Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day: a work history at The Paris Review

In celebration of Labor Day, Chris Flynn at The Paris Review blog offers early-job stories from T.C. Boyle and Jim Shepard.

Jim Shepard: For some weeks one summer when I was in high school I worked as something called a passivator for a company that manufactured cabinets for computers. The cabinets were the size of desks and dressers, and made of stainless steel, and the solder marks discolored the steel in rainbow patterns. Those patterns had to be removed, but the steel couldn’t be sanded, so that’s where I came in. I stood in a large sink, like a small above-ground swimming pool made out of steel, in the basement of the building. There, I swabbed the discolorations with a wand covered with gauze soaked in hydrochloric acid. The wand had an electric current flowing through it. The combination of the current and the acid washed away the discolorations like magic. Alas, the fumes from the acid were also so strong that they made it hard for me to see straight. And the gauze had to be changed periodically. And the acid ate through my giant rubber gloves. How would I know when the acid had eaten through too much of the gloves? I would feel, I was told, a slippery sensation, before the burning began. And that was indeed the case. My father put a stop to my working there when he heard, with some disbelief, what I’d been doing.

No comments: