Posted by: normanlgreen | July 4, 2012

Dream, July 4, 2012 fixing the system


Dream, home, 4pm nap

A narrative voice asks: “What would it have been like if you had met before the war?”

I drop down a hole through a warehouse roof and onto the floor of a cotton processing plant. I pick myself up and am met by the shop foreman. He is looking to replace a man who did not show-up today, so I am immediately put to work. The name of the operation is Couple & Mather.

First I am shown where four-wheel canvas hopper carts are taken so that two men can transfer the cleaned, raw cotton down to a lower level where it is baled. I meet the men and am instructed that my job is to keep them busy. There are a half-dozen full hoppers waiting to be taken below.

We cross the floor of the plant to my station. The room is dusty and our voices echo against the far walls and high ceiling. My station is at a corner of one narrow chute that works by gravity and a wide one with less pitch, but a conveyor system with boards that run across the fall line – these boards help keep a steady flow of cotton pushed beneath a gate that intermittently opens and closes. Behind this gate more of the processing occurs – it generates heat, so there is an irregular dump of chipped ice that falls onto the right hand side of the conveyor.

Ahead of me is the narrow gravity chute like the exit from a cement mixer. At the top of this half-pipe, works a man in his early thirties. His job is to regulated the flow of material toward me. Behind him, walking on a catwalk and looking over a wall into a part of the works that I will never see, is a group of older men who have worked at the plant even longer than my new partner. I explain that I have just gotten into town and fell into this job, so I am willing to listen to instructions.

“I don’t want lose any fingers.”

He grins back and advises me to take a count before and after the shift.

The equipment is engaged.  It is deafening while running, and has been in place for a long time, so it is dusted, rusted and crusted. As they have worn out, parts have been replaced with whatever has come to hand. I ask my partner to hold the flow while I rig a safely chain that supports a half-moon shaped door in the L-shaped half-pipe that leads from the chute in front of me to the one to my left. I point out other bits that are out of adjustment. A clasp and pin have been sheared away so a canvas strap dangles so that it is both useless to the process and hazardous, as it must continuously be held out-of-the-way. We stop the “work” to perform maintenance. No cotton moves to the next group of workers.

As we fix various problems in the system, my partner recommends that I replace my clothes – something lighter for the heat, yet more durable for the stresses of the environment – he will lend me a spare set of coveralls. I tell him that once I am paid, I can pick something up at “Schee-ahs”. He cocks an eye at me as thought he can almost understand what I am saying. I repeat the name “Scheers” (I put more stress on the R at the end) “– you know, the discount store” He tells me that he knows about “Sears, the department store”. Apparently, I have a regional accent. I may be from Massachusetts, while this appears to be in the Carolinas.

We test the machinery again – the old men have gathered on the catwalk to watch. When the equipment works more as it once did, they nod their approval. Still, there is more to be fixed. My partner tells me to alert the guys at the receiving end that there will be a little more delay. I run back across the floor to yell down to the men – there is an opening in the floor for a piston driven elevator. I do not find either of the men I was to “Keep busy”. Around the opening are a dozen empty hoppers. I organize them into a loose train and push them back to my station.

My partner is gone. The old men tell me that the managers have called him to the office – they wave vaguely to a far corner of the building. I know that he is in trouble for the delay in activity. I ask the men ,“Did you tell them?”

One old man pulls off his sweat stained felt hat and says “We kept out of it.”

I ask, “Did you see what we were doing?”

He answers, “Oh, yeah, you’ll probably save two hours per day.”

Another agrees, “At least two.”

I grab my own butt cheeks, “But our asses are covered, right?”

They nod and chuckle with embarrassment then turn away. I feel betrayed and like a betrayer.

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