We spent the day stacking boxes of scented candles onto pallets in the shipping department. The job was somewhat strenuous at times, but not so much overall. Before I was hired, I had had to take an aptitude test in a tiny office located in a dingy, neglected section of the factory. For the test, they instructed me to lift a series of boxes of varying sizes, shapes and weights while a woman evaluated me based on where I placed the stress of the weight. “Lift with your arms and legs, not with your back.” That was the mantra. It was a sound mantra. The mantra was obeyed and I passed the test, and so I was hired.
That day, as usual, we had our mandatory stretch breaks. I didn’t mind them. There were two, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, both led by our manager, KJ, a small, rotund trollish man with a grey goatee, black rectangular glasses and two unflattering circular earrings. Pallet stacking stopped and KJ corralled the workers—mostly grumpy middle-aged men—into a circle off to one side of the shipping department. Over the whirring conveyor belts, forklifts and faint country radio, we did a number of stretches for what seemed like an eternity but was actually only a few minutes. The men in the circle adopted a blank, dejected looking expression during the stretches. I tried my best to smile.
For one stretch KJ placed the tip of his index finger vertically on his chin and firmly pressed it into his flesh. I think it was some sort of neck exercise, but I couldn’t be sure. The effect was that the fat folds in his neck were deeply accentuated. He could have been pondering over a profound thought (an intimate thought). Or perhaps he was thinking of nothing.