I wash my hands constantly at work. They began to swell up when I soaked in the tub at night, my life lines
and heart lines deepening until it hurt to ball my fists
. I've switched soaps recently, bought a mild exfoiliant
, to help with the process of getting my job off my hands.
"So, where do you work?" A guy I met online sits now in front of me at a Rue De La Course in uptown New Orleans. He's an architect. I note the little things. He still wears his Tulane college ring. He came in wearing a leather jacket, parked a green Camaro out front. Already I have this feeling that I will be doing most of the talking.
"I write collision estimates for an auto body shop in Metairie." His blond brows flinched a bit. He went into a tirade about his run ins with the local service department he uses. I sipped my hot chocolate. I ordered a chai, but I hate complaining. This is one of the main differences between me and my customers.
I thought over how I had summed up my job description in so few words. People often don't know exactly what I'm talking about. I've learned the expansive ignorance that exists with regard to vehicles: owning them, maintaining them, and in my case, cosmetically re-constructing them. From my job I've learned a bit about what we don't want to know.
Dust, I think, best sums it up. My job is cleaning up dust.
When I get home at night, there are veins of dust dried on the backs of my legs from sloshing around through puddles, helping the porters wash the finished products of the day.
I watch the painters sanding and priming panels, rubbing them with sanding blocks and their bare hands, rubbing it to feel the smooth surface for dents or waves before the painter with the double filter mask measures and fills his gun and canister for the next car. Hoses snake around their feet on the bare concrete floor. Each man carries a jet so when he is done sanding, welding, or drilling, he can hook it into a hose and air himself off, tossing clouds of dust into the air like confetti. One big hot celebration of dust in 90 degree heat.
In the body shop, Efren and Alvin are taking their usual break. Both are Jehovah's Witnesses and both drink Pepsi, leaning against a commercial fan whose only purpose it to blow hot air and dust out of the way temporarily. They sweep and try to tidy up before the next car gets pulled into their stall, but anything that is not used regularly or left sitting too long will be continuously covered in a thick layer of gray powder.
You can never really get rid of it.
"Can I help you?" A gray-haired man stands in the front office, rocking on the heels of his work boots spattered with paint.
"Yeah, I need to get an estimate." He looks past me down the hall, where he hears the voices of men. The painters are taking a break in Randy's office, printing their asses and elbows on his chairs in white chalk, drinking in the A/C.
"Let me get a piece of paper. Where are you parked?"
"You can write one?" His face lightens as his jaw cranks back, almost shocked but not at ease to fully speak his mind, since our office is a bit more high brow looking than most body shops would. When the dealership was bought out, we got new carpeting and plate glass doors. Even though the temperature would climb as high as 102 degrees during the summer months, all employees were being allowed to wear shorts and T-shirts for the first time. With his torn T-Shirt and bloodshot eyes, he was the one who stood out, not me.
"Yes, actually. I can. It's what I'm here to do." He's in and out in ten minutes. I handed him my card and had my secretary set him up with an appointment. He scheduled for Monday.
I'm back in the bathroom, scrubbing up like a surgeon. Some of the dirt is embedded into my fingerprints and it won't come out.
You start out wearing navy blue, but come home white and green. Handprints sprout on every forehead and along the walls in the office where men have rested their weight while they spoke to us about their dilemmas: back ordered parts, supplements, the wrong color, the wrong style, paint runs, chiropractor visits, divorce, the cold that keeps getting passed around. All of us spend almost 10 hours a day together, and most of the men have worked for my boss for over 10 years. We're a big, disjointed, dirty family of bottom feeders in a world where being dirty is the business, where dust means money.
What comes from your hands at work?