I made state-of-the-art onion rings and readied them for packing, at $5.15 an hour last summer. More often I was given the glamorous task of hunching over rows and rows of onions, picking out the green parts, brown parts, skin.

My penance for wondering about the lives of people who worked at the sugar beet factory on the highway as I drove to my grandma's was I had to find out, seriously, how it would feel to have to face frozen food for hours on end, earplugs only a slightly protective padding over the rattle of machinery and, occasionally, conversations and work instructions I vaguely understood, if at all.

(I forget the trimming line. Everybody liked it but me. I couldn't cut the brown spots out of whole onions quick enough to be satisfied; the line moved too fast; I got dizzy often and lost my knife in the gutters of skin and onion garbage.)

The better part was picking up Spanish words and offers of real free Mexican food on forced-overtime nights, a little more time with Noey on breaks, walking home in the summertime, late, under the moon.

I couldn't wear the same thing twice before laundering; the salt-and-onion smell was so pervasive that even the same bra worn two consecutive days without washing offended, thickly, everyone within a 20-foot radius. My hands - I wore two pairs of gloves to handle the onions were better protected; my eyes were not; there was not enough stainless steel to go around; I would have built a shower of it, a bed, whatever. And on shift at the plant, I was always arguing with the dead, thinking of things I should have done, singing whole albums of songs I didn't like, dictating (through my surgery mask) words I would never get the energy to write; they were never good thoughts, but I was left with them, left with what I could not shake for sleep or greater stimulation.