(a chapter within Wonderbread Man, novella, foundation for a film)
The drum of the machines pounded outside his door. An intermittent conveyer belt he imagined made almost the sound of an elongated snare drum rift, the jazz kind, soft, and with those steel brushes going soft and slow on top of one another. The squeaking noise came ever so often and he knew it had to be one of the rolling machines but didn’t have the time to deal with a review of a dozen or so monstrosities within 50 yards of his office. He’d mention it to one of the mechanics.
He sat at his computer and felt the warm blow of heat coming from the vent just under his desk. It worked well in the mornings, but mid-morning he would always be looking to the wall for a thermostat that wasn’t there. The graph on his wide screen should be inverted he thought–this would give them something to think about.
The budget was slightly behind schedule due to two weeks of school closings. Five school districts in and around the city were their bread and butter if you’ll excuse the pun. But halting delivery and the haphazard scaling back due to late school openings caused a mess with forecasts not to mention the staff. He had never experienced 10 days off with at least 4 late openings. He felt he was losing track of what day it was. He thought if these Superintendents could make a decision the day before instead of at 5:30 AM we could plan accordingly. The bakers all start at 1:00 A.M. What to do with the surplus of 60,000 trays of bread? At least a third sat and waited, so now 40,000 waiting, waiting, waiting but not past their “sell by date.” The stop work measure halted what could have been worse. He would have to address it at the next meeting, and he knew this would be his first challenge over this three year tenure as Manager of the factory.
He changed screen views and opened up the window on employee hours. 43 on staff, 22 part-time. If he had moved another 10 to part-time, at just under 30 hours per week, this would reflect an additional savings with current 22/43 = .511627 at almost half staff to 32/43 = .744186 or three fourths at part-time. More savings would of course come from loss of benefits to those at 23% on top of salary, life insurance, payroll taxes at 7.7%, state and local taxes being 3.2 and 4.5 respectively, and workman’s comp. The full-timers here never cared to put much into their 401K, what $1200 max per year, just a show of a benefit at this level. Could he manage with only eleven full timers? The definition of “essential” had to change from the last layoff some 13 years ago just after 2001. Still a vivid memory even though he hadn’t worked here then. What might be the length of the layoff until they could hire a few back? Busiest time was always winter the fourth and first quarter of the next budget year. Budgets would be due in a few weeks. Something to consider. Better to give hourly overtime than benefits through he would have to work through the day accumulation factor in the new law. Would workers be parachuted in when needed? What might that do to the product? The good thing the brunt of the business was literally in the hands of the Master Bakers. The rest, mechanization and upkeep of these gargantuan machines running on grease of a different kind, on such tiny nuts, bolts, and springs, when it came down to it.
He remembered the nightmare he had once of the factory being like a Robot, one large automaton, swallowing people in its jaws and spitting out loaves of beautifully formed shapes of bread: muffins, burger buns, hot dog buns, croissants, powdery ham biscuit buns, Thanksgiving turkey buns, wheat, rye, cinnamon bread as the output from its belly. The input was a Transformer-like, multi-armed and legged monstrosity sweeping up handfuls of white suited factory workers in its steel housed tentacles. The jaws woke him up. The blood and white powder residue around the shark-like, rowed-teethed crevice threw him off his bed.
He rubbed his face as he had begun doing for some reason lately and glared at his office walls. He could not get used to this cinder blocked room without any windows. It was understood that this had been built or added on at a later stage of the factory, but why place it just off the center of the factory floor. Probably the only space to put it.
The yellowish paint upon the cinderblocks reminded him of a Hen’s feathers. He was not slow on the uptake of his own analogy. Another year he thought, just stick it out and corporate will take notice. They had the highest percent of customer satisfaction for the last two and a half years since he took over. He had tightened up operations, lowered energy costs through a few lifestyle changes in working conditions, scattered some work shift operations to better flow with real time objectives, and had brought a common sense practicality to the floor, his group, and his delivery routes. Lines of communication were clear now and the least among them let go. He remembered when he had made an error in a previous meeting to his fellow managers of other branches, saying:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”
from Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” No one had a clue to what he was talking about–his point, that truth points to reality, and there is a blunt beauty in stark facts. But he had gone on to say by taking the time to really see facts straight on, the who, what, and where’s, that we can get to why’s, how come’s, and what ifs. Here is where we can alter operations but we can not continue to work with blinders on. There is a comfort in blinders, he had continued, but the periphery and horizon might hold the greatest promise for it is always the new frontier. He knew the latter was more on point for his target audience and he would not bring up a line of poetry again.
He tried as he might to remember but the words were fading. All he could muster from his breath and inner monologue to himself were a few dog-eared lines which he knew were incongruent:
“Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan sister, who can not express
A flowery tale more sweet than our rhyme:
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and tin, tim,.. drums …? What wild ecstasy?
She cannot fade…
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! thou cannot shed
Your leaves, nor forever bid the Spring adieu;
For ever piping songs forever new;
Happy happy love! happy, happy love!
Forever panting, forever young;
Beauty is truth, truth is beauty,—that is all you need to know on earth.”