Friday, May 18, 2007

The Summer of the Cement Boogers

Fourth in Series about my crappy pre-professional jobs
The summer after my freshman year of college I worked the most physically grueling job that I have ever worked. After a typical day of working at this job, I would go out with my friends, and usually within an hour I would be asleep on the floor of where ever we had gone. I acquired a deep respect for those who make their living though hard physical labor that summer.

I got the job, working at a cement factory, through a temp agency. Primarily my job consisted of shoveling rock and cement powder into a wheel barrow all day long. Because making cement is basically just roasting limestone, extreme heat was a common part of the working environment. Certain places that I worked were ridiculously hot, hot enough to cause the soles of my work boots to begin to melt.

In a job that was largely composed of very nasty tasks, one was particularly nasty, when we were forced to work in one particular building. The environment of this building was as close of an approximation to the classical view of what hell is like that I have ever experienced. Because it received output directly from the kiln, the temperature inside this building held constant at about 120 degrees. It was light with sodium vapor lights which cast everything in a hellish orange glow. Machinery caused the floors to vibrate and pulse, while other machinery periodically emitted loud shrieks and howls. The final touch that made this the perfect hellscape was the thick clouds of sulfurous dust that filled building.

Whenever there was a spill of rock in this building, which was often, we were sent with wheelbarrows and shovels to clean it up. The sulfurous dust that filled building would combine with sweat form a weak solution of sulfuric acid. For this reason when working in there, we had wear full Tyvek suits, which are essentially giant plastic bags that you wear. I can think of few things as warm as shoveling rock in 120 degree heat while wear a giant plastic bag, I have never sweat so much in my life.

Working at this job drove how cheap my labor was. There was a set of six machines that fed ash into a hopper. Something was wrong with these machines so that when ever it got humid they would jam up. Instead of fixing them so they worked properly, management came up with a cheaper solution. They sent me out there with a large metal rod, I would monitor the machines and whenever they became jammed, I would beat them with the metal rod until they started flowing freely again. This is all I would do for entire eight hour shift.

Not shockingly the air at cement plant is full cement dust, for this reason I wore a dust mask all day long. None the less some cement dust would inevitably find its way through the mask and into my moist nose. The combination of cement dust and moisture would form cement boogers. By the end of the day my nose would of full hardened cement. The whole way home I would pick hard little cement boulders out of my nose.

Next Job - The Claw


VAfriend said...

You make me laugh!!! Laugh hard with tears coming down my cheeks.

Thanks for sharing these summer stories with us!! I can't wait to read the next one

The Unwelcome Guest said...

Oy. Great story, but you just gave me the vapors recalling a summer job I had wirestripping, hand-sanding, and spraypainting semi-truck trailers after they came back from their piggyback train journeys. Nothing like hard labor in a full protective suit, boots, hat, ventilator, and gloves, in a vast asphalt yard in South Fresno afternoons in the middle of August (av. temp. 110). I distinctly remember hallucinating a very large, very beautiful pitcher of lemonade. Mmm, delicious heatstroke.

- la maga