“Oh, you’re all just so sophisticated sitting in your little cafes and looking up at the Empire State Building while the rest of us lie around in haystacks smoking our corncob pipes. Is that it?”
The summer before I moved to New York City for college, I worked in a factory in an industrial park. Everyone was really nice to me. My coworkers there were some of the most genuine and offbeat characters I’ve ever met. They were certain I was going to be killed in the big city. They would stop at my soldering station and tell me things they knew about pepper spray and karate. I’d tell them that the muscles I was building from carrying metal parts for ten hours a day would serve me well.
I learned some valuable life lessons at that job. One guy saw me chewing gum after lunch one day and he told me I should only chew gum if I had diarrhea, otherwise I could get an ulcer. I’ve never forgotten that. Another guy helped me get my finger out of the vending machine when it got stuck in the change return slot. I’ve never forgotten that, either.
I’ve been in NYC for five years now, and I’m still kicking. All my limbs, fingers still attached. That quote from David Sedaris’ book When You Are Engulfed In Flames reminded me of my old factory friends. When I left for school they told me to be careful, to learn a lot, to stay off the streets at night. Two out of three recommendations I’ve followed. They gave me a good luck card, an Olive Garden gift card and 8 worn dollar bills.
They arrive at the factory just as I’m going to sleep most nights/mornings. Their lifestyle and mine couldn’t be more opposed now, but for those six weeks, five years ago, their lives and mine were the same. I wonder how they’re all doing. The company did profit sharing when I was there. They had a catered lunch every Thursday. They gave us clothes–tons of them! But a lot can happen, has happened, in five years.