Part 3 of "The Party:" The king's speech

Installment 13 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

Just before the gift exchange, Ralph the CEO, made a speech to the crew. It was a terrible speech for many reasons. First, he looked ridiculous poorly dressed in an over-sized sport jacket and no tie, next to Magdalena who looked great in a form-fitting glittery red dress. Second, the room was too large and too crowded for his shriek voice to project well. Third, he's not a good extemporaneous speaker. 

Still, his two most important points got across. 

"I am so proud of our company! This year we have increased business by thirty percent and we have added 30 new employees." 

The crowd, with a few exceptions, went wild after each of these two announcements. So wild one would have believed that the increase in Godzilla's business had increased their own paychecks. It didn't, but sycophants are never in short supply. The person who won the Most Sycophant award was a twenty-something black female who stood up, pumped her fists (like the Nebraska Cornhuskers had just scored a touchdown) and yelled, "Yeaaaaaahhhhhh!" and then turned to Magdalena and mouthed "I love you! You are like family!" 


Part 2 of "The Party:" Secret Santa

Installment 12 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in Vista, CA

We had a secret Santa exchange. An hour before the party, I found myself creating a gift box out of a family-size Cheerios box. By the time I was finished, my gift appeared to be a personal-size box of cereal. Inside, however, was Nautica body spray. Ironically enough, the gift was for Carlos, a guy I got into a fierce argument with when he tried to rescue John from an argument I had going with him. That's how secret Santa exchanges work. You never know who you'll get.

Men's Pure Discovery by Nautica Eau de Toilette - 1.7 oz

As for me, I got exactly what I wanted. To my chagrin, I never learned who got it for me. It was a '"firm"' pillow for a queen size bed available at Target for just under $15.' This is what I wrote verbatim on the secret Santa slip. It came wrapped in shiny red paper with "Happy Holidays" in silver type and a silver bow. Very nice. I've put it under the Christmas tree.

Threshold™ Down Alternative Extra Firm Pillow


Part 1 of "The Party:" Conversations with my boss

Installment 10 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry at Godzilla Tool (fictional name) in San Diego, CA

One of the thoughts I had while chatting with Sam (Samantha) was: "I really like this lady. It's going to be very unpleasant to try to organize against this lady's company." 

This conversation took place in the large room that Godzilla rented at Casa de Bandini to celebrate the holidays. Out in the patio, there was an open bar and a buffet of enchiladas, tamales, and other Mexican staples. 

Sam is the vice president of Godzilla. She took over the company after her husband - the man who built it - passed on. She is, by my estimate, in her early sixties. 

John, the Christian who trained me on the Tru-Tech machine said about her, the other day, "She's still got something going on," meaning, she is still attractive. And she is. And she is fun, flirtatious - but not invasive - and cute.

Sam's forty-something son, Ralph, is the CEO of the company, known to shout and yell at employees. He has gray hair which he styles spiky. He's married to another very nice woman, who is about half a foot taller than her husband, named Magdalena. She is also a company executive. 

During our conversation, Sam told me what many white people tell a minority with wit: "You are SO intelligent." I still don't know how to respond to this token compliment on the spot, but I have developed one since. I did it because I got it again from a new friend. 

The next time it happens, it's going to go something like this:

White person: "You are SO intelligent and well-spoken!"

Mexican person: "Why is that a surprise to you?" 

White person: (Now asking himself the same question) Well, I don't really know. You just are.

Mexican Person: Do you say that to each intelligent person you speak with?

White person: (now beginning to feel embarrassed and self-conscious) No.

Mexican person: So then, do you reserve it for Mexicans, people who you think only wash your dishes, manicure your yard, and clean your home, and therefore could not hold an intelligent conversation.


Sam and I talked about a number of things. For example, the work that we do and she provides: machining. The great majority of my fellow workers are young males of color. Machining, at least when you finally learn to program them, is a trade. Sam feels proud of teaching young people a trade. I agree with her. 

We went on to talk about off-shoring. 

Sam said, "We've been able to stay in America, but so many manufacturers have gone abroad. Americans don't know how to make anything anymore." 

I was glad we had moved on to economics and my two cents was, "Well, yeah, and in places like China, the manufacturing know-how is being learned and they don't need us anymore." 

This statement appeared to ring true with her, and she became suddenly indignant. "That's true! They're stealing our ideas!" 

She's right, but it seems United Statesians themselves are responsible for this. "Wait a minute! Who's responsible for this? We are the ones that went abroad with our machines. We did it to save money and now the chickens have come to roost. They have learned and don't need us anymore," I added.

This made her thoughtful, so I piled it on. "Today, the mid-level managers that cooperated with their bosses to move their production operations overseas are no longer needed. They've been spurned and these are the ghosts of people now in middle-age unable to find new work." 

Front Cover
A novel about what I just talked about

She paused to think about this too. There were more topics we touched on, but also a few we didn't and should have. 

For example, she talked about the importance of creating jobs, especially for kids who don't continue their education. I agreed with her, but failed to add that those jobs must provide a living wage, as opposed to a subsistence wage. 

Godzilla Tool starts us at $9.50 per hour, nobody gets a raise before 6 months and it only goes up by 75 cents or a dollar. After that, as much as a year can pass before another raise. Other than a few programmers, I don't know anybody who makes more than $10.50 per hour.

We make do by taking second jobs, working over time routinely, or pushing our standard of living down. 

All in all, Sam was very enthused about our mutually stimulating conversation (which also included the subject of student debt) and I am sure we could have extended it past midnight if it weren't for the fact that there were fifty other people we both had to attend and that there was an open bar and free food. 


Who Are My Co-workers?

Installment 9 of Life as a Machinist in the Carbide Tool Industry, Godzilla Tool (fictional name)

There's a significant gap in schooling between most of my co-workers and myself. While I have a bachelor's degree in the arts, my co-workers have a high school diploma or equivalent, or are simply dropouts. Only one other time has someone had more schooling. His name was Chris and he had a master's degree in Robotics. He only lasted a few months though. The sensation I get when I learn that one of my co-workers did not even graduate from high school is that it's too little education. I mean, I wonder what it's like to go around the world without so much as a diploma or a GED. Yet, they exist, they survive, and they don't seem to worry too much that their education is seriously lacking. 

This is one story, though, of what path one Latino high school dropout takes...

Until now, I have never liked Hugo, who started as a loader a couple of months ago. I trained him and he downplayed the importance of paying close attention. He often blew me off in the middle of an explanation or he simply did not listen to me when I pointed out how to correct a mistake. His attitude was, "Don't make an issue out of it, okay?" Finally, he was often simply not on top of his tasks. I had to put him in line until I realized I was not his supervisor and was wasting my breath. I did confront him on occasion and made sure I had his attention. 

Now I understand him a little more and why he walks around with such attitudes and personality traits. Hugo, who is short, fat, and speaks with a lisp, left home and dropped out of high school hi sophomore year. 

"I was always truant anyway. So why even go to school. My friends and I went off to party with girls, smoke pot and drank."

Just before he dropped out, he had begun working in human trafficking. He helped a network to smuggle undocumented immigrants across deserts and to the United States. When he decided to stop school and to go live on his own, he was already earning $1000 per week. 

Undocumented Immigrants. photo: autos.aol.com

It was easy money and moving out his home of origin and living on his own with a partner and a baby on they way seemed like a breeze. He didn't work like his parents and lived comfortably. At only 17, though, the money and attendant power, quickly went to his head. He spent lavishly on himself and his family and soon began taking unnecessary risks.  


One day, as he was gaining speed on the I-5 after performing a pickup of ten immigrants, he was surrounded by undercover ICE vehicles from all sides and forced off the road. He was arrested and arraigned. During trial, he discovered that he had been under surveillance for ninety days. In court, he watched himself performing routine pick ups in the desert roads. 

photo: findingtheperfectworld.blogspot.com

He was given a year in the County jail. After regaining his freedom, he was still put on probation for a year. 

The authorities seized all of is possessions, including his four cars. Once in jail and without an income, he soon defaulted on a large car loan and a maxed out credit card. When he left jail, he had a zero credit score. 

Today at Godzilla Tool, he has to adjust to part-time work at $9.50 an hour. He has to show up for eight hours each night and be sleep deprived. It's a shock to him to go from riches to rags. He feels morally offended and humiliated. 

Based on his story, his arrogant, haughty behavior during training is clear. He likely viewed me with disdain while I was instructing him and correcting him. He resented being one down. 

While some of my other co-workers don't have a criminal background quite like Hugo's, a few of them have definitely seen jail time.


What to Expect: On the Issue of a Raise

Installment 8 of Being a Machinist at Godzilla Tool

The procedure to earn a rise at Godzilla tool is quite something as well. One can wait to be offered a raise (and have to wait too long) or ask for a raise. I asked for a raise at least one month and a half ago. At that time, I learned that the wage-increase protocol is to first inform the manager about your demand. The manager then makes a written recommendation to The Man. The Man considers the recommendation and then, apparently, makes a solitary and unilateral decision on the matter. His decision is final if only because he's only occasionally accessible to machinists; especially those on graveyard shift. 

Ever since my request, these are the responses I've gotten. 

October 19: "Choleric Serpent! You are one of our best workers. You are reliable and you don't waste time while you are here. I will recommend you and I am sure that you'll be granted one. 

October 26: "Choleric Serpent, I have excellent news. There's a new opening for a Set Up machinist. You are first in line! You will start training in mid-November and that will come with a raise. 

In the interim, my promotion was complicated because Tiburcio made an issue of my reading while at work. See previous blog entries. 

November 2: "[Manager's name], has The Man made a decision on my raise?" 

My manager answered that he had "forgotten," expressed his apologies, and promised he'd get on it. 

November 16: "The Man is now considering your wage increase request, along with a dozen other ones. We are going to give raises to a number of people." 

December 4 (Today): I have not received a wage increase and my manager has not talked to me about it. I am angry. Before the week is over, I will ask him about it again. My expectations, though, are low.

The Business of Carbide Grinding

Installment 7 of Life As a CNC Machinist at Godzilla Tool

The business of a carbide-grinding machine shop is making tools using various grinding machines and procedures to create a wide array of drills. The machines include two types of centerless grinders and a small fleet of ANCA CNC machines. The centerless grinders grind rod diameters to the wanted diameters and add back tapers. The CNC machines fashion the rods into sophisticated tools like drills, end mills, and the like. 

A staple product at Godzilla Tool is the end mill. The carbide-made end mill is a gnarly tool that cuts metal. Any metal item you see, from stove tops, to industrial surfaces with grooves or geometric gaps, are created by end mills. 

Carlos, one of my current co-workers, is the former partner of a machine shop involved in the business of making airplane parts. He and his partner were actual customers of Godzilla. He claims that Godzilla's tools are high quality and long-lasting, that it is one of the best manufacturers out there. 

Godzilla's raw material is carbide. The vast majority of the carbide comes from the People's Republic of China. Another portion comes from Italy. The carbide does not arrive in actual raw form. It comes in the form of rods. Once in possession of the rods, Godzilla's machines modify the rods into the tool they need. 

After up to five procedures, the tools are washed and sprayed with something that makes them look shiny and spotless. It's packaged and sent to the warehouse where it's inventoried and sent off on a UPS vehicle. 

Orders at Godzilla range from 1 unit, for a very large custom tool, to 2000 units for needle size drills. In the middle are orders of 500 units for an average end mill. An average end mill costs in the vicinity of $25 per unit. 

Godzilla, which has two machine shops with about forty machines employs around twenty part-time and 30 full-time machine operators. Our starting wage is $9.50 per hour. Major holidays are paid. We are offered health plans from Kaiser Permanente (the affordable one) or Blue Shield (which is out of reach of any wage worker). 

Ownership is stingy in the extreme in terms of raises, so the great majority of basically skilled machine operators are still locked at $9.50, including yours truly. Godzilla does not raise wages based on seniority so loyal and excellent operators like Jose Luis, the center less grinder supervisor still earns under $12 per hour after four years! 

Anyone who wants a decent paycheck every two weeks, must work overtime. Needless to say, everyone with a family works from ten to twelve hours each day -- if they can. I stick to eight hours but only because my obligations are not as demanding. 


Arguments and I

Installment 6 of Life As a CNC Machinist at Godzilla Tool

Tomorrow I will report to work at 10pm instead of 7am. My training on the Tru-Trac centerless grinder is over. My apprenticeship under John is over and I must return to the graveyard shift. Its been three weeks of instruction. 

John and I had one more day of confrontation and arguing. It was on Friday before the last at the end of our shift. It happened because of my facetiousness. He decided to stay on longer than he wanted after I ruined a part. I disagreed because it was the type of mistake that was routine and that he himself --- despite his two years of experience --- had made. Previously, I had shown ample ability to perform the specific job. I resented his unwillingness to trust in me. In fact, I was offended. In my view, his supplemental supervision was totally unnecessary. I ws tired of having him looking over my shoulder. However, helpless as I was to persuade him to go on, to just let me be, my only recourse was to make his life as difficult as possible for each additional minute he remained. The result was that at somewhere around 4:30pm, half an hour before closing time at 5pm, I finally spent his patience and he broke down. 

Now, I understand if you might feel irritated (at me) for causing this strife, for apparently bullying this man, as well as for endangering my job in times when jobs are harder to come by. But remember how I've previously mentioned that "it happened because of my facetiousness?" I never took any of it seriously. I was playing and often I just push things along until someone runs out of patience. It's not my fault that life is full of humorless people, or that people take too much seriously too much of the time. 

For example, my friend Estefaniia, who I told last Saturday night in the movie theater while waiting for "Lincoln" to start. She's an "ex," so maybe that's why she gave herself license to respond like this:


She didn't hear my answer because she was too busy loudly admonishing and catastrophizing the incident; which by the way was, "I plan to work there for another five months, when a year is up and I've earned my week of paid vacation."

I didn't hit anyone over the head with a hammer. I just jabbed someone and created a spontaneous outburst of emotion. When did argument become so politically incorrect...?

As a post-script, I am thankful that I worked on day shift for three weeks. I got the opportunity to meet and get to know a lot of the guys on first shift. For example, Art the former Navy man who arrested real-life pirates on the open sea, Carlos the entrepreneur who lived in a half-million dollar home before the Great Recession, and Morrison, who is a diligent and studious Christian. 

And I can't forget Kendall, with whom I got into a very loud and confrontational political argument in the lounge. Kendall thinks that Big Oil corporations like ExxonMobil pay so much in business expenses and fines that they can't afford to buy new rigs so they can avoid disastrous spills like the one a few years ago in the  Gulf of Mexico. He also thinks that businessmen like Mitt Romney are not just legitimate, but excellent economists. And by the same token, he can't name ONE great living economist. 

Clark and Tiburcio, my graveyard team, here I come, with a new skill!


Life is Circular

Installment 6 of Life As a CNC Machinist at Godzilla Tool

A week ago, I visited the Godzilla office to deliver my health insurance continuation form. While I was waiting for a secretary to come for my completed forms, I sat with a very young Chicano who immediately recognized me from my past life as an educator and vice versa. 

His name is Joel and in the early 2000's, I taught him at the Washington Middle School after-school program. He was around thirteen at that time and laughed easily. He leaned back on his desk, slid along the seat, held the right corner of the desk with one hand and with the other covered his mouth as he laughed. This and his smile are my most vivid memories of him. 

This light-hearted nature of his is still intact. Yet he's no longer that thirteen year-old. He works full-time and is manager at a local manufacturer of military tactical training accessories. He's been there for six years. He's a husband and a father. He's also a reformed vato loco

His vato-loconess is tatooed over most of his body, including his face, neck, arms, legs, and torso. These tatooes include mi vida loca, the "Hecho en Mexico," insignia, lipsticked lips with the name of his wife under them, and the name of his daughter.

He's not hardened though, broodish, or hot-headed. It doesn't matter that he's been to juvenile hall on many occasions. He's a pleasant co-worker (he was at Godzilla to ask for part-time work), quiet, focused, and easy to smile. 

It's ironic how life has put us back together again in a very different setting. My K-12 education career is over. I've gone from teaching paraprofessional to machinist. In terms of labor, Joel and I are now equal co-workers instead of unequal teacher and student, adult and child. 

When he realized that we would now be co-workers this irony expressed itself across his body which seemed to waft with disbelief and wonderment at how and why I was no longer a teacher. 

He's asked and I've explained. I think he enjoys working beside me now. Not out of schaudenfreude but out of fondness.

As for me, it's nice to see my former student again.


"That's All We Do Is Argue!"

Installment 5 of the Godzilla Tool: CNC Machine Operator Series
What being a CNC machinist is like.   

Frank and I's trainer-trainee relationship came to a head on Friday mid-afternoon when we strongly disagreed (as usual) about the machine he's teaching me how to use. 

At the end of that argument he shouted,


He was talking about how going back to Tuesday, each day we had strongly disagreed with each other, argued, and had felt awkward afterward as we returned to the tasks at hand. 
Source: dreamstime.com

We argued about how he explained procedures or elucidated errors that I had made. He wasn't always articulate and his message didn't get across. So I told him that.

"I don't understand." 

Usually after which he huffed and puffed under his breath and tried to explain again by repeating the exact same words using exactly the same syntax. 

Well, again I told him that I didn't understand and pointed out that he had just repeated himself and so how was I supposed to understand the issue differently. 

By the time we got to that point, we had already moved away from the machine, were standing facing each other a few inches apart, undeniably locked into confrontational stances. We were also beginning to command the attention of the rest of the shop. Having confrontations is out of character for the shop since everyone "gets along" and shuts up. 
Source: Balancedlivingmagazine.com
After this point, Frank would finally lose it with me and really vent frustrated. 

"HOW CAN I TEACH YOU IF EACH TIME YOU TELL ME I'M WRONG! I'm the trainer here. You are the trainee. How can you possibly know how to operate the machine!?" he demanded to know as he threw his arms up and down to the pace of the first and last word of each sentence. 

To which I responded expressively and pugnaciously, "I'm NOT telling you you are wrong! I'm saying that I am not familiar with the standard measurement system, I don't understand why 3/8's of an inch is [such and such] and I refuse to go on without understanding! I'm not going to go on without understanding what I am doing!" 
Source: store.qualityart.biz

After that, Frank understood the difference but also understood that he had expansively misinterpreted our dynamic by claiming that I was suggesting that he was wrong which did not have as salutary effect as I would have expected. He resented being exposed. 

So he carried on, but defensively. 

And this is how the past week of training to use the Tru-Track Systems machine went. I'm nearly finished learning the machine and by the middle of next week I should be operating it on my own and returning to the graveyard shift.



Installment 4 of the Godzilla Tool: CNC Machine Operator Series
What being a CNC machine loader is like. 

What has happened to me or what I've been through recently is either because the dictum that "the only reality is constant change" is true or that negative thinking really create self-fulfilling prophecies, or a combination of the two. 

At this point in my tenure as CNC machine loader/machinist, I will start training to use a center-less grinder called the True-Track (it's the one that Lee operated before he was fired on Tuesday afternoon.) 

Until now I have been an ANCA grinder Loader. Loaders load the machines with the carbide rods to be ground into beautiful and sophisticated drills, endmills, bores, and other drill varieties. Between loads, we put the finished tools into mini-pallets and perform basic Quality Control measurements. For example, we measure the Outer Diameter (or "OD) with a Z-Mike laser gadget or a comparator.  


Then we do preparatory work like fetching the required pallets for storage, fetching, opening, and emptying the carbide rods before they've been ground, and so forth with small menial tasks. 

Depending on the type of tool, an ANCA grinder will take between one to thirty minutes to create one tool. No matter what Loaders need to do between cycles, we usually have nothing to do but stand around until the machines finish a tool. Some Loaders do just that. They stand around. We also walk around in circles around the shop, socialize, horse around, and go to the restroom. 


I read. 

This week I've read Blue Nights the memoir by Joan Didion about aging, illness, and losing a child. Since I began reading at Godzilla (I didn't do it from the beginning), I have bookworm-ed my way through Reservation Blues, Memory of Lost Skin, 1Q84, Collected Poems of Wilfred Owens, The Book of Lamenting, The Naked Eye, Black Cool, Toxic Parents, Drown, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives, It Calls You Back, et al. As a reader, as a writer, being a Loader has worked out for me...two birds with one stone...even if it has not always worked for my co-workers' sensibilities who have never seen someone read so absorbed, on the clock, and who secretly envy my idleness. 

This modus operandi will likely change once I move on the True-Track. This new machine requires constant attention. 

Yet speaking of change and surprises, twists and curves, until Lee got fired, my Godzilla future was to begin training as a setup technician at the beginning of the new year. This meant a significant raise in my hourly wage. The skills of a true CNC machinist (set-up technicians) are in high demand anywhere in the world with CNC machines operating. So I was excited about becoming one. 

Still, even just last week, Godzilla's plans for me were even different from that described in the previous paragraph. And the week before that they were different as well. So at this rate, it would not be an anomaly if they change their plans yet again by next Tuesday. Let me tell you this whole "promotion" story from the beginning. 

Part 1

In early September I approached the night shift lead Tiburcio for my regular "how am I doing?" inquiry. 

"Tiburcio. Do you have a minute?" I started. 

Holding an oily rag which he's constantly snapping and dressed in a random shirt (the way he does) and gray Dickies khakis which look like a large airy bag around his bottom, he said, "Que quieres!?" 

"How am I doing? How am I performing?" I inquired sincerely. 

Tiburcio contemplated for a moment. Then he took in a small breath before finally addressing me, tilting his head up to face me, but keeping his usual upper-body right-incline like he was a crooked tree.

"Well, from my point of view, I don't think it's right for you to sit down and read," he answered me. 

I couldn't believe but I was not surprised that he brought up this issue again. I had thought it was settled after the manager Paul authorized my sitting to read as long as I was still performing my duties. It was clear that Tiburcio, whom I had utterly defeated before management on this issue, had still not let it go. 

We engaged in a civil argument reconsidering how this was an impediment if I loaded and unloaded the tools at an excellent rate of time and my basic Quality Control checks kept the tools in good shape. 

 In the end, Tiburcio at least conceded that his perspective on my reading had more to do with his personal expectations of workplace behavior than an honest evaluation relevant to our unique situation at Godzilla. 

He made one last argument to discourage my reading by trying to debunk my argument that my time spent reading was justified because there was nothing else for me to read except to walk around and instead of this I chose to read. So what was his problem? 

He jumped on "nothing else to do." 

"There's always something to do," he claimed. True, I thought, but it's not my job to invent the expectations of my position as Loader. That is management's duty. They can fill our idle time with a specific list of enough productive and relevant tasks to do during our significant idle time. I agree that there must always be something to do in the shop. How could there not be? I don't agree that I should be the one to identify. 

For one, it's not my job. For two, if I'd do it, I'd be doing management's job without being paid for it. And for three, I would really rather read--and endure the consequences of being different--rather than ingratiating myself to my bosses by being a super worker and pulling things to do out of my rectum. I'm not interested in being Employee of the Month. I'm tired of overachieving.

There was one more thing I needed to remind Tiburcio of, to which he'd have no answer whatsoever. It was Paul's express instructions that the tasks of set-up technicians and loaders be clearly defined and he limited loaders' tasks to the ones previously described. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't even request tutoring in the further art of grinding carbide. Even Tiburcio was respecting these instructions. 

So there it was. I was given oodles of idle time and I chose to use it to rest by sitting down and entertain myself by reading. End of argument. Our talk ended with my reframing of the original question. 

"Independent of my reading, how am I doing?" 

"You are doing well," he conceded, threw the oily towel over his left shoulder (another one of his characteristics) and walked away. 

This is how my odyssey to the present day began, with that seemingly perfunctory talk. 

Part 2

Part two was a talk I had with Paul that same morning. To iron out any doubts, I visited the manager in his office. 

"Paul, I need to know if the instructions for Loaders not to perform anything other than loading and measuring Outer Diameters is still in effect," I began. 

Paul is a white man with facial pockmarks, soft brown eyes and a perennial flat top. He also resembles Big Bird because his belly protrudes out prominently, arching his back and slightly challenging his balance when he walks. He's been grinding carbide his whole life and he's known in the field. 

When you talk with him, he has a way of disarming you by sitting very straight, observing you carefully like you were a specimen to be dissected, and saying nothing verbally or physically until you finish.

"Why do you ask?" he wanted to know, with his soft, comforting voice. 

"I ask because Tiburcio expects me to fill my idle time by putting myself to learn more tasks like sophisticated tool measurements, basic CNC machine programming, complicated spot visual tests," I explained. 

Paul sat as he does, with his palms on his knees waiting for me to finish and sensing that there was more I wanted to say.

"I'm bringing it up for two reasons. One is that I don't want to be evaluated by something that you have said I'm not even supposed to do but also because Rajlo, in the other shop, is in fact learning more about how to set up machines under the supervision of John. I don't want to be at a disadvantage when a position opens up for a new set up technician." 

Paul understood my concerns, especially the second one but he reassured me beyond my expectations.

"Yes, I in fact don't want loaders to learn any more set up skills and I know that John is disregarding my instructions. I need to talk to him about that. I want you to know, though, that from my point of view you are first-in-line for the next set up opening." 

I left the office feeling great. Hoping that a new position would open up soon. 

Part 3

Next, only a few days after this conversation with Paul, I was putting away collets in the rear shop when he peeked in and asked for my attention. 

"Choleric Serpent? I wanted you to know that John is moving to first shift and you are going to replace him as graveyard set up technician. We think you are the candidate with necessary maturity to assume this new responsibility. Starting in October, you'll be moving to first shift for six weeks for training. That will be followed by four weeks of shadowing John at night. So by the beginning of the new year you'll take over building B as the sole machinist." 

I felt very fortunate and honored by his words. It was Friday and there was no better way to start the weekend. I looked forward to my extensive training plan thinking that it would be full of exciting new challenges and gigabytes of new knowledge. 

"Oh! And that raise you asked for? You'll receive the commensurate raise to a CNC machinist." I could tell that he enjoyed delivering all of this good news to me. 

Part 4

The weekend after I learned that I had been chosen for a promotion from Loader to Set Up Technician Paul called me into his office at the end of my shift (Tuesday morning). Now he had a different message. 

Is the phenomenon of "the only constant in life is change" making itself apparent now? 

Part 5

Paul said that he had been feeling out my promotion around the shop with other shift leaders and some had expressed concern that I was not in reality an ideal candidate. To be specific, Tiburcio had forced him to reconsider. This shift leader had opined that I wasn't ready because I sat down and read in the shop. Clearly, the shop was not going to let me get away with these practices without a price. 

"Therefore, I'm going to move you to Building B for two weeks to work under John. Justin will give me a second opinion," instructed Paul.

The disadvantage in this was clear to me. John had already been training Rajlo for this position and when push came to shove he would certainly promote his protege and friend. I disclosed this concern and Paul acknowledged it but did not change his mind. 

He then added that John was also cold to my sitting and reading on the clock. 

"Who does that!?" John said according to Paul. 

"But you've sanctioned it," I reminded Paul. He acknowledged this also but seemed unwilling to use this fact moral authority to give me a break. 

Instead, he advised that once I work under John, when I was idle to go to him and ask him what I can do. It was as if Paul wanted to prove to me, John, and himself, that shift leaders really had no ideas about what to do during idle time and the resistance to sitting down and reading was simply a big old stink. 

I thought this was more or less fair. 

Part 6  
It was Friday evening and I was to report to Building B to work under Justin. However, my thinking was already negative (See the beginning of this entry.) I was already setting myself up for failure. I took the news that Tiburcio and John were using my reading against me when at the same time neither had created a valid argument to justify me stopping. I was resentful and that's how I felt when I entered Building B that night. 

I don't like fools and frivolous people and unfortunately that night I was going to work with one. His name is Charles a very skinny man in his mid-thirties. He seems very insecure and weak, a Caucasian who wears a cap to work everyday. He talks a whole lot, interjecting "fucking" at least twice a sentence, and works very little. He's just not interested in working and this irritates me. 

Not ten minutes into the shift Charles barged in front of me when my machine warned of a problem and he began typing commands on the interface. I thought, why is this person doing my job? Does he think I don't know how to do my job? I became instantly furious, stepped into him with my right forearm stiff and shoved him out of the way. 

Shocked, he stepped back. Followed my orders to attend his machine instead of worrying about mine and when he kept on yammering about how he only wanted to help me I stepped towards him and demanded, "WHAT! WHAT!" He was intimidated. 

Next thing I know, he's telling his story, gaining sympathy with Rajlo and a guy named Ralph and then going to, of all people, John. Well, that moment was my act of self-sabotage, the turning point. John approached me just a moment later, agitated. 

"What are you doing man?" he demanded to know. His eyes were red with irritation. 

I played dead. 

"Charles said you shoved him" he accused. Shoving him qualified as workplace violence which passed for a termination-grade violence of the shop's zero tolerance policy. That brief moment was turning into a black hole unless I did something. 

So, being a bit savvy in law, I took advantage that there were no witnesses and shamelessly denied it. And that was my policy throughout the whole ordeal, which stretched out for nearly a week.

Part 7

The next morning, Paul asked for a minute of my time as I was walking to my car. He was on my side. 

"Charles told me there was an incident between you and him last night. I got his side of the story, now I want yours. Did you shove him?" he ventured.

"No, I didn't," I subterfuged. 

"I didn't think so," Paul swallowed my line. "So tell me what happened," he continued to inquire. 

I began my narrative (which I had meticulously fashioned during the night.) I wasn't going to be taken down even if I had to roll in the mud a little bit. Before I could finish, though, Paul just wanted to know one thing. 

"Were you in front of the machine when he barged in on you?" 

"Yes, I was." This was in fact true but for some strange reason Charles had told I was not. 

"I knew that was a lie," Paul concluded. 

We said goodbye and I got in my car looking forward to the weekend. Yet, if I wanted MORE stress in my life it was right there. I had created it. 

It gets worst. Really. 

Part 8

This wasn't over. The following Tuesday at the end of my shift I was leaving the building when set up technician Chad told me to stick around because there was going to be a "little talk." 

Brendan, an expert (not an exaggeration) set up technician who had just come to Godzilla a few months ago had convoked the meeting. He was going to oversee my training and inform us that Rajlo was going to be trained along with me and that we would take over Building B. 

Brendan does not look professional or authoritative. He looks like a dumb surfer. He's a tall Caucasian with short blonde hair. He's muscular and simply has a surfer's body. That morning though his hair was dyed fuschia. I hadn't known who he was until, what stature he had until that morning. Prior to that I had walked by him in the parking lot and just snubbed him, thinking he was a new punk loader. Little did I know and I am glad I didn't start a conflict with him which is what I wanted to do sometimes. 

Also present at the meeting was John and Rajlo. The first item on the agenda was the incident between myself and Charles. I didn't understand why this was still relevant but I suppose that Charles was more persistent than I estimated him to me. In the proceedings I followed the same policy. 

"What do you understand happened between Charles and I?" I challenged him. This challenge was a departure since it had been clear that the meeting was supposed to be a monologue with logistical questions at the end. 

"Well, you shoved him," he said. It really bothered me that this was still the dominating narrative. 

"That's not what happened," I asserted. 

He was disarmed so he resorted to just overlooking what I had just said. "Well, I don't know what happened between you two but I know that we need unity in the shop going forward," he argued. From this it was suggested that I was the snag towards this (bullshit) goal. Not a role I necessarily disliked. I liked being the one who fucks it all up for the executives. 

The next item was the plan going forward with the unity theme as the undercurrent. The plan was for me and Rajlo to train and replace John in the graveyard shift. Now the training regimen had changed though. Each of us would train for two weeks versus six and then shadow John for one week. Then we'd be setting up by the beginning of December. 

The tone of the talk though, and it was becoming clear that the meeting was designed to shame me and put me in my place, was all about my instability, my rebellion and how this could cost me. I was being considered but I wouldn't be anymore if I didn't toe the line. Brandon had hinted at my sitting and reading again. The issue just would not rest!

I talked back. "I do my job and perform my duties regardless."

"Yes, but you should find something to do instead of sitting and reading." 

"Why is more being demanded of me. Fellow loaders don't do anything else except walk, stand, and socialize. Why am I being singled out because I want to rest and sit down and read?" 

He had no answer to why I was singled out. Instead he suggested that I was cheating David, the owner. He pointed at the window high on the wall where the white collar workers busy themselves. 

"Imagine you were David and you looked down from that window and saw people sitting down and reading. How would you feel?" 

I rolled my eyes at the inanity of his comeback. David nor Brendan have any idea what Loading is about or what it's like. They ignore how idle the job can be and they've failed to order their managers to create specific lists of duties for us to do during the idleness. It's a failure of human resources on their part but they're too pigheaded to realize this. 

Brendan wasn't done. "Would you be happy if you were being paid a fair wage, the way David does, so you're employee could sit around?" 

I don't know how Brendan can assert that $9.50 per hour is a "fair" wage. I can't even afford my own apartment with that and I struggle to keep food on the table. But I kept my mouth shut this time. 

The last item and this was the most vehement exchange between Brendan was when he rubbed in my face that I had not set up skills as opposed to Rajlo who already knew how to clean and qualify a wheel. Well no duh I thought. He's been working under Justin. 

"That's because I have been following Paul' specific instructions to not do anything beyond basic loader duties."

"I can't believe Paul not wanting you to learn more," he fought back. 

"Well ask him. Don't take my word for it," I finished and the little talk was over. 

Part 9

The next Friday at the end of my shift I was called into another meeting with Paul, Brendan, Charles, and Tiburcio my immediate supervisor. They had me apologize to Charles for what had happened the week before. Management's desire was for us to squash the situation. Charles left and then Tiburcio came forward. 

"I have a request. Paul, will you please remind Choleric Serpent of my role here and his place," he stated. 

"Tomas, Tiburcio is your manager. You need to respect him especially since he will be your mentor when you begin setting up," Paul advised. 

The following Monday I was in building B at 10 pm sharp. A part-timer named Jack was also there but he was busy texting from his phone. I went to work right away. Fifteen minutes later, Rajlo and John entered the shop but with no sense of urgency or guilt at being late. In fact, they had pizza in their hands and went about eating it and socializing until 11 pm. I was doing all the work by myself. 

The rest of the night was characterized by constant socializing between Rajlo, John, and Jack, as well as spontaneous disappearances by Rajlo so that he'd be gone for thirty minutes of the time, on the clock. 

I was so angry in the morning that I told Paul all about it. As i was telling him, John was right outside his office and listened to everything. When I walked out I looked in his eyes. He looked dispirited, forlorn and moist-eyed. Immediately I felt for him. He looked shocked and hurt. 

I regretted telling on them later. 

Part 10

I needed to keep working with them and they'd be passive agressive with me both nights. The first night, they played the stereo at full volume so that I couldn't hear myself think. They shunned me and failed to acknowledge me. John had to acknowledge me because he had to give me instructions but he did it bitterly. 

On the third day, Rajlo and I had a furious argument. He took another one of his spontaneous breaks and was gone for thirty minutes. When he returned I challenged him. 

"Where have you been?" I started. 

"Man, that's none of your business," he retorted. 

"Well, it is my business because you are supposed to be working with me," I explained. 

"Are you paying me!?" he asked indignantly. 

"I don't but are you paying me to do that work?" We were practically in each other's faces. The argument ebbed for a moment and then flowed with a vengeance. The argument was escalating. I was ready to go down in a blaze of glory should it turn to blows. John finally came and separated us. 

"You are both acting like five year-olds!" he claimed and I saw in his eyes that he was barely holding it together. He was not ready for this and he only did what came to his mind first. 

Final Part 11

Things between all of us cooled down after one week. Since Rajlo and I were both loaders and had to, for example, mop together, he began to warm up again. Starting to look me in the eye again, collaborating with me, helping me. John was a different story. He grew more livid each day. He couldn't help but glare when he looked at me. 

The schedule for Rajlo and I's training was to begin the week of October 29. I would go first, then Rajlo would go to first shift beginning on the fifth. To make an important dental appointment in Tijuana and to accompany my church on a camping trip, I yielded the first two weeks to Rajlo which meant I'd start training on the fifth of November. 

Now we're in the middle of Rajlo's training and the outlook is like night and day. Lee has been fired and I am being moved to the True-Track. This means I am not going to become a set up technician which is what I really wanted to do. 

I reaffirmed this with Paul. 

"Paul, when do I start on the True-Track?" I asked.

"Whenever you can move to first shift?" 

"Does this mean that plans for me to do set up are filed?" 

Paul didn't want to acknowledge how this news nullified everything I had been looking forward since late September. 

"This is a good move for you. You will get to know the company and its workings better. We're also thinking of getting a new machine which you will operate." 

This was promising but when in the heck were they going to make that decision. 


Terminations and My Future at Godzilla

Installment 3 of the Godzilla Tool: CNC Machine Operator Series

Last evening I arrived to some troubling news in the shop. Abrahan brought me the news first. 

"Hey! Have you herd the bad news?" he asked as he wiped oil off a tool with an industrial grade blue paper towel.

"No! What bad news?" I asked, piqued by curiosity. After all, I was already bored. 

"Lee's been fired," he said. 

I felt a wooden dagger sink into my chest. Lee's a good friend of mine at the shop. We help each other pass the time. We listen to each other when we're down, we offer each other counsel. I went to his daughter's birthday party a couple of months ago. 

I wondered why he had been fired. He was here last night and everything seemed fine. He was overwhelmed with drowsiness from the sleep deprivation we all encounter during graveyard shift and he chose to go home early. He had tried by coming in to work but by 1 AM he knew he couldn't endure the whole night. 

I felt for him. Lee's twenty. He's married and has a daughter. They live on their own in an apartment. He just took out a loan on a used car. He's been through major adversity recently. His wife and his in-laws were recently arrested by ICE. His father-in-law was deported on the spot. The mother-in-law is going to face an immigration judge soon. His wife, then his girlfriend, was allowed to stay under Deferred Action. 

The night of shockers was not over though. A quarter of an hour later, Abrahan approached me again. 

Again, as he wiped a tool he asked me, "Want to hear more bad news?" His attitude was light-hearted, borderline entertained. He wasn't depressed or angry about it. I'm sure he didn't think it was fair, or felt scheudenfreid about it, but Adan has too much fun each night to be affected by something like that. 

"What is it this time?" I asked. 

"Rob's been fired too," he informed me. 

I stopped cold what I was doing. Faced Abrahan directly. 

"Are you playing?" 

"No!" he said, continuing to clean the tool. He smiled I guess from the joy and novelty of delivering bad news. A strange sense of purpose. 

"Rob was a manager! He was a key set-up technician. He's been here for ages. Hasn't he?" 

I was wrong about this. 

"Naw! He got here just a half year before I did. I've been here two years," he corrected me. 

Lee had been working for two years as well. 

After getting the news, I thought about how much different the night was going to be. Lee wouldn't be on the floor so my sidekick was gone. I also imagined how he felt right then. 

What's it like to be fully employed and endowed with a sense of reasonable job security, dependent on the job to support your family and your sense of dignity one night only to be fired with no explanation, no grace period the next day? 

There are changes coming for me as well. I will no longer be trained as a set-up technician and enjoy the attendant significant wage increase, specialized skills, and change of scenery. This is a promise that management has dangled before me for at least one month now. 

Instead, I will replace Lee on the True-Track center-less grinder. 

Conrad was sick last night. He didn't go home for fear of going on the chopping block. Between him and I there was an aura of numbness. For me due to the shock of the night's news and for him as a defense against the deep desire to leave and go home due to suffering from the flue and lack of sleep.