I spent two summers in college working at Rutland Plywood.
They didn't test for drugs — it was college I'd been inhaling — they offered better hours than the store I had worked at through high school, and it seemed somehow nobler than food service.
For those of you unfamiliar with the process, plywood is made by taking thin sheets of wood and running them through a giant set of rollers that coats them with glue and spits them out. My job — though we did rotate positions — was catching them and then slapping them down between dry sheets slid into place by coworkers on either side of me.
It was sweltering. The chemicals in the air made my eyes redden and run with mucus, and to this day I still get rashes where whatever it was rubbed into my inner elbow joints. It was the sort of experience that reminds one why one is in college — though a look at my grades will tell you I didn't remember for very long once I got back.
It was also the beginning of an education in America's class issues — because while this was just a summer job for me, for a lot of the people around me it was life.
I have often repeated the tale of the coworker who said he had done time all over New England, and that Vermont jails were his favorite because they were the least violent. Then there was the glue mixer who had the best reason for not quitting smoking I have ever heard — his doctor did not want him to even try until he had been off cocaine for at least 18 months.
Yes, I got a couple of them to buy beer for me. They didn't even make fun of me that much when I asked them for Sam Adams.
The moment that burned itself into my mind the most was right after the arrest of O.J. Simpson. An older coworker, who I hadn't liked much to begin with, went on a rant about the “waste of a perfectly good white woman,” repeatedly employing a particular racial epithet I doubt my editors will let me use here.
This rant was only brought to the end when the foreman, who wore a Buffalo Bills cap each day and decorated his living room floor to ceiling in Buffalo Bills memorabilia, shut it down. The aforementioned racial epithet did not apply to O.J., the foreman said sharply, because “O.J. is a ballplayer.”
More than once in those summers of 1994 and 1995, though, my coworkers and I discussed how quickly the place would probably go up if a fire ever started there.
With one or two exceptions, they were good, hardworking people I shared that experience with 20 years ago, and I hope their counterparts today don't have their lives disrupted too horribly now that the fire we spent our breaks imagining finally flared into reality and burned the factory down.
Bit of a quiet week, City Hall-wise. Both the meetings on the municipal calendar are on Wednesday. The Architectural Review Committee looks at a proposal for 146 West St. at 8:30 a.m. and the Charter and Ordinance Committee discusses the request to create a new zoning district for the Dana building at 5:30 p.m.
Unless something unexpected happens — we had plenty of that this week — the big news will be the opening at 5 p.m. Friday of the Vermont State Fair. In case you missed it in the story Thursday, children 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult this year. See you there.
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