Two Hands, a Dream: Working in a Textile Plant in the Heart of Dixie
The year is 1974. September to be exact. Being fired from my "first" job one year just fresh out of high school in May, 1972, I stopped by Toll-Gate Garment Corp., Hamilton, Ala., one of the many contributing industries helping to bolster this country's prosperity, to talk with a long-time buddy, "Ron," his real first name, about employment.
He called me that very evening to inform me to report for work the next morning at 7 a.m. My first reaction to this news (after I hung up) was rats! You'll understand this exclamation of disappointment if you have ever worked in a garment factory or now employed in a Mexican or other out-of-country textile plant.
To those who are scratching their heads about now, a textile plant is what the film, Norma Rae was about. Remember Sally Field standing on a table holding up a homemade sign that reads: "UNION!"
Sadly, the plant where "Ron" and I were employed was strictly non-union.
you have your usual clatter, chatter and yakking mouths trying to lie and drink that unmistakable break rom coffee simultaneously. Quite a feat if you are swift. Quite a guffaw if you are clumsy. These are daily memories you can bet your house on becoming true between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m., the accepted time for work hands to get in line and clock in for work in plants.
A moment of clarity: down south "hands" is what we refer to as employees and "plants" are terms for factories. I have heard the occasional tongue slip by a vacationing northerner to our "neck of the woods," another ruralism meant to signify "homeland."
Isn't living where you are most comfortable grand? This question really had nothing to do with my hard-hitting topic of what dreams evolve from hands in plants in the south where I grew up. Oh, yes, sir. (I should have used another ruralism, yes, sireee) I saw my time in plants before embarking on a 24-year grind in the daily newspaper game.
What? You thought all of this time that I was born with a silver hub in my mouth? Not quite. I know what the annoying feeling is like to be disturbed at 5:30 a.m., Monday through Friday while having one of the best dreams possible for mortal man by a fifteen-buck General Electric clock radio set on some annoying country station where hog reports are like the Holy Grail of radio news. That is only the beginning of plant life, my friends.
One can Actually
see the greased clockwork of industry turning as you park your car that the bank owns and you have it secured in the very, very back of your mind if you miss too many days from your plant job, the bank will come-a knocking and won't care if the house is a-rocking for they repo men have no heart much less a soul. All they care about is the few hundred they make on slobs like me who all but sold their souls to own a car, have a job and make real American money in an American plant.
There is a certain sound made by a timeclock that has been used way past its better days. "Thung! Thack!" That is the best I have. I am not known for my timeclock impressions. I do a better Jackie Vernon, the sad stand-up comic who appeared regularly on the Ed Sullivan Show and that was it. But please do not ask me to Vernon anytime soon for my heart breaks each time I see him in my memories trying his hardest to be a super star and failing right before my eyes.
Maybe if I had the dough, I might hire a few good artists from Marvel Comics who are masters of sound affects in comicdom. Remember the Batman show on ABC in the late 1960's with Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin? And those awful fight scenes. The "Thud!" "Whack!" "Zam!" grew old. Quickly. Even I knew at that early, stupid age that those fights were not real.
Like Clockwork, you get to Your Work Area
and start the daily ritual of acting like you are a happy employee just in case the plant manager (who was nothing more than someone like you who got lucky one day by catching the plant owner in a compromising position with his secretary in the stock room and suddenly he was somebody) walks by to see his flock of blind sheep clipping and snipping the time away just to make another payment on the Chrysler Cordoba. (I hated that car).
My best plant friend, (at that time) "Ron," who is a veteran of plant life, looks and acts like he is confident about a new project "Mr. Doyle" the silver-haired plant manager who loved Vantage cigrettes and smoked even while it was not break or lunch time just to hack us common hands off who also smoked, but only in designated areas and times.
"Hey, try to get this cut out on the floor," "Ron" instructs me with the voice of a seasoned plant vet.
I take the worksheet from his hands (while "Mr. Doyle" is lighting up a Vantage near the shipping dock) and start to find the cases of rolled fabric sent to our plant from some weaving company in Mississippi for the seamstresses on the sewing floor to make into over-priced shirts for working slobs like me and "Ron" to make us feel good about our hard work, sweat down to our butt cracks, and no overtime pay on our check stubs.
I am half through with the worksheet when "Ron" suddenly wants to chat about girls. "Great," I reply as we sneak to the break room for a quick soda we purchase from off-brand condiment machines for seventy-five cents. What a deal.
"Sherry wants to break up with me," "Ron" confides in me.
"How do you know?" I respond before taking a huge gulp of the off-brand, fake orange flavored drink.
"She was just in one of those moods. You know?" he says shaking his head of curly black hair that he finds unmanageable.
No, I don't know, I think to myself, but lie to "Ron" as guys do when their pride is on the line and agree with him about this "Sherry" gal whom I secretly find very hot and very available although "Ron" believes that she is his girl.
We thought like this in the early 1970's way down south in Dixie. Don't call out Jeff Sessions' National Guard on me for saying that because even though Donald Trump is our elected President, I still have, I think, a little Freedom of Speech left. Don't I?
"Ron" starts mumbling about some other subject that I find totally uninteresting and doesn't notice as I drift off to finish finding the rolls of cloth on the worksheet that I have folded up and stuck in my left back jeans pocket.
During our Lunch Break
I try to support "Ron" as we eat lunch at his apartment. Okay it wasn't his apartment, but his mom's place she was renting in a thing called the projects where we live. The apartments are really nice and have real linoleum floors thanks to Federal funding to H.U.D. and I do not feel like explaining what this anachronism means.
"Why don't I call her, you know, to kinda feel her out for ya'?" I tactfully ask "Ron" who is obviously still got this "Sherry" on his mind. How do I know this? "Ron" loves microwaved cheeseburgers bought in a grocery store. But on this day he only eats half of the cheeseburger on his styrofoam plate.
Guys have a special sense about them to notice such things.
"Yeah, uhhh, okay. That might work," "Ron" agrees as we walk back to his 1969 Chevelle, maroon in color, to head back to the plant. Garment plant, to be exact. And folks, that Chevelle would run like a scaled dog. (Don't you just love my ruralisms)?
I can't wait until quitting time to get home and get on my phone to call "Sherry." I know that it sounds and even looks like I am a backstabbing slob of a guy, but "Ron" does not know that he has given me a golden opportunity to get a date with "Sherry" for some up close recon on why "Ron" thinks that she is moody. No harm in taking her out to eat and conversing in harmless jibber jabber.
The Rest of That Day
crawls by with the speed of an elderly snail on its last leg. "Ron" is getting more and more distracted by his worries about "Sherry" and that works good for me for the more he worries, the fewer the worksheets I have to work on before we go home.
"Burringggggggggg!" This is my sound of the electronic buzzer the plant owner spent a grand total of two-hundred and fifty-six American dollars on to install to signal us it was work, break, lunch, and quittng time. Sometimes we joke among ourselves (and far away from plant manager, "Mr. Doyle) about one day the plant owner giving us a new buzzer sound that tells us it is time for us to let our bowels move or kidneys to act. Kinda like a Federal prison.
"Ron" and I walk slowly to the timeclock and with every step I offer up some reassuring statements that will put down any suspicion about "Sherry" going out with me. Guys down south do this all of the time so do not give me that sensitive, over-liberal attitude about how we interact with each other and girls.
"Thung! Thack!" we clock out almost in sync and head to our cars and go our seperate ways. Halleijuah! Another day in the plant done!
Upon Arriving Home
my mom is busy watching M*A*S*H on CBS when the network had a decent programming for afternoons. She speaks to me. I speak to her. Then with the style and grace of Greg Morrison, "Barney," electronics wizard, on another good CBS program: Mission: Impossible, I dial "Sherry's" number from the slip of paper "Ron" has given me. Talk about a lousy handwriting. "Ron's" writing was nasty.
Talk about sheer luck, the kind of luck only possessed by high rollers in Vegas, "Sherry" answers the phone. What luck. We talk for over and hour. I enjoy listening to her silken, teen voice over the phone, but when she strays off talking about her feelings, I laugh at something Alan "Hawkeye Pierce" Alda says to Wayne "Trapper John" Rogers while in surgery. Mother laughs too. "Sherry" hears us laughing softly, asks what is so funny and she also laughs softly when I tell her what we are laughing at.
"Sherry" agrees to go out with me that night which happened to be Friday night. My heart kicks like a young stallion just born to a poor horse rancher in Wyoming. I take extra pains with my bath and making sure that my personal hygiene is near perfect. Even the choice of cologne: Wild Country made exclusively for AVON. I read that on the label and feel great about my choice.
I look good. I feel good. I kiss my mom good night and she looks up and briefly smiles not wanting to miss any of M*A*S*H which only has ten minutes left in that episode. I am torn between staying the extra ten minutes to see how "Hawkeye" and "Trapper" make Larry "Frank Burns" Linville look foolish still in surgery or just going on to "Sherry's" place that just happens to be in the projects near the plant location where "Ron" and I toil each day to make our dough. (Jackson Browne, are you reading this)?
"Sherry" walks to my car, a 1974 Plymouth Duster, two-tone, bought new from a local lot and I have washed it until it shines without Turtle Wax being applied. Being a cool guy I have gotten out and now holding her door open for her to sit down. She is wearing a pretty green skirt and blouse and just the right color and fit. Unlike most teenage hotties, she sits first then slowly puts both legs into the car while giving me a small inviting smile. Talk about high roller luck. This is my night.
Southern Definitions of Terms Used in This hub:
"Plant": factory or place where huge numbers of people work for a living.
"Hands": employees of factories, "plants."
"Dixie"" State of Alabama
Out Date Runs Very Late
into Friday night, but what can I say? It is summer and romance is evident in my Duster. I know that earlier I said that I hated the Chrysler Cordoba and I do. So much so that I didn't buy it although it was cheaper than my Duster. Guys do things like that when they are young and groping to find true love.
"Sherry" and I hit it off fine. It is almost as if "Ron" doesn't exist. That sounds like a slob and I am sorry, but I was really making points with this red-headed beauty whose mild useage of perfume made my Duster smell like a love wagon.
Then toward the end of our date, again with the style and grace of Greg "Barney" Morrison, electronics wizard, I asked her about the moodiness that "Ron" had told me about and was she going to break up with him.
"Sherry" kissed me on the mouth a few times, winked at me, and slid out for me to walk her to her front door. Yes, folks we did this in the deep south in the early 1970's. Get a grip. Listen to a few Frank Zappa LP's and relax.
The following Monday was both sad and happy. Sad for "Ron" and secretly happy for me. At break time (thanks to the electronic buzzer), I told him mostly a truthful account of the date I had with "Sherry," and that I followed through and asked her about her moodiness.
(Awkward pause). To give me time to slug down a few gulps of the fake orange drink from the off-brand condiment machine in our break room.
"Well, is she going to break up with me or what?" "Ron" asked while his pitiful hound dog eyes were glued to my lips for an answer.
"Well, man, yes. 'Sherry' is feeling like a break up, but she wants to remain friends with you," I reply using every dramatic pause I can get my mind around.
"So if you were me, would you call her?" "Ron" asked and I knew that I had to answer just right to keep down his suspicion of my wanting to take "Sherry" out again.
"No, not really, man. That would surely destroy the friendly feelings that she still has for you," I replied never looking directly into his eyes.
"Okay. Cool," "Ron" replies not losing a step.
We never discussed "Sherry" for the rest of that day. Or in the days to come.
I never said that "Ron" was very smart.
Good night, Shelby, N.C.
P.S. "Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I sure hope that you are looking down on this work for I thought of you often while writing this hub." Kenneth
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