For the thirty-ninth time today, I stole a hopeful glance at the ancient clock on the wall. I had come to the conclusion that either the battery was dead, or the clock was playing some kind of a sick joke on me.
Its yellowing face bore a garish grin, and its gnarled, spindly hands seemed to flash me the middle finger, as if to say, “I have all the time in the world, buddy boy, and I'm not moving an inch till I feel like it. So, I suggest you quit staring at the wall and get to work before Frog-Eyed Rick beckons you with his sausage fingers and shares with the whole room his extremely low opinions of you.”
As if on cue, the boss man got up from the cheap plastic “umpire" chair, from which he relentlessly monitored the workers. He started pacing along the snaking production belts that dominated the room. The air smelled like egg yolks. His movements reminded me of the pit bull from Dave’s, a junkyard not too far from here, forever prowling from behind the tall metal fence, waiting for an opening, a weakness.
Rick broke his stride in front of Jake, who was weighing portions behind a narrow counter. The bulbous hairnet and his Odin-like facial hair failed to hide his freckles. “So, Jake, is it just me or is that your moustache and beard on full display one foot away from a food product that some poor bastard will swallow one day?” Rick was ready to pounce.
“Ehm, I used the last hairnet and I spilled soup on it at lunch,” Jake replied without looking up.
Rick’s face turned crimson. “How many fucking times do I have to remind you to condom that facial fungus of yours! I don’t care if you have to breathe in split pea and ham for the rest of your shift, I want it bagged at all times you’re in here. Got that, Mr. Darwin?”
Jake nodded, still not looking up.
“Now go upstairs, find Shirley and bring back as many boxes of hairnet as you can!” Jake dropped whatever he was doing and scampered away. Giggles and muffled laughter could be heard around the room.
“Get back to work, fucktards!” Rick shouted as he continued his round. As he was passing my station, I kept my gaze lowered, pretending to be too preoccupied with work to sense his presence. I almost let out a fart when I saw him amble on from the corner of my eye, to return to his throne.
To be clear: I did not despise my job. On the contrary, I really enjoyed it. Come December, I would have been doing this for twenty-eight years. It could be as mind-numbing as an accountant's tie, but it suited me just fine.
The truth is I’m not one to make waves. The guys here nicknamed me “'The Orator,” but that just got a chuckle out of me. Just the other day, I’d approached the manager of the company to ask for some time off. He gave me a long look and finally asked, "Are you lost? Do I know you?" Most people would have been hurt, but I never took offense to any of that. I didn’t need him to remember me for me to feel comfortable in my own skin.
The reason why I was on the edge of my seat was because it was a very special day. Today was the big five-0! I'm usually not big on birthdays but this year was an exception. What had me champing on the bit, so to speak, was the gift I got for myself yesterday. Charlie. He was truly precious. I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell in love the second I laid my eyes on him. He had the sweetest...
"Time to clean up, ladies! I want the floors and counters cleaner than Mother Teresa's cunt!" Rick bellowed, derailing my train of thought.
"I've had a taste of that. It ain't that clean!" quipped some wiseass.
There was a chorus of laughter that just got Rick more riled up. He barked, "Quit dicking around and get your sorry asses moving. I wanna get home, eat my supper, and have mind-blowing sex with the missus, if you twats don't mind." Rick turned his back and walked away.
Murmurs of discontent and insults about Rick’s minuscule penis size, his impotency, and quite a few not-so-respectful comments about the missus followed him out. On his way out of the production room, Rick paused to appreciate the front-row view of Dorothy’s ample behind as she bent over to inspect the contents of a box on the floor. He made a wet smacking sound with his mouth and kept going.
Half an hour later, we were in the locker room, changing. The room stank of sweat and cheap cologne. The beige walls were riddled with black smudges and yellow stains. Several tiles were cracked or completely missing from the floor.
I was getting out of my coveralls when Mr. Wiseass remarked, "Looks like you're in a bit of a hurry, Dougie. Old lady promised you a blow job when you get home?"
The guys burst out laughing. Wiseass Number 2 answered on my behalf: "He doesn't even have a wife, dickhead! But if yours gets lonely, Dougie isn’t picky." Roars of laughter and more crude exchanges ensued. I felt my face burning up, but I kept quiet and stuffed away my belongings.
That was when Rick walked in. He sauntered past the lockers and the benches straight toward me. He planted himself in front of me and leaned in close, stopping with his nose just a few inches from my face. His pink, bulging, veiny eyeballs seemed ready to jump out of his eye sockets. His twitching hairy nostrils flared. I could smell the stench of his hot breath on my face. He extended his baseball-mitt-sized hand toward me. This gesture puzzled me and filled me with a mixture of dread and discomfort.
All conversations came to a halt as everyone in the room had their eyes fixed on the bizarre scene unfolding before them. A little shakily, I offered my hand in return, which Rick snatched and shook. "Happy birthday, old man! On behalf of the company, the owner, and the management team," he bellowed, showering my face with spit droplets. “How old are you anyway? Seventy? Eighty?"
"Fifty, boss," came my soft reply.
He kept on, "Why are you breaking your back in this shithole at that age? Go retire already, huh? You're not getting any younger, you know. Gotta watch that ticker of yours, huh?" This half-friendly, one-sided banter went on for another minute or two. At the end, he gave me a solid slap on the back that sent me sprawling to the floor. The room erupted with guffaws.
Suddenly I was out of breath. I could feel my face burning up. I struggled to get back up. An intense and scorching current jolted my brain for a split second.
Robbie would not hesitate to show Rick who’s in charge. He would knee Rick in the groin, grab that bastard's shirt collar and throw his body against the lockers. And for good measure, deliver a deft kick to Rick’s hideous face.
I waited a full sixty seconds after the boss man rounded the corner before scurrying out.