Instead, I’ll take the opportunity to think back over the decades to the jobs I’ve held and try to pick the one that was closest to a living hell. I’m sure a lot of people feel that they don’t have to go back that far, as they probably consider their present position to be the fiery depths of Satan’s lair. But ... I’d venture to guess that most people would look back to the part time and summer jobs they had during high school and college.
I can immediately point to two jobs that I disliked with extreme prejudice. The first was during the summer of 1971, prior to the start of my sophomore year in college. It was at the Dayton Rubber plant in Springfield, Missouri … and I made V-belts. I was never particularly good at production line work, so if you had a car made in 1971 and the V-belt broke, it was probably one that I made. I really sucked at it, so ….sorry.
But as bad as that one was, it wasn’t the worst. The runaway winner in that category happened during the summer of 1969, at the Kitty Clover Potato Chip plant.
My best friend at the time had worked at Kitty Clover for several months and was gushing about what a great place it was to work. He encouraged me to fill out an application, so I did. And I was hired.
However, where my friend was working 1st shift and enjoying working in the warehouse, I was given the ungodly 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. assembly line/clean-up shift. I spent the first several days trying to decide which was worse … the assembly line part, or the clean-up part.
On the assembly line, I alternated among dumping potatoes in a peeler, cutting potatoes to size that were too big for the slicer, and picking burnt potato chips off the line just after they had come out of the fryer. It was summer, it was hot, it was humid, and a constant mist of fryer oil hung in the air and accumulated on my clothes, my skin and my hair. One evening, I cut off the tip of my finger with the razor sharp knife they gave me to size the potatoes. I managed to get a dressing on it, but then I was shifted to burnt chips detail, and I spent several hours picking up red hot salty chips with my bleeding finger exposed. I don’t think I’ve said the word “fuck” before or since that evening it such a short period of time.
But after production shut down about 9 in the evening, it was time to clean everything up and get ready for the next day. I quickly decided that clean-up was far worse than assembly line. After being sliced and prior to being fried, the wet, limp “chips” are sent through a centrifuge basket, to dry them and remove excess starch. The water is drained from the centrifuge … but the starch isn’t. That had to be dug out with a shovel, and after a full day of washy/centrifugy stuff, there were thousands of pounds of it. After that was done, it was time to drain the fryer and clean it by hand with a mixture of water and foul smelling, corrosive soap.
At about 3 or 4 in the morning, it was done. I would go home covered in a mixture of sweat, oil, starch and cleanser that never really came out of your clothes, or anything else for that matter.
I lasted a month, then I quit. I didn’t give a shit what my friend thought, or my parents thought … I couldn’t handle it anymore. I also didn’t eat potato chips again for 10 years.
But one good thing came out of the experience. I was still in high school at the time and was unsure about my future. That one month in potato chip hell convinced me that I had to go to college and make something out of myself.
Well, that … and the Vietnam War … and a low draft number. Great motivators all.