Current Occupation: Nurse
Former Occupation: Factory Worker
Contact Information: Ann Neuser Lederer was born in the Black Swamp region of Ohio, location of the factory discussed in “Factory Job.” After an period of infatuation with Anthropology and earning two impractical degrees, she decided to study nursing. Locations of her very practical later jobs as an RN include Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Kentucky. Her nursing jobs have included Hospital Staff Nurse, Outpatient Chemotherapy Nurse, AIDs Nurse Clinician, and Hospice Home Care Nurse. Her nonfiction and poems appear in journals such as Hospital Drive, Pulse, and Brevity; in anthologies such as A Call to Nursing, and The Country Doctor Revisited; and in her chapbooks Approaching Freeze (Foothills), The Undifferentiated (Pudding House) and Weaning the Babies (Pudding House). For more information see Ann’s website https://sites.google.com/site/annneuserlederer/.
The summer when I turned seventeen, I worked in a factory and got my first real paycheck. One dollar and sixty five cents per hour, minimum wage but a gold mine to me, compared to random babysitting stints in the neighborhood at fifty cents per hour, sometimes seventy five, after midnight.
I rode my bike to work. It had been assembled by my father from stray parts of various broken bikes, but its frame was sturdy and its balloon tires created a bouncy, comfortable ride. I had painted the fenders with black shiny enamel, an effective background for the pink and yellow green leafed daisies I had added. I rode the few miles to morning shift, passing into an industrialized, less inhabited area. Sometimes I rode on sidewalks when traffic began to fill the busier streets. Although the bike was old, I wove a chain through its wheels and locked it to a fence. I packed my lunch, just like for school: an apple, some raisins, a peanut butter sandwich.
The place was concrete block and double storied, its unscreened windows open to the air. I walked up the steps and clocked in. No elevator or air conditioning here. Most of the workers, all older women, had been employees for years, and knew each other by name. There seemed to be cliques, even enmities. During regularly scheduled breaks, groups sat together at tables in the break room. Many smoked. No one was like me. But that did not bother me much. I was entranced with the newness of the tasks, and the strangeness of the system’s established routines. This was my first encounter with a foreign world. Some people tried to be nice, showing me the ropes. Some seemed curious about me. Some goaded me with questions, or pointed out my slowness and failings. Most ignored me.
Soon, I fell into the routine. I did my work, and suffered through the long, boring, often stuffy days, until the shift ended. Then, I rode my bike home. The factory’s focus was crafts, possibly seasonally determined. One thing we often did was put together paint by number kits. Assignments were rotated by some system mysterious to me. I found myself frequently assigned to duck decoy duty. Newly hatched plastic ducks, the color of human flesh, the size of an actual wild duck, had to be prepared for painting. Ragged edges of plastic left from the mold were trimmed with exacto knives, then sanded. I sat on a small stool with a raw, shaggy duck on my lap and polished until it was smooth. To this day, I carry a small badge of that effort in the form of a thumbnail size scar on my left thigh, from a knife that slipped from the duck, into my flesh. We wore no protective garments, no gloves. My legs were bare as I wore shorts and sleeveless shirt to work, due to the old building’s heat and poor circulation. I don’t remember fans. The wound was fixed with a band aid, and I quickly returned to business.
Sometimes, I got to paint the ducks. A set pattern of green and black colors and shapes was loosely followed, until the creature began to resemble a wild duck. I was pleased to paint the beak golden. But no creative efforts would be acceptable in this context. I did not even allow my mind to wander towards the ultimate role of my efforts. The hunters with guns, the doom of wild ducks, did not enter my imagination. I learned instead to concentrate on the task at hand, especially so after the knife blade mishap. I learned to look forward to breaks, and to get through the day. I don’t remember for sure how I had learned about this job. Maybe my sister’s boyfriend’s sister had worked there once, and heard about an opening. I did not know at the time this would be my first and last factory job.
At the end of another routine day, I came outside to discover both bicycle tires had been decisively slashed. I felt stunned, then sad. I said nothing to anyone, and slowly walked my mangled bike back home. I think I then decided never to go back. Maybe I picked up my final paycheck, I don’t remember.