Tales from Kodak Construction Division
by Gerald Bunton
Eastman Kodak was the largest industrial complex in the Eastern United States. Most assumed that that it only produced film. It produced film, the chemicals necessary to develop it and the world’s largest film processing unit. The plastics division produced raw materials for the manufacturing of cameras and the containers for film. The camera works produced cameras, copiers and toner. The Lincoln plant produced classified optics for the government. The research division had it’s own nuclear reactor. It had it’s own food service that served more than 100 thousand meals a day, it’s own fire and medical department along with a full service bank. The complex produced it’s own power, electric and steam, plus two, 4 million gallon reservoirs and a complete water intake system that extended over 1 mile out into Lake Ontario. In a word, HUGE!
I worked in the construction division and I soon began to think that every nut in the 5 county region worked in the division. My first introduction was while working on the remodeling of a newly squired building. My partner and I were working in a hydraulic lift, installing new support beams in the ceiling and one woman who worked in one of the small machine shops would wear very revealing T-shirts and hang around the lift. I must admit that she had very large breasts and wore no bra, so she was not lacking for attention. So one day my partner said he was going to ask her out to lunch, bad idea. So we drop the lift down and he asked, “ do you know the difference between oral sex and a big mac”? She said ” no”. So he said “lets go to lunch”. Slowly she realized exactly what he meant and as the color rose in her face you could just see the rage building. As she walked away I told him, “your screwed man”. It did take 10 minutes before our foreman was at the base of the lift, calling up for “you two stupid son of a bitches to come down out of that ceiling”. Everyone on the site stops working as he is ranting about “pin headed sonsofbitches”. He had got a call from our division manager about sexual harassment and no damn way was he going to put up with it, no damn way. I had to admire his cussing skills and I could because the lady came out of the shop and pointed out my partner. For the next 5 days I was working alone because he got time off without pay and a disciplinary memo in his file for 6 months.
My next assignment was working in the power plant which at the time was coal fired. This meant that you would get as dirty as a coal miner around all the coal dust. One day we are all washing up when two geniuses got into an argument as to who was more endowed. So while one runs back to his locker for a measuring tape, to settle the argument the other one is in the corner trying to rub up a few more inches. When the guy with the tape comes back he claims that’s cheating so he grabs the others guys manhood to stop him from growing. The tiles are wet and slippery so as one holds on to the other they begin wrestling. The one that had the tight grip on the others manhood lets go and he slips and dislocates his shoulder. Off to the medical department but the safety investigation is not told of how he came to fall in the shower. Later, they sent out a letter requiring sandals in the shower. This place is crazy.
Construction had a very diverse workforce. There were a lot of masons from Sicily that spoke very little English. I used to ask our division manager at meetings, “if you didn’t speak the language how did you prove you were qualified”, which had been one of the reasons the company used in the past to not hire Black workers. This only served to get me isolated within the division, but who cares. This language barrier had a few crazy consequences. A mason from Sicily at his entrance physical was told by the nurse to fill a urine cup. He was in the bath room for 30 minutes she became concerned and called in to ask if he was OK and said “no fill cup”. So she said just bring out what you have. He came out with a cup half filled with semen, he had been masturbating trying to fill the cup.
Even when you try to relax at lunch time and play a little basketball stupidity rears it’s ugly head. We would play basketball on a goal that we had set up next to the silver nitrate building. This new engineer asked if she could play? Only one guy objected by making a stupid statement, “you can be my cheer leader because broads can’t play ball.” She then challenged him to a on on one game. He was so arrogant he offered to give her 10 points because he had been an all county ball player in high school. She countered that, since she was only a “broad “ she would give him 10 points instead.” Now the challenge was on and I start taking bets. Once the game began she totally out played Mr. Macho. Final score was 21 to 12. I collected my money and she said, “second team all Big Ten conference 3 years in a row.”
Over the years I had developed a relationship with our HR department. I would get written up and get a memo in my file usually for 6 months. T his only meant that I couldn’t go on out of town assignments or take some classes. No big deal until we got a new associate and we did not hit it off from the beginning. I was a member of the division diversity team. We were charged with trying to put together ideas for implementing the company’s new diversity plan. There was one member who I clashed with at almost every meeting. So at one meeting he asked me “if I was gay?’ So I answered that if I were “he were he would have a cheery red asshole and would be cooking me breakfast.” Well our HR associate thought that I had violated some company diversity policy. So I told her that that was a stupid question that deserved an equally stupid answer and if she could get her head out of the book long enough she would see just how silly the whole situation was. Our relationship went down hill from there.
We were leaving a diversity meeting when I saw a guy I needed to talk to about a job we were working on. So I hollered, “hey whitey”, and our HR associate was behind me and said, “I want to see you in my office now.” So I asked, “what now, for God’s sake?” She responded I had used a racial epithet and that was not to be tolerated. So by now the guy I had called “whitey” came back down the hall and I said, “please tell this individual your name” and he said “Whitey.” He had been called that because his hair had turned gray when he was in high school 20 years ago. Now I turned and asked if she still wanted me in her office and she just sputtered and walked away.
Later in the year I had the last laugh although the situation was tragic. A co-worker brought in a local town paper that headlined the arrest of the same guy who had asked me if I was gay? He had been her “pet” on the diversity team but here he was charged with not only repeatedly raping his developmentally disabled daughter, this monster had the audacity to video each attack. I marched over to her office and presented her with the paper and simply walked out not saying a word.
Then a directive for the main office at State street come down about the treatment of gay’s and other “minorities”. One guy I was working with sent out a letter saying he couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate gays. Me being the fool that I am sent him a letter counseling him not to get so upset because I would never tell that he was a closeted gay man. I deliberately sent the letter to “all”. In less that an hour the company email system exploded with comments . A few minutes later I see my foreman coming across the courtyard like his butt was on fire. He asked what was I doing sending a note outing a guy to “all”. Trying not to smile I told him a straight faced lie, that I accidentally hit the wrong key and gave an abject apology. This would cost a 6 month memo and that meant my legal class was canceled. The company had a policy that every employee could take any in-plant classes that were listed in the catalog. I had taken the classes on diversity training so that I knew as much about Kodak HR policy as most of the associates so I always had an almost tearful apology for most situations on cards in my tool box, they had been class exercises. Hey I had four kids at home and my second job had shut down.
One of the problems in our division was language. Old millwrights were an unruly bunch and the language was quite raunchy. If you wanted a piece of equipment moved it wasn’t move it a 1/10th of an inch . It was move it a “c*nt hair” and if it was lesser it was move it a “ blonde c*nt hair”. You would use a brass weight, because it wouldn’t mar the surface of the steel, so you would hit it with a “horse cock”. The most commonly used word was “f*ck”. There was no sexual connotation associated with it it was just a modifier for commands. “bring that f*cking steel. Move that f*cking steel, get that f*cking piece of junk in place, what the f*ck , who the f*ck , why the f*ck and f*ck the f*cking f*ckhead that f*cked up these f*cking prints. When women started to come into the trades it was decided that it was time to clean up the job site language. Most didn’t object but some times people would slip back into old habits. We had a new HR associate fresh out of college and one of my co-workers had been called into her office because of his language on the job site. She started to explain that the “F”bomb could not be used on the job site. She continued to use the term “F”bomb while she lectured him for about10 minutes when finally he asked “what the ‘f*ck’ is an “F”bomb. He left the office with a 6 month memo on file.
Now I have 23 years in and I plan to retire early in 2 years so now is no time to screw up, just do your time and walk out a free man. Damn, some times I wonder if I’m talking about jail or a job. I get reassigned to Kodak research labs after I returned from a couple of installation trips to Mexico. Over in research I counted down to retirement. There were a couple of situations that required me to bite my lip and say nothing. I got a call to check the heater in an office so I take my tool cart over to the office and the lady in the office says that there is no heat coming out of the radiator. So when I clear off the cover there sits a box with a dildo in it. Shut up put it on the window ledge and check the radiator out. There was no way she should have left it there, do your job and get the hell away from this office. Remember, less than 2 years to go. Then, just as I thought I was buried in research – out of sight, out of mind – along comes our operations manager and an HR associate. They have a complaint about an offensive display on one of my tool boxes. So off we go to inspect the “offensive “display. I find out some one complained about a poster I had on one of my tool boxes of “Black Captain America”. What the f*ck! Short time or not, this will not pass. How the hell can someone find the original Captain America offensive? Now I’m pissed off and want to know who the “racist bigoted, unpatriotic, low life who filed a complaint? They say they can’t give me a name so I file a formal complaint and start counting down to retirement. “No f*cking way am I going to f*cking lose my f*cking temper and spoil my f*cking retirement plans.” Nothing ever came of my complaint.
Mexico was a paradise to me. I worked mostly with the Mexican nationals because my white co-workers seemed to freak out being in the “minority” there. The associate in the travel office said before the trip that you should never walk by yourself, always stay in a group. Never drive on the roads, never eat outside of the hotel, never eat the vegetables and most of all don’t fraternize with the locals. Sounded to me like a jail. My co-workers would all sit together in the cafeteria, I would sit with the guys I worked with. They would go to the bath room in a group. This prompted one of my Mexican co-workers to ask if they were gay. I said no, just scared. He responded tell them we don’t eat Gringo’s, they’re too oily. Shopping was done in a group and free time was spent at the hotel compound drinking beer from the 7-11 across the street. I walked every where after work and I was invited and went to a couple of homes of co-workers for dinner. At the time I was a vegan so there were only two Mexican vegan restaurants that I could find. At one restaurant, the “Zanahoria Vegetariana”, or the “The Vegetarian Carrot”, my Spanish was so bad, and the owner didn’t speak much English, so she would call her sister in Nashville who would translate my English into Spanish and that’s how I learned the menu.
Once while walking back to the hotel I walked under the big tree with a lot of fluttering leaves. I should have paid more attention to the street because every one else was walking on the other side of the street. When I got under this interesting tree somebody blew a car horn and this tree came alive. Now I know why bat cave floors are covered with bat manure and soon I too was covered. Stinking too bad to call a taxi this stuff burns so it was miserable walk to the hotel and a 20 minute shower.
Finally with only 6 months to go the company offers a retirement package with incentives. It only take 5 minutes to decide to get out, have my buddy call my wife while I get ready to sign out. The last days make me nervous. I get a call from a friend in security and she warned me to be careful because she said she had heard that I was being watched these last weeks. I noticed that there was an increased security presence at both exit gates. One guy got caught stealing uniforms and was given a week off with no pay. My last day as I loaded up my tool box for the last time my foreman came over to warn me to make sure I had no Kodak property in my box. When I went to the loading dock to load my boxes on a rental truck, my pass didn’t work. I had to call security to get out and four security guards come down and I had to unpack my boxes so they could inspect every drawer before I could leave. They found only a couple Kodak labeled batteries which they confiscated.
Then I was free at last.
Gerald Bunton is a native of Woodburn, Kentucky and a long time resident of the city of Rochester. He has been married 43 years, is a grandfather, great grandfather and a twice retired Millwright .