Joe and I really like the movie Joe vs the Volcano. I, just because it's fun. Joe, because he collects pop culture trivia like other people collect vinyl albums s or ceramic chickens. He loves all the references in Joe vs the Volcano, to the old silent classic, Metropolis. That's a little bit too academic for my movie viewing habits. After sitting through many conversations with Joe and consequently also with others about the above movies, I can understand the connections between the two. But even had I been previously familiar with Metropolis I can't say I would have noticed any of it on my own.
But give me a book and I can often find some strange and unusual connections between one book and another. Sometimes obviously intentional, other times subtle enough it makes one wonder.
Several years back, I was totally immersed in the fictional world of Stephanie Plum. If you've been reading my blog that long, you already know this, too, since I blogged about little ideas, thoughts, excerpts, from those books quite often during that time.
In the Janet Evanovich book, To the Nines, there is a description of industrial labor that reflects the same themes that the above movies highlight. That kind of sickly green and gray, sea of industrial despond, lemmings following their company, trapped fatalism kind of mood.
I have a friend who works for GM. I don't really know or understand what he does except it has something to do with operating the machines that shape the metal parts for some part of some one or several cars. But when he talks about his job, he periodically uses words like sheet metal stamping and die casting or trimming, or machine tooling. Such words always conjure up for me industrial/work-a day wasteland stereotypes such as those in Joe vs. Volcano and Metropolis.
The following sections from To the Nines humorously describe this same mood. Our heroine, the tenacious bond recovery agent, Stephanie Plum, is investigating the disappearance of Samuel Singh, an employee of TriBro Tech, maker of ... well, ... little things. In order to get some answers, she fills in as a temporary replacement for Singh at TriBro.
"I'm not even sure what you make here. "After another page or two of questioning the employees, while making her way around the room, we return to Stephanie's Metropolis.
"We make little things. Machine-tooled gears and locks. Singh's job primarily consisted of measuring minutia. Each part we supply must be perfect. The first day onboard you wouldn't be expected to know much." He reached for his phone and his mouth tipped into a small smile. "Let's see how good you are at bluffing. "
Ten minutes later I was a genuine bogus TriBro employee, following after Andrew, learning about TriBro Tech. The gears and locks that composed the bulk of TriBro's product were made at workstations housed in a large warehouse-type facility adjoining the reception area and offices. The far end of the warehouse was divided off into a long room where the quality control work was done. Windows looked into the interior. In the entire facility there were no windows looking out. The quality control area consisted of a series of cubbies with built-in tables, shelves, and cabinets. The tables held an odd assortment of weights, measures, machine torture devices, and chemicals. A single worker occupied each of the tables. There were seven people in the quality control area. And there was one unoccupied table. Singh's table.
Andrew introduced me to the area supervisor, Ann Klimmer, and returned to his office. Ann took me table by table and introduced me to the rest of the team. The women were in their thirties and forties. There were two men. One of the men was Asian. Singh would have gravitated to the Asian, I thought. But the women would warm to me faster.
displayed the gear she held in her hand. "And we test parts which have failed and been returned. That sort of testing is much more interesting. Unfortunately, today we're testing new product. "After the introductions and an overview lecture on the operation, I was partnered with Jane Locarelli. Jane looked like she'd just rolled off an embalming table. She was late forties, rail thin, and drained of color. Even her hair was faded. She spoke in a monotone, never making eye contact, her words slightly slurred as if the effort of speech was too much to manage.
"I've worked here for thirty-one years, " she said. "I started working for the senior Cones. Right out of high school. "
No wonder she looked like a walking cadaver. Thirty-one years under fluorescent lights, measuring and torturing little metal doohickeys. Jeez.
Jane hitched herself up onto a stool and selected a small gear from a huge barrel of small gears. "We do two kinds of testing here. We do random testing of new product. " She sent me an apologetic grimace. "I'm afraid that's a little tedious. " She
Jane carefully measured each part of the gear and examined it under a microscope for flaws. When she was done, she reached into the barrel and selected another gear. I had to bite back a groan. Two gears down. Three thousand gears to go.
"I heard Singh didn't show up for work one day, " I said, going for casual curious. "Was he unhappy with the job?"
"Not sure, " Jane said, concentrating on the new gear. "He wasn't very talkative. " After extensive measuring, she decided the gear was okay and went on to a third.
"Would you like to try one?" she asked.
She handed the gear over and showed me how to measure.
"Looks good to me, " I said after doing the measuring thing.
"No, " she said, "it's off on one side. See the little burr on the edge of the one cog?" Jane took the gear from me, filed the side, and measured again. "Maybe you should just watch a while longer, " she said.
I watched Jane do four more gears and my eyes glazed over and some drool oozed from between my lips. I quietly slid from my stool and moved to the next cubicle.
Dolly Freedman was also testing new gears. Dolly would drink some coffee and measure. Then she'd drink more coffee and perform another test. She was as thin and as pale as Jane, but not as lifeless. She was cranked on coffee. "This is such a b#%!t job, " Dolly said to me. She looked around. "Anyone watching?" she asked. Then she took a handful of gears and dumped them into the perfect gear bucket. "They looked good to me, " she said. Then she drank more coffee.
I drifted over to Edgar's table mid-afternoon. Edgar was dropping acid on a small metal bar with threads at either end. One drop at a time. Drip, wait, and measure. Drip, wait, and measure. Drip, wait, and measure. There had to be a thousand bars waiting to be tortured. Nothing was happening. This job made watching grass grow look exciting.I love the imagery. From my writer's eye, this is great stuff.
"We're testing a new alloy, " Edgar said.
"This seems more interesting than the gear measuring. "
"Only for the first two million bars. After that, it's pretty routine. "
start with the basics, ... "Machine-tooled gears and locks."
and this one, ... "Windows looked into the interior. In the entire facility there were no windows looking out." Do we need to know that. Nope, but it gets into a reader's brain. Imagine a Vincent Price type voice, "No windows looking out."
and the description of the tools, ... "The tables held an odd assortment of weights, measures, machine torture devices, and chemicals." Tools one might find in an interrogation room. Tools that evoke images of pillory and thumbscrews.
then the description of what such an environment does to someone, "Jane looked like she'd just rolled off an embalming table. She was late forties, rail thin, and drained of color. Even her hair was faded. She spoke in a monotone, never making eye contact, her words slightly slurred as if the effort of speech was too much to manage." And further, "No wonder she looked like a walking cadaver. Thirty-one years under fluorescent lights, measuring and torturing little metal doohickeys." Remember the green lights in Joe vs the Volcano? Forever "suck, suck, suck..." -ing the life out of the employees.
And this one. This is probably my favorite, "I watched Jane do four more gears and my eyes glazed over and some drool oozed from between my lips. I quietly slid from my stool and moved to the next cubicle."
I know I get excited about strange things, but really, just the word combinations in those sentences. After the drool oozed from her lips, she slid from her chair. When we finish the second sentence, we know she was simply getting up to do her investigating thing. But at the beginning of the sentence, with the words, "I quietly slid from my chair," we wonder for an instant if Stephanie simply slid into a puddle of gelatinous goo on the floor of the plant, never to be seen or heard from again.
So anyway, here's to you, Dave (and all who work in repetitious jobs.) I really, really hope your work is not at all like this.
I think probably most work is not. I think any work might be. But no work ought to be. The image that life loses all value in the industrial or other repetitious setting is an atheistic fallacy. A temptation of Satan to lead us to discontent or even despair.
Any God-given task that is repeated daily can feel monotonous, whether it's industrial, academic, agricultural, or maternal. But all are of intrinsic value. God places us in our many vocations to serve the people in our lives. To be of service to them. Ultimately, to share His Word of Salvation with them. But more immediately, to help and serve them in whatever way we can.
... Even when our vocational walls feel green and the fluorescent lights of our daily work seem to be sucking the life out of us.