Every year, our dealership does a hand count of its parts department. Every nut, bolt. molding, gas tank, leaf spring and emblem is to be counted. Our employees are given an opportunity to help out for $10 an hour, cash money. Despite the irony of Ford employees (they usually do not own Fords, new car salesmen drive beat up clunkers, we all agree that most Fords are shit because we work on them , etc) I am always surprised at who ends up taking the offer. Women in the accounting department, who make very good money, salesmen, who make the most money of anyone, and anyone like me who has already been working 10 hours that day only to work another 5 or so checking off parts numbers to a partner who is rattling them out at a fast pace:

Ok, number change. 1735 Apple 30, Frank Henry 7 Zebra, Apple Apple Boy, and we got two of those.

Using words for letters is something I had first gotten accustomed with when I was working for a travel agency, and in the body shop office where I work, it is also helpful when reciting a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to a parts manager when having to special order something, and while sounding like some strange Dada mantra after an hour of it, it does make doing inventory a bit less painful.

Leo, one of the parts managers, is a big flirt, and I had initially requested him as a partner, simply because he’s a fun guy to hang out with and would make the time fly. He threw his back out at the last minute, so I was paired with another parts employee, which was just as good, since those who work in parts are the best people to count them, since they already know the system. Parts numbers usually look like this:

FT7Z-1750269-AAB

Some of the employees can actually read these numbers and tell you exactly what the part is, which is always amazing to me. I’ve done inventory every year I’ve been here because the money is too good to pass up. They hand you a computer print out of a certain section of the department (ours has 3 floors and endless rows of shelves crammed close together), a clipboard, chalk to mark on the floor what section you’ve completed, and a blank form for entering in any parts not on the printout.

They work hard just before inventory to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be and that every part is entered into the parts computer system, so when you have to write in parts, it indicates that someone missed something. The computer tells us how many parts we should have vs. what we actually have in stock, and as you can imagine, there are always variations. For example, if a part is ordered and paid for, even if the customer doesn’t pick it up and it just sits in our stock room, the computer lists it as not being there, and Ford sends us a replacement for the part. That’s how we end up with 20 of one item that no one will really need but people keep ordering and never pick up.

Smiley was my partner this year. Like other Louisiana citizens, he talks with a slight Brooklyn accent. He says “Babe” to me real short and fast at the end of sentences that run the words together : Youwanttositonthismilkcratebeb? Since he works in parts, it personally afflicts him when we find that parts are out of place or order, since he was likely one of the ones who had to stay late for several nights in a row, cleaning up. He is paying attention to everything I do. When I balanced myself on one foot to stretch my calves out, he asked if I had to go to the bathroom. When I sniffled, he asked if I had a cold. He asked me if my ear lobe stretchers ran all the way through like that, and I showed them that they indeed did. He remembers when I shaved my head in August and told me how brave he thought that was. When we went out for a smoke break, he asked me where I was spending Thanksgiving since I had no family here and I told him my church holds a dinner for people like me. “Oh, you’re a church going girl, huh?” he asked. Yes, hard to believe I’m sure. In the suburbs, I guess they don’t expect women who shave their heads, live close to the Quarter, and stretch their ear lobes to attend church regularly. They’d see different if they saw my church. His finance called him on his cell phone to check up on him and when he told her he was doing inventory, she naturally asked who his partner was and he said, “She works in the Body Shop,” which cut the conversation short. She must not know who I am, which is not surprising. Only in things like this and company functions like the upcoming Christmas party do our departments mingle, and even then we end up sticking with our own kind.

Henry Robert Oscar Charlie, 653289 Apple, Mary Apple Robert Charlie….

It’s a good thing I’m good with numbers and that my eyes can dart around a page, because the order of the parts is numerical and they’re seldom in the order the printout suggests. Our section was upstairs, in the coldest and draftiest area of the warehouse. It was about 60 in there, which was not helping my aching back or oncoming cold very much, but we plumbed along, re-stacking boxes of oil filters, bumper moldings, wheel covers, and gas tanks. One section had random sheet metal parts suspended with hooks like a meat locker, and another had shrink wrapped interior trim pieces. No wonder parts get damaged so often.

I worked for five hours and got my $50 and went home. I was hoping to work a little more today, but we had worked so fast in our teams that few people were needed to come in the following day. Smiley was still there when I left and I gave him some of my cough drops, since he too was catching a cold. He has had surgery on his knees and bursitis in both elbows, but says that the cold actually makes his joints feel better, he says. He wanted to stay and finish our section so he could get as much money from the inventory company as possible, since now he is quitting our dealership for a job that pays better.

In my workplace, there is a lot of dissention. We hate service because they often blame us for things that are not our fault, making us look bad to customers. We hate parts because they don’t always do what we ask them to with orders. We tend to hate the accounting office because they want itemized receipts for when our boss treats for lunch, and we hate the administration because the wall in our office is leaking so bad when it rains that the carpet is almost continually saturated and we’re all getting sick from the mildew and they aren’t going to do a thing about it. But I learned last night that people in these departments can be human despite their department. I try not to trust anyone, sometimes not even those in my own department, with personal information, but it is nice to be treated as a human every now and then. It’s the only thing that reminds me that we all have one thing in common; we want to be accepted for the people we are.

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