After first-year University, I was hired to be a fact checker at the London Free Press over the summer. This part-time student position felt like a step in the right direction toward my dream of becoming a journalist, a foreign correspondent. The week before I was to start, I was offered a job in the Ford automotive plant where I had also applied to work against my father’s wishes. Ford hired university students for the summer, and they paid four times the wage that any other job would pay. My father worked at Ford and I nagged him to get me an application. He eventually did so begrudgingly. My mother wanted me to work in the Ford plant because it was always all about money for my mother. She also seemed to love to see me graft it out in a factory because, too big for my britches in her estimation, factory work cut me down to proper size. It reminded me of my place in life. I was the daughter of factory works, and therefore, nothing special.
When I received the two offers it was a difficult decision. I weighed the pros and cons of both jobs. My mom and dad had gone to Scotland for a five-week holiday at the same time as I was hired to work at Ford, so I called my dad in Scotland to ask him what I should do.
“Work at the paper, hen,” he softly said. “I don’t want you in that place.”
“Let her make her aine decision,” my mom bellowed in the background.
I went to speak with the woman who had hired me to work at the Free Press. I wanted to know if there was any way that I could do both jobs.
“We will need you about thirty-seven hours a week,” she told me. “I don’t see how you could possibly do both. In addition, you’ll be working shift work at Ford.”
The woman at the paper was annoyed that I was considering not taking the position after she had offered it to me, and I felt guilty that I was letting her down but in the end I chose to go to Ford. I made my choice almost entirely based on the money I would earn, but I also wanted to prove to my father that I was tough enough to handle Ford. I needed my dad to be proud of me. I knew instinctively that I was making the wrong choice, but I did it anyway.
I was to start at Ford on the night shift. That meant that I was to report for work at four in the afternoon, and work until five the next morning. I was sick to my stomach when I drove myself to the St. Thomas factory for my first night of work, and shook when I walked through the factory gates. It resembled a prison and as I walked through the security doors, men dressed in blue coveralls whistled and cat-called from the scaffolding along the line. I wished that my dad was there to shield me. The men wouldn’t whistle if my dad was walking next to me.
The students were immediately pulled into a small room without any windows and told to stand against the far wall. Several foremen entered the room and chose who they wanted on their line. A small, bespeckled, and balding man except for one tuft of red hair on his freckled forehead, chose me, and told me to follow him. His name was Jorge-o Kist.
“I’m a good friend of your daddy’s. He asked me to look after you while he’s away,” he told me. “I promised him that I would watch out for you.”
That gave me some comfort. A friend of my father was looking out for me.
Jorge-o Kist assigned me to a job putting finished locks in the trunk of cars. I crawled inside the trunk of the moving vehicles as they progressed toward me from down the line. With a small, wooden mallet, I hammered the lock into the open hole sheared into the raw metal of each car before climbing out of the boot again. The tinny noises in the plant relentlessly vibrated as the line ceaselessly chugged towards me. The plant smelled of burning rubber, paint fumes and noxious glue. A little Irishmen who said ‘feck’ a lot, and three other men who knew my father, helped me to get the hang of the job by scrutinizing my technique and offering pointers. It helped to have them next to me on the line. Often they placed a friendly, paternal hand on my shoulder, or made me laugh on the line to break the monotony of the ten hour shifts we worked together. I was able to do the job quite effortlessly after a matter of hours though it was draining and droning labour.
Once I was settled into the job, Kist pulled me into his office and told me that I wasn’t cutting it.
“What are we going to do about this?” he would smirk. “You’re not pulling your weight.”
I sat in silence. I was mortified that I was letting down my father. I thought I was doing a good job but Kist would tell my dad that I was a poor worker. I glanced about Kist’s office. It was a small box perhaps six-by-six, with windows on every wall, which looked out into the plant. Pornographic magazines littered the shelves, and a few pictures of nude women hung on the walls of his glass encased, shit-box office. The legs of the centrefolds were splayed, exposing their vaginas, and their buxom breasts were bare. I was shocked that my dad would be friends with someone who had porn, and began not to trust that Jorge-o Kist was telling the truth when he said that my dad had asked him to look out for me.
“Do you have a boyfriend, Angela?”
I didn’t answer.
“Do you like sex?” he asked me, leering.
I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.
“I’m going to pull you off the line and give you a broom. I don’t want you talking to anyone else on the line. 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 laughed.
I took up my broom and swept in isolation, not speaking with anyone. My tears fell as I swept. I was terrified.
Kist continued to pull me off the line again and again.
“Where do you live?”
“With my parents.”
“Do you ever sneak out to meet your boyfriend?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t want him to know that I didn’t have a boyfriend.
“Would you ever sneak out for sex?” he asked me.
I kept mum.
When Kist switched my job again, a man on the line told me that I was to be given three weeks to learn a job.
“Don’t you take any shit from Kist,” he told me. “You get three weeks to learn a job. That bastard is changing your job every few hours.”
I felt that I had to do as I was told. It was my dad’s work and I didn’t want to make trouble for my father, otherwise I would have quit rather than be bullied. Kist put me on yet another job. I was by myself on the line again, unable to see any other workers from where I stood. I was to hang the bumpers onto the cars and use my hands to run white putty along the rough edges of the raw metal. My hands were too small for the men’s gloves so I did it with bare hands and sliced open my skin in the process. The white putty smoothed along the edges of the raw metal was spotted red with bright drops of my blood.
I was trying to hang in there until my dad came home from Scotland as Kist changed my job every night and pulled me off the floor several times during a shift to tell me that I was failing and letting the guys down. He repeated again and again that I wasn’t pulling my weight and asked what we were going to do about it. He peppered me with questions of a sexual nature as he sat ogling me from across his desk.
When I came home from the night shift on the Friday morning at the end of my first week on the line, the sun was trying to break through a cloud-filled sky. I stuffed a bed pillow in the two-by-four window of my basement bedroom to block out the morning light. A thunderstorm exploded in the early morning sky and shook the window of the house. The pillow popped out from the window, and fell upon the Royal Daulton figurine that my mother had bought for me several years before. She had bought my older sister the same statuette. The ceramic girl stands in a pale blue dress and looks at herself in a hand mirror. I never knew why my mother bought that figurine for each of us. 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 knocked my Daulton to the floor, the mirror snapped off leaving the girl grasping and gazing upon nothing of her reflection. I knew that my mother would rebuke me for breaking the figurine. I wouldn’t be believed when I told my mother the truth of how the girl came to be broken.
“The storm broke her,” I’d say and my mother would call me a bloody liar.
“Och! Ye did it for badness, so ye d’ud!” she’s yell.
My mother always accused me of doing things ‘for badness’.
Kist assigned me to another foreman. Ian was a tall, slender, handsome man with strawberry blonde hair and glasses. He was very sweet to me. He put me with a young man name Jude. He too was decent to me, and together Ian and Jude tried to shield me as much as they could from Kist. Ultimately, Kist had more seniority than both men and when Kist sent for me they seemed powerless to keep me from his grasp. The foreman would tell me to report to Kist’s office with a worried look on his face. Perhaps he could see my trepidation at being told to report to Kist. Perhaps Kist made a habit of harassing young girls in the plant and Ian wanted no part of it. Whatever the case, I saw my new foreman’s upset, and Jude’s, when I was repeatedly told to go see Kist.
I didn’t invite his attention. I drowned my tall, slender frame in medium men’s coveralls. I would pull them over my shorts and t-shirt before entering the plant while I was still in my car. If the car had had air conditioning, I would have dressed at home in my overalls, but it was too hot to dress in the boiler suit before the forty-minute drive to the Ford plant during the blistering July heat. I was also always careful not to wiggle into my gear in front of anyone. I wore no makeup to work, men’s safety goggles, and stuffed my long, blonde, wavy hair into a ball cap before I even entered the plant.
I had been working for two weeks in the plant, when Kist pulled 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 said as he vibrated his speckled hands on either side of his bald head as if fluffing out a thick head of hair. He gave me a ten dollar bill and sent me into the cafeteria to buy the half dozen coffees.
I walked to the cafeteria in a haze. Nothing seemed real anymore. I started to cry while I was in line, and embarrassed of my tears, went into the women’s change-room to collect myself. I took off my ball cap, let down my hair and stripped off my coveralls. Three older women, who were next to me dressing for their shifts, noticed my tears.
“What is it, sweetie?” one asked me.
Barley able to speak, I told them what was going on. I told them that I was a nervous wreck.
“I can’t sleep. I’m terrified he’s going to fire me because I can’t do my jobs. My dad is going to be so ashamed of me.”
“Fucking Kist!” another of the women shouted.
“He’s a sleaze, honey. He’s always trying to get the girls in here to sleep with him. He’s a pig.”
“Tell him to go fuck himself,” the third one chimed in.
“I can’t. He’ll fire me,” I moaned.
“We’ll tell him for you!” the first one said. “We tell him to go fuck himself all the time.”
I left the washroom and took six coffees to the men up the line, and they howled with laughter. I felt humiliated, cheap. I returned to the ladies’ locker-room and dressed again in my coveralls. I pushed my hair back up inside my hat, and returned to the line.
I wasn’t there but forty minutes when my foreman came and told me that Kist wanted me again. I was to report to him after the lunch break. My heart sank.
My foreman studied me. “You know, Angela. You don’t have to go,” he told me.
Jude took me outside to eat our lunch in the cool of the night. It was about three in the morning. We sat with our backs pressed against the brick wall. Jude ate his sandwich and tried to chat with me but I was silent. Tears rolled down my face and Jude pretended 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 said. “There are a lot of animals in here.”
Jude tried to share his cookies with me but I refused. I didn’t eat anything from my own lunch either. Instead, I sat looking at the lights above the parking lot. They sparkled against the black sky above. A stiff breeze blew my hat from my head, and Jude stood to retrieve it for me. I took my hat from Jude and put it back on my head.
“Thanks, Jude,” I said.
I realized in that moment that Jude was correct. I didn’t have to go back. I stood, lifted my safety goggles from the tarmac, walked to the time cards and clocked out. I left the plant through the front door and walked to the parking lot taking off my ball cap again and shaking loose my hair as I approached my car. I stepped out of my coveralls and climbed into my Ford and drove home. It had begun to rain softly and as I switched on my wipers I noticed a Monarch butterfly lay crushed on my windshield. I squirted my windows with cleaner and increased the intensity of my wipers until orange, black and gold carcass dropped from my view.
The next day I told my big sister what had been happening at Ford.
“That’s sexual harassment,” she quickly concluded. “We just learned about it at a McDonald’s managers training session. You could charge him.”
I was so happy to have her listen to me and support me in that way. That was all she said, but that was all I needed. My sister’s confirmation gave me the courage to call my dad in Scotland though I knew my mom would scream at me for calling long distance.
“He said he was a friend of yours. That you told him to watch over me,” I said.
“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. Don’t you worry, hen.”
“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 got on the phone.
“What the bloody hell is going on?” she shouted.
I told her.
“Oh, aye! And what are ye wearing tae the plant?” she demanded.
I told her.
“Medium coveralls, no makeup and my hair in a ball cap. Safety glasses,” I whimpered.
“Oh, 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?” My mother uttered the word ‘you’ with particular distain.
I stayed off from Ford until my dad came home. I told him again what happened, sparing him from the really filthy comments that Kist had made to me. My dad was incensed. He was ready to kill Kist. My mother continued to blame me. When she and I were alone she would tell me again that it was my fault and maintained that I had asked for it. She also, as predicted, accused me of deliberately breaking my window and the Royal Daulton figurine. She refused to believe the storm had cracked the window and the popped pillow had knocked over the figurine.
“Ah, right! Ye broke them in yer temper! Yer a bad tempered bitch!” my mother screamed at me. “Ye did it fer badness! Bloody bitch!”
The female HR supervisor at the plant asked my dad to bring me in to discuss what had happened. My dad remained in the room with me as I recounted to the woman what went on. I felt embarrassed to have to repeat all of it especially in front of my father.
“How about we put you on the B shift?” she offered brightly.
I didn’t want my father to view me as a quitter so I agreed to go on the opposite shift though I didn’t want to ever go back there again. Working on the B shift meant that I would be on the opposite shift from Kist, but it also meant that I would be working on the reverse shift from my dad.
“The B shift is nicknamed ‘the Dog Shift’,” my dad later said. “Ye think those guys I work way are bad. Them guys is worse.”
The B shift was the second shift that had started at the plant. Younger men worked it, and there were drugs and sex on the line. The Dog Shift worked the same hours as my dad’s shift, but the Dog Shift was opposite to the A shift. When the A shift was on days, the B shift was on nights, and when the B shift worked days, my dad’s shift worked nights. My dad told me that the Dog Shift would pull a car off the line on a Friday night so they could go home early.
“A bunch of lazy swine!” My dad was disgusted with the Dog Shift.
As soon as I walked into the plant the men on the Dog Shift were on me. When I stood on the line one man whispered in my ear, “Wanna fuck, baby?”
“Oh! Don’t talk to her! Don’t talk to her! You’re harassing her,” another shouted, laughing.
Word that I had accused a foreman of sexual harassment had spread to the Dog Shift.
“Do your like sex and cocaine?” anther asked me.
“Do you like sex?” still another chimed me.
My dad would come to work early to see me on the line, and he’d bring me a pop. As I stood doing my job with tears streaming down my face, he would stand behind me, the cars moving towards us from down the line. He didn’t know what to do for me. At home, my mother just became increasingly infuriated if I mentioned any of what was going on so I kept mum about all of it. After another few weeks, I quit.
It was too late in the summer for a student to find another job. I felt too disgraced to return to the Free Press, cap in hand, to ask if they might still need someone there. I applied for unemployment and got it for the rest of the summer because I had been sexually harassed on the job. I tanned by the pool while collecting pogie. I felt demeaned that I had no job and that I hadn’t been tough enough to stick it out at Ford. My mother thought that I had planned it all out from the start so that I could be idle all summer, but I hadn’t. I had made a decision based on money, and I had not listened to my father, who knew best and who truly had my best interests at heart. Nor had I listened to my own heart, which told me to take the Free Pressjob.
I always wondered if my dad did hammer Kist as he left the plant one night. I don’t suppose he did, but he likely did have a wee word with Jorge-o Kist. That made me proud of my father and happy that he loved me enough to act on my behalf.
When we talked about it later my dad said to me, “I guess you’re just too gade lookin’, hen.”
My father didn’t blame me as my mother continued to. He understood the male mind and knew too many men like Jorge-o Kist to ever blame me.