Monday, May 29, 2006

Linda and the Summer of '76, Memories of the Bakery #2

The intoxicating rich smell of yeast overwhelmed me the week after I finished my freshman year in college. I had accepted a summer job in the bakery. I was going to be a a bread trayer. If ever there was an entry level position, this was it. The bread would come out from the room where it was sliced and put into bags. For eight and sometimes more hours a day, another guy and I would take bread off the assembly line and place them either onto plastic trays that were slide into a rack, thirty trays to the rack. Or, depending on where the product was heading, placed in plastic tubs that stacked on top of each other, 15 high. Each tray or tub held ten, one and a half pound loaves, or twelve one pound loves. When a rack or stack of tubs was filled, they were pushed aside for someone in shipping to come in and haul them out to trucks. For me, the nation’s bicentennial summer promised to be long and hot and filled with soul music (as Bobby and Roy, the bagging operators who controlled the music, were both African-American).

But there was a bright side to the monotony. My work station faced the roll packing line and there, maybe thirty feet away was Linda. In her mid-30s, she was a hot blonde fireball. She wore as short of skirt and as much heel as they allowed in the plant, and she had the legs to do it. Her hair was always pulled up, a requirement for working around food, but little ringlets could be seen sticking out from her hat. Loud, she could just as easily tell a joke as to cuss out a supervisor. And her job was every bit as boring as mine. She and Virginia, her co-worker, stood where the hamburger and hotdog buns came off the cooling conveyor. Her job was to lightly place four or six rolls into a slot on another conveyor. Virginia would then place another set of rolls on top and a pocket conveyor would take them through the bagging process.

From where I stood, I could see Linda's backside. Being short, she had to rise up on her toes to reach across the conveyor, a process she’d complete a dozen or so times a minute, which kept her legs well toned. Each time, her muscles tensed just enough to display her tanned and well shaped calves and thighs. For the first week or so, I watched Linda in awe, from the safety of my station. She’d always say hi when I walked by the roll line to go to the bathroom or lounge. Then it happened. One day they had a long run on rolls and Virginia got sick. Having proved that I could pick up these basic skills quickly, and since we were done early, I was asked if I would take Virginia’s place. For the next three hours, I stood by Linda, as together we packed rolls. She was flirty and funny and seemed to take as much delight working next to me as I did of being beside her.

Sometime that evening, Harold, a mechanic, came by with a Mountain Dew. He offered Linda a drink; she took a sip and then asked if I could have some. From the very beginning, Harold had been calling me “college boy,” so I decided I could finish his drink off as pay back. When there was a break in the rolls, I raised the can to my lips, tossed back my head and began chugging. About the second swallow, I realized this wasn’t Mountain Dew, at least not the soft drink variety. There I stood with a mouth full of bourbon and all eyes on me. They assumed I knew it was liquor. It was part luck, part willpower, that I didn’t baptize the rolls with bourbon. My throat burned as I down it all and for the rest of the evening, things were a lot sillier.

Of course, I quickly learned that alcohol wasn’t only the substance being used at the plant. Whenever there was a mechanical problem in the back end of the plant, we’d get a break in production. When this occurred, we were put busy cleaning up, but once things were clean, we were free to get a drink and go out onto the loading dock where those who smoked, would light up. One day, Roy who was operating the slicers and baggers on our shift, lit up a joint and proceeded to get high. When the bread started running again, Roy made a mistake. He had previously blocked a switch that had been causing him problems. Its purpose was to automatically stop the machine if the guard wasn’t fully extended. Roy reached in to clear a jam and the arms that reach out to grab a loaf of bread and pull a bag over it, some forty times a minute, shot out and struck Roy in his lower arm. The machine’s arm was also sharp so that the bags would pull easily off it. Roy ended up with 25 stitches and a broken arm and I was given an opportunity to learn how to operate the machinery. When Roy returned to work, I went back traying bread, but it wouldn’t be long before Roy left for good and I took over operating the machinery on the second shift.

I’m not sure why Roy left. I don’t think anyone in management knew his accident wasn’t really an accident as he had compromised safety devices and was physically impaired. It was only a couple years later, after I had become a supervisor that I realized that how much you didn’t know by being the boss. Although he had his problems, I liked Roy. Being an operator, he watched those of us who were traying bread and treated us well. He had spent ten years in the army, serving a term in Vietnam, which caused him to reconsider making the army a career. Having seen enough shit, he’d adopted a live and let live attitude and never complained. I'm sure smoking pot had a lot to do with his attitude.

I don’t remember much about the Bicentennial that summer, except that I went down to the river on the night of July 4th, for what was supposedly the largest fireworks display the city had seen. They were launched from across the river, next to the permanently moored World War II battleship, the North Carolina. It wasn’t an impressive display and everyone was very disappointed, but then in 1976, there was a lot to be disappointed about. Although the horror of Vietnam was over, there was a sense within the country that we’d failed and made a bad mistake. The economy was shot and interest rates were going through the roof. Gerald Ford was in the White House, due to the moral failings of Nixon and Agnew. People were suggesting that the American era was over, which was daunting prospect for a nineteen year old kid. I had a feeling I might never share in the American Dream, whatever that was. But I had hope. I was in love with a girl my own age who loved me and I had Linda.

I eschewed Linda’s suggestions that we go out or that I stop by her apartment after work. I felt it would be unfair to her, for I knew I would never commit to a woman that was nearly my mother’s age. But I ate her attention up. I felt like a king the night I worked a double shift and she came back unexpectedly, with dinner. She had prepared it herself. I don’t remember what she fixed, but we ate in the break room. Linda sat across the table from me, smiling the whole time. I could tell she was proud of her efforts.

When Linda quit the bakery the next year, to take a much better job, she threw a big party at her apartment. I was definitely out of my element. I’d seen plenty of people smoke marijuana in high school and college, but I was shocked to find several supervisors and mechanics my parents age smoking out on her balcony. I stayed inside, slowly nursing a Jim Beam on the rocks. The party was Linda's last attempt at wooing me. At about 10:30 PM, everyone left quickly. I later learned she conspired to work this out. I was left in the apartment with Linda and a guy from the shipping dock who was stoned and sleeping on her couch. Wrapping her arms around my neck, and rising up on her toes, she surprised me with a deep passionate kiss. It was wonderful and seemed to last forever.

Afterwards, we held each other around the waist. She looked up and asked if my girlfriend could kiss so well. Although I didn’t answer, her question brought me back to reality. Yet, it was the most passionate kiss I’d experienced, although a bit bittersweet as it was my first time kissing a smoker. I declined her offer to go back into her bedroom, instead offering to help clean up. As we straightened up and washed dishes, we joked around and talked about the bakery and recalled memories. When we were done, we woke the guy sleeping on the couch and I gave him a ride home. Linda kissed my cheek and whispered that I should come back, but we both knew I wouldn’t.

38 comments:

  1. Oh, Sage...I love this. What a piece of memorabilia. It makes me sad and hopeful all at once.

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  2. Let me guess...never told the girlfriend who loved you, did you?

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  3. Also, what prompted you to put yourself in that situation when you knew what would happen would happen?

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  4. Thanks for the visit sage....This us a very interesting post...Linda sounds like a fabulous woman...And what an intersting job...though I can see that it would be boring doing what you were doing at first. I love the smell of bread baking but I'm not sure I'd like it for 8 hours a day for months! (lol) Is there more going to happen here with Linda, sage??

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  5. Great story, Sage! Those older woman/younger man attractions can be quite fun, huh? But still bittersweet, I guess. I enjoyed reading the story!

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  6. Sage, I will never look at store-bought bread the same way again!

    Linda wanted to teach you the ways of worldly women - Sage. Why didn't you take her up on it?

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  7. Murf's halo was well placed upon your head. At first I thought this was going to be a dear penthouse type of confession!

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  8. Dawn, thanks for the kind comments.

    Murf, I don't think I told her the details, but she knew about her and as for the party, pretty much everyone was there. I might have to add some more details here, the party was the first place I saw guys my parents age smoking dope--it was an eye opener. And, before you ask, I did not join them, being the good southern boy I was, I stuck with bourbon.

    Lady of the Hills: You often have intresting posts in your blog. No, this was about it for Linda, but I do plan to write about other people in the bakery and she may show up again as a secondary character. She got mad at one of the superviors on day and lead a walk out on the roll line.

    Jaded, thanks for the affirmation, it always brings me pleasure to please an English prof (lecturer but prof to be)

    Kenju, keep reading my bakery series, you might give up on bread all together (acutally, it's not that bad).

    Ed, don't expect to read such confessionals here. Had events gone that way, I couldn't see me writing about it publicly.

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  9. Actually I take the halo back, Ed.

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  10. Sage...and let's not forget making out with someone who wasn't the girlfriend who loved you.

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  11. I added a bit of detail to the party scene hopefully to tie in the story of Roy (where I brought in the topic of drug use at the plant). Now that I think about it, it's interesting that everyone at the party was white.

    Murf, you can have your halo--I might wrap it around your neck.

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  12. Hey, you were the one that admitted to being involved AND that your girlfriend loved you. You seem to be a bit miffed that everyone else chose not to question you about that but I did, loverboy. You never really did answer. I suppose you find my question to be 'inappropriate'.

    Moving on now.

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  13. Sage - sometimes just knowing Murf is like being married to two people at once. ;-) It's hard enough keeping one person happy!

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  14. I am never happiest, Ed, than pointing out a teeny tiny detail in a story and harping on it with the writer until they feel like their head is exploding. Sage's infidelity is more than I could have wished for. :-)

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  15. I've been on the receiving end of your harping. I know what Sage is feeling right now!

    But I must say, you are you and there is nobody else I know that can hold a candle to that. I've learned to live with it. :)

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  16. P.S. I blame you Murf for my acquired use of emoticons!

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  17. So you aren't divorcing me? ;-)

    Sometimes, Ed, a face is needed. The limitations of the written word in this format can be harsh. Also, the day you insert a nose on your faces, I will then be worried.

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  18. I did insert a nose... about six comments up to Sage. If felt wrong so I went back to no noses. :O

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  19. Delightful story, Sage. A lot of times when someone posts a longer entry, I find myself wishing it would end or skimming over it. I got to the end of this one and found myself wishing there was more.

    Reminds me of my time working in a plant, too.

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  20. Ed, I need to leave the office again--after reading all this. Ed, You got it right about trying to please Murf.

    Murf, there was NO infidelity. I wasn't married at the time and the event never went any further than what I described and as I said in the story, "I came to my senses" and that was before anything serious happenend.

    And can anyone tell me why I am I defending myself here?

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  21. So it's o.k. to make out with another person despite having a girlfriend? Must be a southern thing. Up here, that's called cheatin'.

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  22. Wow! Bread and sex together... who knew!?!

    *giggle*

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  23. Geez Sage, must've been something in the yeast! Yes, I think it still qualifies as cheating even if she's your girlfriend not wife.
    At least you don't have to worry about the halo & angel wings now-you've lost them for good buddy!

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  24. Great post Sage. It seems your time at the bread factory was filled with interesting memories.

    I guess pot was popular in the '70s, hah.

    And I too doubt this can be considered cheating since you didn't instigate anything and quickly stopped things from progressing.

    Once again a great post, you are an excellent writer.

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  25. Males always stick together so it would be a shock if one actually did call Sage out on his cheating. :-)

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  26. That was just great. Nothing like those first glimpses into the wild life....drinking, dope, short skirts. Very well written Sage!

    I could just see the bread plant in action and imagine what her going away party was like!

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  27. Well he did write she surprised him with the kiss. And the kiss had an effect on him. I don't see how he could have avoided the situation ... other than not attending the party.

    I think Sage handled the situation rather well. I'm not sure most men would have done likewise.

    But you have a good point as well since I wonder what how us males would feel if this incident was about Sage's girlfriend at the time and not him. However, for me, if Sage's gf acted in the same way I'd just as easily say she did not cheat as well. But I'm not sure others would feel the same way. Perhaps an incident like this spotlights the double standard society still adheres too (even though it should know better).

    Anyway, great point Murf. Sure made me think.

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  28. Well v consider this: Why is it that Sage would not commit simply b/c the woman was 'old enough to be his mother'....women generally don't care if a man is old enough to be their father! (or grandfather-see my posts about Netanyahu rofl)

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  29. Thanks, V. Here's another one for ya - Are guys denser than females so they don't notice when a kiss is going to happen and can then back out of it? Especially when she first throws her arms around his neck. There was time to disentangle himself from her but he chose not to. From how he writes it, it sounds like it was much more than a peck and I am sure he responded in kind. If a guy who supposedly loved me (as Sage supposedly did his gf) and whom I loved back did that, a) kudos for him for telling me and b) he's in deep doodoo.

    Daydreamer - Amen, sister. I think it would be HOT to date a guy 10+ years older than I am. For now, I'll stick with 17 months older. :-)

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  30. Bone, I noticed that you're now discussing ex-girlfriends in your blog! Good luck and watch your back.

    Murf (the Yankee morality cop who for NOW is satisfied is satisfied with a man 17 months older...), normally making out is more than a kiss.

    Daydreamer (the morality cop with the hots for Netanyahu), I never asked for the halo to start with.

    V, both of your post are insightful.

    Karen and Deana, you never knew all that went on in a bakery did you?

    For everyone else, this was 30 years ago. I hope to get up a new post tomorrow (maybe about my experiences canoeing and fishing the Pere Marquette River yesterday). But things are pretty busy right now, so I'm not getting around much to reach or to have time to write.

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  31. Sage your comment about Murf being satisfied for NOW sounds like a bit of wishful thinking to me ;)

    I'm confused, I thought everyone had the hots for Netanyahu!?

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  32. Those gals in their thirties are hot. I was one of them once!

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  33. sage, This is great storytelling though I'm feeling a bit sorry for you with the way murf is harranguing you. Anyway, see you around.

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  34. Ah, Tim. Don't worry about our Sage. He knows I do it out of like for him. :-)

    Daydreamer (a.k.a my fellow morality cop) - If it makes you feel any better, I always thought Ben was good looking too.

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  35. Okay, that should be made into a MOVIE -- I tell ya!
    And you are such the 'good guy' being brought back to your senses and all at such an age! Such willpower! I love it...
    Chana
    www.bunnyburrow.com

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  36. cirkey i'd missed this one before... i was wondering who linda was!

    and bloomin 'eck what's the morality police about??

    should none of us ever go to to parties where someone we find attractive might be there?? ludicrous.
    i think you handled the situation very well.
    and look i'm a GIRL!
    though if murf came time my site and read some of my college year adventures her head would explode :)

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