Elder son has started a summer job, hoping to amass enough coin to see him through his first year of college. Seeing him struggle to get up at 6:30 each morning has provoked reminiscences of my own summers spent toiling away in some godforsaken salt mine of a factory. This I did year after year until I finally graduated and was promoted to work in some godforsaken salt mine of an office.
I heard of a plum of a job one summer, working for a major record label pressing vinyl LPs. (If I need to explain the concept, please go no further). Not only was the pay very decent for a teenager, but I could also get a deep discount on the complete musical catalogue of that label. That and the off chance that Mick and Keith would drop by to make sure Goat's Head Soup
pressings were to the highest possible standards.
Nevertheless, and despite all its initial gleam and promise, this factory would prove itself to be just as much of a gulag as the others I had worked in during previous summers.
Let me first explain the production process. Records were formed by compressing semi-molten polyvinyl chloride between two stampers of a large press, the stampers being fairly fragile thin pieces of metal containing the reverse impression of the recording being reproduced. As an operator, I would first stick on each of the stampers the "A" and "B" side labels, and then loading a plug of hot PVC about the same size as Janet Jackson's nipple between the two stampers, I would close the press, wait the requisite 10 seconds or so as it cycled, and grab the record out of the press when it reopened, place it on a trimmer to remove the excess PVC from the edges, and then carefully place the finished product on a cooling rack to be counted and wheeled away. Then I would begin again.
This proved to involve a lot of hand-eye coordination stuff for someone born with two left hands. Especially when I learned that we were expected to operate two presses simulataneously: when one was pressing, you were removing the finished record and loading two labels and the PVC plug in the other. Back and forth, left to right, on and on in miserable brain taxing repetition.
Obviously there was a learning curve, and much of each new operator's output was doomed to be reground back into molten PVC. But after three days or so I had managed to get into the rhythm so that nearly all my pressings were of the highest quality.
This was noted by management, who sent a team over to congratulate me on my accomplishment by resetting the cycling of the two presses to a faster mode. Of course, my output returned to crap and I struggled for weeks to speed up and attain that balance between quantity and quality of output.
Then the bastards ratcheted up my machine once again. I soon realized I was being dehumanized by the rock and roll industry I so very much idolized and the recipient of huge chunks of my hard-earned cash. In short, I was feeding a monster under whose hand I was a mere cog in a machine, a unit of production.
It was time to hit back, to strike a blow for the common man against the machine, to bring this madness to a grinding halt. All I had to do was use my little finger.
Not even my little finger, just the nail of my little finger. I've mentionned above that the stampers were very fragile, so much so that the merest of a caress with a harder medium (such as a finger nail) would cause a scratch which would be reproduced in the vinyl pressing, rendering it unsaleable. And there is nothing the record industry hates more than something that cannot be squeezed for every last penny. Consequently, our output was inspected every 10 minutes or so for imperfections, and should one be found, your presses were shut down, and you had to bide your time while the offending stamper removed, and a virgin stamper brought from the clean room and installed on your machine by the mechanical crew. All in all, you could count on a good fifteen minute break to go out for a smoke, make a phone call, roll a joint, whatever.
Now here's the sad irony: due to my frequent sabotages, I became well-versed in the removal and installation of stampers, so much so that I was taken off the presses and promoted to mechanical crew.
There's a lesson in there somewhere.