When we move out of the commune 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 now.
I get a job 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.