Friday, July 01, 2005

Three Days in the Brickyards

One time I got mad at my boss at the retread shop.
It was 1968 and some of the guys liked George Wallace.
George was running for President of the United States.
He had been the Governor of Alabama.
They said that they liked him because he was gonna stop
all that racial integration and all those protesting hippies.
Somebody had to, they said.
You guys are nuts, I said.
Well my hair was getting a little long by then
and I was feeling more and more uncomfortable
hearing their crazy talk during breaks.

So, I went out to the brickyards.
They are in those hills south of town.
On the other side of the railroad tracks.
I did not have a car in those days.
I got a ride with this guy I knew.
They hired me on the spot.

They called me a picker.
My job was to pick up bricks one in each hand.
Then stack them on a pallet.
After an hour my arms were killing me.
Bricks are not so heavy one at a time.
But after awhile the muscles just want to give out.

Bricks are made of water and clay.
They got the clay from the hills behind the plant.
They are called loess hills.
Loess hills are some kind of rare type of hill.
Now clay is just dried up ocean.
Full of dried up clams and fish.
Full of dried up plants.
Full of dried up time.

Now they mix the clay with water.
Then they pour it into a mold.
Then it is fired in a kiln.
Then it comes out.
Then we would pick it.
Then it would dry in the back somewhere.
Then they would ship it somewhere for a building.
Then the salesman would get a bonus.
Then the owners would...
Well I don't know exactly what they would do.
I only worked there three days.

My picker crew was the fastest crew there.
They said that I slowed them down.
They knew that I was new.
There were three brothers
that kept to themselves.
Two guys on work release
from the county jail.
And one guy that lived in an old boxcar outback.
The bosses knew he lived there.
He had a still where he made his own booze.
Well these guys could all work
maybe twice as fast as me.

On the night of the third day at the brickyards,
my old boss at the retread shop
calls me on the phone.
He says that he wants me back.
Offers me a twentyfive cent an hour raise.
Sounding good.
I tell him no.
But inside I am thinking
that I could be making a buck fifty an hour.
Holy Shit! I'd be rich!
Then he says he was sorry about
all the wierd political talk
about Wallace and such.
Well I said that I was glad that he was sorry
and that he had seen the error of his ways.
He probably still voted for Wallace
or maybe Nixon.

The final part of the offer was this.
I would be running the tire mold room
from four in the afternoon
till one in the morning.
I would be alone from five o'clock on.
I accepted the offer.

See I could walk to the retread shop
in fifteen minutes.

The brickyards were always hot.
The heat from the kiln.
The summer sun.
I lost five pounds in three days.

The mold room at the retread shop was hot.
A fourhundred and fifty square foot room.
There were seven passenger tire molds
and four truck tire molds.
Each of them hot enough to melt the rubber strips
that were glued to the old tire casings
that were in the molds
that would inprint
the new tread design.
Each mold took five minutes to change.
The truck molds maybe a little longer.
Sometimes a tire would explode.
And I would get behind.

But at one I was done.
And on Friday nights
Billy the Fox would drive by
and pick me up
and hand me an ice cold beer.

And once in awhile I would think about
how I sold myself for
a twentyfive cent an hour raise.


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