As I prepared for bed after my first day (and night) of work, I took a single melatonin pill…
… and then lay in my bed, wired almost to the point of shaking. As if I’d just awoken in the morning and drank a pot of coffee. Even though it was past 2AM.
So I took another melatonin…
… and lay in bed, fixated on my next shift… starting in less than 12 hours… how tough it was going to be… how lack of sleep was going to make it much worse… how dwelling on it would push sleep further away…
… and took another melatonin.
Would I lose my job? Die? My mind raced. Somehow, the combination of a dark bedroom, sleeplessness, and stress always mangles my thoughts into delirium.
Finally, well past 5AM, I slept a few brief hours
Then I awoke, did my meditations, and drove back to the textile warehouse for another 10+ hour round of punishment. To steal myself from the impending chaos, I walked a short path behind the building and stood amidst a group of four solid trees.
The second shift of work was much like the first, except my fog of exhaustion felt even thicker.
On the upside, I slept better that night.
And after a week of folding mats, I began to mentally get the hang of it…
… just in time to be moved to a new position
The load team comprised four main positions. At the beginning of every shift, fifteen trucks arrived, packed full of dirty laundry. Mats, shirts, pants, towels, mops – things like that. We couldn’t go home until we unloaded and reloaded everything.
Folding mats was just one part of this process. Another part, and my new position to learn, was “the Sling.”
As two guys unloaded the trucks, they’d dump everything into giant bags hanging inside wheeled carts. Each cart was over five feet high, and weighed 250 pounds full (measured by a scale right beneath the sling).
Or 350 pounds, if they overloaded
In the Sling position, my job was to grab those bags, roll them over to the sling, tag them, and push a button to send them rocketing up to the warehouse-wide overhead rail system. Momentum and a couple strategically-placed pneumatic devices would zip them to the laundry room.
Working the sling required considerably more memorization than folding mats.
After dragging the bags into position, I had to tag them according to truck and item, and send them up in a certain order. When the sling came back down, it carried an empty bag with it. I had to hook it to the empty cart, dismount it from the sling, and shove it back to the unloaders.
In addition, I had to dump sacks of several different kinds of dirty towels into large bags myself, and monitor for when to send them up the sling.
Some carts had busted wheels, and dragging the 250+ pounds felt like trying to pull a car… sideways
It helped to remember which carts sucked, and use them for only rarer kinds of towels.
Sometimes the large bags wouldn’t be secured in the bottom. I’d find out after sending the bag up the sling, only to watch in horror as the bottom burst open like a chrysalis, leaving a couple hundred pounds of dirty towels behind in a perfectly-round, four-foot pile on the scale.
Many times, the sling would malfunction, and merely raise the bag to the top without sending it across the belt system. So I’d snatch a long metal rod and jab the bag hard enough to push it until the first pneumatic device.
On one occasion, the bag snared the metal cart, so the sling pulled everything about ten feet up, before the cart slipped loose and crashed onto my right shoulder.
A headshot might have snapped my neck
I also had to monitor the bag’s progress until it was out of sight. Many times the bags got stuck on the other end of the warehouse. So I’d have to grab a thirty-foot metal poll, race across the floor, climb up some metal racks… balance myself at the top… and use the poll to jam the trolley’s hooks back into place just so. Like shooting pool, and aiming for a cueball on the ceiling of a basketball court. Then ramming the bag onward.
Solving every one of these malfunctions meant losing precious seconds, which could mean falling behind the unloaders in the trucks.
On top of all that, I also had to practically swim through sacks and sacks of wet, sloppy, nasty towels.
Picture an auto body shop using rags every day to soak up oil, gasoline, and sweat. Then they stuff all those rags into plastic sacks… and send our way for sorting and cleaning.
Some soaked with cleaning fluid… regular old grime… and sometimes cadmium
The cadmium towels were marked off and specially sealed for separate cleaning and handling. At least once, they showed up with the seals burst.
When the laundry guy got ahold of them, he made sure I was looking, and exaggeratedly pretended to lick them.
If I fell behind (which I did) then the unloading crew didn’t have any bags in carts to fill. So they’d sit and wait for me. For the first three days at this position, I had to be bailed out during my shift.
I feared my job was on the line
Then came Friday. The final shift before our three-day weekend. My 72-hour solace in a world of miserable chaos. I vowed that I’d get the hang of this new position, so I could enter my weekend feeling secure in a job well done.
I even affirmed to myself as I drove to the warehouse, “Earn your weekend… earn your weekend… EARN your weekend.”
From the very start, I attacked the bags without mercy. Even if I risked damaging the equipment as I slammed the cages around.
I almost made it… but Ted had to jump in to help, near the end of my shift. Still, for my first week at the position, it felt like a victory. And now I had the three-day weekend to look forward to, feeling like I earned it…
… little did I realize, the very next day something was going to cause me to break down and cry uncontrollably. The first of many breakdowns I’d have over the next few months…