That One Time in Vineland NJ

I was TERRIBLY remiss in my last post about my employment history in that I forgot to highlight the absolute worst job I ever had. Maybe I did this subconsciously because I knew it deserved its own post or maybe I have finally repressed this memory far enough into the back of my addled mind that it no longer springs forward without some prompting (thanks Mom!).

The summer between my first and second freshman years of college I was in a tough spot not having anywhere to go for summer break. I had tried desperately to stay at school over the summer and continue to work at the pizza shop, but it was made clear to me that only foreign students could stay on campus. So, I did the next logical thing, I rented a damp basement bedroom in a house in Vineland NJ. Back in the early 90’s Vineland was a pretty rough town (I haven’t been there in 23 years so I hope it’s improved) but at the time it was not a nice place to be. The room was cheap and right down the road from a very bad decision I was dating named Shawn.

I moved in with exactly enough rent money for one week – I was desperate to find a job as was my landlady’s drug dealing son (Chris) who needed a cover for all of the cash he regularly had laying around. Chris and his hoodlum friends and I decided to carpool to a local temp agency the day after I moved in.

Whether it was because of the company I was with or because I looked like I had little potential but the only job the temp agency offered us was shift work at a local plastics plant. Desperate for anything I immediately agreed and I was told to report there at 11:00pm that very night. That very night? I had only gotten a few hours of sleep the night before. I was already tired and it was only 3:00pm. I went home, got changed, tried unsuccessfully to take a nap and drove with Chris and his friends to the plant for our 8 hour shift.

The first thing that hit me was the smell, walking in to the front door I was overwhelmed by the smell of burning plastic. I was told by the guy who did my new hire paperwork that I’d get used to it – that was not the only lie he told me.

I was given a very brief “safety” lesson and then taken out on the “floor” where they were making a number of different items from flower pots to dust bins to mops. I was started on the least popular machine the mop-head-put-er-on-er (probably not the official name). My job was the stand there all night and as the preshrunk sponges came down the line, I had to pick it up, melt a piece of plastic on the back (very hot!) and manually attach it to the base part of the mop head that would eventually get attached to a handle.

As simple as that sounds it was not easy, for one thing everything was hot hot hot, the sponges came at me with surprising speed and the process to attach them took amazing hand strength to get right. I was immediately overwhelmed but as I looked around the hot, smelly warehouse I realized that not only was it too loud to ask for help or guidance but I was also the only one not speaking Spanish.

How I got through that first night I do not know, never had 8 hours felt so long. My feet hurt, my back hurt, my hands were so sore I could barely stand it and I was TIRED. I was so tired that when I was give my 30 minute ‘dinner’ break (around 3:00 am) I sat down in a hard plastic chair in the breakroom and fell asleep sitting upright.

By the time I got out of there at 7:00 the next morning and limped to the car, I found a note from Chris telling me he and his friends had decided to go to Wildwood sometime in the middle of the night (clearly physical labor was not their cup of tea). I sat down behind the wheel but my hands were burned and blistered and I could not grab a hold of the steering wheel.

I managed to get myself home although at one point I did pull off the road because I was literally falling asleep at the wheel. I took a brief nap and managed to make it home without hurting anyone.

The next night was somewhat easier because at least I knew what to expect and I had slept the entire 12 hours between shifts and I brought food. I was once again on the mop machine but I made a game of it and with practice got fast enough that I had to wait for the next sponge to get to me.

The third night I worked another machine which I forget the particulars of but it was easier than the dreaded mop head. It was still a painfully long night and I remember I was positioned so that I watched the guys working the flower pots all night. Flower pots was by far the easiest job there; the pots were molded by a machine that dumped them into a giant cardboard box and the guys working it simply had to grab them before the box overflowed and stack them on a pallet next to their station, sure their hands still got burned but after a few days it got easier. A few lucky people had gloves, but they were personal property and not company issued –  I was much to poor too buy gloves and I looked at them as enviously as I looked at people who ate real meals during break time.

My 5th day there was payday, I cashed my check and had just enough money to pay my landlady for the week and buy a bus ticket to Maine. A friend had invited me to come visit for the weekend but once I got there I realized I couldn’t go back. I broke up with Shawn on a postcard and spent the rest of the summer rotating the 3 outfits I had packed while sharing a room with my friends younger sister, Meanwhile Chris and his druggie friends pilfered all of my worldly belongings – presumably to buy more crack.

And this is why you need to make sure your kids stay in school.

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