Alas, I’m Back

“Wise men speak because they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something “
- Plato

And so it is that I’ve not posted on the blog for awhile. Not that I’m making the claim that I am a wise man. Quite the contrary. But I do know the difference between not being wise and speaking out so as to prove the fact.

Actually, I’ve been otherwise focused for the past couple of weeks, being in the final throes of making a meaningful living and retiring. I joined the ranks of the leisure class a week ago today and still have not caught up with myself, and so have not found the time nor the inclination to sit down and wax eloquent on anything of interest. Of course not being eloquent hasn’t stopped me in the past, and neither has not having anything of interest to share.

I’ve been ruminating this week about my lifetime of work and looking ahead to the hope of a long and interesting retirement. More so looking back, for that is something that I know while the looking ahead is speculative.

I began working for a wage in the summer of 1959, when I was twelve years old. My Dad was manager of a large chicken hatchery in Northeast Indiana and he hired me to clean up the hatching area, the incubators, and the hatching trays, as well as other assorted odd jobs. Minimum wage was one dollar an hour and that’s what I was paid. It was a princely sum in my book. I cleared over thirty dollars a week, and for a boy of twelve in those days that was excellent. I still have a hunting knife that I bought with my first pay check.

But alas, the summer ended and I had to go back to school. I worked a couple of evenings a week and sometimes a Saturday after that until the next summer. I cleared about ten dollars a week, which still greatly exceeded my fifty cent weekly allowance given me by my parents.

In the summer of 1960 I worked full time again, still for the dollar an hour, but I got promoted. Sort of. I got to de-beak the chicks before they were packed for shipping. They were put into heavy specially constructed cardboard boxes consisting of four sections each. If I remember correctly they were packed twenty five per section, or one hundred per box. There were air holes around the perimeter of the boxes and in the lids. The chicks were shipped as far away as Arkansas, but were only in the boxes a maximum of twenty four hours or so.

The upper beak was trimmed off using a specially constructed piece of equipment with opposing sharp blades that cut with a scissor action. The blades were heated electrically to a temperature not far below red hot so that the beak was cauterized when cut. The purpose of this was to keep the chicks from pecking each other in shipping. If one chick pecked another and drew blood, all the chicks in proximity would join in and quickly eviscerate the unlucky victim. This could then be repeated over and over, decimating the number of live chicks reaching their final destination.

To this day I can still smell the odor of singed beak. It was somewhat reminiscent of burning feathers. I have always thought of that aroma as a natural appetite suppressant.

Before the summer was over I began working with the chicken sexer, learning that trade in order to diversify my job skills and make myself more valuable to the company. Oh, and yes, there then was, and I assume still is, such a job as a chicken sexer. Some customers wanted all males and some wanted all females, while others didn’t give a hoot. This was particularly a serious matter to those people involved in the egg business. Not a lot of return on having a male or two strutting around the laying house.

Dave, the chicken sexer, was a small man of oriental heritage. I don’t remember his last name, and it doesn’t matter. He covered a large territory, sorting chicks by sex for hatcheries in a two state area. Dave was paid a per chick fee. I don’t remember how much, but I know that he made enough to drive a Cadillac, factory equipped with a trunk mounted Frigidaire air conditioning system. That was a new and rare feature in those days. Even the owner of the company didn’t have a Cadillac, much less one with air conditioning.

My pay scale was much smaller than Dave’s, though I did get a small bonus in addition to my hourly rate when I was doing that job. Dave encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. He told me it was a booming business for a young man to get into and that he couldn’t find enough good help.

I could understand why. You had to pick each chick up, face its derriere toward you, stare at the region of interest through a magnifier that you wore suspended from your head, and blow on its rear end to expose a good view of its equipment. This allowed you to determine its gender. You then had to put each gender into its appropriate container. More than once a baby chick would let go while being thus examined, spewing you with bodily waste of one sort or another. In fact, a lot more than once. You had to keep cleaning equipment near at hand in order to clean the magnifier lens which could become too coated to ascertain the answer you were seeking. And you had to perform this examination rapidly, accurately, and thousands of times per day.

Eye strain was a hazard of the job as well, as was neck and shoulder strain. It certainly wasn’t a difficult job once you got the hang of it, and speed and accuracy allowed you to make some pretty good money. Needless to say, I did not choose that job as a career path, though sometimes since then I wonder if it might not have been a better choice than some of those I did sink to, career-wise.

Well, that’s too much about nothing, but as I leave the work force it has helped me to focus on the joy of this event by reflecting on these and other less than joyous memories of entering the work force. Fifty years have passed as the blink of an eye. An eye which from the chicks’ view was enormous and frightening as it blinked through the lens that hovered inches above their privates.

I started this post with a quote, and I’ll end with one. I hope that the words sandwiched between the quotes were worthy, or at least interesting.

“Everybody believes in something and everybody, by virtue of the fact that they believe in something, uses that something to support their own existence.”
- Frank Zappa