|DUST (standard:Creative non-fiction, 931 words)|
|Author: GXD||Added: Oct 21 2008||Views/Reads: 2909/1327||Story 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.|
DUST 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 feathers. 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 sweat. 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 midnight. 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 Click here to read the rest of this story (27 more lines)
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