The summer between junior and senior year of college, three of us rented an apartment. I needed money for rent, so I went to the unemployment office per usual and picked up a job quickly at a factory in Glendale for maybe 25 cents more than minimum wage. The factory made earphones for headsets to be used by soldiers in Viet Nam. Mostly women worked there doing the finely tuned digital stuff that women are supposed to be able to do well, soldering wires and the little speaker into a metal casing that was then covered with rubber. I was hired to work with two Mexican American guys who were already there running a punch press.
Punch presses come in all shapes and sizes. Our seven foot high jobs were run by a single operator. You sat on the stool in front of the punch press, and in our case we then pulled, following a guide, a five inch wide strip of metal under the punch part of the press, and then you pushed a petal and the damn press would come down like with ten thousand pounds of force (crash!) and punch out the metal container that the electrical stuff would go into. Then you picked up the metal part and threw it into a container, and then you did it again, and again, and so on for eight fucking hours.
Working as a brick mason tender caused me great physical pain; working as an assistant manager of a Newberry’s Department store was an act of despair, but this damn machine was petrifyingly boring. I couldn’t day dream because you had to busy your hands and be conscious of the machine or you might mash your whole hand.
Sometimes, I don’t know why, a young Mexican American woman with large breasts would work at a table across from me. The press was in the way so I couldn’t see her face except now and then but when the press was up, as I adjusted the metal to its proper place, I could see her breasts. So I would punch the press, up the press would go, I would look at the young woman’s breasts and then I would punch again. Sometimes when I was looking, her movements would make her breasts sort of jiggle and that was a special treat.
The two Mexican American youths got through the day smoking grass. They started at the 10 o’clock break, reloaded at noon, and topped it off at the afternoon break. They were friendly and ask me to join them, but I was afraid to. They would start to talking in Spanish and laughing (a universal language) and I would get worried they were going to crush their hands. The smaller skinny one was already married and a father of two; they had been fucking around and he got her pregnant and that was that. The other guy was sort of fat but he was engaged, he said, to be married. I was astonished, but I was a college boy.
I always go to work. That’s my training. So I went to that job every day, but one day it was just killing me. I started to get a stomach ache. Actually I think I convinced myself that I had a stomach ache. So I went to the boss and said I was sick to my stomach. I expected him to be annoyed, but he wasn’t even that. Then go home, he said. I didn’t want to go home. I was in some sort of moody despairing place. So I got in my old Plymouth, went to Griffith Park and lay down on the grass near the carousel and lit up a number.
I don’t know if it was the grass or the day or just me but laying there but I remember feeling that carousel was about the saddest thing in the whole fucking world.