After first-year University, I apply to work at the London Free Press over the summer. I am hired by the paper to be fact checker. I still know that I want to be a journalist, a foreign correspondent, and this part-time job felt like a step in that direction for me. The week before I am to start, I am offered a job in the Ford automotive plant where I have also applied to work against my father’s wishes. Ford hires university students for the summer, and they pay four times the wage that any other job will pay. I nag my dad to get me an application, and he eventually does so begrudgingly. My mother wants me to work in the Ford plant because I will be earning huge money and it is always all about money for my mother. She also seems to love to see me graft it out in a factory because, too big for my britches in her estimation, factory work cuts me down to proper size. It reminds me of my place in life. I am the daughter of factory workers, and nothing special.
When I receive the two offers of employment it is a difficult decision. I weigh the pros and cons of both jobs. My mom and dad have gone to Scotland for a three-week holiday at the same time as I am to start work, so I call my dad in Scotland to ask him what I should do.
“Work at the paper, hen,” he softly says. “I don’t want you in that place.”
“Let her make her aine decision,” my mom bellows in the background.
I go to speak with the woman who has hired me to work at the Free Press. I want to know if there is any way that I can do both jobs. “We will need you about thirty-seven hours a week,” she tells me. “I don’t see how you could possibly do both. Plus, you’ll be working shift work at Ford.” She seems annoyed that I am considering not taking the position after she has offered it to me.
I feel guilty that I am letting her down but in the end I choose to go to Ford. I make my choice almost entirely based on the money I will earn, but I also want to prove to my dad that I am tough. I know instinctively that I am making the wrong choice, but I do it anyway.
I am to start on the night shift. That means that I am to report for work at four in the afternoon, and work until five the next morning. I am sick to my stomach when I drive myself to the St. Thomas factory for my first night of work, and shake when I walk through the factory gates into the plant. It resembles a prison and as I walk in through the security door, men whistle and cat-call from the scaffolding along the line. I wish that my dad was there to shield me. The men wouldn’t whistle at me if my dad was walking next to me.
The student hires are immediately pulled into a small room without any windows and told to stand against the far wall. Several foremen enter the room and choose who they want on their line. A small, bespeckled, and balding man except for one tuft of red hair on his freckled forehead, chooses me, and takes me into an office. His name is Jorge-o Kist.
“I’m a good friend of your daddy’s. He asked me to look after you while he’s away,” he tells me. “I promised him that I would watch out for you.” This gives me some comfort. A friend of my father is looking out for me.
Jorge-o Kist assigns me to a job putting finished locks in the truck of cars. I crawl inside the trunk of the moving vehicles as they progress toward me from down the line, and I hammer the lock into the trunk of each car with a small wooden mallet, then I climb out of the boot again. The tinny noises in the plant relentlessly vibrate as the line ceaselessly chugs towards me. The plant smells of burning rubber, paint fumes and noxious glue. A little Irishmen who says ‘fecking’ a lot, and three other men who know my father, help me to get the hang of the job by scrutinizing my technique and offering pointers. It helps to have them next to me on the line. Often, they place a friendly, paternal hand on my shoulder, or make me laugh on the line to break the monotony of the ten hour shifts we work together. I am able to do the job quite effortlessly after a matter of hours though it is draining and droning labour.
Once I am settled into the job, Kist pulls me into his office and tells me that I am not cutting it.
“What are we going to do about this?” he says smirking. “You’re not pulling your weight.”
I sit in silence. I am embarrassed that I am letting down my father. I think that I am doing a good job but List will tell my dad that I am a poor worker. I glance about Kist’s office. It is a small box perhaps six-by-six, with windows on every wall, which look out into the plant. Penthouse magazines litter the shelves, and a few pictures of nude women hang on the walls of his glass encased, shit-box office. I am shocked that my dad would be friends with someone who has porn, and begin not to trust that Jorge-o Kist was telling the truth when he said that my dad asked him to look out for me.
He asks me if I have a boyfriend and I don’t answer.
“Do you like sex?” he asks me, smiling.
I don’t know what to say so I say nothing.
“I am going to pull you off the line and give you a broom. I want you sweeping up for ten hours every night. Right outside my office where I can watch you bending over my big, long, wood…..broom handle,” he laughs.
I take up my broom and sweep in isolation, not able to speak with anyone. My tears fall as I sweep. I am terrified. Kist continues to pull me off the line again and again.
“Where do you live?” he asks me.
“With my parents.”
“Do you ever sneak out to meet your boyfriend?”
I don’t answer. I don’t want him to know that I don’t have a boyfriend.
“Would you ever sneak out for sex?” he asks.
I say nothing.
When Kist switches my job again, a man tells me that I am to be given three weeks to learn one job. “Don’t you take any shit from Kist,” he tells me. “You get three weeks to learn a job. That bastard is changing your job every few hours.”
I feel that I have to do as I am told. It is my dad’s work, and I don’t want to make trouble for my father otherwise I would have quit rather than be bullied. Kist puts me on yet another job. I am by myself on the line again, I cannot see any other workers from where I stand. I hang bumpers onto cars and use my hands to run white putty along the rough edges of the raw metal. My hands are too small for the men’s gloves so I do my work with my bare hands and recurrently slice open my skin in the process. The white putty smoothed along the edges of the raw metal is spotted red with bright drops of my blood.
I try to hang in there until my dad comes home from Scotland as Kist continues to change my job every night and pull me off the floor to tell me that I am failing and letting the guys down. He repeats that I am not pulling my weight and asks what we were going to do about it. He peppers me with questions of a sexual nature as he sits leering at me from across his desk, and I watch myself in the reflection of his round spectacles.
When I come home from the night shift one morning during my second week on the line, the sun is trying to break through a cloud-filled sky. I stuff a bed pillow in my two-by-four window to block out the morning light. A thunderstorm explodes in the morning sky and shakes the windows of the house. My bedroom window cracks. The pillow pops out of the window, and falls upon a Royal Daulton figurine that my mother bought for me years before. She bought my older sister the same statuette. The girl stands in a pale blue dress and looks at herself in a hand mirror. I never know why my mother bought that figurine for each of us. She loved Royal Daulton figurines and bought them for herself on occasion. I guessed this particular one was on sale, and that is why she bought two of them, one for each of us. When the pillow knocks the Daulton to the floor, the mirror snaps off leaving the girl grasping and gazing upon nothing of her reflection.
Kist assigned me to another foreman. Ian is a tall, slender man with strawberry blonde hair and he wears glasses. He is very sweet to me in a paternal way. He puts me with a young guy name Jude. He too is decent to me, and together Ian and Jude try to shield me as much as they can from Kist. Ultimately, Kist has more seniority than both men and when he sends for me they seem powerless to keep me from his grip. The foreman tells me to report to Kist’s office with a worried look on his face. Perhaps he can see my trepidation at being told to report to Kist. Perhaps Kist has a habit of harassing young girls in the plant and Ian wants no part of it. Whatever the case, I see my new foreman’s upset, and Jude’s, when I am repeatedly told to go see Kist.
I do not invite his attention. I always enter the plant wearing medium men’s coveralls to disguise my slender build. I pull the coveralls over my shorts and t-shirt before entering the plant while I am still in my car. If the car would have had air conditioning, I would have dressed at home in my overalls, but it is too hot to dress in the boiler suit before the forty minute drive to the plant during the blistering July heat. I am also always careful not to wiggle into my gear in front of anyone. I wear no makeup to work, men’s safety goggles, and stuff my long, blonde, wavy hair into a ball cap before I even enter the plant. I am working for almost two weeks in the plant, when Kist pulls me off the line again.
“Angela. Do you have a good sense of humour?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Well, I have always promised the guys up the line a gorgeous waitress. Will you go buy six coffees and deliver them to the guys up the line? You’ll have to take off those coveralls and shake your hair loose from that ball cap.” He vibrates his hands on either side of his bald head as if fluffing out a thick head of hair. He gives me a ten dollar bill and sends me into the cafeteria to buy the half-dozen coffees.
I walk to the cafeteria in a haze. Nothing seems real anymore. I start to cry while I am in line, and embarrassed of my tears, go into the women’s change-room to collect myself. I take off my ball cap, let down my hair and strip off my coveralls. Three older women are next to me dressing for their shifts, and they notice my tears.
“What is it, sweetie?” one asks me.
Barely able to speak I tell them what is going on. I tell them that I am a nervous wreck. “I can’t sleep. I am terrified he is going to fire me because I can’t do my jobs. My dad is going to be ashamed of me.”
“Fucking Kist!” another of the women shouts.
“He’s a sleaze, honey. He’s always trying to get the girls in here to sleep with him. He’s pig.”
“Tell him to go fuck himself,” the third one chimes in.
“I can’t. He’ll fire me,” I moan.
“We’ll tell him for you!” the first one says. “We tell him to go fuck himself all the time.”
I leave the washroom and take six coffees to the men up the line, and they howl with laughter. I feel humiliated. I feel cheap. I return to the change-room and dress again in my overalls. I push my hair back up inside my hat, and return to the line.
I am not there but forty minutes when my foreman comes and tells me that Kist wants me again. I am to report to him after the lunch break. My heart sinks.
My foreman looks at me. “You know, Angela. You don’t have to go,” he tells me.
Jude takes me outside to eat our lunch in the cool of the night. It is about three in the morning. We sit with our backs pressed against the chilled brick wall. Jude eats his sandwich and tries to chat with me, but I am silent. Tears roll down my face and Jude pretends not to notice at first.
“If you were my sister, I wouldn’t let you work here. You don’t have to stay here,” he says. “There are a lot of animals in here.” Jude tries to share his cookies with me but I refuse.
As I sit there looking out into the lights above the parking lot, a stiff breeze blows my hat from my head, and Jude stands to retrieve it for me. I realize in that moment that Jude is correct. I don’t have to go back. I stand up, lift my safety goggles from the tarmac, walk to the time cards and clock myself out. I leave the plant through the front door and walk to the parking lot taking off my ball cap and shaking loose my hair as I approach my car. I step out of my coveralls and climb into my Focus and drive myself home. It begins to rain softly and as I switch on my wipers I notice a Monarch butterfly is crushed on my windshield. I squirt my windows with cleaner and increase the intensity of my wipers until orange, black and gold carcass drop from view.
I call my dad in Scotland though I know my mom will scream at me for calling long distance.
“He said he was a friend of yours. That you told him to watch over me,” I say.
“I’m no bloody friends way that bastard! You bloody stay away frae him! He’s a bloody animal. When I get hame I’ll bloody wait fer him in the parking lot one night, hen. Don’t you worry.”
“So he’s not a friend of yours?”
“No! He’s a bloody animal! Bloody filthy magazines all o’er his bloody office. You stay the hell away from him. He better watch himself when I get hame!”
My mother gets on the phone. “What the bloody hell is going on?” she shouts. I tell her. “Oh aye! And what are ye wearing tae the plant?” she demands. “It n’er yer fault, lassie!”
“Medium men’s coveralls, no makeup and my hair in a ball cap. Safety glasses.”
“Ah aye. Yer never tae blame, lassie. Yer embarrassing yer daddy at his bloody werk! Dae ye want him tae lose his bloody job? Dae ye? Fer you?”
I stay off from Ford until my dad comes home. I tell him again what happened, sparing him from the really filthy comments that Kist made to me. My dad is enraged. He is ready to kill Kist. My mother continues to blame me. When she and I are alone she tells me again that it is my fault and maintains that I asked for it. She also accuses me of breaking my window and Royal Daulton figurine. She refuses to believe the storm cracked the window and the popped pillow knocked over the figurine.
“Ah right! Ye broke them in yer temper! Yer a bad-tempered bitch!”
The female HR supervisor at the plant asks my dad to bring me in to talk about what happened. My dad is with me in the room with her and I feel embarrassed to have to tell the entire story, especially the bits I had previously kept from my father.
“How about we put you on the B shift?” she offers.
I don’t want my father to view me as a quitter so I agree to go on the opposite shift though I don’t want to ever go back there again. Working on the B shift means that I will be on the opposite shift from Kist, but it also means that I will be working on the reverse shift from my dad.
“The B shift is nicknamed ‘the Dogshift’,” my dad says later. “Ye think those guys I work way are bad. Them guys is worse.”
The B shift was the second shift that started at the plant. Younger men work it, and there are drugs and sex on the line. The Dogshift works the same hours as my dad’s shift, but the Dogshift is the opposite shift to the A shift. When the A shift is on days, the B shift is on nights, and when the B shift works days, my dad’s A shift works nights. My dad tells me that the Dogshift often pulls a car off of the line on a Friday night so they can go home early.
“A bunch of lazy swine!” My dad is disgusted with the Dogshift.
As soon as I walk into the plant, the men on the Dogshift are on me. When I stand on the line one whispers in my ear, “Wanna fuck, baby?”
“Oh! Don’t talk to her! Don’t harass her! You’re harassing her,” another shouts, laughing.
Word has spread.
“Do you like sex and cocaine?” another asks me.
“Do you like sex?” still another chimes in.
My dad comes to work early to see me on the line, and he brings me a pop. As I stand doing my job with tears streaming down my face, he stands behind me, the cars moving towards us from down the line. He doesn’t know what to do for me. At home my mother just becomes more and more infuriated if I mention any of what is going on so I keep mum about all of it. After another few weeks, I quit.
I apply for unemployment and get it for the rest of the summer because I was sexually harassed on the job. I tan by the pool while collecting pogie. I feel humiliated that I hadn’t been tough enough to stick it out at Ford. My mother thinks that I planned it all out from the start so that I could be idle all summer, but I didn’t. I made a decision based on money, and I had not listened to my father, who really knew best. Nor had I listened to my heart, which told me to take the Free Press job.
I always wonder if my dad did hammer Kist one night as he left the plant. I don’t suppose he did, but he likely did have a wee word with him. I am proud of my father and happy that he loves me enough to act on my behalf.
When we talk about it later my dad says to me, “Aye. I guess you’re just too good-looking, hen.” He doesn’t blame me as my mother continues to do. He understands men too much to blame me.