made of NASA approved aluminum.

I got my forks up there, tucked them under the palette, and inched them forward until they touched the wall. Then I lifted and pulled the palette out. Perfect industrial ballet.

That’s when I saw I’d grabbed the metal sheeting, but no palette. When my boss had said to bring one down, he’d meant lift one up there and slide the sheeting on to it first. Got to be clear about these things. Today I’m an English professor.

The instant I backed up and recognized the misunderstanding, all the metal bent - no, draped -- like a towel over my forks, then slid off one by one, raining down on the concrete floor.

I can still hear it. Dozens of expensive metallic explosions that tapered off into an exotic crunch. It was terrific. Nobody could hear me say wow.

It was also the sound of me getting fired. Think of it as a kind of tolling bell. The bell that closed the day of my last summer job. These are the things we take with us. I don’t know where any of my job skills went. I just have a ringing in my ears.

A few months later I ran into my boss on the bus. She was looking for work. A month after my gaff, the company leased a new building. Movers showed up on a Friday with just two days to transfer all the machinery and inventory across town. They managed to move it all by Monday. Only they kept going. They took it, an entire factory. Not a word, not a trace. Just gone.

What quiet work. Nothing but the occasional, “Shhh”.

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