His spit lands on my lower lip and his eyes don’t seem to notice this social faux pas. I discretely wipe it with the inside of my elbow’s sleeve.
“I tried out for the FBI and the damn lady gave me a freaking party bag filled with FBI souvenirs and shit, like an FBI pen. The fat bitch didn’t realize I could take that pen, put a listening device on it and have surveillance on her ass in minutes. Fuck, I remember one time this guy stole a library book from my local library and I helped track him down right to his fucking driveway. Reminds me of this movie I saw once, I think it had that Will Smith guy and the dude from Hoosiers? Anyway, I could run circles around that fat bitch; the FBI doesn’t know what it was missing,” Dennis says, with more spit, and his feet shuffle too close, so that his body is standing only a foot from me. I backed up and sat up against the railing and looked off toward the direction of the clock.
Thirty minutes into the twelve-hour shift.
It was a couple months into my training at Springdale Ice Cream and Beverage. I had started on the ice cream side of the factory, but now I was on the beverage side. Today, I was on the depal machine, thirty feet in the air, with Dennis, a portly, diminished man with a wart on the side of his face, thinning grey hair, and feminine lips that protruded into a creepy smirk, with robust safety goggles on and a hairnet and a radio attached to his shirt pocket, which was constantly animated with the voice of other workers and he was training me.
If a can fell over, I pick it up, put it back on the line and the stampede of cans continues, likewise with bottles. Otherwise, I pace the depal’s floor grating, trying to put as much distance between Dennis and me as I can. There’s a pipe that blocks the view of Dennis where I can check my phone for any text messages. There aren’t any.
The whir of the machines pulls me in and I look down at the glass box containing management’s office. I adjust the goggles on my face, afraid they’ll slip over the edge.
I return to Dennis. He has the long, silver stick in his hand we use to reach cans on the far side of the assembly line. He stops in front of the controls for the machines, admires the buttons, puts the stick back on its holder, and puts his hands behind his back. He’s the commander of the machines and it’s his duty to keep them in line.
“I remember one time, I was living with my mom, in this little house, I was helping her get back on her feet and I had these two girls over and we wanted to get down to business, but you know, damn mom was there, so we just went outside to my car. There wasn’t a whole lotta room, but we made it work. Man, they were fucking hot, I tell ya, a smoking blond with big fucking tits and this brunette, her ass was just hot damn, and we fooled around for hours and hours and mom never caught us,” Dennis says, and again, he stands only a foot from me.
“Really,” I say, with a fake laugh, looking off to the left, away from him.
“But yeah, man, that fat FBI bitch, they were telling us all this basic shit and I’m like, I know all of this, I could be running this fuckin’ seminar, but no, I gotta listen to this bullshit. You know they are everywhere, listening to everything and that’s why I try to stay off the grid. You see my phone here?” Dennis says, and he grabs his phone from his pocket; it’s a flip phone. He shows it to me.
“Oh yeah,” I say, not noticing anything spectacular about it. His fingernails are exceptionally long and dirty.
“I change phones all the time; you know you can take the chip out? I gotta stay off the fucking grid, man. I don’t want them tracking my shit, you know. I know this shit; I could tell you so much. I know I don’t look like it, but I know things; the FBI ain’t gonna get me. They coulda had me on their side, but nope, the stupid fat bitch. Did you know they put chips in your car? I know this shit, man.”
“Really,” I say. I feel my phone buzz in my pocket and I get up off the railing and pretend something is going on at the other end of the depal so I have to get away from Dennis.
I go behind the pipe and slip my phone out of my pocket. It’s a message from this new girl I’ve been talking to lately. I met her through a mutual friend and was warned, “If you treat her bad or hurt her…”
We’d been texting for a few weeks now. She seemed to like when I talked dirty to her. That should have been a red flag that someone I barely knew was okay with sexting. Then again, I liked that she liked it, so I did it. It is the evening and she wants me to talk dirty to her again. I look over at Dennis; his back is to me with the silver stick in his hand and he stands in front of the machine’s buttons again.
I put my phone back in my pocket. Dennis’s threesome still lingers at the base of my frontal lobe and I cannot concentrate on anything remotely sexual.
Forty-five minutes into the twelve-hour shift.
Dennis walks my way now and I meet him half-way. Dammit.
“I gotta collection of old movies you wouldn’t fucking believe, man. All on VHS tapes too and organized alphabetically. I like those old spy movies and shit, you know, that’s how I learned most of what I know. You gotta be aware of this fucking stuff, man; you don’t want them seeing your stuff. I got stuff I don’t want them knowing about.”
I start to picture the girl and how hot it would be to have her standing here on the scaffold and I rip her clothes off, slide the cans aside and do it right there on the assembly line. Dennis’ spit lands on my lip again.
“Really, yeah, I like some old movies too,” I say, and I wipe the spit off. His eyes don’t seem to notice.
“I helped work on a movie once. Yeah, I was at the set of this one movie, I forget the name of it, but it was back in the seventies or some shit, and they wanted me to read some lines. I have the movie somewhere at home, I think. Try Googling it on your phone, I think it was…”
“I have a flip phone, too,” I say, interrupting him.
“Oh, you better check that chip, though, you don’t want the fucker’s listening in on your conversations, you know.”
“Ha, yeah,” I say. My phone buzzes again. I walk away from Dennis to my spot at the other end of the scaffolding. He watches me.
I wait until he looks away and then I check the message. It’s the girl again. She says, “Welllll???”
I relay to her my fantasy of fucking her there on the scaffolding. I try to get as explicit and detailed as possible with mention of how wet I want to make her and then I send it. I close my phone. I open it, read my sent message and close it again. I open it again, check the message again, and close it again. Within a minute, I get a response back.
“Omgggg, that made me so hot, I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but that made me so wetttt. J J J. Tell me more!!!”
Red flags are dancing in my prefrontal cortex, but my hormones are telling me something else entirely. It’s been five months since Samantha broke up with me. I needed this.
I return my phone to my pocket and go back to Dennis.
“My girl, she keeps texting me. She wants to hang out tonight, go to dinner kinda thing, and I’m like fuck baby, I gotta work. But she’s gonna think I’m just blowing her off. Goddammit, these twelve hour shifts. I told management to start bringing in some other guys and I would train them, but they don’t get it. Last guy we had damn near killed himself by getting too close to the machine and that was that. Nobody can do it like I can. I’ve been doing it for years, you know and I just get it. Maybe you can too, though, but you know…”
Before he can finish, Big K soda cans start flying everywhere. There’s a jam at the end of the line, which cause cans to get backed up, which causes them to start flying off the line. It’s about the most exciting moment of the line, when the whirring of the machines stops and the human has to get involved.
Dennis leaps into action with his trusty silver stick, barks commands into his radio and tells me to grab a garbage bag for the cans.
One hour into the twelve-hour shift.