My first full-time job after high school was horrible in every aspect. Desperate to support myself after a precipitous exit from my parents’ home in the middle of my senior year in high school, I had fled to my paternal grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment but that was burdensome on her. So when I graduated I found an apartment and I took a job in a potato chip factory. That dreadful factory smelled so badly that my clothing and my hair became saturated with the stench of rotten potatoes. People would move away from me when I rode the city bus home. I needed that paycheck to pay my rent so I tried to distract myself from the mess of the half-rotten potatoes that came tumbling down the conveyor belt by working quickly to cut off the rot so that I would have time in the seconds between batches of potatoes to talk to my co-workers. They were all timid Hispanic woman and spoke only Spanish so I thought this might be an opportunity to build cross-cultural bridges and learn Spanish. But they refused to talk, saying only “Shush! No permitido.” It took me a while to figure out that they meant talking was not permitted. The factory manager noticed me talking and called me aside, “Hey you, come here.” I was already fearful in that dark, stinky factory, and his manner made me want to run. But I went into the little lunchroom with him. I had never talked to him before. It was a shocking brief exchange. He said “Talking on the line is not permitted.” I said “Okay, I won’t talk.” He said “My friend wants to go out with you.” I looked at his dirty, rot-toothed face and without wondering who his friend was, I said “No.” His face flashed over with anger and he said “Get out.” I left immediately and later had a lot of difficulty getting my paycheck. Even though he had not touched me, I knew that what he had meant was that if I “went out” with his friend, perhaps with him, I could keep my job in that reeking rotten potato chip factory. My first full-time job had lasted less than a week.
For years I could not eat potato chips because they reminded me of the reek of rotten potatoes. For years I feared interactions with managers.
Caption: I Would Not Lower Myself For A Job Peeling Rotten Potatoes
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018