As soon as we move out of the red house Karl finds a job as janitor at the hospital. He is in the unfortunate position of not knowing how to do anything people will pay much for. All he has to show for a few years at college is a philosophical attitude, which doesn’t pay the rent and now that I am not on welfare we need money. He was an MP in the army, so he knows how to direct traffic and arrest drunken generals, but that is not much use in Randolph.
Karl has some things in his favor though, he is handy and ingenious and strong, an indefatigable worker. He believes in the Golden Rule and always tries to do the right thing.
I am hired at Merrimaid’s where dozens of women sew bright nylon negligees all concentrated on speed because they are piecework employees. First, they give me an aptitude test to determine if I can do the job, it involves dexterity and I pass. Then, they sell me tools. I didn’t realize you need tools to run a sewing machine. I am seated in an enormous room like a gymnasium, rows of sewing machines, women at each machine busily working, heads down, they have to raise a hand and get permission to go to the bathroom.
My machine is in the back. I spend my first day learning to thread it.
On the second day, I sew. At noon, I leave for lunch and don’t come back. A few weeks later, I receive a check for my wages, less the cost of the tools, total of $12.50.
My next job is at Branchwood which is a mill fabricating wooden panels, screechingly loud because of all the saws and planers running constant. I sit across from the manager in his little crumbly office, desk piled high with papers and ask for a job. He says he thinks I am overqualified, I say, oh no, not at all.
I go to work in the glue room with Charlie, which isn’t quite so noisy as the rest of the plant. Charlie is awfully nice to me. His job is to place sticks of wood in an enormous iron press shaped like a Ferris wheel and glue them together into panels. It is my job to set up the sticks of wood, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. The pieces have to be the right size when glued together to make the appropriate size panel. It also isn’t that hard, I chant a mantra in my head the whole time.
Charlie is missing his teeth and most of three fingers. His teeth fell out long ago because he eats terrible food, fluff sandwiches for example, and is scared of the dentist, and his fingers were amputated by the press. He likes to drink a lot. The fingers don’t bother much, he tells me, but he really wants dentures. It is hard to eat, he says, when you only have gums.
Charlie hears you can get cheap false teeth in Canada, and he plans to go up there as soon as he loses another finger, because whenever he is injured by the press he gets a settlement from Workers Compensation. These checks are the only big money he ever sees and he is going to use the next one wisely, not piss it away as usual.
Once, Charlie lets me run the press while he does set up, I beg for the chance. He keeps a sharp eye on me, though, he knows I want all my fingers.