Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not Too Funny Story

One of the most disappointing things about the Internet is when you come face to face with the sheer insensitivity of our own species. Oh, in nearly every comment section, you will find some loud-mouth oaf who has clearly graduated from the Bill O'Reilly School of Social Etiquette. Astonishing general- ities and uber-patriotic, uber-religious devotion, based on their vast education through talk radio and Fox News. That's a given.
That's something that either you get used to, or you go back to watching TV and reading books. When everybody and anybody, no matter how utterly stupid and rude they be- can jump into a conversation and do their own brand of obnoxious, then they generally do.
That doesn't shock me much anymore.
However, take a look at this.
Pa. Man Dies in Vat of Chocolate Wed Jul 24, 5:54 AM ET
HATFIELD, Pa. (AP) - A candy factory worker died after being submerged in a 1,200-gallon vat of liquefied chocolate, police said. Yoni Cordon, 19, of Philadelphia, was discovered in the vat by co-workers at the Kargher Corporation on Tuesday, authorities said.
Police said they believe Cordon had been working on a platform near the opening of the vat, which is used for mixing and melting chocolate.
Nobody saw Cordon fall and it was unknown how long he was submerged before he was found, Hatfield Township police detective Patrick M. Hanrahan said.
Hanrahan said foul play was not suspected and the death was being investigated as an accident.
A horrific industrial accident, to be sure. Something that happens more often than many of us might think. Yes, the detail that stands out is CHOCOLATE. Somehow, for many people, this irrelevant detail plucks their imagination strings and provokes them to attempt humor.
But I found this story in a forum discussion under the title:
Do you think this is funny, I did.
I hear you say, relax, it's probably a 13-year old. I hope so but how old do you have to be to have some normal feeling of sympathy? When do you train people to become sensitive? Isn't thirteen years old enough to show some respect?
Deep breaths. Calming thoughts.
It's not just children with this kind of lack of common decency. I later found the very same story on a site called, Daily Darwin ".. because people are stupid." If you haven't realized it yet, the premise of the site is to show people doing fairly inexplicable or unintelligent things which ended up getting them killed. Hence, the Darwinian law of survival of the fittest extended to intelligence. (As if compassion had no part to play in our survival.)
Of course, I wouldn't dream of arguing with the main idea. People really are pretty stupid sometimes and sometimes it can lead to their deaths (as well as the deaths of many completely innocent people too.)
However, to include this story, a story of a young man who died in a horrendous horrifying way through accident is, in itself, a prime example of a different kind of stupidity. And cruelty.
As a matter of fact, in one of my many many jobs, I worked in a very similar position and very nearly cancelled my own lease on life.  And nearly in the same manner.
It was in a meat processing plant in Oklahoma. I was not overly excited about the idea of working with raw meat all day. The place was clean enough, as far as factories go, but there was always this subtle, slightly-sour scent of  raw meat and pork fat. It was something that every worker would get use to eventually but, at the end of their shifts,  that smell would always follow them  every night, to stink up their clothes, their cars and their homes, to their dreading spouses and disgusted children.
Thankfully, the actual slaughtering of the animals happened off-site. Fortunately, I say, because I am 100% certain that, no matter how desperate I might have been, I could not have engaged in that kind of work.
All new employees started out as 600s, which meant that every morning they would show up at 7 in the morning, ready for work. We would all sit in the cafeteria and drink gallons of coffee and try to stay awake. As a 600, you would be called in to work as a replacement for any worker that had called in or had not reported to work for whatever reason. If, by eleven that morning, nobody called your name, you would be paid for the full day. So, it is easy to imagine the enticement of it all. To be paid just to sit around and wait. And the wage was better than minimum wage. The only problem was it was very rare that everybody turned up and, not surprisingly, the jobs that were usually vacant were the most wretched, most dangerous or physically demanding. So it was kind of like Christmas time except all your pretty packages were filled with dead animals.
One morning things seemed to be going well. I was on my fifth cup of coffee and I was closing in on another free day with pay. But then, my name came up and spoiled everything. And I was not given a job "on the line" which normally involved some kind of routine robotic work. That was never so bad. Time goes by quickly and you are around other people, to make jokes with.
When my name was called, I was told to report to another building away from the main working area. The Refinery. As I was grabbing my things, with the ticket in hand, one of my fellow 600s said, "Not the refinery. I just hope they don't ask me to do that."
An inauspicious start to my new work adventure. So traversing the entire facility, I found my way to the area were the raw fat was melted down and treated and then packaged in large boxes to be sold to other factories that needed  a big box of delicious raw lard. Yum.
The thing that initially struck me as odd was that nobody seemed to be in charge. I wandered around, directed from one floor to another. ("Oh, you mean Sullivan? I saw him about an hour ago.")
Finally some guy who appeared to be a supervisor of some sort gave me my task. and after he explained things, he vanished. According to him, I was to take the boxes of heavy white lard that had not been filled properly and throw the contents into the huge cauldron of boiling oil. The rim of the boiler, encircled by a railing, was flush to the floor on the top of the three-story building.
I don't need to tell you that the heat coming off the boiler was tremendous and it was already a hot summer day anyway. I stood there looking down into the swirling yellowish oil for a while. It was mesmerizing. 
I ripped open the first oily box, tore away at the thin blue plastic bag that held the semi-hard clay-like lard and heaved it over and down into the vat. It was interesting to watch it, dissolving as it made its way around the boiler, but it was messy. And the lard wasn't easy to work with because of the heat .I found that once released from its box, the lard seemed to take on a life of its own. On the second- maybe the third throw- I looked down and, to my horror, I saw that both the lard and the plastic bag had somehow gone into the vat.
Now, while I am not a nutritionist, I did suppose that eating blue plastic bag is not considered too healthy. So off I went to find my supervisor to ask him what to do. The person I found may or may not have been a supervisor, but he seemed familiar enough with the process.
"How'd you manage to do THAT?" He told me, somewhat irritated at my clumsiness. He didn't wait for my excuses. "Well, you'll just have to go down and fish it out."
"You'll have to scoop it out" And he added, purely as an after-thought, "Don't fall in. The last guy who did that suffered third degree burns all over his body. He is still in the hospital too."
I thought he was joking at first. He had to be joking. But he wasn't. At least, it would explain why the job was vacant.
He handed me a long rake-like thing and pointed at the other side of the vat to a shaky ladder that went down into the oil. Then he left. I took a deep breath and thought about it. All the railings were slippery and here I was in, wearing my oily sports shoes. Like a siren's song, the sapphire-colored bag, growing thinner and thinner, waltzed and spun.
And you know what? I decided that I really didn't care so much if customers tasted a little blue plastic in their home-fried buffalo wings. And then, in a few minutes, the bag was a memory.
But that was the end of my time at the meat factory. The problem was with that job was the management had lost track of what was the meat they were selling and what was the meat they were hiring.
That's when I decided to quit. I hated to. It was really an attractive set-up as a 600. But one day, I knew that my luck- which isn't very bountiful in the best of times- would run out.
So when I read stories like that. I don't see anything funny. What I see is a modern tragedy, when people are forced to work in unsafe conditions because there are no unions to protect them and because the management knows that there will always be another person willing to work in unsafe conditions if the pay is right. 

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  1. This is a sad story. And what is sadder is that the callous righteous right is becoming the norm in the US. They make this big show of being 'pro-life,' but once those babes here here, they could care less about their feeding, their education, and their job safety.Keep government out of our lives! they protest. No regulations, no minimum wage,no unions, no taxes, no safety standards. Let the corporations set their own standards...they will do the right thing or go out of business. No, they won't. They will protect their bottom line, hire for the least amount of money, let workers be in charge of safety (or not) and the hell with the person. There will always be another one. The right would take us back to the 1880's, when kids worked, education was, indeed, for the elite, and women were chattel. If this really what God wants? I don;t think so.

  2. I don't think I'll ever understand the mentality of people who manage to find humour in tragedy. And somehow it's much worse on the internet where they can make they're sick comments anonymously.

    Incidentally just before I popped on here I had an Anon comment in my spam box in Russian. I would normally have just deleted it but was curious so google-translated it. I wish I hadn' was really horrible...quite sick.

  3. After I fixated on the chocolate (and I admit Augustus Gloop came to mind), I got stuck on the part where it said no one knew how long he had been in the vat.

    Which means if that chocolate were getting pumped off and made into Kit Kats or whatever... It's all very Upton Sinclair. So is your lard story. Even though I hear all the time there's still stuff like this going on (meat packers and processors have always been a HUGE employer of illegal immigrants because they can get away with crappy work and safety conditions), I somehow manage to make myself believe it doesn't really happen.

    One thing I hate about our world is that it's possible for people to die senselessly in such undignified and purposeless ways. He didn't fall because he was stupid-- the fact that he fell into a vat of chocolate is stupid. The fact that no one noticed right away is worse, and the stupidest of all is that there were apparently no safety precautions in place. And no matter how good chocolate is, smothering slowly in it because it's too viscous to swim up in is a terrifying thought.

    So if I have a quick sense of wanting to laugh at such a story, it's only to push down the really horrible thoughts that are actually happening.

  4. A few months after I quit working at that same meat processing plant, a young woman lost her arm up to the shoulder. The story was (and I will keep this as low on the gruesome scale as I can) she was cleaning her machine which ground meat, had followed every step in the safety procedures but somebody in another area unknowingly flipped a switch and the machine started up. Back to the SOP manual to update THAT step, I guess.
    But what are chances of material success for a single high school grad mother of two with one arm?
    As the other commenter says, this state of affairs for workers is not just our distant past, or even our recent past, this could very well be our future too.


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