February 9th, 2009
The alarm clock barked a shrill series of tones, causing Dakotah to sit up in bed abruptly. Panicked and confused, he desperately gathered his bearings. The red digital display of the alarm clock bathed the sparsely furnished room in an eerie glow, which unnerved him even more. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and gritted his teeth. “Okay, let’s do this,” he said under his breath.
Dakotah turned the light on, and rummaged through his bag for a decent set of clothes. Finding a pair of blue corduroys and a light tan work shirt, he sighed as he dressed. “At least I’ll get some new clothes this evening,” he thought.
As he exited the bedroom, he noticed a dim glow coming under Dylan’s room. He shrugged nonchalantly as he entered the bathroom; he remembered many times the same glow under Frank’s study door.
The kitchen was dark, except for the range hood light. Dakotah became apprehensive as to what to do; although he knew in his mind that this was now his home, he felt that it was an intrusion if he started rummaging through the cabinets and the refrigerator to get his breakfast. Louise was nowhere to be seen or heard; he assumed that she was outside doing “chores”, whatever that was.
Sighing, Dakotah began to peek nervously inside the cabinets. He hoped to find cereal, or, if he was lucky, toaster pastries. After a couple of minutes, he found a loaf of bread. He searched the refrigerator, and found grape jelly, strawberry preserves, and apple butter. Spotting the toaster on the counter, he began to untwist the tie on the bread wrapper.
“And just what do you think you’re doing, mister?” Louise accused, as she stepped through the door.
Dakotah recoiled, as if he had been shot. “J-just fixing some breakfast, I guess,” he stammered, timidly.
Louise flipped the switch to the kitchen, making Dakotah wince in the bright light. Once his eyes adjusted, he realized she was carrying a small basket of eggs. “No need to do that today,” she said, smiling. “It’s bacon and eggs this morning. Care to wash these eggs while I get the bacon going?”
“Okay.” Dakotah said plainly, as he looked at the basket of brown eggs. “Is that poop?” he asked, concerned.
“Yes, City Boy, that’s poop,” Louise said, laughing. “Rinse them in warm water, it’ll wash right off. Just make sure you wash your hands with soap afterward.”
“Ewwwww.” Dakotah muttered, much to the delight of Louise. Despite being somewhat grossed out, he began to slowly and meticulously clean the eggs. Meanwhile, Louise quickly placed a large cast iron skillet on the gas stove, and began to fill it with bacon.
“Take three plates out of that cabinet there, and put them on the table,” Louise ordered gently. “Forks and spoons are in the top drawer by the sink. How many eggs are you eating, Hon?”
“I don’t know,” Dakotah said, shrugging. “Doesn’t matter, to me. Is Unk getting up this early to eat? It’s only 4:45!”
“He usually gets up before 5. For the most part, we’ve always been early risers. You look like a four egg guy,” Louise said, kindly. “Would you mind handing me three eggs out of the refrigerator? Half my chickens took the day off!”
Within minutes, Louise finished frying up a pound of bacon, and drained the excess fat into a container on the stove. Using both hands, she deftly broke a dozen eggs into the skillet, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and began to scramble them as soon as the whites solidified. Within two minutes, the cooked eggs were in a bowl on the table.
“Wow, you’re fast!” Dakotah enthused, impressed.
“Learned how to cook fast at the truck stop where I met Ralph,” Louise shrugged, as she placed the bread in the four slice toaster. “Hope you like your toast brown.”
Louise quickly said a blessing as they sat down. “Are you going to wake Unk up?” Dakotah asked.
“His stomach will wake him up.” Louise replied, confident.
As if on cue, Ralph stomped to the table, and sat down. “Thought I’d better get in here before this varmit ate it all!” he laughed. “He can eat like a horse, and fast, too!”
“Hey, you ate more than I did!” Dakotah protested, grinning.
“You know, it takes a lot to maintain this sexy body, ain’t that right, honey?” Ralph said with a straight face.
Louise tried to keep her composure, but within seconds, she began to laugh uncontrollably. Dakotah soon followed suit.
“What?” Ralph grinned.
It was still dark when Louise pulled her Trailblazer out on the road; Dakotah could tell it was cloudy; this made the roads seem even darker, and threatened to swallow up the bright headlight beams of the truck.
“You have to watch out for deer on these roads, especially at night,” Louise cautioned. “They’ll wander in the road right in front of you, without a care.”
Dakotah nodded silently.
“You nervous?” Louise asked.
“Yeah,” Dakotah sighed.
“It’ll be okay,” Louise said, soothingly. “Just try your best, and you’ll do better than half of them in the first week. This job ain’t that hard.”
“Unk was saying that there’s a lot of lazy people there,” Dakotah said, concerned.
“Seems like people nowadays want the moon for little to no effort,” Louise lamented. “There are times where I fear for the future of this country. There are a lot of no good lazy people there, that’s for sure, especially on nights.”
Dakotah sighed. He hoped he could get along with the people that worked there, or at worst, they would leave him alone.
“Here’s the highway that takes you to Pig Lick,“ Louise said. “See that big rock on the left there? That’s when you know it’s time to turn on our road, which is Barnes Hollow Road.”
“Okay.” Dakotah nodded, making a mental note.
A few minutes later, Dakotah saw the lights of a small town ahead. As they got closer, he noticed a small convenience store, with two gasoline pumps in front.
“Sometimes, we get gas here,” Louise stated simply. “It’s about twenty cents a gallon higher here than in Winchester, but unless you go there every week like I do, it’s not worth burning the extra gas. I hear they have a fair to middlin’ deli, too.”
A moment later, they were on the parkway, headed west. There was no trace of light from the sky, as clouds conspired to keep the sky an inky black. Knots tightened in Dakotah’s stomach as they closed in on their turnoff.
“Here’s exit 22,” Louise said. “Should be easy enough for you to remember. You can see the plant from here, on the right.”
Dakotah observed the cold, gray buildings. Even with security lights bathing it, the dark sky gave Dakotah a sense of foreboding. A simple large lighted sign with the letters HPK was the only adornment on the main building.
Louise pulled into the main driveway of the plant. “I’ll drop you off here at the front door,” she said. “I have to go in though the employee entrance. Just go in and sit down. It may take a few hours, but hopefully, they’ll get you in early. Good luck!”
“Thanks.” Dakotah said, somberly. “Thanks for everything.”
“I’m proud of you, Dak,” Louise said, smiling. “I’ll see you this afternoon.” Louise drove around to the employee parking lot while Dakotah walked to the front door.
Dakotah reached for the right glass door, and found that it was locked. Troubled, he reached for the left door. It too was locked, to Dakotah’s dismay.
Panic began to seep inside Dakotah. “It’s okay, it’s okay, someone will be here soon.” Dakotah reassured himself. “Besides, I have a few hours to kill before the interview, anyway.”
Dakotah wandered around the entrance, feeling extremely conspicuous. He constantly checked his watch, becoming frustrated as the time didn’t move along as fast as he wished. Also complicating things was the chill of the morning beginning to seep through his coat.
After twenty minutes, he heard a small commotion behind him. Dakotah turned to see a small middle-aged Japanese man begin to sweep the foyer. Dakotah knocked lightly on the door glass, which startled the man.
“Hello!” Dakotah shouted. “I’m early, but I’m here for a job interview! Could you let me in?”
“No unstando!” the man shouted back, shaking his head, and waving his hands back and forth.
“Could it be he doesn’t understand English?” Dakotah thought. “I guess I’ll put all that work with Ely to good use.”
Dakotah took a deep breath. “<Good morning!>” he shouted in Japanese. “<I’m here for my job interview! I’m here very early! My aunt, who works here, dropped me off! Could you let me in, please?>”
The Japanese man stood there, staring at Dakotah, dumbfounded.
“<I’m sorry. Did I say something strange?>” Dakotah questioned, thoughtfully. “<I feel my Japanese isn’t very good.>”
”H-hai,” The man stuttered. He let Dakotah in, warily.
Dakotah bowed slightly to the man after he entered the foyer. ”Arigato gozaimasu,” Dakotah said, smiling, and he took a seat . The man resumed his tidying, as he stole glances at Dakotah every once in a while.
An eternity passed, at least it seemed to Dakotah; with each lethargic minute, he became more and more anxious. At 6:35, a slow but steady stream of Japanese men, all dressed in suit and tie, and carrying briefcases, began to file in through the doors. Almost all of them ignored Dakotah’s presence, and remained silent as they headed through the foyer.
At. 6:50, a trio of Japanese men entered. In the center was a man nearly as tall as Dakotah, young, and sharply dressed. The other two men flanked him on each side, and were a few inches shorter. The one on his right carried a clipboard along with his briefcase.
<”I heard word that our main customer is ramping up production again in August,”> the man on his right said, with a trace of worry. <”If we don’t get our numbers up by then, there will be trouble!”>
The man in the middle frowned. Spying Dakotah, who seemed to be listening intently(and he was), he cocked his head in confusion. Dakotah, realizing he was staring at the man, froze in panic for a split second, then, not knowing what else to do, bowed slightly. Still apparently confused, the man shook his head and continued on, the other two men in tow.
A few minutes later, a young blonde woman appeared in the glass booth next to the entrance to the offices. After getting organized, she noticed Dakotah, and motioned him to come to her.
“May I help you?” she said, in a sweet Southern Appalachian drawl.
Dakotah cleared his throat. “I have a job interview at 9:30,” he said, nervous. “I know I’m really early, but I rode in with my aunt. She works here.”
“Really?” the woman asked, curious. “What’s her name?”
“Louise Jones,” Dakotah answered, simply.
“You’re Louise’s nephew?” she exclaimed. “I didn’t know she had a nephew! You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No ma’am, I’m from Michigan,” Dakotah replied, suddenly conscious of his speech. “I only arrived here yesterday.”
“Really? That’s somethin’ else!” the woman said, fascinated. “Good luck!”
“Thank you,” Dakotah said, before he reclaimed his seat. The young woman’s words and attitude put him slightly at ease. Dakotah sighed as he looked as his watch, as he had over two hours before his interview.
As 9:30 approached, Dakotah’s anxiety began to ramp up, and his mind wandered. He became more and more self-conscious of his hand-me-downs, and he felt he wasn’t appropriately dressed for a job interview. For a moment, he thought about calling Rev. Daniels, but he felt that as soon as he did, he would be called back to the interview.
9:30 came and went, and Dakotah began to feel even more fidgety. At 10 o’clock, he asked the woman, who turned out to be the receptionist, if somehow there was some mistake.
“Let me call the HR office,” she replied, punching a few numbers on her phone. “Yes, there’s a Dakotah Lennon here for a job interview? He was told it was at 9:30. Really? Mhm, okay, thank you!”
The receptionist turned to Dakotah with a slight frown. “They say there’s no record of your job interview,” she said, keeping a slight smile, “but could you stay until 10:30? They can squeeze you in then.”
“O-okay,” Dakotah replied, stunned, but relieved somewhat. However, he soon became worried that they may not need him anymore. If that happened, he was unsure of what he would do then. At worst, he could go back to Michigan, and work at New Hope again.
10:30 came and went, much to Dakotah’s chagrin. Frustrated, he waited until 10:40, and gritting his teeth, he walked to the receptionist and asked her to check on his interview. At this point, Dakotah had developed a splitting headache.
“Good news, someone is coming!” the receptionist said, relieved. “You poor thing. No one should have waited that long.”
A middle aged lady wearing a blue business suit and shoulder length brown hair rushed in the vestibule. “I’m so sorry!” she said, out of breath. “We had no one scheduled for an interview today.”
Dakotah’s heart sank, and his mind began to swim.
“However,” the lady continued after a pause, “just because there’s no record of you being scheduled, doesn’t mean that you weren’t scheduled. Follow me, please.”
Dakotah gave up understanding her explanation, and decided to obey her command. They weaved through a maze of cubicles, finally stopping a one somewhere in the middle of the room. There was a balding middle aged man sitting at a desk, talking to someone on the phone. He motioned for Dakotah to take a seat, and he did so, as the lady left. After a moment, the man finished his conversation, and he hung up the phone. The man stood up, and offered his hand. Dakotah stood up, and shook it.
“Hi, I’m Frank Smith,” the man said as he sat down. “I must apologize. I have no idea who you are. Do you have an application with you?”
“My name is Dakotah Lennon,” he said as he handed Frank his application. “My aunt, Louise Jones, told me the interview was today at 9:30. She dropped me off here when she came in to work this morning.”
“You’ve been here almost five hours?” Frank said, looking at Dakotah’s application. “I’m truly sorry. You’re from Michigan?”
“Yes,” Dakotah replied, his headache and fatigue overriding his nervousness. “I put in thirty applications up there, and never got a call. I did get a part time job as a secretary at my church for a week, until my dad’s house burnt down, and I had nowhere to go.”
“Wow,” Frank said, as he looked at his watch. “Okay, here’s the deal. Fill these papers out. Do you have your driver’s license and social security card?”
“My driver’s license is from Michigan, is that okay?” Dakotah asked.
“That’s fine,” Frank said, as he took the license. “It’s just proof that you’re legal to work here in the U.S. While I make a copy, fill out this W-4 form for your taxes. Oh, while I’m thinking of it, look at this camera. I need to get your picture taken for your badge. Smile!”
“Um, I’m hired?” Dakotah asked, while Frank was clicking the mouse on his computer.
“Oh, yeah,” Frank shrugged. “After I heard you were Louise’s nephew, and the fact you didn’t bail after waiting all that time, I decided that you’re in. That okay?”
“Y-yeah!” Dakotah cried, a wave of relief passing over him.
Dakotah filled out the paperwork while Frank ran Dakotah’s cards through the scanner. Meanwhile, another machine spat out a plastic card with Dakotah’s photo on it.
“Here you go,” Frank said, as he handed the card to Dakotah. “This is what you need to get into the plant, as well as to clock in and out at the time clock. Follow me. You’re getting an express orientation.”
Frank handed Dakotah a pair of clear safety glasses and a small plastic pouch with earplugs in them. “Wear these whenever you’re on the floor. Not doing so can result in your termination.”
Frank and Dakotah walked through a door into the manufacturing area. It was a large area, about 200 feet wide by 400 feet long, and about one fourth filled with mold machines. There was a smell of melting plastic, and a dull din of machinery operating. Frank’s pace picked up considerably, but Dakotah had no problem keeping up with him.
“You’ll need to get some steel-toed shoes today,” Frank said, puffing. “Bring the receipt in, we’ll refund you up to forty dollars on your next check. That reminds me, I have to give you the paperwork for your direct deposit. We don’t pay with paper checks; all of our pay is handled electronically, so make sure you turn your paperwork in, so you can get paid.”
Dakotah nodded. He knew that getting a bank account was on the list of stops he and Ralph had to make.
They arrived at the back door; to the right was a box with a keypad and a digital clock. “Here’s the time clock,” Frank stated. “Check and see if your card works. Hold it in front of the sensor. It should beep, and the display should say ‘punch accepted’.”
Dakotah placed his badge in front of the sensor, and as Frank had said, the machine beeped and displayed “punch accepted”.
“I’ll adjust your time later today when I get the chance,” Frank said, opening the back door. “Now let’s see if your card will activate the back door.”
They stepped outside, and Frank made sure the door was shut. Dakotah placed the badge in front of the sensor, and once again there was a beep, followed by a click in the lock. Frank opened the door, and they both stepped back in.
“You’re good to go from a badge standpoint,” Frank said, satisfied. He pointed to a door on the opposing wall from the time clock. “Over there is the locker room. Bring a lock with you on your first night, and put it on an empty locker. Let’s go back to the office, and finish up.”
Frank pointed out the break room, and talked about the basic responsibilities of operating the mold machines. Dakotah tried to see if he could see Louise, but could not.
“I’ll fix your time today so that you came in today at six, and leave at 1:30, okay?” Frank said, matter-of-factly. “Feel kinda bad stringing you along like that.”
“T-thank you!” Dakotah gushed.
“You still have to watch the safety video, so you aren’t done here yet,” Frank said. “It’s about an hour long, so you should be out of here by 1:00. The time clock program automatically deducts a half an hour for lunch, which you didn’t take, so that ought to make it fair.”
Once again, they navigated the maze of cubicles to Frank’s office. Frank bade Dakotah to sit at a side desk with a laptop on it. A couple of clicks by Frank, and a video popped up on the screen.
“Click the play button when I’m done here,” Frank said, as he took a binder from a stack in the corner. “Read this sometime today, okay? It’s your employee handbook.”
“Sure.” Dakotah replied.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Frank said, pulling a piece of paper out of a filing cabinet. “Take this paper to the doctor where you have to get your physical. The address is at the top. Remember, you have to get that done today.”
“Hey, you wouldn’t want to come in tonight, would you?” Frank asked suddenly. “I know it’s short notice, but the time you’ve spent here so far today will count as time and a half, provided you work the rest of the week.”
Dakotah sighed, frustrated. “As much as I’d like to, I have too much to do this afternoon. I have to get my Ky. driver’s license and stuff.”
“That’s fine,” Frank said. If you don’t have any more questions, I’ll leave you to watch the video. Just see yourself out the front door, okay? I’m going to go eat lunch now.”
“Okay.” Dakotah said, thinking how odd the entire process was.
“Remember, be here at 6PM tomorrow evening. Write this down in your handbook,” Frank said, handing Dakotah an ink pen. “You are to see Joe Bilas. He’s the shift foreman, and he’ll take over from there. Make sure you wear all your safety gear, or you can’t work. Got it?”
“Great! Welcome aboard!” Frank whipped out his hand in front of Dakotah, who shook it. “If you turn out half as good as your aunt, this will be a good day for this company.”
Dakotah blushed. “I’ll do my best!” he said enthusiastically.
“Great!” Frank said, looking at his watch. “Go ahead and watch that vid. I’m off to lunch. See you around!”
Frank scurried out of the cubicle. Dakotah took his cell phone out of his pocket, and called Ralph.
“Took you long enough!” Ralph barked.
“Hey, it wasn’t my fault!” Dakotah protested. “They didn’t know I was going to be there!”
“Anyways, are you ready?” Ralph sighed.
“I have to watch the safety video.” Dakotah said, flatly. “It’s about an hour.”
“Damn,” Ralph muttered, frustrated. “We’re gonna hafta bust ass to be done by the time your aunt gets home. Okay, I’ll be there in an hour.” Ralph hung up the phone.
Dakotah closed his cell phone, and clicked play on the video. It was a series of poorly written, poorly acted simulated industrial accidents with fake blood, and mannequins being crushed, burned, decapitated, and so on. After the video ended, Dakotah gathered his handbook, the paperwork for the physical and direct deposit, earplugs, and safety glasses, and left the cubicle. Without much difficulty, he navigated out of the offices, and out the front door. Ralph was parked out front, with his truck running.
“Time to get movin’,” Ralph announced, as Dakotah climbed in. Ralph tromped on the accelerator, and they roared out of the parking lot.
“I have to get my physical and drug screen,” Dakotah said, bluntly.
“Is the doc’s office on 6th Street in Richmond?” Ralph asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Dakotah replied, startled. “How did you know?”
“Same one Louise went to,” Ralph replied. “I know exactly where it’s at. I do my CDL physicals there, too.”
Ralph turned on the parkway, and soon, they were cruising at ten miles per hour over the speed limit. “I already talked to the insurance people. All they need is your Ky. driver’s license number. Good thing the office is only five minutes from the courthouse!”
“I guess that’s convenient,” Dakotah said.
“Physical, driver’s license, insurance, transfer of the Escort’s title to you,” Ralph muttered. “Hopefully, we’ll be home by four. Mostly depends on the physical, I think.”
The doctor’s office that administered the physical was efficient; it only took Dakotah a half an hour for the vision and breathing tests, x-rays, blood and urine samples, and the general exam.
“Did they find any hernias?” Ralph asked, grinning, as Dakotah entered the waiting area.
“No,” Dakotah said looking down, embarrassed.
Ralph laughed loudly. “I have to cough for my CDL license every year, too. I keep hoping for a pretty girl to check me out, but I keep getting stuck with a gorilla with callused hands.”
Getting his Ky. driver’s license was a straightforward affair for Dakotah; he had to take a twenty question multiple choice test, which he passed easily. He sighed when he saw his short hair in the photo on his license.
Dakotah was surprised that his insurance was going to cost a lot more every six months than his car was worth. “It’s a racket, but what you do?” Ralph said, sympathetically.
Transferring the car was also quick; Ralph stated that the value of the car was $300(considering the condition of the car, it was pretty accurate.), which kept the taxes low.
The last stop for the two of them was the bank. “I’m not going to tell you how to spend and save your money,” Ralph said, “but I think the best thing for you to do is to put $125 a week in checking for expenses, and put the rest into savings. It should add up pretty quick that way; I wish we did that when we were young and stupid!”
Fifteen minutes later, with the help of twenty dollars from Ralph, Dakotah had a checking and savings account. “You should be good to go,” Ralph said, looking at his watch. “We need to hustle our butts home, the old woman will be waiting on us!”
Louise had already bathed and changed by the time Ralph and Dakotah arrived. When given the details of Dakotah’s ordeal at HPK, she shook her head.
“Not surprised in the least,” she muttered. “Most disorganized outfit by far I’ve ever known. At least you got paid for your time waiting. I will say they do try to make things right, for the most part.”
“Yeah, seven hours pay for basically nothing is pretty good,” Ralph agreed.
“Let’s go,” Louise said, walking to Dylan’s bedroom door. “Honey, we’re getting Dak some clothes and something to eat.” she said, as she knocked on his door. “Want to go?”
“No,” replied a subdued answer from the other side.
“Okay, we’ll be back in a little bit,” Louise said, sweetly.
“Igor still won’t leave the dungeon,” Ralph muttered.
Louise shot Ralph a dirty look, but held her tongue. It was getting dark as they left, and everyone was hungry, particularly Dakotah, who hadn’t eaten since breakfast. They chose a family restaurant outside of Richmond; Louise explained that since she refuses to eat at a restaurant that serves alcohol, their choices are limited, which was fine with Dakotah.
After dinner, the trio went to a discount department store. “Pick out what you like,” Ralph encouraged. A half an hour later, Dakotah amassed a half dozen pairs of jeans, a pair of dress slacks and a matching dress shirt, an assortment of t-shirts and long sleeved shirts, two pairs of pajamas, a pair of sneakers, a pair of utility boots, a pair of steel-toed work shoes, and a coat similar to the one he lost in Michigan. Dakotah gasped when the total exceeded $400.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ralph reassured. “I think we did pretty good, right, Lou?”
“If we bought name brand, it would have been over twice as much,” Louise confirmed. “Some people spend more than that one outfit.”
“Yeah, people with more money than brains,” Ralph added, laughing.
By 8PM, they were home. “Your task tomorrow is to wash all of this stuff, except for the dress outfit,” Louise said. “I’ll take care of that; don’t want you messing up your good clothes, especially the ironing.”
Dakotah showered, dressed, and called Rev. Daniels. He gave a brief synopsis of the day’s events.
“Well, you’ve had quite the day!” Rev. Daniels exclaimed. “How do you feel about the place?”
“Don’t know for sure,” Dakotah muttered. “They aren’t very organized, but they try to take care of their employees, I think.”
“As long as they are trying, that’s a lot,” Rev. Daniels said.
“Oh, I want to tell Ely I spoke Japanese to a real Japanese guy!” Dakotah spoke excitedly.
“Oh, yeah? How’d that go?” Rev. Daniels asked.
“I think he understood me, but I think I shocked him, too,” Dakotah replied. “I’m pretty sure he wasn’t expecting for an American to speak to him in his language.”
Dakotah could hear Rev. Daniels knocking on a door in the background, and calling out to Ely.
“I’m sorry, she’s not answering the door,” Rev. Daniels said, perturbed. “I figured she would be interested in what you’re up to. Oh, well, I’m sure she’ll come to her senses soon.”
“That’s okay. I’m using a lot of minutes, I probably need to get off the phone, anyway,” Dakotah said. “Not sure when I’ll be able call you back, it may be the weekend.”
“That’s fine,” Rev. Daniels said, nodding. “Call me whenever you can, either here or at the church.”
“I’ll do that,” Dakotah replied. “Talk to you later!”
“Take care, Dak,“ Rev. Daniels said. “We’re all praying for you up here.”
“I appreciate it!” Dakotah said, moved. “Bye.”
Dakotah opened his Bible to a random passage in Isaiah, and began to read. Within minutes, the stress of the day overwhelmed him, and he conked out in bed, the Bible still open, and the light still on.
February 10th, 2009
Dakotah awoke to a small commotion in the living room; he looked at the clock, and it read 7:06AM. Sleepily, he climbed out of bed, and exited his room. He saw Ralph packing canned goods in a plastic bag.
“Getting ready to go?” Dakotah asked.
“Yep. Time to hit the road,” Ralph answered. “You’re up awful early!”
“I slept pretty good,” Dakotah shrugged. “I guess I’ll try to get a nap later.”
“You need to,” Ralph said pointedly. “You won’t be going to bed for at least twenty hours if you stay up.”
“Yeah,” Dakotah sighed.
“Take care, Dak Boy,” Ralph said, giving Dakotah a fist bump. “Call me anytime, y’hear?”
“Thanks,” Dakotah said, smiling. “Be careful.”
“Hey, I’m a pro, remember?” Ralph said, winking. He gave Dakotah a bear hug; for a moment, Dakotah couldn’t breathe. “Glad you’re here with us,” he said, sincerely.
“Me, too,” Dakotah croaked, his face turning red.
Ralph let go of Dakotah, gathered his belongings, and walked out the front door, stopping to give Toby a scratch behind the ears. “Good luck, Dak!” he bellowed from the porch. “See you Saturday!”
“See you!” Dakotah shouted, as he waved back. He stepped out on the porch, and watched Ralph disappear down the road. He petted Toby, much to the dog’s delight, and peered out into the countryside. Though the clouds were heavy, and it looked like it could have rained anytime, he was struck by the beauty of the landscape around him. Also immediately noticeable to him was the quiet; all he could hear was the light panting of Toby.
Dakotah remembered that he needed to start his laundry, and he went back in the doublewide. To his surprise, Louise had already washed a load of jeans, and had left a detailed note with instructions for Dakotah to finish the rest of the laundry. He followed Louise’s instructions precisely, and started another load in the washer after putting the jeans in the dryer.
Not knowing what else to do, Dakotah made his bed, fixed himself a bowl of corn flakes, and sat down in front of the television. As watching television was something he rarely did back in Michigan, he felt a little odd, but soon, he was watching a weather channel, and he began to take in the meteorologists’ words with great interest.
After a while, Dakotah began to nod off, but he reminded himself he needed to peruse the employee handbook, and roused himself. He carefully studied the handbook, and felt that the rules stated inside were fair, and for the most part, made sense.
Dakotah finished reading the handbook, and looking at the clock, saw it was noon. He began to feel a little anxious, as there were only six hours left before he had to be at work. He put the last load of laundry in the dryer, and called New Hope.
“New Hope Church, this is Mama,” said a familiar voice.
“Hi, Mama!” Dakotah exclaimed, as a wave of relief washed over him. “Did I catch you before you finished?”
“Well, if it ain’t Dakotah!” Mama shouted happily. “You callin’ again? You gonna use up all your minutes!”
“I won’t stay long, just a couple of minutes,” Dakotah assured. “I’m just a little nervous before my first day at the job. Or night, I mean.”
“You’ll be alright,” Mama said, soothingly. “Don’t you worry none. I’ve seen you in action; as long as you give your best, I reckon you’ll be fine, I promise.”
“I know,” Dakotah said, as he began to calm a little. I miss you guys, you know?”
“I guarantee it, baby,” Mama replied, smiling. “You’re just like my babies were, callin’ every day. Before I knowed it, it was every other day, then it was once a week, sometimes longer. Once you’ll get busy livin’ your own life, you won’t have as much time for us.”
“I won’t!” Dakotah protested. “I’ll be checking in almost every day!”
“Bless your heart,” Mama said, warmly. “I know you mean well, but don’t feel guilty if you wake up one day, and you ain’t talked us for a month. We know you’re doing your best, and livin’ a godly life.”
Dakotah shook his head. “I just don’t see, Mama. You all mean so much to me! I miss you!”
“I miss you too, honey,” Mama consoled. “You better shuffle on. Don’t want you to use all your minutes!”
“Yeah, I know,” Dakotah said, sadly. “Tell Rev. Daniels I called. I’ll probably call sometime tomorrow with a report on my first day at work!”
“Will do, sweetie. Good luck!” Mama said.
“Take care, Mama. Bye.” Dakotah sighed as he closed the flip phone.
Dakotah began to feel a little hungry, so he searched through the pantry, and found a can of chicken noodle soup. As he ate, he began to recollect the events of the past two weeks, and he started to weep. Suddenly, he straightened up in his chair, and slapped his cheeks with both hands.
“No! I won’t allow myself to get down!” He thought to himself. “I’m going to make this work, for Grandma, for Rev. Daniels and Mama, for Unk and Aunt Lou, and for Ely!” After taking a few deep breaths, he said a silent prayer for strength, and resumed eating his soup.
After he finished eating, Dakotah finished his laundry, and decided to go outside. The light rain that started a couple of hours ago had persisted, so he flipped the hood of his coat over his head. It was still much warmer than what he was used to in Michigan, so he kept his coat unzipped. The ground was soft where he walked, but thanks to his new boots, he didn’t worry about getting his feet wet, though he was careful not to get too much mud on them.
With Toby at his heels, Dakotah entered the pole barn. Seeing the Ford, and the dust that settled on it, he made a quick search, and found a spray bottle of glass cleaner and a roll of paper towels. Starting with the windshield, he first cleaned the exterior glass, then the interior glass, occasionally recleaning where he missed. Satisfied, he scrubbed the grime off the steering wheel and vinyl seats, and gave the cracked plastic dash and instrument panel a once over. Finding a large wet/dry vacuum, he then sucked up the worst of the dirt, gravel, and leaves out of the floorboards.
Feeling content about his cleaning job, Dakotah turned his attention to the engine compartment. He opened the hood, and checked all the fluids, as he had done for his grandmothers’ car at the beginning of each week when he lived with her. As expected, all the fluids were in good shape, and he closed the hood, though it took a second try with a slam for the latch to secure properly. Content with the quality of the work, he opened the barn door, and started up the Escort. After spluttering for a few seconds, engine finally came to life, and blue smoke filled the barn.
Dakotah got in the car as he struggled to catch his breath. After he adjusted the mirrors and the seat, he pulled out of the barn. Shutting the door behind him, he parked the car next to the house. A moment later, he had retrieved his phone and wallet, and climbed in the still idling car.
Slowly, Dakotah backed the car up, and eased down the driveway. He turned right onto the road, and within seconds, had to turn the windshield wipers on. “Why did you spend so much time cleaning the outside windows, you dummy?” he thought, mentally kicking himself.
As Dakotah tried to accelerate down the road, the Escort spluttered and coughed, before finally catching its breath and settled into a raspy purr. The manual steering of the car was quicker than Elizabeth’s car had been, but was welcome, given the twisty nature of the roads. Fortunately for Dakotah, the brakes were solid, and the automatic transmission shifted smooth; it was apparent that Ralph used some diligence in picking out this car.
As he drove toward Pig Lick, Dakotah made several mental notes of the landmarks. He was relieved that traffic was light, and as he entered Pig Lick, his Escort was almost the only car on the road. As he noted before, Pig Lick wouldn’t warrant a moment’s notice from anyone passing through; even the small convenience store had one car in the parking lot, and Dakotah surmised that it was owned by an employee.
The parkway, however, was a different story; traffic was somewhat heavy, and moving at a very brisk pace, which intimidated Dakotah. He gritted his teeth, and pressed down on the accelerator; the Escort protested mightily, but slowly started gaining speed. By the time Dakotah merged onto the parkway, he was traveling 67 MPH, though the air whistling through the windows made it seem much faster. Otherwise, the Escort seemed solid, and Dakotah felt he was in control.
Within moments, Dakotah was at the exit to the plant; instead of turning right at the stop, toward the plant, he turned left, and left again at the entrance to the parkway. Once again, the Escort complained with a rattling of valves, but complied with Dakotah’s wishes.
Twenty minutes later, Dakotah pulled into the driveway at the Jones’, giving the car a little extra gas to get up the driveway. The car spun its wheels, throwing gravel behind it; Dakotah fussed at himself silently initially, but the Escort quickly gained traction, and scampered up the hill.
Dakotah parked the car in the parking area where neither Ralph or Louise parked their vehicles. He exited the Escort, and being satisfied by both the performance of the car, and by his own navigational skills, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Dakotah was sitting sleepily while watching a nature program on television when he heard Toby barking. Snapping to, he arose and looked out the window. Walking slowly to the house, was Louise, with Toby following in step.
“Hi, Aunt Lou!” Dakotah greeted enthusiastically. “Work go okay?”
“It was work,” Louise muttered. “I see you got the car out of the barn. Did it give you any trouble?”
“A little at the beginning, but it wasn’t that bad.” Dakotah replied. “I drove it to work and back, as a test run.”
“That’s smart!” Louise said, impressed. “Did you find your way back without getting lost?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Dakotah bragged. “You gave me good tips yesterday!”
“Good. Did you get your laundry done?”
“I did it before I left,” Dakotah replied, confidently.
“Very good!” Louise said, smiling. “You hungry? I thought about frying some hamburgers. Sound okay?”
“Yeah! Sounds great!”
“Good! Let me get cleaned up, and I’ll get started.”
Thirty minutes later, dinner was served. Dylan joined them as well, though he remained mostly silent; he excused himself to his room as soon as he was done.
“Getting nervous?” Louise asked, as she wiped the table clean.
“Yeah, a little,” Dakotah replied, as he looked at the clock. It read 5:15.
“That’s normal. Trust me, you’ll be fine,” Louise said, reassuringly. Just do your best. Want to take a burger to work with you?”
“Sure,” Dakotah nodded.
“Okay, let me show you how to fix a proper work lunch,” Louise said. She proceeded to show Dakotah how and where to store cold and room temperature items in the insulated lunch container they had bought the day earlier.
“See?” Louise said, confident. “It’s not that hard when you have a plan, and a little ingenuity.”
“Cool. Thanks, Aunt Lou.”
“Oh,” Louise remembered, as she snapped her fingers. “Get a permanent marker out of the top drawer over there, and put your name on that lunch box in several places. It’ll be less likely to disappear that way.”
“Someone could steal it?” Dakotah asked, concerned.
“Oh, sure. Lots of riff raff work there,” Louise replied. “Some folks put their lunch box in the breakroom, but I always keep mine at the machine I work at. If you do put it in the breakroom, make sure you put it somewhere everyone could see it.”
“Okay,” Dakotah said, troubled.
“It’ll be okay,” Louise said, trying to comfort Dakotah. “Almost that time, right?”
Dakotah looked at the clock. It read 5:25.
“Yep,” he sighed.
“You’ll be fine,” Louise said, smiling. “I’ve said several times already that if those idiots can do it, so can you. If you have any questions, call me, okay?”
Louise hugged Dakotah tightly. “Now git! And watch for deer, too!”
Dakotah put his coat and his steel toed shoes on, and stepped out on the porch. He gave Toby a pat on the head, entered the Escort, and belted himself in. The car only took a couple of seconds before it spluttered to life, which relieved Dakotah. He cautiously backed the car up, and eased down the driveway.
The drive to the plant was uneventful; Dakotah did not see any deer, as Louise had warned. He pulled into the plant’s driveway, and took the road to the employee parking lot. He found a spot in the middle of the parking lot, about 50 yards from the employee entrance. He took a deep breath, grabbed his lunch bag, and walked to the plant building. He noticed a couple of men walking nearby, but he ignored them, slowed down, and let them go ahead. He reached the employee entrance, swiped his badge, and entered the plant without incident. He repeated the process at the time clock; the screen lit up “punch accepted”, and Dakotah exhaled, relieved. He walked to the enclosed metal and glass cubicle where the supervisor’s office was, and stepped inside.
Behind the desk was a middle aged man, balding, with a ruddy face, and bags under his eyes. Otherwise, it was immediately apparent that he was very physically fit. He noticed Dakotah standing before him, and he looked up, piercing him with steel blue eyes.
“Who the fuck are you?” he barked.
Dakotah was instantly taken aback. “I-I’m Dakotah Lennon,” he stammered. “Th-this is my first day.”
“The hell you say,” the man snorted. “First I heard of it.”
“Th-they didn’t tell you I was coming?” Dakotah asked, shocked.
The man stood up, abruptly. “Fuck no, dumbass!” the man shouted, angrily. “Do you fucking think I’d be fucking asking you who you fucking are if they fucking told me? Fuck!”
Dakotah was stunned speechless. He wanted nothing more than to run.
“Okay, okay,” The man said, as he rubbed his hand through what little hair he had. “Who was the person who told you to come in tonight?”
Thoroughly intimidated, Dakotah tried his best to answer, but he couldn’t remember the person’s name. “Th-the HR guy? He had dark hair.”
The man sighed, and shook his head. “First fucking night, right. No training on a machine at all?”
“No,” Dakotah replied, without emotion.
“You watched the safety video and crap?”
“That’s something,” the man stated, sarcastically. Did they give you a hat?”
“A hat?” Dakotah asked.
The man opened a drawer, took a blue baseball cap out, and chucked it toward Dakotah, who caught it. On the front were the letters “HPK”.
“It’s the closest thing to a uniform you have to wear,” The man said. “The first one’s free, the next one is ten bucks. Got it?”
“You got steel toes on?”
“Yes,” Dakotah replied. “Oh, a have a receipt for-“
“Don’t want your fucking receipt,” the man interrupted. “Give it to HR.”
“H-HR?” Dakotah said, confused. “B-but-“
“Not my goddamned job to do HR’s work,” the man growled. “You give me anything that goes to HR, I’ll throw it in the fucking trash. Understand?”
“Alright,” the man sighed. “Since they didn’t train you on any machines on days, and I’m five people short tonight, all I can have you do is sweep the floor. They’re really fucking pushing for parts, and I need all hands on a machine. I can’t afford to slow down production in order to train a virgin.”
“O-okay.” Dakotah said, looking down. He wondered if Frank had a long lost brother.
“Here’s the deal, since those dumbshits in HR are fucking incapable of explaining anything,” the man said, crossing his arms. “First fifteen minute break is at 8:00, thirty minute lunch is at 10:00, second break is at 12:30, you go home at 2:30. If you’re running a machine, and you don’t get your quota done by then, you take another fifteen then, and if necessary, another fifteen at 4:30. 5:30 is the latest you can stay, and your work area has to be clean before you leave. Got it?”
“Yeah.” Dakotah replied.
“Good,” the man said, his face softening ever so slightly. “It’s time to do the crew briefing. Follow me, and after I’m done, I’ll show you what to do.”
“Okay,” Dakotah said, not knowing what else to say.
“Oh, I’m Joe Bilas,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Dakotah Lennon.” Dakotah shook Joe’s hand, and he winced under the vice like grip of Joe’s meaty hand.
Dakotah followed Joe to the break room; he found a spot on a shelf above a microwave, and placed his lunchbox there. Most of the seats in the breakroom were taken, so Dakotah stood against the wall.
“Okay, everyone,” Joe shouted, his booming voice silencing the din. “We’re five short tonight, so I gotta move people.”
There were a smattering of groans in the crowd.
“Okay, Washburn, you go to 16,” Joe announced. “Cooper, you go to 27.”
“Fuck!” Cooper barked, frustrated. “I won’t get out of here until 5:00!”
“Quit your bitchin’, and just fuckin’ do it,” Joe snarled. “It is what it is. Marty, you’re on 68, and Simmons, you’re at 55. Got it?”
There were murmurings in the break room, but there were no further protests.
“Oh,” Joe said, as he pointed at Dakotah. “That’s ah, Dakotah? Dakotah, over there. This is his first night, and he’s had no fucking training at all, so I can’t put him on a machine yet. He’s going to be our floor sweeper tonight, so at least they can’t bitch at us for that. Alright, let’s go to work. Dakotah, you follow me.”
Dakotah followed Joe to the corner of the plant floor. Joe pointed to a large plastic cart; it carried two trash cans, one red and one gray. It also had a rack with a couple of different types of brooms and a large dustpan that hung from it.
“Okay. Dirt, paper, and any other kind of trash goes in the gray can,” Joe said, pointedly. “All plastic goes in the red can. Got it?”
“Got it,” Dakotah replied, serious.
“If or when the cans get full, take them over there to the docks, and dump them in the same colored dumpster, understand?” Joe said, as he pointed across the plant floor.
“Yes,” Dakotah said, as he nodded.
“You ain’t from around here, are ya?” Joe asked.
“No, I’m originally from Michigan,” Dakotah replied. “I just moved here to my aunt and uncle’s home Sunday.”
“Yeah?” Joe said, curious. “You got on here quick. You kin to anyone?”
“My aunt is Louise Jones,” Dakotah said. “Do you know her?”
“I know of her,” Joe answered. “She does her job well, and is someone you wouldn’t want to fuck with, I hear.”
“That sounds like her,” Dakotah said, cracking a small smile.
“All right, get your ass in gear,” Joe said, with urgency in his voice. “I gotta go get these inbred redneck motherfuckers moving.”
It wasn’t anything like Dakotah envisioned, but he was working alone on a low stress job. For that, at least, he was thankful. He didn’t know what exactly to make of Joe, but he sensed that he was fair. After ten minutes, he became warm enough to remove his coat, and hang it on the broom rack.
The first two hours disappeared in a flash; at 8:00, a high pitched tone sounded. Dakotah felt he had made decent progress, as both trash cans were half full. At least Joe hadn’t stopped to cuss him yet.
As Dakotah entered the break room, he noticed it was half full. There were a few men standing outside smoking; others were seated at tables in groups, with a couple of loners soloing it at separate tables. He was relieved that it appeared the loners were being left alone; he was also relieved that his lunch box was still where he left it.
He noticed several sports drink dispensers along a wall, next to the vending machines. Not seeing anywhere to insert money, he pushed an orange drink button; a small paper cup dropped down, and was quickly filled with orange drink. Dakotah took a sip, and although it was weak, it was certainly drinkable. He found a seat at an empty table, and sat, looking down.
Shortly afterward, two quick tones sounded, and almost everyone began to gather their things, and rise from their seats. Men started entering through the courtyard doors, also. Dakotah looked at his watch, and saw it was 8:13, so therefore the two tones, he surmised, were a notice to go back to their workstation. Dakotah rose, and made his way back to his cart as a longer tone sounded. He was relieved that his coat was where he left it; once again, he began to police the area.
At 10:00, the break tone sounded, and once again, Dakotah made his way to the break room. He took his lunch box, and looked for somewhere to sit. This time, the smokers were eating inside, so seating space was limited. However, the two loners from earlier were sitting together diagonally from each other, and no one else was sitting with them, so Dakotah took a deep breath, and walked over to them.
“Hi,” Dakotah said, meekly. “Mind if I sit here, and eat?”
One of the men looked up from the book he was reading as he ate, and smiled. “Oh, go right on ahead!”
“Thank you!” Dakotah gushed, relieved.
“This is your first day, huh?” the man asked.
“Yes, it is,” Dakotah replied, as he emptied his lunch box. “Excuse me, I have to heat my burger. I’ll be right back.”
At each corner of the breakroom, there were two small microwaves. Dakotah picked the closest unused one to his table, and thirty seconds later, he was on his way back to the table.
“You ain’t from around here, are you?” the man asked, chuckling.
Dakotah laughed nervously. “Heh, everyone asks me that. I’m from Michigan.”
“What brings you down here?” the man inquired, pleasantly.
“Work,” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. “There’s absolutely no work in Michigan, so my aunt told me to come down here.”
“Who’s your aunt?”
“Oh, yeah?” the man exclaimed, surprised. “Wow. Very nice lady. Very intense, too. I reckon that’s the best way I can put it. One of the best workers here, that’s for sure. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Ah, Dakotah Lennon,” he replied, a little embarrassed. “You can call me Dak, if you want.”
“Brian Bartholomew, or BB for short,” BB reached his hand across the table.
Dakotah shook his hand, and smiled. “I guess I’d better hurry up and eat. I only have fifteen minutes left.”
Dakotah ate quickly; he threw away his trash, and as he was putting up his lunchbox, the warning tone sounded. He walked to where he had left his broom, relieved that he had at least met someone friendly, and said a silent prayer of thanks.
Near the end of the next two hours, Dakotah began to feel fatigue, as in the past he rarely stayed up past midnight. He was relieved when the break tone sounded. Seeing BB sitting alone again, he sat down across from him. Upon further observation, he realized BB’s book was somewhat familiar to him.
“Oh, is that a Bible?” Dakotah asked. “I’m not used to seeing one in that style.”
“Oh, yeah, here,” BB responded, as he handed the book to Dakotah. “It’s a Good News Bible.”
Dakotah skimmed through the Bible, saw a familiar verse, and read it to himself. “Cool. My pastor uses a NIV. He always said it didn’t matter what version you used, as long as the words from it stuck to your heart. I like the size.”
“Very handy to pack, that’s for sure,” BB agreed.
“The King James Scofield I have weighs a ton,” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “ I wouldn’t dream of bringing it here.”
“Oohhh, you have one of those?” BB said, impressed. “Isn’t it really hard to read?”
“It was kinda at first, but with a concordance, and the notes, I’m able to understand most of it,” Dakotah replied, nonchalantly. “Still learning, though! Is there a church you go to?”
“No, I prefer to study and pray and stuff at home,” BB replied tersely. “Never found a church that fit me.”
“I’m supposed to go to, um, some sort of tree? Baptist church with my aunt on Sunday.” Dakotah offered.
“You must mean Hickory Hills,” BB laughed. “I was there once. Very ah, energetic? Preacher there was really high octane. Not my cup of tea; I reckon I’m too laid back for that kind of place.”
“You’d really like New Hope, my church in Michigan,” Dakotah said, enthusiastically. “They are really laid back, and we have a lot of fun! But everything we do is centered around God and Jesus.”
“Sounds nice,” BB nodded, smiling. “Commute is a bit far, I figure.”
“I know,” Dakotah laughed. “I miss going there. That’s a pretty good idea about bringing a Bible here; I’ll have to see if Aunt Lou has a spare one somewhere.”
The thirteen minute tone sounded, interrupting the conversation.
“That was quick,” Dakotah observed. “Hope the rest of the shift goes by this quick. I’m thankful for the job, but it’s getting a little monotonous .”
“I’m curious that Joe didn’t put you on a machine,” BB pondered.
“He said there wasn’t anyone available to train me,” Dakotah said, shaking his head.
“Maybe you’ll get on a machine tomorrow,” BB assured, as they walked out the breakroom. “We need all the help we can get!”
There was a definite chill in the building as Dakotah began the final stretch, so he wore his coat as he swept. As 2:30 neared, he took the cart to the dumpsters, unloaded the cans in them, and parked the cart where he found it.
Dakotah went to the office to tell Joe he was leaving; however, the lights were out, so he retrieved his lunch box, and walked to the time clock. Out of the eighty or so people working, only five stood in line to clock out. BB was one of them.
“Wow, almost everyone is staying, huh?” Dakotah said, in wonderment.
“Yeah, it’s like this most nights,” BB replied, shaking his head. “People gotta get their quota before they go home.”
At that moment, the 2:30 tone sounded, and everyone in line clocked out. A stiff breeze met Dakotah as he stepped outside, but since it was warmer than he had experienced at any time that winter in Michigan, it felt refreshing to him.
“Be careful going home,” BB advised, as they walked to their vehicles.
“I will,” Dakotah replied. “You, too!”
BB waved as Dakotah got in his car. Dakotah hoped his car would start, and it did, though under protest. The drive home was uneventful; he was unsure where the final turnoff was at first, but he saw the rock, then the sign. Toby barked as Dakotah pulled in the driveway, but quieted when he recognized Dakotah. He quietly entered the house, and noted that there was a glow under the door to Dylan’s room. After taking a shower, fatigued and relaxed, he skipped reading his Bible, and went to bed.
February 11th, 2009
Dakotah awoke at 11:30; he slept soundly, even after the room began to brighten after dawn. Confused as whether to fix breakfast or lunch, he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drank a glass of milk. After he finished his meal, he called New Hope.
“Hello, New Hope Church, Rev. Daniels speaking,” said a familiar voice.
“It’s me again!” Dakotah blurted.
“Hey!” How is it going?”
“Okay, I guess,” Dakotah answered with a shrug. “They had me pushing a broom all night until 2:30.”
“Pays the same, right?”
“That’s true,” Dakotah said, as he reflected on Rev. Daniels’ words. “Met a nice guy at work. He doesn’t go to church, but he reads his Bible on breaks.”
“Until you started babbling?”
“Hey!” Dakotah exclaimed, as he began to laugh. “Tell everyone at Bible study I miss them, okay?”
“How’s Ely?” Dakotah asked, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer.
“Fine, I guess,” Rev. Daniels said, pensive. “She’s been keeping to herself, being quiet. I guess your leaving has hit her, too. “I’ve left her alone, for the most part; I think it’s best for her to figure her feelings out on her own.”
“I miss her,” Dakotah said, sadly.
“Talk to any more Japanese folk?”
“No, not this time,” Dakotah said, his mood brightening a little. “That was cool the other day, though.”
“Maybe you can serve as a translator, who knows?” Rev. Daniels offered.
“That would be funny, doing something similar to what Ely wants to do,” Dakotah chuckled. “Well, I’d better go. Got to save my minutes!”
“Take care, Dak,” Rev. Daniels said, warmly. “Call me anytime.”
“Will do! Bye!”
Dakotah closed his flip phone; he felt better than at any time since he arrived in Kentucky. He wished he could talk to Ely, but he was sure she didn’t want to deal with him being gone.
Not knowing what else to do, Dakotah decided to tidy around the house a bit. He cleaned his room, dusted and vacuumed the living room, washed and dried the dishes and put them away, and cleaned the bathroom he used. Louise was a good housekeeper, so the house wasn’t dirty anywhere, but he felt the need to help out however he could. Content with his efforts, he turned the television on, and after a few minutes of watching the news channel, was fast asleep.
Dakotah awoke to the sound of Toby barking; he looked out the window, and saw Louise walking to the house. He took a seat on the couch as she walked in.
“Hi!” Dakotah said, cheerily. “How was work?”
“That’s the question I wanted to ask you!” Louise exclaimed, pointing her finger at Dakotah.
“Ah, long and monotonous?” Dakotah replied.
“I heard that all you did was sweep and clean last night!” Louise said, incredulous. “Is that true?”
“Foreman said there was no one there to train me,” Dakotah said, simply.
“And Bilas couldn’t do it himself?”
“I guess not,” Dakotah shrugged.
“Idiot,” Louise muttered. “We need parts, we’re shorthanded, and you sweep the floor. Incredible.”
“Maybe I’ll get to work a machine tonight?” Dakotah said.
“That would be good,” Louise growled. “You just sweeping the floor isn’t doing you or the company any favors.”
“I’m going to fix some spaghetti for supper tonight,” Louise stated. “Sound good?”
“Sure.” Dakotah shrugged. “I’ll take a can.”
Louise paused. “Dak, we don’t have that nasty stuff in this house. I make it using a jar of spaghetti sauce, ground beef, and cooked pasta. Your mother never made it for you?”
“Uh, no,” Dakotah shook his head, puzzled.
“I honestly don’t get her,” Louise grumbled.
A light rain fell as Dakotah drove to work, but otherwise the commute was uneventful. He though he saw a deer in the bushes about a mile from Pig Lick, but he wasn’t sure.
Instead of going to the supervisor’s office, he put his lunch box in the break room, and seeing BB, joined him at the table he was sitting at.
“Hey, you’re back!” BB said, happily.
“Yeah, I found my way back here,” Dakotah said, coolly.
“Ready to do more sweeping?” BB joked.
Dakotah laughed nervously. “I hope not. I’m thankful that I’m working, but it was boring.”
“I guarantee that running a machine is anything but,” BB assured.
Momentarily, a stern-faced Joe Bilas stomped in the break room.
“This doesn’t look good,” BB muttered.
“Well, kids, things just keep getting better,” Joe growled. “Nick C. quit, so now we’re six people short tonight.”
A collective groan emanated from the workforce. Joe gave out the assignments, with little protest.
“Any questions?” Joe asked.
Dakotah meekly raised his hand.
“Oh yeah, you. Fuck!” Joe cussed. “There’s really no one I can pull to train you with. Hang on, I’ll think of something. Follow me.”
Louise’s suggestion of Joe training him flashed through his mind, but Dakotah held his tongue. He hoped he wasn’t in for another night of sweeping, but he kept his resolve firm. After a moment, he realized that they were heading toward the recycling dumpsters. At the last moment, Joe veered left, through a set of double doors, Dakotah close behind.
“Here we are, “ Joe announced. “This is the storeroom.”
The storeroom was about one fourth the size of the manufacturing area, with shelving reaching almost all the way to the ceiling. The shelves were filled with items that were mostly alien to Dakotah. He did recognize the items where Joe stopped, though. A few seconds later, Dakotah was carrying a couple of gallons of yellow industrial safety paint. Joe also picked up a couple of different sized rollers with covers, a paint tray, and a roller extension pole.
“Hey, where you going with that crap, dickhead?” a shrill male voice echoed.
“You got any more yellow paint, or did you use the rest of it on your house?” Joe barked back.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing what you did, you loser,” a short, wiry man retorted, as he walked behind the counter.
“The blue is almost U.K. blue,” Joe laughed. “ Mix a little white paint in it, and it’s a perfect match.”
“I’ll go check in the storage building outside to see if there’s any,” The man said, shaking his head. “Don’t usually need any until shutdown.”
Dakotah wanted to know if the two men were kidding, but he didn’t want to ask. A moment later, the man returned, empty handed.
“Looks like you got it all,” the man muttered.
“Put it on my tab,” Joe said, as he handed Dakotah the cans of paint. “Seeya.” Joe gathered the rest of the painting supplies, and they made their way out of the storeroom.
“Tonight, you’re going to paint the walkway guardrail,” Joe announced. “Dumbass forklift drivers always hittin’ the rail, and knockin’ the paint off.”
A moment later, they arrived at the guardrail; it stretched from one end of the building to the other. Every twenty to thirty feet, the paint on the guardrail was either scuffed or missing.
“Not sure if have enough paint to do the entire guardrail,” Joe stated, plainly. “Just paint where it looks bad, and if there’s any paint left when you get the crappy areas done, start on one end, and give the rest of it a once over. Got it?”
“Yes,” Dakotah replied, stone faced.
“Good. Oh, and watch for forklifts,” Joe said. “They’re not used to seeing people there. If they hit you, they won’t feel a thing.”
Dakotah cringed. “Can I paint when they are on break?”
“No,” Joe said, sternly. “Everybody’s gotta take a break at the same time. Don’t worry, you can hear them coming.”
Joe’s words were not comforting to Dakotah, but he had watched the forklifts operate from time to time the night prior, so he had a basic understanding of how they moved material to and from the machines.
Dakotah spied an unused machine near a portion of the guardrail, and he decided to make it a staging area. He opened a can of paint, and stirred it until it was a uniform color. He took a three inch roller, put a cover on it, and screwed it on the extension pole. He placed the paint tray under the guardrail, and poured a quart of paint in it, taking care not to spill any. After insuring there were no forklifts nearby, he began to paint over the scuffed parts. Every few seconds, he stopped to look for forklifts, as if he were a meerkat. After a couple of minutes, the section was painted; it didn’t look very good, Dakotah thought, as the new paint was a lot brighter than the old, but the scuffs were covered. He continued in this fashion until the first break tone sounded. He walked to BB’s table, and sat down; a moment later, BB joined him.
“Painting tonight, eh?” BB said, with a smirk.
“I suppose so,” Dakotah shrugged.
“They took a couple of days last year during shutdown to paint,” BB said, as he scratched his head. “I’m surprised that he’s having you do that tonight.”
“I think it would be easier on him if I weren’t here,” Dakotah said, in a low voice.
“Honestly, I think if he’d take the initiative, and train you on a machine, he’d be a lot better off, but I’m afraid he’s the type that doesn’t like to be bothered with such things,” BB sighed.
“That’s what Aunt Lou said,” Dakotah nodded.
“Surely you’ll get your turn soon,” BB said. “He can’t have you cleaning and painting the entire plant, can he?”
The next two hours went by without incident; the fork lift drivers had learned of his existence, and usually honked their horns as they neared him, much to Dakotah’s relief. At lunch, he reminded himself to ask Louise for a small spare Bible, as he felt awkward watching BB read while he just sat there.
Dakotah felt he had made good progress so far; he had not quite finished his first gallon of paint, and he was about halfway done with painting, by his estimate. He decided to move the rest of his supplies to the other end of the building, as he felt walking back and forth to the unpainted portions of the guardrail began to take a lot of time. He found another inactive machine about one third the way from the far end of the building, and stored the rest of his supplies there. He took the rest of the first gallon of paint, his roller, and his paint tray, went to the far end of the building, and began to make his way back to the middle.
Once again, Dakotah made good progress, and by the time the 12:30 break tone sounded, he had only a fifty foot section of guardrail left, though that section had seen plenty of scarring. Once again, he sat down across from BB. This time, BB didn’t have his bible out.
“Hey, you’re almost to where my machine is,” BB said, upbeat.
“Oh, yeah? Cool.”
“If you get done early enough, come over to my machine, and I’ll show you the basics,” BB offered. “I’m running a little ahead, so I’ll have plenty of time.”
“That’d be great!” Dakotah gushed.
“Oh, by the way, watch out for Denny,” BB warned. “He’s a little wild with his forklift. Most of the marks on the guardrail are his.”
“Oh, yeah?” Dakotah said, becoming concerned.
“If I see him, I’ll try to alert him of your painting,” BB offered. “Surely he’s already seen you by now.”
The warning tone sounded, and Dakotah and BB walked back to their respective work areas. Dakotah poured half of the contents of the can in his tray, and began to paint the last section.
Thirty minutes later, Dakotah had half the remaining untouched guardrail painted. As he began to think about learning the ropes from BB, he suddenly saw a yellow flash in the corner of his eye. Instinctively, he jumped over the guardrail to the walkway, and a forklift slid to a stop not eighteen inches from where he originally stood.
“Fork trucks got the right of way, dumbass!” the forklift driver shouted, as he flashed a grin. As he revved the engine, he picked up a pallet of finished product, backed up, slammed the guardrail, and raced off. The back end of the forklift now carried a fresh splotch of yellow paint.
Dakotah was shaken; he sat down in the walkway, and put his head in his hands.
“You all right over there?” BB, who had seen the entire sequence, asked, concerned.
“Y-yeah,” Dakotah stuttered. “I-I think so.”
“That was Denny,” BB said, shaking his head. “I forgot to mention he likes scaring new people.”
“No one has said anything to him?” Dakotah said, incredulous. “He’s going to run over someone!”
“No, because he’s here every day, and he’s the last forklift driver to leave,” BB muttered.
At that moment, Denny arrived with a pallet of material, deftly placed it in the designated area, backed into the guardrail hard enough to rock the support post, and roared off again.
BB scanned up and down the row of machines nearby. “I think you’re good to go for a bit,” BB ascertained. “I recommend you hurry up, and get done.”
Dakotah took a deep breath, and still shaking a little, stepped through the guardrail, and began to paint vigorously. Twenty minutes later, he had managed to paint over all of Denny’s impacts, and used the rest of the paint in the process. He threw away the empty paint can and roller cover, and walked over to the office.
“Just throw all that crap in the trash,” Joe ordered.
“The roller, extension, and paint tray is still good, though? Dakotah asked, confused.
“Nowhere to put it, and I’m not crapping up my office,” Joe shrugged. “There’s plenty of that stuff in stores. You did a good job. Hopefully, Denny won’t fuck it up too bad before the brass sees it.”
Dakotah looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s only 1:40, so BB said I could watch him for the rest of the shift, if it’s okay?”
“I was going to tell you to go hide until 2:30, but that’s okay, too,” Joe shrugged.
“Ah, okay, thanks,” Dakotah replied, puzzled.
Dakotah threw away the rest of the paint supplies as instructed, and walked over to BB’s machine. BB was inspecting a small black part, and satisfied, he placed it in the part tray on a pallet. He flipped a small light switch, and a small white light on a pole next to the pallet came on.
“I’m all done,” BB announced. “I called for Denny to pick up my pallet.” BB pointed upward, toward a lighted grid with numbers on it. The number of BB’s machine was lit on the grid, and within a minute, Denny roared in, picked up the pallet, and was gone. As soon a Denny left, BB turned the light switch off. Dakotah was relieved that this time, Denny did not hit the guardrail.
“There’s also a yellow light for maintenance, and a red one for the supervisor,” BB said. “You hit the switch, the board lights up, and you get help. Cool, huh?”
Dakotah nodded, impressed.
“If Denny hadn’t scared the tar out of you, you may have got done in time for me to show you how to make a part,” BB said. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay.” Dakotah shrugged.
“I have to clean everything up before I can go home,” BB said, pointedly. “Joe didn’t tell you to do anything else?”
“He said I could go hide until 2:30?” Dakotah said, confused. “I thought that was weird.”
“That’s just like him, I reckon,” BB said, shaking his head. “Sometimes, he goes and hides, himself.”
“Really?” Dakotah said, incredulous. “”He doesn’t get into trouble?”
“He’s the top dog on nights,” BB said. “I guess that’s his privilege.”
Dakotah watched BB finish cleaning up; after he was done, the two gathered their belongings out of the breakroom, and at 2:30, they clocked out.
“Maybe you can get some proper training tomorrow,” BB offered, as they stepped outside.
“Maybe,” Dakotah said, as he noted the spring like breeze in the air. “What else can I clean or paint?”
BB laughed. “Be careful going home.”
“You too,” Dakotah said. “See you tomorrow.”
Dakotah held his breath as the started the Escort, but it started up quicker than normal. He sighed in relief as he put the transmission in drive, and drove out of the parking lot.
February 12th, 2009
“What’s that idiot going to think of next?” Louise muttered. “Is he going to have you clean the locker rooms?”
Dakotah shrugged. He hoped Joe wouldn’t think of that.
“Why do they pick the lazy worthless ones to be foremen?” she asked to herself.
Dakotah stood there, silently, with a sheepish expression.
“I’m sure you did your best,” Louise sighed. “but why didn’t you paint the whole thing?”
“That’s all the paint they had, according to the storeroom guy,” Dakotah shrugged. “Joe had me paint the areas that had been hit, that’s all.”
“Well, it looks like crap,” Louise growled.
“I agree,” Dakotah nodded.
“They’ll probably need some volunteers to repaint the whole thing soon,” Louise said, as she opened the refrigerator. “ Bacon sandwiches sound good?”
“Sure!” Dakotah exclaimed happily.
“They’re debating whether to start a “what will the new guy do tonight” pool,” BB said, shaking his head.
“Pool?” Dakotah said, confused.
“People here will gamble over everything,” BB shrugged. “There’s currently one on when Joe’s marriage will end.”
Dakotah stared at BB, dumbfounded. He felt sorry for Joe.
Joe walked in, carrying his clipboard, and usual scowl. “Okay, we’re only four short, so maybe we can get some shit run tonight,” he barked.
Joe proceeded to give out the assignments; this time, there was less grumbling than normal. “Lastly, Dak, you get number two,” he stated emotionlessly.
A lump appeared in Dakotah’s throat. One of the other workers appeared to celebrate, as a couple others grumbled.
“Think you can do it?” Joe said, glaring.
Laughs scattered across the breakroom. “I’ll try,” Dakotah replied solemnly.
“Good. Follow me, and I’ll get you started,” Joe said.
The two of them made their way to the first machine Dakotah had staged his paint supplies the night before.
“This is #2,” Joe announced, pointing at panel of buttons. “Here’s the main power switch. It turns the heaters on, and the computers. Leave it on during breaks, but turn it off at the end of your shift.”
“Okay,” Dakotah nodded slightly.
“It takes about five minutes to warm up. See that flashing red light? When it’s ready, the light will be green. Don’t run the machine if the light isn’t green! It’s supposedly programmed not to run if the light isn’t green, but somehow it did a couple of weeks ago, and it took two weeks to clean up the mess and fix it! So don’t do any fucking thing until you get the green light!” Joe made his point by pointing his finger at Dakotah’s face. “Understand?”
Dakotah nodded, intimidated.
“Okay, when that light is green, push this yellow button here,” Joe continued, forcefully. “That starts the molding sequence. These lights over here will tell you what the machine is doing. When it’s done, that light there will turn green, and the mold will open up, showing the part. It takes about two minutes to make a cycle.”
Joe picked up a black plastic part that leaned against the machine. “This is a good part. If the part that comes out looks like this, put it on that pallet over there. That’s where the good parts go. Got it?”
“Yes,” Dakotah said, simply.
“Alright. The light just turned green, so hit that yellow button,” Joe ordered. Dakotah did so, and the mold, which could be seen behind a clear plastic door, closed.
“Okay. If the part has an obvious defect, like if it’s not filled out right, toss it in the dumpster over there,” Joe said, pointing at a large blue dumpster. “If you’re not sure, place the part on that yellow pallet on there, and someone will come along and inspect it, and pass/fail it. If it does it three times in a row, flip the yellow switch on that pole over there.”
Joe pointed at a lighted numbered sign hanging above the aisle. He flipped the switch on the pole, and the #2 lit up in yellow on the sign. He then turned the light off. “Don’t want to piss maintenance off with a false alarm,” he grumbled. “They’re lazy enough as it is.”
At that moment, the machine whirred, and the mold parted, exposing a part. Joe donned a pair of Kevlar gloves, opened the clear plastic door, removed the part, closed the door, glanced at the lights, and pressed the start button.
“Check out the part real good, and make sure it don’t have no flaws. If you ain’t sure, use this good part as a reference,” Joe said, looking over the part. “This one has a little flash sticking out here at the seam.” He took a utility knife, and deftly trimmed the excess plastic. “See?”
“Make sure you don’t gouge the part when you’re trimming it,” Joe said, directly.” “It’ll be scrap if you do. The plastic on this part is relatively soft, so you won’t have to change blades that often, but if you do, they should be in the drawer of that desk over there, along with a screwdriver.”
Joe placed the part on the “good” pallet. “Questions?”
“How many do I need to do?” Dakotah asked.
“Two hundred,” Joe replied. “If it runs perfect, and you bust ass, you can be done in eight hours. This machine runs good when it wants to; some days, it’s a total piece of shit, and you can’t run nuthin’”.
“Each pallet gets 100 parts stacked like the diagram taped on the side of the desk,” Joe said, flatly. “Use that hand counter on the desk if you need to. When you get 100, hit the white switch on the pole, and the forklift driver will pick them up, and leave an empty pallet.”
Once again, the machine whirred, and popped out another part.
“Your turn. Take it out, start another cycle, and see if you see anything on the part,” Joe ordered. He handed Dakotah a new pair of gloves from the desk drawer. “Here, these should fit.”
Dakotah put the gloves on, swung open the door, removed the part, closed the door, and after he verified the “ready” light was on, pressed the start button. The machine began its cycle. Dakotah cautiously inspected the part, occasionally comparing it to the standard part. He took the utility knife, found the flash on the part, and gingerly removed, taking extra care not to gouge it.
“Let me see,” Joe offered, holding his hand out. Dakotah handed him the part he had just finished. “Looks good to me,” Joe said, much to Dakotah’s relief. “Stack it on the good pallet.”
As Dakotah stacked the part, #2 finished its cycle. Dakotah repeated the process; Joe once again gave his approval, and Dakotah stacked the part, this time five seconds before the machine finished.
“Looks like you’re getting the hang of it,” Joe said, encouragingly. “Any questions?”
Dakotah shrugged. If there were any issues that had to be addressed, he had no way of knowing.
“Gotta go, then,” Joe said, as he looked at his watch. “Come find me if you have any questions, or if you are stuck on anything. Okay?”
“Okay,” Dakotah replied, with a trace of nervousness.
“Well, get crackin’, then!” Joe said, smiling. He briskly walked away, leaving Dakotah alone. Dakotah took a deep breath, and removed the part from the machine.
“How’s #2 treating you?” BB asked, curious.
“Okay, I guess,” Dakotah shrugged. “I don’t really know if I’m doing well, though. I haven’t seen Joe since he left.”
“He does that a lot,” BB shrugged back. “How many you got so far?”
“Hey, that’s pretty good!” BB exclaimed. “You have to run 200, right?”
“You’re on pace to have 180 by 2:30,” BB offered enthusiastically. “With a little luck, you can get out of here by 3:30, 4:00 at the latest! Not bad for a first night!”
“Really?” Dakotah asked, surprised. “You think I’m doing okay?”
“I think you’re doing awesome!” BB gushed. “For someone who’s never touched one before, I don’t think you could do better!”
Dakotah could feel the tension leave his body. “I hope so,” he said, with a trace of hope in his voice.
The first tone sounded; Dakotah rose, and gathered his bottle of cola.
“Good luck!” BB encouraged.
“Thanks,” Dakotah replied, awkwardly. “You too.” He walked quickly back to #2; he was encouraged by BB’s words, as he wanted to leave a good impression on Joe and the company.
Dakotah verified that the “ready” light was on, hit the start button, and…….nothing. He checked again to see if the “ready” light was on, and he saw it was. Confused, he pressed the start button again, then again, followed by a third time, each time to no avail. Distraught, he walked to the office, hoping that Joe could help.
However, when Dakotah arrived at the office, the lights were turned off. He gritted his teeth, and desperately tried not to panic. “Maybe he’s at one of the machines,” he thought to himself. Walking at top speed, he circled the perimeter of the production floor, but was unable to find him.
At wit’s end, he saw BB working at his machine.
BB looked up, and saw a frantic Dakotah standing before him. “What’s up, Dak? You didn’t blow something up, did you?” BB smiled slightly, trying to calm Dakotah down.
“My machine won’t start!” Dakotah cried. “Do you know what to do?”
BB made a grimace. “Never worked on that machine, so I don’t know if I can be of any help,” he shrugged. “Check the safety switches on the doors, perhaps?”
“O-okay,” Dakotah nodded blankly. “Thanks. I better get back before someone notices I’m gone.” He walked briskly back to his machine, and was relieved that Joe wasn’t there wondering where he had gone to. He opened and closed the door to the mold, and hit the start button again. Again, the machine stayed idle.
At a total loss, Dakotah sighed, and flipped the yellow switch. Feeling very self-aware, he stared at the yellow #2 light lit on the panel above the aisle.
Several minutes passed; Dakotah repeatedly pressed the start button, and opened and closed #2’s doors, all in vain. Fifteen minutes after he flipped the yellow switch, a yellow electric cart pulled up, and two twenty-something men hopped out. One of the men forcefully opened and slammed the doors to #2, and tried to start it, with the same results. Having seen this, Dakotah breathed a small sigh of relief. The other man when to the computer screen on #2, punched in a code, pressed a few buttons on the control panel, then finally pressed the start button. This time, #2 came to life, and started its’ cycle.
“Th-thanks!” Dakotah gushed. “What did you do to get it to run?”
“Stuff you don’t need to know,” the second maintenance man growled. The first maintenance man flipped the yellow light switch off, and they both drove off, without saying anything else.
Dakotah looked at his watch; thirty minutes had passed since he had first tried to start the machine. “So much for getting out of here quickly,” he sighed silently.
After a couple of minutes, the mold opened up. Dakotah removed the part from the machine, and immediately, he noticed that the part wasn’t filled out. Frustrated, he tossed the part in the dumpster, and hit the start button. Two minutes later, the mold revealed a part that looked almost identical to the first one. Once again, he pressed the start button, and once again, two minutes later, another scrap part was ejected.
Downtrodden, Dakotah flipped the yellow switch again. Twenty minutes later, the same two maintenance workers arrived, visibly agitated.
Dakotah showed the two men the scrap part. “S-Something isn’t right,” he said, nervously.
“Dumbass, don’t you know you have a clogged nozzle?” snapped the first maintenance man.
“N-no!” Dakotah said, flabbergasted. “How am I supposed to know? Can you fix it?”
“Ain’t maintenance’s problem,” the first man said, dismissively. “It’s production’s.”
“Do you know how I can fix it?” Dakotah pleaded.
“Ask the dude that’s training you,” the second man snarled, as they boarded the cart. “We don’t give a damn.”
As Dakotah saw the men laughing as they pulled away, he felt completely helpless, and humiliated. Whatever positive feelings he had an hour ago had completely dissipated.
At a loss, Dakotah decided to make another trip around the production area to look for Joe. Once again, the production office lights were out, and Joe was nowhere to be seen. Frustrated and worried at the same time, he stopped by BB’s machine.
“Back again?” BB asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Dakotah croaked. “Maintenance says the nozzle is clogged, and it’s my job to clean it!”
“Well, they’re right,” BB said, sympathetically. “I reckon Joe hasn’t showed you how to that yet, has he?”
“No, and I can’t find him, either!” Dakotah cried.
“Have you tried the red andon light?” BB offered.
“What red andon light?” Dakotah said, confused.
“Ahhhh…..,” BB smiled. “Go back over there, and see if you see a red light switch by where the yellow one is, and flip it. #2 should flash red on the andon board. That’s for supervisor help.”
“Thanks!” Dakotah gushed. He quickly strode over to #2, located the red light switch, and flipped it. However, the light didn’t come on. As quickly as before, he strode back to BB.
“Ah, the light doesn’t work?” Dakotah said, at a loss.
“That don’t surprise me none,” BB replied, shaking his head. “Tell you what. It’s just about lunchtime. If we don’t see Joe before then, I’ll take a look at it, okay?”
“Thank you!” Dakotah exclaimed. “Thank you!” He scurried back to #2 and not knowing else what to do, swept around his machine until lunch.
After a quick lunch, Dakotah and BB walked over to #2. Dakotah had constantly scanned the break room during lunch for Joe, but to no avail.
“Okay, let’s take a look,” BB muttered, as he inspected #2. He took out the nozzle and cleaned it, explaining to Dakotah every step he took. After he finished his task, BB started #2.
“I appreciate your help!” Dakotah said, happily. “I hope you’re not getting too far behind!”
“Aw, that’s alright, I can spare a little time,” BB replied, calmly. “You know, you shouldn’t have to run this machine by yourself on your first night.”
A minute later, the machine finished its cycle, and BB pulled the part out. The part looked like the ones Dakotah ran earlier in the evening, causing Dakotah to groan loudly.
“You may have to clean the whole thing out,” BB said, frowning.
“How do you do that?” Dakotah asked, though he didn’t want to bother BB any more.
BB flipped the yellow switch. “First, let’s get maintenance to fix the red andon light. It probably just needs a new bulb.”
15 minutes later, a couple of visibly agitated maintenance personnel drive up in their cart.
“What the fuck?” the older of the two maintenance men barked at Dakotah. “You sure are a needy motherfucker!”
“I hit the andon, Chucky,” BB responded, directly.
“Why?” Chucky replied, taken aback.
“Because his red andon doesn’t work,” BB replied, as he flipped the switch on and off.
“Um, yeah,” the second man muttered. “Sorry, we can’t fix it.”
“You can’t change a light bulb?” BB asked, confused.
“It’s not the bulb, it’s the switch,” the second man said, as he shook his head.
“You can’t fix a switch?” BB asked, not understanding.
“Don’t have one in stores,” Chucky replied, irritated. “Have to order one from Japan. When they installed all the equipment, they brought used Japanese stuff.”
“You mean to tell me that a switch at a hardware store won’t work?” BB protested.
Chucky shrugged. “Nobody’s told us no different.” The two men boarded their cart. “Do us a favor, and don’t call us anymore, alright?”
BB sighed as the two maintenance men drove off. “I don’t see how this place is going to stay in business. I gotta go back now. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
“Thanks for trying,” Dakotah lamented. A sinking feeling overcame him. “What would I do if they closed this place down?” he thought.
An utterly defeated Dakotah exited the plant at 5:30, and trogged to his car, his eyes cast downward.
“Looks like they finally put you on a machine,” a familiar voice stated, piercing his consciousness.
He looked up to see a sympathetically smiling Louise before him. “Yeah, sorta,” he muttered.
“What do you mean?” Louise asked, curious.
Dakotah proceeded to tell the events of the night, causing her smile to disappear.
“Is it asking too much to ask someone to do their job?” Louise fumed. “Unbelievable!”
“BB said something about #2 needing to be completely cleaned out,” Dakotah said. “Do you know how to do that?”
“Yes,” Louise stated, firmly. “It’s called a purge. We usually do it when we have to change types of plastic, sometimes when there’s a clog internally. It might’ve fixed it, I’m not sure. #2 is notorious for not running right. You, with no experience, had no business running that machine!”
“What do I do if it happens again?” Dakotah asked, hoping for a sliver of wisdom. “My red andon light is broke, and I couldn’t find Joe anywhere.”
“I’ll talk to someone, and see if they’ll fix it on day shift,” Louise asserted. “”However, he can’t respond to it if he’s nowhere where he can see it! You sure he wasn’t asleep in the office?”
Dakotah shook his head. The lights were out in his office, so I assumed he wasn’t in there.”
“If he was in there asleep, his behind should get fired!” Louise growled. “No place here for lazy management! You go on home; I got some taters and sausage keepin’ warm in the oven. Text me when you get home, okay?”
Louise forced a smile. “Love you. Things will get better, I promise. Be careful going home.”
Dakotah hugged his aunt, and climbed in the Escort. “I hope so,” he thought to himself, as the car chugged to life.
February 13th, 2009
Dakotah stretched, rolled over, and checked the clock. At first, he was confused, as he thought it was 3 AM, but after seeing the light in the room, he realized it was 3 PM. Instinctively, he flipped open his phone in order to call Rev. Daniels, but seeing how many minutes he had left, decided against it, and texted him instead. “Rough night last night. Not sure what I’m doing. Aunt Louise says it will get better. Hope so! Tell Ely I said hi. Bye.”
A few minutes later, Rev. Daniels texted back. “Sorry, not good at this. Remember, God is with you always. He will help you when you need it. You’re always in our prayers here. Take care. Call or text anytime.”
Dakotah said a silent prayer of thanks. Once again his phone vibrated. It was another text from Rev. Daniels
“Would you like Ely’s phone #? She says she doesn’t want to talk to you, but maybe you could text her?”
“Do you think I could?” Dakotah texted back.
“I think it’s worth a try. Here’s her #. Good luck!”
Dakotah stared at the phone number for a moment. “She has no reason to be mad at me,” he thought. “Besides, we used to talk about all of our problems. I’m sure she needs me to talk to as much as I need to talk to her!”
Dakotah took a deep breath, and began to text. “How are you doing? This job sucks so far, but I’m hanging in there. Miss you!” Dak
Dakotah exhaled, and closed the phone. He heard Toby barking, so he surmised that Louise had arrived from work.
He exited his bedroom at the same time that Louise walked in through the front door.
“Well, you were the talk of the plant today!” Louise announced, forcefully.
Dakotah’s stomach knotted up. “Not in a good way, I guess?” he said, meekly.
“I should say not!” Louise snapped. “You left the machine on when you left, and it leaked plastic everywhere! It took six hours to clean it up!”
“Sorry,” Dakotah mumbled, distraught.
“I blame that irresponsible foreman of yours!” Louise shouted, angry. “He should’ve been keeping an eye on you!”
Dakotah kept his eyes down. “I feel awful. I hope I didn’t get into trouble.”
Louise forced a weak smile. “Don’t stress it too much. People have done worse there, and they’ve let it slide. Anyway, are you hungry? Do you like salmon patties?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had them. They sound kinda gross,” Dakotah said, making a face.
Louise laughed honestly. “Oh, you’re in for a treat! It won’t take too long, either.”
Dakotah’s thoughts of what salmon could taste like was interrupted by his phone ringing. His heart skipped a beat, as his first thought was of Ely. However, his heart sank when he saw it was Rev. Daniels.
“Sorry,” Rev. Daniels said, frustration evident in his voice. “Ely just gave me an earful. I guess she doesn’t want you texting her.”
“Why?” Dakotah said, as his heart sank.
“I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into her,” Rev. Daniels grumbled. “I told her if she wants you out of her life, she should tell you herself. I also told her she was making a big mistake in doing so. I’m sorry, I’m using all your minutes.”
“That’s okay,” Dakotah replied, sadly. “I’m glad you told me.”
“Call me anytime, okay?” Rev. Daniels said, empathetically. “By the way, how’s work?”
“Don’t ask,” Dakotah replied, downtrodden. “I’ll fill you in sometime soon. ‘Bye.”
Dakotah sighed as he closed his phone. “So much for my fortune changing,” he thought.
Joe Bilas stared down at Dakotah. “What the fuck? I turn my back on you for a minute, and you fucked up #2 for twelve hours? Are you fucking gifted, or something?” he barked.
Dakotah looked down, speechless. All he wanted was to go crawl in a hole somewhere, and never be found.
Joe continued to rant. “I told you to come get me if you had problems! Can’t you follow simple fucking directions?”
“I did look for you,” Dakotah muttered, not making eye contact. “I couldn’t find you.”
“You didn’t look very fucking hard!” Joe bellowed. “I was in the office!”
“The lights were out, so I thought you were gone!” Dakotah protested.
“The lights are turned off at night to save electricity,” Joe said, firmly. “Did you check the door?”
“No,” Dakotah replied, his voice without momentum. “Oh!” he blurted, suddenly remembering. “The red light switch is broke!”
“Been like that since day one,” Joe said, coolly. “Why else would I tell you to find me?”
“Sorry, I forgot,” Dakotah muttered, deflated.
“Ah, whatever. Go get your ass back to work,” Joe said, tiring of the conversation.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Dakotah interjected, just as Joe turned to leave.
“What?” Joe replied, irritated.
“How do you purge the machine?”
“I’ll show you later!” Joe snapped. He pointed at Dakotah, then #2, turned, and walked away.
Dakotah swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and started #2.
Putting all the effort and concentration he could muster, Dakotah completed fifty parts before the first tone sounded. Satisfied with the results, he made his way to the break room.
“Going any better?” BB asked, pleasantly.
“Fifty so far,” Dakotah replied. “I think I’m getting the hang of running it, at least the basics. We’ll see how it does when I get back.”
“Awesome!” BB exulted. “Think you’ll be able to get out of here at 2:30?”
“Hope so,” Dakotah said, unsure. “It felt really weird getting home at six in the morning, and going to bed when the sun came up.”
Dakotah placed the trimmed part on the “good” pallet, and clicked the counter. “180,” he thought, as he looked at his watch. “Only 1:40 too, so maybe I can get done by 2:30?” He hadn’t seen Joe all night, but he hadn’t needed him, either; obviously, it was a “good” night for #2, he surmised.
“Shut the motherfucker down!” Joe suddenly bellowed, startling Dakotah.
Dakotah, bewildered, stepped away from the machine. Joe scornfully stared at Dakotah, and put the machine on manual.
“Do you fucking know that all the fucking parts you’ve run tonight have been fucking scrap?” Joe yelled.
All Dakotah could do was stare at Joe, dumbfounded, and speechless.
Joe angrily picked up the last part Dakotah ran, flipped it over, and held it about a foot from Dakotah’s face.
“I-I’m sorry, I don’t see anything-“
“Of course you don’t see anything, you dumbass!” Joe berated. “Where are the fucking buttons?”
“B-buttons?” Dakotah stuttered, confused.
“Yeah, these!” Joe snapped. With his left hand, he took the master part, flipped it over, and held it next to the other part, which he had in his right hand.
Dakotah frantically scanned both parts, then his heart sank. At two of the corners of the master part was a small cylindrical bump, about 5mm in height, and the diameter of a pencil eraser. The part that he had just ran did not, and he hung his head in shame.
Joe made an adjustment on the control panel of #2, and started a cycle. “Without those buttons, the part can’t be aligned on the vehicle properly during assembly,” he said, in a calmer voice.
“I-I’m sorry,” Dakotah lamented. “I can’t believe I missed that.”
Joe’s countenance softened. “Everyone fucks up here. That’s a given. These parts are pretty cheap to make. All that we’re out of here tonight is labor lost, and the energy used to melt the plastic, and run the machine. Our biggest cost is lost time. I was just going to have to make you work tomorrow night, but now I have to have you work Sunday night, too.”
“Saturday and Sunday?” Dakotah asked, taken aback.
“Yeah,” Joe nodded. “The vehicles these parts go into, our customer ain’t makin’ too many of them right now, but they’re supposed to be rampin’ up production on them soon. We need to get this part stockpiled up, so when they do get cranked up, we won’t be getting our ass in a bind.”
Dakotah remembered the conversation between the Japanese men, and shuddered.
#2 completed its cycle; Joe removed the part, inspected it, and handed it to Dakotah. Dakotah inspected it, and saw the buttons were as they should.
“Okay, let’s try this again,” Joe said, as he started another cycle. “Maybe you can get at least fifty before 5:30.”
Dakotah sighed as Joe walked away. He gritted his teeth, and began to trim the flash off the part.
February 14th, 2009
Dakotah walked into the Jones’ household physically and emotionally exhausted. The smell of food cooking, however, raised his spirits slightly.
“You look like you had another hard night,” Louise said, sympathetically. “You hungry for some biscuits and gravy?”
“Sounds really good, thanks,” Dakotah replied.
“#2 act up again?”
“Yeah, but it was mostly my fault,” Dakotah muttered as he washed his hands. “I ran 180 pieces of scrap.”
“How did you do that?” Louise exclaimed.
“Missed the two buttons on the bottom that had disappeared,” Dakotah sadly recalled. “I thought I was going to make it out of there on time, too. Joe found them right before 2 o’clock.”
“No, QC probably found them on a routine check, and contacted Joe,” Louise countered. “Didn’t he come and check on you earlier?”
“Well, if you ask me,” Louise asserted, her hands on her hips, “at least half of the blame goes to him for not checking on a new hire that doesn’t know what he’s doing. As for you, this is a job where you really have to pay attention to details. As a former waitress, this is second nature to me. You just need practice, both in working, and in thinking.
Dakotah nodded blankly. “He also said I have to work Saturday and Sunday, too.”
“I’m not surprised,” Louise said, shaking her head. “Any normal place would ask for volunteers to work weekends, but no, they assign it to people that run the machines of the parts that they need. All that does is burn people out. No wonder we have people quittin’ left and right!”
“I’m not going to quit,” Dakotah said, firmly.
“I have no doubts that you’ll tough it out,” Louise said, smiling. “Well, hurry up and eat, and get into bed. Your uncle will be here this afternoon, and as you probably know, he ain’t the most quiet person.”
Dakotah stared at Louise. “He’s already coming back? This week has been a blur!”
“I’m baaaack!” Ralph bellowed as he entered the house. “Did you all miss me?”
“Not really,” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. “It feels like you just left.”
“Feels like I’ve been gone a month!” Ralph exclaimed.
“I guess everything went smoothly?” Dakotah asked.
“Yeah, things go a lot better when you ain’t got some snot nosed sad faced kid around, slowin’ you down, and eatin’ a lot of food!” Ralph said, with a big grin.
“Yeah, there ain’t another set of eyes watching you flirt with that waitress in Chicago, either,” Louise said, pointedly.
“I ain’t a flirtin’ with her!” Ralph protested. “She’s like a daughter!”
“Really?” Louise said, raising an eyebrow. “What’s her cup size?”
“I ain’t a answerin’ that!” Ralph said, defensively. “Dak Boy, when a female asks you a question like that, it’s always a trap. Remember that!”
“Oh, but you noticed, haven’t you?” Louise accused.
“If’n I was a pullin’ a big ‘ol van trailer, and there was a big thunderstorm ahead, I’d notice, but I ain’t getting close, cause I might get blowed off the road!”
Dakotah laughed for the first time all week.
“Besides,” Ralph continued, “all my thoughts this week has been about my better half, and this special day!”
“Oh, Lord,” Louise said, as she rolled her eyes. “What have you done this time?”
“You always say that,” Louise countered.
“I think you’ll really like it!” Ralph enthused.
“Like the time you recorded Lady at the radio station, and had them play it on the air?”
“That was plumb awesome, right there!” Ralph said, grinning. “You should have seen the look on your face when you heard it!”
“Do you remember the look on my face when I found out you spent our electric bill money on it?” Louise said, pointedly.
“Love can be a painful thing sometimes, Dak Boy,” Ralph shuddered.
“Are you going to stand there and gab, or are you going to light the grill?” Louise ordered. “Dak’s got to go to work tonight!”
“Oh, yeah?” Ralph asked. “You kickin’ butt down there?”
“Ah, more like the opposite,” Dakotah replied, sadly.
“They’ve basically threw him on the worst running machine in the plant, and making him figure it out on his own,” Louise said, ruefully. “He has to work both tonight and tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” Ralph said, curious. “Doubletime?”
“Yes, I guess it is.” Louise nodded.
“Yee-haw!” Ralph shouted, happily. “Dak Boy, that’s what I’m talking about! If they are a gonna screw with you, the least you can do is screw them back! How much you make an hour?”
“With shift premium, $14.50 an hour,” Louise stated.
“Heck yeah, that’s $29 an hour tomorrow night!” Ralph gushed. “That’s over $200 in eight hours for one night!”
“If Sunday night goes like the last two nights, he’ll be there for eleven hours,” Louise said, coolly.
Ralph thought for a moment. “Woohoo! That’s over $300! That’s what I’m talkin’ about, right there!”
“Let’s estimate how much you could make this week,” Louise said, as she removed a calculator from a desk drawer. “Let’s see, You did seven hours on Monday, eight on Tuesday and Wednesday, right? That’s 23 hours so far. You did eleven hours a night the past two nights, so that’s 22 more hours, for a total of 45. That’s 40 hours straight time, and five hours of overtime, so that’s the equivalent of 47.5 hours straight time. Do you understand how I did that, Dak?”
“Let’s just say you work eleven hours tonight,” Louise continued. “Sorry, I know you probably don’t want to put in that many hours tonight, but you probably will. Anyway, eleven hours overtime equals 16.5 straight time hours, so that makes your total through Saturday 64 hours. Eleven hours of doubletime puts your grand total for the week at 86 hours straight time. Multiply it all by $14.50 an hour, and you come up with $1247. After taxes, that should be at least $900 clear. Better than working part time at a church, huh?”
Dakotah shrugged. Although he couldn’t deny the money he would theoretically make this week would be far beyond any amount he ever had in his life, there was a peacefulness he had experienced at New Hope that couldn’t be discounted.
“A means to an end, I reckon,” Dakotah stated. “I can’t deny that’s a whole lot of money!”
“Just think of that money as a tool to achieve your dreams, and all the trials and tribulations of working will fade,” Louise espoused. “Ralph, are you just going to stand there, or are you going to light the grill? We’re hungry, ain’t we, Dak?”
February 16th, 2009
Dakotah walked to #2; he was happy that he would be leaving for home in less than an hour. The weekend provided the same sequences as the first three days: a malfunctioning machine, clogged plastic, parts that didn’t fill out, and an AWOL supervisor that couldn’t be found. Even though Joe Bilas claimed he would be in his office when the lights were out, most of the time, when Dakotah needed him, he was missing from there, too.
#2 was as he left it; an hour and a half prior, the mold decided it wouldn’t open after the cycle finished. A search for Joe proved fruitless, and reluctantly, Dakotah flipped the yellow andon switch. Chucky and his sidekick gave Dakotah plenty of grief when they were called, but #2 had the final say, as their efforts came up empty.
Dakotah looked about, as best he could tell, there were only two other machines producing parts in the plant, resulting in an eerie silence, which was interrupted occasionally by the cursing of the maintenance team.
At 5:15, the maintenance duo left, as they decided to “Let the bastards on dayshift handle it”. Dakotah finished tidying up, picked up his lunch box in the break room, and made his way to the time clock. He was the 6th and last person to clock out at 5:30, and casually walked out in to the frigid morning. Like clockwork, Louise pulled in next to him just as he reached his car.
“Did you get anything accomplished last night?” Louise asked, sympathetically.
Eleven hours of doubletime?” Dakotah joked. “Besides that, not a whole lot. I only got 87, which is actually the best night I’ve had so far.”
Louise shook her head. “They’re going to have another machine run that part if they’re going to be able to supply the customer. Well, whatever. Text me when you get home, okay?”
“Sure thing,” Dakotah nodded. “Have a good day at work!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Louise laughed. “See you this afternoon.”
Dakotah exhaled in relief when he got in the car. As the Escort spluttered to life, he thought “That’s one week down.”
Dakotah turned off the shower, dried off, dressed, and saw Ralph sitting on the couch, watching a farming program on TV. His suitcase was sitting on the floor next to him.
“Leaving soon?” Dakotah asked.
“Yeah. It’s good to be back on my regular schedule,” Ralph said, nodding. “It’ll feel like a regular weekend, now that I should be getting home on Fridays. Not that you know what a weekend is, right now.”
“Ha. Ha,” Dakotah mocked. “I’ve been meaning to ask. How did your song go?”
“She loved it, of course!” Ralph beamed. “She kept laughing, so it was hard to finish!”
“I’ll bet!” Dakotah laughed.
“I bet you wished you could’ve done something for your sweetie, huh?” Ralph asked, thoughtfully.
“Yeah,” Dakotah answered, becoming pensive. “Not that it would do any good. She won’t talk to me, or answer the text message I sent her the other day.”
Ralph thought for a moment. “I’m reckonin’ she don’t want to deal with the pain of losing you. That’s why she’s pushing you away.”
“Think so?” Dakotah asked, surprised at Ralph’s observation.
“Yep. I’m thinkin’ if she really loves you, someday she’ll come lookin’ for you. Someday, of course, you’ might find yourself with someone else, and it’d be too late for her!”
Dakotah shook his head. “I don’t see that happening.”
“Lot of pretty girls around here.” Ralph said, smiling. “College girls, too, if you go to Richmond and Lexington!”
Dakotah gave a wry smile. “Must not be too pretty, you had to go to Michigan to get yours! I think Michigan girls are better, don’t you agree?”
“Don’t you say that to my mama!” Ralph laughed loudly. “She’ll put a whoopin’ on you! You get your butt in bed! I’ll probably see you Friday!”
“Be careful out there!” Dakotah said, enthusiastically.
Ralph laughed. “Careful is my middle name!”
As Dakotah laid down in bed, he wondered to himself what he would’ve given Ely for Valentine’s Day. Chocolate? Roses? Both? Something else? Soon, however, fatigue finally took its toll, and he fell into a deep sleep.