Summer was ending, leaves and garbage blew across the C-Train platform at the end of the line. I got off the Whitehorn train with the alcoholics and down-and-outs, the basement dwellers and deadbeats. They were all wearing some variation of the same thing, stained thrift shop denim that hung from their skinny haunches, small-company logos faded on baggy golf jackets, motorcycle baseball caps sinched to the last notch on the crowns of their heads. Their worn steel-toed boots dragged on the cement of the platform to the bus stop on the other side of the street, where they stood wavering, still half drunk or asleep in the cold dawn air.
The bus meandered through the squared streets of the industrial park, shedding its weary passengers in front of warehouses and aluminium depots one by one. I had to pay attention because the buildings all looked the same and most were unmarked except for a simple civic number hanging from the corrugated walls. I got off right outside my destination, the giant roll-up garage doors were already open, their chains clinking in the light wind.
It was dark inside except for a few lights at the back of the warehouse. My legs were still stinging from the day before, the soft-polished cement floors conspiring with the steel shank in my boots twelve hours a day. Rows of metal shelving, floor to ceiling, ran the length of the room. I opened the glass door to the lunch room and threw my grocery-bag lunch onto the chipped boardroom table. It was one of those jobs most people work for a month, or get fired from before that. This one had landed right after treeplanting and before servicing the welcome mats in the entranceways of convenience stores and apartment building lobbies.
The white-collar staff of the small adjoining office (which we were never allowed into) would not arrive for another few hours and I knew who I would find turning the machines on, preparing for the day. Peter was short with a scrub of curly red hair and thick modern glasses. His van dyke was darker than the rest of him, twisted to a point on either end of his mouth. Dense orange freckles packed his pale skin as if he had some terrible tropical pox. The ventilation hoods were humming, the lights were on, the gas ovens fired, but he was wandering the dark aisles, searching the shelves for the molds to complete his first order.
The things we take for granted in the run of a day are too many to count and I’m willing to bet most of those things are made of plastic. Plastic rollercoaster wheels, orange plastic mock handguns, plastic bearings, pulleys, caps, handles, and levers, plastic insulators, washers, bungs, and bottles, plastic dildos, plastic car parts, plastic sheets and bars and shapes, plastic electronics, toys, and hard hats. These perfectly molded pieces roll around in our lives unseen or in plain sight every day, rarely birthing a single thought to where they came from or how they were made, or where they will go when we’re finished with them.
There were six stations, six flat-top gas-fired ranges with huge ventilation hoods overhead to suck the toxic fumes of our concoctions. Two large swinging-door ovens stood on either side of the working area, the tempered glass black and crusted. Each station had a small kit of tools special to the job. Tin cans of various sizes, from small soup to large tomato, metal pieces the size and shape of a school ruler, various sizes and shapes of putty knives, utility knives, bottles of oils and lubes, rubber mallets, and screwdrivers. Behind the stations, barrels full of clear plastic pellets, tiny, of all grades and strengths, from rubbery bouncy-ball to hard industrial. Beside those, pots of thickening paint every colour of the rainbow. There was a clipboard dangling from the metal walls separating each station, our orders for the day with the quantity, colour, density, and ID for the specific aluminium mold we’d find in the maze of shelves that took up ninety percent of the warehouse space. The common area of the work floor was splattered with colour, layers upon layers of spills and tips of the cans. If at some point in my life I get cancer, I’ll know where I got it.
Peter came back with two armfuls of tiny molds, some smaller than the palm of his hand. He nodded at me and held up the smallest. One whole shelf for this one alone. He shook his head in disbelief over the inefficiency of it all.
Huun pulled up in his pimped Honda Civic, the bass from his speakers pumping like his drug-addled heartbeat. Roger and Bill in an 80′s era beat-up Chev half-ton. Arvind on foot with a plastic lunch cooler. The music stopped, the car doors slammed and they all went into the lunch room without a sound. Peter reached for the single-speaker radio hanging from a coat-hanger and turned on CJAY 92 just loud enough so you could still think. He was already mixing his first batch, so I found my safety glasses and stained gloves and picked up my clipboard.
Gradually the others joined us, Huun’s eyes wide and twitching, Roger and Bill stumbling, sloshing the beer still in their stomachs, Arvind clean-cut and cursing the day he had come to Canada.