Montague, MA, August 16, 2011 (Job Entry 1: Candle Factory)

by Martin Zimmermann

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.