I got laid off from the bakery, which was really pretty
sad, because I liked it a lot there. I had been promoted
from shipping drone, working next to two Vietnamese
guys who made fun of me in Vietnamese, to assistant
baker where I got made fun of by two cute girls for
wearing pants with a big open flap in the ass, to
head cheesecake baker, where I got made fun of by
just about everybody in the bakery and had to clean
out the walk-in-freezer. I made some good cheesecakes,
though; a little messy, but good.
the holiday rush ended and nobody wanted cheesecakes
anymore so I got let go. Tom had me back in to help
him pack a couple nights, but the gravy train had
derailed. No more job.
scurried around trying to make money; my landlord,
remarkably sanguine about the whole thing, cut me
a good deal of slack in exchange for me ripping up
a whole bunch of linoleum off a floor and other domestic
favors. I had to find some money. I began scanning
the classifieds, and my eye was drawn to the "Work
Today-Paid Today" ads in the "G" section, for General
Labor. I needed money; I had gone to get food stamps,
but there were some things food stamps couldn’t buy.
I called a couple of the places, and was told to show
up at 5:00 AM if I wanted work, and to wear work boots.
place was down in Georgetown, far past the decaying
industrial district south of Seattle. No buses ran
that early, so I resigned myself to walking.
at 2:30, I pulled on my worst clothes and started
walking. The city was eerily quiet; the only sounds
were the hum of streetlights and an occasional passing
found the office, on a bleak highway strip lit only
by the sign of a nearby restaurant, and waited in
line with a group of homeless people, dregs and rejects.
I was easily the youngest person there, and I jockeyed
for a place with sufficient light, as I was trying
to work my way through "Ada" by Vladimir Nabokov.
I gave up and bundled myself up in my coat, insulating
myself against the cold Spring morning and the comments
of my new co-workers, who were calling me "Professor"
by this point.
let us in, and I filled out the required forms absolving
Labor Ready of all liability if I became injured on
the job, and agreeing to a drug and alcohol test if
I were to become injured. I lookedover and saw a sign
on the wall that read "This Labor Ready branch has
gone 0 days without an injury." I felt cheered. They
asked me if I could lift a hundred pounds; I lied
and said yes. I retired to a bench, the only person
in the room facing away from the television hung in
a corner. I had finally sunk to the ultimate low;
waiting in a room with drunks, bums and creeps to
go work on a construction site somewhere for less
than minimum wage. I overheard two guys talking about
the best place to work; watching them unload oil barrels
from a tanker down at the pier. "All you have to do
is watch," one said, "and pull this alarm thing if
a fire breaks out." Nobody bothered to point out to
them that if a fire broke out in that situation they’d
probably all die.
they called my name, and told me that myself and two
other fellows would be heading out to West Seattle
to assist a contracting company in covering a fiber-optic
cable off Alki Point. We piled into a car and sped
off. My compatriots were two African-American men
in their mid-thirties, grizzled and disheveled by
life. One talked incessantly about going to electrician’s
school, and about how when he finished it would change
his life. I mostly kept silent, piping up only to
politely decline food when we stopped at a local McDonalds.
They don’t take food stamps there.
made it to the worksite and were greeted by our new
bosses, whoexplained the project to us; we would take
concrete, pour it into burlap sacks, and dump those
sacks into Puget Sound off of Alki Beach to protect
this cable in the point before it entered the sea-floor.
It made sense to me. The electrician’s school guy
went into some sort of discourse about fiber-optic
cables, getting most of his facts muddled, but the
bossman quickly cut him off.
he said, "here’s what we do." He lifted a 60 pound
bag of concrete.
burlap sacks will hold 100 pounds, so we’re gonna
empty one of these bags into them, then a little more
to top it off." He cut the concrete sack open with
a carving knife. I realized immediately that the dry
concrete would sift right through the burlap, but
kept it to myself. Nobody likes a smart guy. And,
just like I thought, the concrete whooshed right through
the boss said. "Let me think about this a minute."
Since we were being paid by the hour, I had absolutely
no problem with him thinking as long as he wanted.
Unfortunately, the problem was not too difficult for
him. We started simply loading the 60lb. concrete
sacks into the burlap sacks, to be split open once
underwater by one of us with a pickaxe. The three
of us filled sacks for four hours, one holding them
open while the others loaded, closed and threw in
the truck. I’ve done my share of manual labor in the
past, but this was far beyond slave work. All the
while, my coworkers kept up a constant banter about
sports, women, and the like. Attempts to engage me
in conversation were, for the most part, futile. I
was tired, cranky, in pain. I couldn’t lift 100 pounds.
I barely weighed 100 pounds. I wanted it all to be
over and to get my check so I could pay part of my
rent. That’s all.
we finally filled the back of the truck up with burlap
and the bossmonster told us that two of us would go
unload the truck and one would stay behind. I chose
to stay behind, hoping at least to get a little reading
in. Alas, that was not the case, as I was quickly
recruited to clean up the scrapyard, dragging large
pieces of rotting wood, rusty sheet metal and dissolving
oil drums to a huge dumpster.
know how to drive a forklift?" the foreman asked.
Thankfully, the answer was no.
finally we headed out to the beach to finish the job.
For the next three hours, we hauled the bags to the
shore and threw them in, pausing only when the electrical-school
guy, shirtless and bloated in the hot afternoon sun,
attempted to hit on passing beach-bunnies who inquired
what we were doing.
this takes a real strong man," he bragged, right before
I spindled by, nearly collapsing under the weight
of two bags. The girl looked askance at my collapsing
figure. I staunchly refused to remove my shirt.
we finished, and I staggered back to the office, to
find that out of my $5 an hour they had deducted transportation,
fees for gloves and boots, and other mysterious pay
check came to $31 for ten hours of work. I sold blood
for the rest of the month.