birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Keep a Grip on Safety

My first job was summer crew at grass seed plant following my high school graduation. It was not my idea to work there. My stepsister had worked there one or two summers and so I guess we had an in. I say we because my family got me this job, and I just went along with it.

It was a job where I punched a timecard and wore jeans and hiking boots, even on hot days. It was a job where I brought a lunch in an insulated bag with a reusable ice-pack. I packed good stuff, like pudding and Sun Chips. I gained weight that summer.

I learned to operate a forklift -- the hook of the job. It was neat but stressful after hearing all the things that could go wrong and how we really wouldn’t want to lose any part of a farmer’s harvest. I was slow and inexperienced but I could move those little levers with the small round knobs and usually not mix up which one tilts and and which one raises/lowers.

My first time operating the forklift, I was helping stage bins to be filled in the warehouse, and I remember hearing the very loud break bell ring. I knew what that meant so I parked my forklift. Maybe I was ready for fudge pudding? A supervisor quickly corrected me that it was not yet break until we finished this load, and I felt very foolish. That’s what first jobs are about I suppose. And then another time I left a lid on a bin that was to be filled, and we had to hit the emergency stop. Whoops. There was a lot of sweeping with wide push brooms.

The other big part of the job was repairing the bins, which had wooden pallet bases and tall cardboard walls. With a box-knife I had to cut a lot of cardboard, salvaging sections to be used for other purposes. I remember spending a lot of time working with one of the older guys who had been part of the summer crew for years, and how chatty he was with me. We had fun! And I remember another of the older young guys being really cranky about us talking and then that guy assigning us extra cardboard work as punishment. And I remember my buddy complaining and then our work getting switched back to normal.

We also repaired the wooden pallets, using crowbars and nail guns. I remember learning how the nail gun really works by hitting it horizontally on an upright beam and then hearing a delayed *CLINK* way across the yard as a nail hit the metal building. I was scared that I did that, very relieved no one was in the path of the nail, and then curious as I tried it again to show the person next to me, who then also tried it. My supervisor had me fill out an incident report. (In my defense, I had barely been trained to use the nail gun.)


I was laid off before the summer was out. This was not a job I thrived in, and I couldn’t help but think the incident report was a factor. But I was free from the cardboard chores! I made a little money for college that summer and I bought a pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses from the mall. So at least I had those. And then at the end of the year when I was home on break, the company sent me a mechanical pencil that said “Keep a Grip on Safety.” Indeed.

Ivory Tower

Ups and Downs