Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Slaughterhouse Diaries.

(excerpts, truncated)

It was only three days ago that the interviewer asked me, “What do you think of knives?”

“They can be sharp.”

Mine was the response National Beef had been looking for.

The interview followed two weeks of waking at dawn to stand in a line that would grow into the hundreds by noon. From the line, the first shift would walk past us, taunting the applicants with gruesome premonitions. “You’re going to lose your fingernails, cabron.” Or, “You’ll smell so bad, your children will run away from you. . .cabron” And so on. And so on. It’s the luck of the draw when applying for a job. You have to fill out an application at an office downtown. On that application, you state three positions you’d be willing to fill. You’ll only get a job if an opening in one of those three positions is available. Otherwise, you have to go back down and take another stab at what might be open in a few weeks. A friend was working as an accountant at a rival house. He knew of my intentions to work in the plant for the sake of research. On his first day he called me with a few caveats.

“There are some jobs you do not want to do. Don’t get anything with “pulling” in the name. Also, don’t take anything in rendering. I can’t even describe the smell. Try to get in fabrication. You’ll just stand at the belt and cut.”

Given this information, my job choices read:

1. Heavy Bone Pulling.
2. Rendering.
3. Heavy Bone Pulling.

To this day, I’m the only person that has the title of Heavy Bone Puller, and Tax Analyst listed next to one another on their resume.

The most dehumanizing aspect of the job came during the physical, which was conducted by a doctor who must have fucked something up, big. Nobody goes through Med-School so they can serve as an in-house physician to butchers and machinists. In the five minutes I stood in his waiting room, he diagnosed a patient complaining of shoulder pain as just being lazy. He then asked me and another guy if we would mind doubling-up on the physical so “we” could finish early. As science has proved, when a man in a white coat says anything, you simply nod and continue to shock the crying woman in the other room.

The other guy was a former roughneck. He’d spent most of his life welding on oil rigs across Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle. He was of his mid-30’s, but could easily have been mistaken for a man in his 50’s. He seemed confused, almost perplexed by his own presence. When we removed our shirts for the exam, I saw that his skin was taut and scarred. His bones looked like they could be shattered with a tight grip.

“Open your mouth wide,” the doctor ordered.

He shone a light into my mouth. They were screening for pre-existing conditions. This cleared the company of any liability from an injury sustained before the term of employment began. He placed the light into the roughneck’s mouth.

“Good, God! Can you eat much steak with those?”

I looked over and saw the roughneck had eight teeth, none of which pointed in the same direction.

“I can’t each much of anything, anymore.”

The doctor put his light away and cleared us for work.

The roughneck and I shared a few lunch breaks. Each time, he never forgot to mention his eighteenth year. Where he took $3,000 into San Antonio on a Friday, and left Sunday without a dime. He never uttered what that money was spent on, but from the pauses in his story, I could gather pretty well. Following his account, my mind would drift to Freytag’s analysis. It’s the formulaic explanation of dramatic structure wherein the crescendo in a story is followed by a steady descent into denouement. Resolve. This man hit his crescendo when he was eighteen. His existence is now to wait. But the memory of those moments, before the top bottomed out, help him stand, idle.

When’s my peak?

What if it already hit?

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