Thursday, December 3, 2015

Seasonally Occupied

Living as I do, out in the middle of nowhereville, I find occasional employment where I may, usually with a small business owner.

I was running errands a few weeks ago, wondering where the funds to survive the month were going to come from, and happened by a help wanted sign at a Christmas greens operation.

A few years ago I worked several weeks for a big operation running a wreath machine, and while it was one of the worst jobs I have ever had, needs sometimes overcome common sense, and I pulled in to talk to the owner.

The owner was a relative of my former employer, and promptly asked me to come to work the next day and put me on making wreaths by hand.

Several things are required to  make wreaths.  A wreath ring- a circle of heavy crimped metal of various diameters.  8 inches, 10 inches. 12, 14 16, 20, 24, up to 72 inches.

Also needed is wreath wire, it's typically coated green and comes on a spool like thread, but the spool is long enough to fit across your palm.

Lastly are the plant material, called "brush", most commonly balsam fir.  Brush is bought by the stick from "tippers".  A stick is typically a straight sapling 3 inches in diameter about 6 feet long.  The brush is snapped off the trees by the bough, and stacked and jammed on the stick, and when the stick is full it is then secured by rope or twine tied at each end and buried in the brush.  Sticks of brush weigh about 100 pounds.

To make a wreath by hand, I put the ring on the table and secure the wire around the weld by wrapping several times.  I put an armload of brush on the table, pick up a bough, and snap it several times down the stem to make a "bouquet".  Holding the bouquet in my left hand with the stems against the ring, I wrap the wire several times to secure it to the ring, and then flip the ring. And repeat.  This makes a "double-faced" wreath.

When starting off, the bouquet should be longer than the rest of the bouquets to help hide the finish when it comes around. 

SO, "snap, snap,snap!"  "wind wind wind" flip!

snap snap snap wind wind wind flip!

and on and on and on.

You'd think that would be the worst of it.  No.

I was assigned space in a tiny room, about 6 feet wide and 20 feet long.  At one end is the only wreath machine, claimed by a 70 year old women who has been making wreaths by machine for 20 years and worked other production type jobs for her whole life.

The table I am working at runs down the other side and I am at the other end, with the only heat source one foot from my head blowing dry air.  We stand on rubber mats on an unheated cement slab.

Typically when I am asked what type of music I prefer, I say "anything but ______" (edited so as not to offend fans of that type of music)  My co-worker has brought in a tiny tinny clock radio and blasts that type of music at a high enough volume that after an hour I feel like I am at the dentist having work done with no novocaine.

She is of course a very sweet hard working lady, whose opinions on topics are completely contrary to mine.  Typically this is not a problem for me, I understand people have their own opinions, but on several occasions she hits a nerve and I get on my podium.

We get paid by the wreath.  We do nothing but 14's and get 2.45 a wreath.  WIth good brush I can make a wreath in 15-20 minutes.  With bad brush,  it takes me a half hour.  She easily outwreaths me 2 to 1 on the machine.

She insists that making them by hand is as fast as by machine.  The machine does the wrapping of the wire-you place the brush and step on a pedal-grrr, grrr,grrr done.  I wrap wrap wrap, having to lift the ring each go round and set the spool down each wrap to pick up the ring.

When the brush is big, the stem bigger than a pencil, I have to pull each wrap really hard to make it tight to the ring.  I have to bend that handful of sticks into shape.  Sometimes I pull so hard I break the wire, and then I punch myself in the stomach when the wire lets go.

We do agree on some things.  Like when the brush is crap.  You would think brush is brush, but it's not.  It can be flat, it can be full, it can be yellow, it can be nosey, it can be sprucey, it can look like hemlock, it can be old and dry, it can be wet.  It can be frozen. It can have random yellow needles.  It can look like it has mittens.  It can look like green caterpillars. It can be impossible to yank off the stick. It can be impossible to snap and you find yourself having a wrestling match. If it's bad, it needs to be mixed in.  That means every bouquet you have to hide  the bad pieces behind a good piece-if you can find one.

The brush has been so bad the last three days, when one of the guys who helps with the rest of the work put some brush one her bench for the little old lady today, she threw it on the floor and kicked it right out the door after him.

We also agree on pain.  Both our hands go numb.  I start wearing my wrist brace at night because I can't sleep.  She doses herself up with tylenol every morning and can't sleep.

My schedule gets turned upside down.  I get up in the dark and do the outside animal chores before the sun rises.  I drop the Willow off at school and drive 20 miles to get there.  I make wreaths for 6 hours and drive 20 miles back to pick up WIllow.  The dog does not like the new routine.  One bitter cold morning he didn't do his business before I left-I know this because he left a big pile for us when we got home.  Today he found a partial bag of chocolate chips I had been snacking on and ate them, and we spent an hour trying to figure out what a toxic dose of chocolate was for his size before realizing he would be ok.

I have nightmares.  I dream I am talkiing on the phone to my dead grandmother and say, "I will see you soon".  I dream I am at the top of a huge pile of shavings and my car falls down, and I see people dressed in suits walking along a sidewalk on the other side of the construction zone I am stranded in.  I wake up with tears in my eyes to find the cat on my chest gently wiping the tears off my cheeks with her paw.

Wreathmaking sucks. Ho Ho Ho.