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Covenant: Keep An Eye On The Big Mean Guys

Continuing with the investigation of the covenants of work, I introduce another universal understanding in the form of a caution. Keep an eye on the BIG mean guys.

One of my first survival jobs found me working day shift in what I called The Asparagus Factory. I suppose this was a perfectly normal industrial venue, but aside from experience watching Industry On Parade, a TV program that showed conveyor belts and assembly lines in action, I'd never actually set foot inside a factory.

The first context marker I noticed? NOISE! I was issued a pair of ear plugs along with my hair net and green hard hat, but even so, stepping into that machinery-filled warehouse blew the breath out of me. Conveyor belts whining, lift truck motors mumbling, a hundred poorly synchronized electric motors squealing, the place was simply deafening.

Of course, working in such turmoil just has to be unsettling. Imagine what it must do to productivity, with mechanical arrhythmia not so subtly influencing every action. So, the thoughtful folks at the Bird's Eye Division of General Foods had installed speakers everywhere, from which blared at decibels above the overwhelming mechanical noise, ... wait for it ... John Phillip Sousa marches! Yes, the Stars and Freaking Stripes Forever! Really ... forever!

I was the lead hand dancer on the sorting line. The basic job of the sorters involved arranging freshly blanched and trimmed asparagus into little paperboard boxes, which would then be sent on for flavoring and flash freezing. Sounds simple. The asparagus was loaded steaming from the blancher onto the conveyor a floor above the sorting line, from huge bins, by guys in blue hard hats. Big Mean Guys.

The BMGs mostly hung around smoking and joking outside the Authorized Parties Only door, returning at their seeming leisure to buzz around in their lift trucks and complicate my life.

As lead hand dancer, I tried (and usually failed) to pre-arrange the stalks to ease the down-line sorting. I was very, very good at this, but never quite good enough because the BMGs reveled in dumping multiple bins, throwing in everything from steamed bits of wood to blanched snakes and rodents. So I would receive, down the long inexorable line, Mount Everest-sized clogs of carelessly braided veg while the BMGs smirked and shuffled off to smoke.

The supervisors, middle-aged drill sergeant females with 30+ years experience in this Hell, marched around keeping cadence, barking "Get those white butts! Get those white butts!" as reminder to sort the tough stalks into the cull line.

And so, from this month or so of experience came for me the first hint of a universal truth about work. There are always Big Mean Guys. It behooves ya to keep at least one eye on them. Keep an eye on the BIG mean guys.

Since, I have experienced nothing to persuade me that the BIG mean guys are not always lurking. Whether in the form of the ne'er do well relative of the owner or the veteran ideologue, BMGs complicate everyone elses' existence. They will not be eliminated from even the most carefully crafted process.

Most unsettling have been the times when I've caught myself in the BMG role. I admit that I've pulled rank and inflicted unnecessary complications. We probably all have. I carry the question about how much I might have contributed to the existence of the BMGs. They were of a class, the blue hard hats, that rendered me, a mere green hat, speechless. I might have stepped up to their sniggering circle and conspired with them to make my life easier, but chose to seethe as victim instead.

I'm learning to keep one eye on the BIG mean guys, and the other eye on my own response to their presence. I know I won't always find the foolhardiness to comment on the curiosities, but I sometimes remember that I could.


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