Now I get it!
This is why God lead me to Hard Labor Ready.
It sure didn't start out to be a good day. I had 1/16th of a tank of gas and six dollars. Not enough gas to get me down to Hard Labor Ready to make money to get gas. What to do?
I counted out my quarter collection--I stockpile quarters for when I'm in dire straits, sort of a rainy day fund, and I did it reluctantly because I think there's much worse weather to come--and took fifty dollars in quarters to the bank to cash in. Of course the bank made this as difficult and humiliating as possible, making me count out all my quarters. But I left with fifty-six bucks in my pocket. And headed down to Hard Labor Ready. After getting gas.
Because I was getting to Hard Labor Ready so late in the day (10 a.m.), there was the possibility that I wouldn't get work. Or worse, I'd be doing yardwork for a frugal lesbian house flipper. But after waiting around their offices for a little over an hour (they were watching The View at deafening decibels), a call came in. Sharon called me over and gave me a gypsy's warning: you'll get really dirty.
The thought in my head was, "Oh cool!" but the words that came out of my mouth were, "No problem. I have a washing machine." The place, called "Metlab," made me smile. Imagine the doubletakes! "Yeah, I work in a metlab." I drove over there, parked my car, and entered. The guy who greeted me seemed nice, and told me that the employee parking lot was down the street, so he'd meet me around the back of the building. I moved my car, got out, and headed for the huge bay door.
And stopped dead in my tracks.
Inside, it was dark and sooty. Flames were shooting out of blast furnaces. Mercury lights shown through air thick with oily smoke...
This was a steel mill! I was going to work in a steel mill!
In my talk about movies in the post below, I neglected to mention in the list of movies I saw during the Eighties one of my all time favorites: Four Friends. It had a profound effect on me indeed. The protagonist (is it a protagonist when you're talking about a movie, or just "the lead?") is a guy who wants to be a writer, and he's in love with a girl who believes she's the reincarnation of Isadora Duncan, and he feels he loses his way in life after a horrifying tragedy, but he finds himself again by going back home to Indiana and working in the steel mill where his father works. Since I saw Four Friends--something like eight times--a steel mill has always seemed to me to be a crucible of manhood and self-knowledge.
Okay. So what were they going to have me do? Sort scrap metal? Sweep up?
I was partnered with a guy named Phil who, it turns out, was also a Hard Labor Ready alum. In fact, he first came to MetLab (which is short for "Metal Lab," it turns out) as a Hard Labor Ready assignment. Phil explained to me the work we would be doing. The job was to harden eight inches on the end of these ten foot long quarter inch five inches in diameter--in other words, huge steel pipes. The way you harden steel is by raising the temperature to kindling (where it's glowing bright orange and about 1600° F.) and then cool it down really quickly by dunking it in water, called "quenching" it. We were heating these three hundred and ten pound pipes using electromagnetic induction. Together, we would lift the pipes onto a rack, position them in copper coils, and Phil showed me how to keep the watts and amps in the ideal range. Then, after sufficient time (about twenty minutes), we'd heave the pipe up and dunk the end in the quench bath.
I. Was. Working. In. A. Steel. Mill.
Phil was a great guy to work with, a really handsome Black guy who loved Classic Rock. Like, really loved Classic Rock. He had a radio tuned to the Classic Rock station, and was singing along very loudly to Aerosmith, AC/DC and the like while we worked. After the pipe was quenched, we'd set up the next pipe, and Phil would take the pipe we just did by forklift off into the mill to be tested for hardness, leaving me to work the machine we were using alone.
I loved every minute of it.
At three o'clock, the shift changed, and I saw a passel of steelworkers pass by me, some of them enjoying their after work cigars.
I shit you not.
But the best part came when I had to go take a piss. Phil gave me directions to find the bathroom.
It was in a lockerroom, decades old, painted institutional green, and grimy and filthy. Against the back wall were shower stalls, with only transparent liners hanging from the rods. It occured to me that the steel workers who passed getting off shift were wearing nice street clothes and had cleaned themselves up some. Obviously, I hadn't timed my pee break very well.
There were a couple of toilet stalls, but the best part was the urinal. It was a circular steel pissoir kind of thing, reminding me of a contraption I once saw as a whisky sour fountain at a wedding. It was situated in a separate room from the lockerroom with the shower stalls, and in the urinal room was a door standing open to another part of the mill. Since the pissoir fountain was only three feet high, I whipped it out and pissed in plain view of anyone who happened to be passing by. Although no one was.
In other words, the men's room in the steel mill would make the best porn movie set of any place I've ever seen in my life.
Hell, forget porn, I want to have sex in that bathroom. With a steelworker, both of us smoking cigars.
I wonder if at any point down through the years steelworkers smoking cigars have had sex in that bathroom?
What a waste if not!
I met the owner of the mill, and the head foreman. I think I made a good impression on both of them. Given Phil's experience, I'm hoping that I'll get more work at this steel mill. Like, a lot. During the dinner break at 7 p.m., I ate a sandwich from the local 7-11, sitting just outside the bay on a pile of steel, watching a beautiful crescent moon rise in the evening sky.
Damn it was perfect.
I finally got off work AT THE STEEL MILL at 9 p.m. I left reluctantly, smiling all the way home.
Of course, I had to stop at Starbucks to get a latte to serve as fuel for my drive to work tomorrow morning. After I ordered my latte, I had to pee again so I headed for the men's room at the Starbucks. I opened the door, turned on the light, and found myself looking at my own reflection. My clothes and my face were covered in black soot.
You know, like I had been WORKING IN A STEEL MILL ALL DAY. Which, of course, I had been.
I looked so fukken hot I gave myself a hardon.