I plunge my hands into another green plastic tub of nuggets and pull up with pieces of chicken hanging from my fingers like fleshy rosary beads. I fling the product back down into the tub in disgust. No yellow dot for this one. I pull a hold tag out and scrawl “CUT THROUGH” in all capital letters. I am on a crusade against strung-together nuggets. My supervisor told us that the customers are complaining about this, so we are to tag any tub we find with more than two connected pieces. I make it my mission to save the reputation of the chicken plant and impress my supervisor with my high standards and unrestrained holds. I carefully mark another tally on the hold log, trying to save the white paper from the raw chicken goop on my glove.
“YOU’RE TAGGING EVERYTHING MAN!” yells one of the runners, angrily pulling the tub I tagged off of the line.
“IF IT LOOKS BAD, I TAG IT. I AM JUST TRYING TO DO MY JOB!” I reply. I want to say something to him about how this whole place is built on taking advantage of people and the way to subvert that is not through carelessness but obedience, but all he seems concerned about is the extra work I am creating for him by placing so many holds. One of the unanticipated effects of this is the extra work I create for myself: a steady stream of rejected tubs coming back for rechecks, keeping the line backed up at DSI 5. My co-worker, Roberto, appears suddenly beside me and begins pulling product to weigh at my station.
“HILDA TOLD ME TO TAKE OVER LINE FIVE HERE. SHE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU IN THE OFFICE.”
I take off my gloves and walk up the steps of the foot bridge over the conveyor, through the series of plastic flaps, past a giant crate of discarded chicken dyed pastel blue, and into the QA office. I am relieved to have a break from the constant work of the line, where my brain was struggling to keep up with my hands, but unnerved by my assistant supervisor’s sudden interest in talking with me. Most days she does not even reply to the “Good morning” I greet her with in the office at the start of the day. Most of my questions regarding work or the location of needed supplies are typically met with a rude response implying that I should have already known the answer to my own question. I walk into the office where she is making more hold tags.
“Roberto said you wanted to talk to me?”
Without looking up from her work she says, “Go back to the line. I will come and get you. Just stay off of line 5.”
Caught in the familiar gap between obedience and initiative, neither of which are sustainable traits in this place, I return to the line in frustration. DSI 1 is the only unoccupied station, where there is only one tub awaiting inspection. I stir the product, weigh thirty fillets, affix my yellow dot, and slide it onto the line. I lean against the counter, waiting anxiously for my assistant supervisor or another tub to inspect.
Hilda strolls out onto the floor. After five or so minutes of socializing with fellow supervisors, she calls me with her hand. She maintains her usual morbid silence as she leads me back to the office. When we arrive, she tells me to sign in my pen and thermometer and watches impatiently as I do so.
“Follow me,” she says. We cross the production floor again and exit to the front part of the building where we turn into the human resources office. Hilda escorts me to a room where my supervisor and one of the human resources personnel sit waiting for me.
“As you know, the first forty-five days are a probationary period. It seems as though you are not a good fit for the QA position, so we are going to have to let you go… I am going to need your ID card. Your supervisor will clock you out,” the man in human resources tells me in a practiced voice. I turn to my supervisor, remembering the many times I asked him for feedback to no avail.
“Can I ask why?”
“Well, speed. The line was always getting backed up. I got called out to the floor five times because of you! And you failed to fill out the weight histogram correctly.”
By this time everyone is on lunch break and so I go into the cafeteria, but cannot bring myself to sit down to lunch just yet, so I go into the bathroom, shut myself in a stall, and surprise myself as I fill the toilet bowl with tissues full of snot and tears. It hurts getting fired, even from such dismal work.
The next day was supposed to be my first mandatory Saturday overtime in my month-long career at the chicken plant. Instead, I take my usual morning stroll to the Comer Farmer’s Market where Corey tells me Baw Baw has been trying to call me because her stomach hurts. Knowing she is nearing nine months, I walk quickly over to her house, knock on the door and walk in. Baw Baw stands in the living room clutching her belly.
“My baby brother is coming!” Blay Blay says.
“Ya gaw na ta blu blaw leeeh. Na ta paw phone ba ma nu leh—I called you many times already! Why didn’t you answer?” she asks.
“Did you call Sue already?”
“Uhh. Ya te aw he luh a na ree ta hsee ta kaw, bah hsa ya hso ga moh Wisdom ga oh pleh hsoo nya—Yes, I told her to come at 10:30, but I think Wisdom will be born very soon.”
I quickly call Sue at Jubilee and tell her to come now to take Baw Baw to the hospital as I prepare to watch the other four kids and try to get in touch with Hei Nay Htoo at the chicken plant. Russ and Christina at Jubilee volunteer to watch the kids so that I can take Hei Nay Htoo to the hospital. I agree to take over watching the kids Sunday morning until their parents get back from the hospital.
Wisdom Yoha Htoo is born 8 pounds, 11 ounces on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM at Athens Regional with no complications. Hei Nay Htoo and I arrive shortly after the birth. I am then sent on a mission to find rice and Mama noodles.
The next morning I drop scrambled eggs into hot oil and watch the yellow mixture puff up as it fries. I place the fried eggs on the table with rice, Sriracha, sliced fruit, and five plates. Wonderful, Blay Blay, Hae Tha Blay, Ga Pu, and I sit down on the floor around the table to eat breakfast as we wait for Wisdom to come home.