In 2001, I was working at a damper factory making dampers for Japan. On my end, this consisted of me drilling holes into metal and then hitting said metal into place with a hammer and then sending it down the line where some other hapless fool with zero education and a substantial substance abuse problem would slather the damper with a fumy glue before applying a rubber seal.
It was very Upton Sinclair like.
The joint was freezing in the winter and ablaze in the summer, and everyone who worked the floor was intoxicated and had long ago lost their minds. One day a guy smashed two of his fingers off in a press. I think he was glad he did. The place was run like a sinking ship. We was all drowning, and we all knew it, too. The writing was on the greasy walls.
That February, the Count of Monte Carlo, Dale Earnhardt, died when he crashed into a wall doing a million mph at the tail end of the Daytona 500. The next day at work was total bedlam. I was barely clocked in when from the back of the shop I heard this old lifer Rusty scream out in agonizing pain “Earnhardt!” I spun around, startled. The old gals on box duty were openly weeping. Gargamel, another lifer who had been at the damper factory since before the times of high adventure, looked so fuckin’ crestfallen I hardly recognized him. As Rusty sputtered out another “Earnhardt,” but smaller this time, diminished, I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to go home. I was too young and way too aloof to mourn the death of an American god with my already half-crazed coworkers. The damper factory was already a bad scene, now made frighteningly worse. All that spring and summer, the dreary drones at the damper factory talked incessantly about the miracles performed on the holy tri-oval roadway by the great Intimidator. Everything they owned, from the cars to their lunch boxes, to their coffee mugs to the clothes on their backs were now covered in the No. 3. I felt as if I was losing my mind working adjacent to a race car cult.
And then it happened, out of the bluest of blue skies, two Boeing 767s loaded with al-Qaeda slammed into the Twin Towers and brought them tumbling down… and the irritating, little damper factory soon turned into an emotionally grueling hellscape. Within a week, every coked-up, chain-smoking ex-con on the factory floor, except the forklift operator, had transformed out of thin air into demolition experts and highly-trained terrorist hunters, yammering on and on about jet fuel, thermite, steel beams and holograms.
I couldn’t take it.
So I just stopped showing up for work and, after two days, I was canned from an $8-an-hour job.
I couldn’t believe I had stuck around that dump for as long as I did.
That December, I received word that Berry, who was paid under the table to sweep up around the ol’ damper factory, and who was known in certain drunken circles as “Casualty of War” because of the toll the whiskey had put on his body, had frozen to death while sleeping on his sister’s back porch, because he wasn’t allowed in the house, because he was a filthy, fucking animal. Ol’ Berry, thrown off his mortal coil without having solved the the mystery of Osama bin Laden, was now in heaven with his master Dale Earnhardt.