So I worked at this plant where I was a supervisor on night shift. As a completely unrelated (and maybe worthless, I’ll leave that to you to decide) aside, I’d like to tell you that –despite aggressive insomnia that started taking over my sleep when I was in the neighborhood of eight or nine– ten months of working the night shift aged me ten years. At least, that’s what it felt like when I slung my safety gear over my shoulder and walked out of that joint for the last time.
Clock in at eleven, clock out at seven. There were three-hundred and fifty personnel on that shift, busted up into different sections, each section with a supervisor. A couple of the more sizable sections had three to four line supervisors, with crews of anywhere from seven to fifteen people for whom they were responsible. Out of those three-fifty, there were approximately eight women. Only one was a section super. Another was a line super. The latter was me.
The plant floor was always loud. It wasn’t only loud; it was dangerous, too, because we were working with caustic chemicals and we climbed things like monkeys and we teetered on the edges of slick, sharp inclines manhandling equipment that was half our bodyweights or more, high up in the air over solid concrete floors. There was machinery everywhere to bounce off of on your way down, if the thought of cracking your melon on some ‘crete wasn’t enough to keep you cautious.
I had a crew of twelve men. There used to be one woman on it, a woman who had been there for years and never been promoted because, well, she wasn’t. She was diminutive and appalling, because she was yippy like a chihuahua and always aggressively demanding respect out of one side of her mouth but then giving blowjobs in the parking lot out of the other. The kind of girl who, for instance, wanted to wrestle like a man but when pinned would intone in babyvoice, “Let me up, don’t hurt me, ’cause I’m just leeeedle!” Females of the world who are like this: Just give us all one big fucking break, would you? Everybody –male and female alike– pretty much wants you to fall in a ditch and stay there.
(I mean, I don’t give a shit if your aim is to have every dick within ten feet of you in your mouth at one time or the other, but don’t go acting like you’re surprised when none of the males those penises are attached to come to you for your philosophical take on matters. There is slut-shaming and there is poor judgment and we’re all adults here and can tell the difference, right?)
So Yippy was on my crew and her first order of business was to be passive-aggressive with me and Give Me Ten Kinds of Shit because I had all my teeth and two brain cells to rub together and oh yeah, tits. Good-looking tits. So HEY, I must be COMPETITION rather than her BOSS, right? It didn’t help that she was madly in love with my buddy Polack Dave and was convinced surely to all of high holy heaven that I was going to fuck Dave the very minute that Yippy (who yes, had been Dave’s mistress at one point) and DAVE’S WIFE turned their backs.
See? See what I was dealing with? I played poker with Polack Dave and Polack Dave’s wife and they fed me at least twice a week. Polack Dave and I high-fived one another on the way in the door every night and flipped one another the bird going out of it every morning. Why on Earth would I want to mess that up?
However, Yippy was inconsolable. Yippy did a good job, but Yippy was lippy and disrespectful and I did all the requisite you-try-to-fuck-my-crew-up-I’ma-fuck-your-day-up dancing and write-ups and finally I said, “You know what, Yippy? I AM HAVING YOU TRANSFERRED TO POLACK DAVE’S SUPERVISOR,” and so I did. She was (prematurely) gleeful. Said super promptly hid her in a broom closet in the nether reaches of the plant and everybody was pretty gahdang happy for a time.
Then there was the night that a very large fellow named Howard stepped to me.
See, I think that maybe some people made the mistake of thinking that I had Yippy transferred because she was a female. Not so. I had Yippy transferred because she was a gigantic asspain and I just wanted to do my fucking job and get the fuck out of there in a timely manner each day. When I eventually got my crew hipped to my way of doing things, we were done with our line by four-thirty and could catch two hours of nap in the breakroom so that we’d be rested up and ready to find beers at one of the only two bars in town open for breakfasty patrons. If you work the night shift, then eight in the morning is your six at night and so by ten ay emm you’re good and shitfaced if that’s your aim. Sure, it’s in a scummy dive of a bar, but who is there to judge you? Nobody, that’s who, because they’re either the folks carpooling miles away from said establishments or the guy at the end of the bar with his asscheeks imprinted into the stool that he hardly ever leaves. He sees four of you and all four iterations have a different name, get it?
Holy cow, I digress. Anyway: In order for me to do my job and get out in a timely manner, there has to be a cohesive team working toward the same aim and doing so at least quasi-jovially. Whistle while you work, bitches, and you will ride the clock for almost three hours for free and nobody is going to yell at you for doing so because you! are Union! and you! have done a bang-up job! that exceeds the specifications laid out for you in the super-big and ridiculously detailed company manual! This is because my aim is never to do just enough to get by; my aim is to have some stracked-out results whose worth cannot be contested. Selah! Amen! Nap! Then beers and billiards after!
An event whose progressive steps looked something like this, so as to save us some paragraphs and get us to the action right quick,
1) “Howard, man, I don’t like that. Can you do it the other way, please?”
2) “Hey Howard, could you do your job x way because your fancy new y way is slowing the flow and is less efficient overall and since my part of the line depends on your part of the line, you are slowing me down, as well.”
3) “Howard, I don’t know why you are looking me dead in the eye and purposely slowing both our jobs down but that’s not cool and I need you to cut it out.”
4) “Howard. Cut the shit, man.”
occurred over the course of about an hour and a half. By the time I got to “HOWARD. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH,” Howard had decided he’d had enough, too, and closed the twenty or so feet between us with a haste that, had it been shown earlier, would have saved us all the ensuing trouble and dramatics.
Howard got all the fuck up in my face. He had six inches on my five-ten and Lord knows how many pounds on my one-sixty. We were in full hazmat gear, but our helmets were magically, manically gone, flipped from our heads simultaneously and he was breathing down on me, enraged, bearing in, face literally two inches from mine. Howard began yelling in earnest and the whole ‘I’ll be damned if I’ma let this fool back me down’ aspect of my personality rose up in all its glory. I was on my tiptoes, meeting him where he was at and pushing back emotionally every bit as hard as he was shoving me and suddenly there was Polack Dave jumping lines to get to us, there were three members of my crew begging us to stop and more on the way. Everyone was afraid to touch us, everything so electric and precarious. They were attempting to shout sense over the clanging and banging of machinery but the fog of rage –not to mention our mutual shouting– engulfing us obscured them.
Howard got one warning from me to back up, then one more warning from me to back up then he told me to fuck off bitch and I gave over to fury. I raised the high pressure hot-hose that had been dangling limp in my hand (hastily shut off during Howard’s approach), put the metal key to it that dangled from a loop in my coveralls and kicked the hose on as I took a step back. A high-pressure stream of scalding water surged forward from that industrial hose and I nailed that fucker square in the chest with it. There was less than a foot between us. Howard went down.
I got reamed for this. Never once, though, not one single day of my life, have I ever been sorry for that moment. Sometimes your crazy is the only thing that you can rely on. Hatred is shameful. Fury is gorgeous. The two should never marry. If it is devoid of hate, sometimes your fury is a righteous and perfect thing with inexact but fitting results.