We had a fire at Greenstar today! No one was injured. It happened while we were eating lunch, so pretty much everyone was already out of the building, sitting in the concrete “yard” between the plant and the office trailer, mostly huddled in the strip of shade made by an overhead belt for transporting garbage (I prefer the sun — I sit there like a lizard with my sleeves rolled up, one steel-toed shoe crossed over the other, absorbing all the summer I can get). We started hearing voices yelling over on the commercial side (we work on the residential side), and then guys came out hollering for Spider, the foreman. Mo bellowed, “THE MACHINE IS ON FIRE!” Spider dashed over there to deal with it.
[Please pardon the edited-but-included colorful language in this post. You cannot fully appreciate the story without it.]
Smoke started pouring out of the building, and we could smell it. Punkin is my line boss, and Dan is the boss of the other paper line. Punkin said, “That’s the commercial side. That ain’t my problem,” and he cackled. Someone kept calling to Dan (“Dan! It’s a fire! Dan! The machine’s on fire!”), and finally he spread his arms and yelled back in his stentorian voice, “What do you want me to do? I ain’t no mother******g fireman. I ain’t gonna crawl up inside that sh**. I am a N*ggro. We don’t roll like that!”
Howard, ever the lucid doomsayer, waxed eloquent on how that right there was thousands of dollars worth of damage, because those machines aren’t designed for direct heat, and how if that cardboard and that plastic caught fire, it would burn for days, and how someone would have to stand right beside that machine and monitor it through the next shift, even if the fire seemed to be out, because there could be fire in there anywhere. Someone said, “I told them rats about barbecuing at lunchtime!”
Perhaps we should have taken it as an ominous sign that, from morning, there was a very large dead rat under the stairs leading up into the trailer. Everyone kept calling everyone else’s attention to it. Spider said, “It must have expired from being around y’all.” Finally Ron threw it into a trash bin with a shovel. May its little rat soul rest in peace.
As we watched the show, some of the guys were talking about their resumes, and how if you did any kind of work in prison, that looks good on your resume: “You was a cook there? You cook twelve hundred eggs, fourteen hundred pieces o’ bacon, an’ all that sh** has to be ready on time — you think that ain’t experience? You put that on there!” Someone asked if we had any fire extinguishers at Greenstar. Ron, a full-timer, shook his head and said, “Not a one.” (I think he was kidding.) Someone said, “We gotta get buckets o’ water from over there.” Someone else chimed in: “Like a birGADE!” No one got up, except most of the guys went over to peer in through the open doorway into the commercial side. Ralph and I stayed put, taking it all in. I kept soaking up sun, glad that the UV rays were saturating my inner gloves a little, which were spread out on the concrete block behind me. Someone said you could hardly see in there for all the smoke.
Finally Spider came back out, looking sooty (the smoke was getting much worse — darker and thicker, and the smell was stronger) and urgently said, “All you temps sign out. You gotta go home.” Someone said, “We gonna get six hours?” Spider said, “No.” He was more abrupt than usual. James accused me of working too hard and setting the belt on fire.
So we left at about 12:30. We dispersed, with ominous smoke rising in our rearview mirrors.
I would imagine it will be business as usual tomorrow, but you never know. At Greenstar, you never know. As I’m writing this tonight, it’s thundering and raining, so if the plant is out there on Neville Island burning, maybe this will help.
So I took James home to Emsworth (James is my faithful paying passenger), and two other guys rode with me all the way down to the Eat’n'Park in the Rocks, where they catch a bus. They talked nonstop, both on their cell phones and to each other, about their (former?) days of selling drugs. I could tell that much, but it really is a foreign language. Someone only “does purple,” and one guy “had to pull a flooey twice” in his career — I gathered that it’s some kind of weapon. Sounds like there’s a lot better money to be made that way than in just about any other line of work, except sometimes you have to go to prison. One guy was seeing his parole officer later today, but as long as he hands over pay stubs and clean urine, the dude is cool. He doesn’t show up at my man’s crib anymore at 5:00 a.m. to check up on him.
I hope you’re all having an interesting week. I sure am!