Part I hopefully gave some insight into the general nature of the job. From here on, I will be recounting my experience through a series of vignettes that run generally in chronological order.
Mornings were rough at first. I’d arrive before Martín and pound on the door until the overnight cleaners let me inside. From there, I’d clock in, gather the binder and only working pen in the building and go to the boxing room. I tried pleasantries with the cleaning staff, but until they realized I was bilingual, they showed little interest in me. Because of how isolated they were from the rest of my coworkers they found out about two weeks before anybody else.
Once I had left my initials saying that I thought the room was fit for production (sometimes with several rewashing required), I crossed the hall and entered the downstairs office. Here I would start printing out labels for the product until Martín arrived (generally scaring the shit out me by silently approaching the room and then screaming “MAREEENOO” at the top of his lungs).
After I’d cussed him out for being rude, he’d take a chair next to me where I could admire his tattoo: a naked woman sitting on a flame facing away from me but looking back coyly over her shoulder greeted me on his right forearm. A stream of consciousness that I can only assume belongs in workplace harassment videos would then be emitted from underneath his moustache. If you can dream it, he probably said it to me.
Did I have a boyfriend?
No. He, however, wore some kind of black band on his left ring finger but insisted it was something he found on the ground.
How old was I?
Just this side of jail bait, thanks for asking.
Did I want to meet his bird (ironically enough, a cockatoo?
Would I like to go out some time?
Would I help paint his bedroom?
I wasn’t polite to him because he didn’t deserve it, but he definitely took it as a challenge. There was always a hand on my arm or a hand on my back.
I learned how to throw a punch at work.
I was grateful when the boxing room workers showed up, even if they weren’t much better. At least they did it from a safe distance and in a language they thought I couldn’t understand.
The work day went essentially like this: the boxing room workers would move to their positions along a conveyor belt and await the arrival of the forklift with the first combo (meat jacuzzi). That combo would be loaded onto the top of a conveyor that tipped it over, spilling the contents onto the belt and doing something that can only be described as raining blood. The first set of workers would pull whatever the meat was (cow tongue, pig neck, cow liver and a variety of other more and less savory items) off the belt and into boxes that would be slid down to the next group, weighed, sealed and stacked.
Once they were stacked, I would run around a six by six pile of boxes and label them (particularly the low ones) as quickly as I could. Then I took an industrial roll of saran wrap and secured the boxes.
By about the first hour of the day, that once pristine white room was absolutely soaked in blood. The floors were thick with it, and I quickly understood why the ceiling was on the checklist of clean locations.
The fastest friend I made at work was Juan. He was one of three Juans I met while there, but like I said, he was the first friend. He spoke to me consistently in English while driving the forklift in and out, bringing in combos and taking out labeled boxes.
The man laughed at just about everything I said, so I began to call him Chuckles. (I wouldn’t find out until about a month later that it was because he couldn’t hear a word of what I said over the roar of the machines.)
Regardless of that obvious lack of communication, Juan was also likely one of the most important points of contact that I had. See, he broke a lot of things down for me about how and why people treated me how they did. He told me what people said about me that I couldn’t hear (and that he thought for a while I couldn’t understand) and he showed me how to do most of the things Martín didn’t care to show more for more than a few minutes before his mind wandered elsewhere.
The boss loved Juan. Martín hated him. I couldn’t have been better off in that department. Juan knew Martín wanted something from me; 95% of the work force did. But he was the buffer that kept me from being alone with Martín where I would have to take him on myself.
Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t talk to my boss about his second in command, Martín. It’s a valid question, especially with the order I was given on that first day. However, if you are asking that question, you are thinking like management, not like a worker.
You see, the boss might have been the only one who didn’t know what Martín was doing to me. The rest of the building saw it, and as I grew on them, they often found ways, some subtle and some less so, to intervene on my behalf.
Had I brought this situation to the boss, I would have lost all that protection, especially if Martín got fired. There were rumors I was the boss’s daughter or some other close relative (all white people look the same), but as long as I didn’t make use of that relationship, I was just another worker. So, getting rid of Martín would have solved the Martín problem, but it would have cost me the trust of over 60 people.
Suddenly, my choice doesn’t seem so crazy, now does it.
Trust me when I say it is easier to fight one foe with an army than to have only a god on your side.