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DUST (standard:Creative non-fiction, 931 words)
Author: GXDAdded: Oct 21 2008Views/Reads: 2909/1327Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
What is a "job"? What is the meaning of "work"? What feelings are so compelling they can take the place of making money? Here's my answer. Let's hear yours.


On the landing between my office and the upstairs transformer room,
there was an ancient toilet filled with earth and blossoming geraniums. 
 Afternoon sunlight shone behind the glass block wall, flooding each 
petal with color.  What a contrast with the dusty tables in my drafting 
room, the outworn machine tools clattering away, grinding out guns.  
Nobody knew from one day to the next what we would have to manufacture 
down in the shop.  In any case,  somebody had to keep the machines 
running -- all four hundred of them -- fix 'em when they broke down, 
change their fuses, change their tools, mop up after they spill over, 
carry away their curly chips.  Like babies.  It took six men.  Tough 
birds.  Taciturn.  Savvy.  Plenty savvy.  And me, of course, to line up 
their work, and light their pipes and smooth out a lot of ruffled 

The plant was in New London -- not exactly the end of the earth, but an
hour's drive from Cleveland.  An hour's drive from mouth-watering 
smörgåsbords, technical libraries, universities, research clinics, 
elegant mansions, chic cosmopolitan fluff.  I was hungry for these.  I 
hadn't done a thing but work and sleep for the past month, seven days a 
week.  At the end of each day, I was too tired and sore to drive an 
hour into town. 

Up in the transformer room, I checked the junction boxes and made sure
none of the bus bars was vibrating.  Last time, a bolt loosened up 
under full power and my crew had to work half the night replacing 
burnt-out circuit breakers.  It was hot as hell under the tin roof, 
between the transformer banks.  I spotted an oil leak from one of the 
coolers --nothing serious, just a slow drip with a gooey puddle 
blending into the dusty floor -- and made a mental note to get one of 
the men on it.  By the time I completed my checkout, I was soaking with 

Back on the landing, I could breathe again.  Next, I went up on the roof
to check out the pollution-control equipment.  I climbed the iron rungs 
that grew from the concrete wall and pushed the trapdoor open with one 
hand.  The acrid smell of baking tar hit me.  Damn!  I'd have to scrape 
tar off my shoes again!  It made me furious to fight sticky tar on the 
hot, sweltering days, all summer, then wade through snow drifts on that 
roof with ice freezing in my beard most of the winter -- all for one 
stupid test:  to make sure that the scrubbers were flushing dust -- our 
dust -- out of the air and planting it in the sewer. 

Down in the plant, among the machines, it wasn't too bad.  Their
metallic purr made it necessary to raise your voice a little.  Skylight 
peaks hung from the roof girders like a basilica, flooding every bay 
with light.  The men checked and adjusted every machine on second 
shift, and filled them with oil and grease and cutting fluid after 

Sixteen lathes stood along the north wall, at an angle to the bricks,
leaving room enough for a robot at each one.  Right across the aisle 
stood five wire-drawing machines, uncoiling the lime-coated wire bar, 
drawing it through diamond dies, spinning a silvery steel thread on the 
take-up reel.  Each vertical milling machine hunched over its operator, 
like a huge crook-backed old crone, ready to bite his head off.  
Everyone knew they were as tame as puppies.  I loved to hear them going 
"chip-chip-chip, chuck, chuck, chip-chip-chip, chuck, chuck" as the 
cutters nibbled away at chunks of soft tool steel.  Later, we could 
soak the soft new tools in a furnace at 1,800 degrees, then quench them 
in oil to make them as hard as gems. Just before shipping, they were 
honed and polished to a razor's edge, so they could replace the tools 
worn down from cutting soft tool steel. 

The reciprocating tables of our jig boring machines and surface grinders
slid back and forth at different speeds -- way out of synchronization.  
Their combined "tick-tick, tap-tap" formed a complex, suggestive 
jazz-like rhythm.  I could almost hear the trumpets and the clarinets 
in syncopation, with a bass sax playing counterpoint.  From this 
undulant cacophony of clicks and snaps, from the gushy sound of saddles 
gliding over precision guide ways, it was easy to tell which machines 
were healthy and which ones were sick. 

Perhaps that was it after all.  The symphony of their sounds filled the

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