Academic journal article Chicago Review

Assemblies

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Assemblies

Article excerpt

I've had this same dream so many times.

I've stopped having new dreams. Now I dream the same few dreams over and over. Most of them relate to things that happened to me when I was young.

This dream for example has to do with the loss of my eyes. It's the story of how I was blinded in the line of duty. The line of a duty that I'd imposed on myself. An imaginary duty.

In the dream, I was the dour young fool that I was when I lived in Chicago, in 1995. I had my own legs back then, and most of my arms--the ones I was born with. After an initial spurt, the pace of my auto-destruction had slowed. Gone were the happy days when I would whang off one of my hands at the factory, go home for a beer, and think nothing of it. I must have been sentimentally attached to myself.

I speak of this fool that I was, but I can hardly believe in him. Think of a cardboard cutout of a young fool, that's some improvement. Dress him in cutout paper clothing: a pale blue shirt, coarse gray paper pants, little black shoes. Slot him into a world of sliding cardboard flats, inside the box of a toy theater called The Factory. Cardboard walls, cardboard people, cardboard machines. Good. Now attach a power screwdriver to the stump of his right arm, and a humanoid prosthetic on the stump of his left.

That's him.

Now stand him beside a conveyer belt. Riding the belt, a succession of television picture tubes move past him, mounted in steel frames with some circuit boards and color-coded wiring. (He'd been transferred away from the model kits division, for obvious reasons.)

His job is affixing masonite backing panels to the frames as they roll by. His left hand places the panels and screws, his power prosthetic drives the screws tight. He aims his arms while preset manipulation loops run his hands. His hands require none of his attention.

So his attention wanders. He studies the dust on the brick floor. He looks up at the ceiling, at the old-fashioned skylights with cranks. Or he watches the assemblers, who have to think, to some extent, about what they're doing. Or he closes his eyes and listens to the factory, the hiss and ratchet of pneumatic socket wrenches, the whir of the conveyer motor, the white noise from the air conditioners.

During long afternoons, he makes up lies about his past. He pretends that he lost his hands in a war. Yes, he's secretly at war with the factory. And obviously the factory's winning. He's not like the others. They just come here for the money. He doesn't need money. What would he do with money? He never leaves the factory. He never sees the light of day. He never sleeps.

He sounds like a riddle: What makes war on a factory, has no hands, and never sleeps? I have no idea, but it's crawling up your neck, ha ha ha.

It's not that I refused my salary. In fact, I drew three salaries, since I worked all three shifts every day, under differing surnames. At four p.m., I'd punch out Alex One and punch in Alex Two.

But a man has to sleep. Maybe I never was one after all. Maybe I was really a machine that was deceiving itself. It's simple to hide from yourself. You just choose a place you'll never look, work all the time, and never sleep. You never find out what you are, and it's phenomenal how much you get done.

You can think about your goals in life. You can add up the minutes between you and your next coffee break. When break time comes, you can go to the so-called cafeteria--a row of vending machines against a sheetrock wall--and sit on a polyurethane seat and think some more. You can drink hot cocoa and chicken soup and think. You can eat a hot dog and an ice cream sandwich and think. You can calculate the number of screws you sink in a day. The one thing you can't do, if you're me, is stop thinking. It's a basic design flaw. If I stop for an instant, all the cores go blank.

Where was I?

I was standing at my assembly station, screwing masonite panels, when my foreman, Mr. …

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