More Tales from the
Kodak Construction Division
by Gerald Bunton
There are days when a project will have you as they say, ”balls to the wall” extremely busy and there are other times that you are waiting for the delivery of materials or approval from the safety department or the engineers so you stand down and exchange stories.
One such “bull” session we were talking about when you discovered sex as a young person. Bennie was a short stocky Sicilian . He was talking about working as an apprentice in a blacksmith shop in Italy. He talked about how tough the blacksmith was on apprentices and had a vile temper. They were arranged around an anvil to flatten a piece of hot metal. Each apprentice would strike the metal as the master smith turned it. Each had to keep time to the calls of the smith. After doing this for most of the morning he lost focus thinking about a young girl in his village. He missed timed his hit and hit the hammer of the apprentice next to him and his hammer bounced back and knocked him out. When he came to the master smith cussed him out and told him the rest a while. So he went out into the courtyard and was laying down thinking of the girl again. So he was laying in the grass and began to masturbate but he had no saliva for lubricant so he broke off a couple of fig leaves and squeezed out the sap. This worked for a while but it soon began to burn and caused some swelling. So he ran into the shop with his pants around his ankles stumbling to find some water. The entire shop stops working as he is splashing quench water on himself to stop the burning . Then it only got worse because the other apprentices were not only laughing at him the master smith grabbed him and began to slap his face. It took 2 days before his father could force him to come back to the shop.
Needless to say we couldn’t stop laughing but the yard crew came with the delivery we were waiting for so back to work.
It seems that the work that the crew gets just happens to fall outside in the winter so when the temperatures are in the teen’s we can take a couple extra breaks to get out of the weather to warm up .So were sitting in the building stairwell defrosting and again everyone starts shooting the “breeze” to pass the time and so Dave starts talking about how he just got introduced to oral sex by his new girlfriend. So some one else pops off saying “ if he could do it himself he would save a fortune”. Everyone just laughed and when back to work . The next day Jose came in but was walking sorta slow. So I asked him if he was all right and he said last night he was thinking about what had been sad that day about doing it yourself so he tried to but fell off the bed and now his neck is sore. Needless to say our prework safety meeting broke up with everyone laughing. We make have got the crappy jobs but we were the laughingest crew in the division.
There was one story that shocked the entire crew into silence. Sid had said that this job was the first job he had ever had and he didn’t start working until he was 22 years old. This set off a round of when did you start working stories . Some had ran errands when they were in grade school others had paper routes . Max had grown up in a suburb of Buffalo and he said that the guy that owned the grocery store would give him 10 dollars if he would let the guy suck his “peter”.On that note everyone looked every where but at him and slowly left the room. No one ever mentioned first jobs again.
Kodak could be a very difficult place for minorities to work because every move you made was being watched. I had learned this when I first came in 20 years ago .There was a Black mechanic that we called “Dr. Chess” because he played in regional and national tournaments. I was saying one day I would like to test my skills against him so instead of my afternoon walk we started playing in a vacant conference room. Soon a couple other Black mechanics joined us to play at lunch time. We had six boards and the we were rolling. One afternoon as we played 2 security people showed up . We asked if there was a problem and they explained that they had got a complaint about gambling going on. Since there was never any money on the tables they simply left. We had a saying at Kodak. If 2 Black people gather it’s suspicious, if 4 gather it’s a riot in the making more than 4 it’s a conspiracy call security. Like they say “it’s a good life if you don’t weaken”.
Some times being a minority could work to a persons advantage. One mechanic was always a couple hours late if it rained . He had convinced the foreman that he was from the south and when it rained they were allowed to come in late or stay home . This went on for about a month and finally some one on his crew asked the foreman why this colored guy was getting special treatment . The foreman explained that the guy was from the south and just adjusting to our northern ways. The guy said southern? That guy was from a southern suburban town and had never been out of New York state. When he came in late that morning you hear the cussing out he got from 3 buildings away, busted.
I had finally got an assignment farther away than West Bloomfield , New York . We had just completed an installation on a machine that produced large sheets of film. We had worked closely with the engineer who had developed the improved process. Since we had completed the project under budget and ahead of time he assumed that we would be doing the same installation because of our experience. That was not the way our division operated out of Rochester trips were highly coveted and the usual suspects were always on the travel list.
When he found out that me and my partner were not scheduled to do the installation he simply made a few phone calls to corporate headquarters and we were assigned to the installation in Windsor , Colorado. This was an experimental installation so we had to be flexible to meet the demands of the engineers. The incident that precipitated the memo from my operations manager was we had just finished installing a section of heaters in the machine and an engineer come over looked at the setup and took a few measurements then he left. He came back about an hour later and said “it won’t work”. I called the engineer that we had been working with and he came out they huddled then they came back over and said to take out the units. So as we began removing the units . No big deal. Well one mechanic started to whine about having to do the work over so I told him to knock it off because we had work to do to maintain the schedule. He said “for a fucking nickel I would quit” so I reached in my pocket tossed him a quarter and said “ get the fuck off my job because we have work to do”. The engineer asked me later “how did you keep from punching that idiot?” I just said that it would come around come back to bite me in the ass later.
We began the new installation without any problems but I got called over to the office because of the incident with the mechanic. I was told that I didn’t handle the situation within the Kodak values and then I didn’t handle this meeting well because I said that I didn’t give a damn because I don’t have time to carry fools on the project. So I received a disciplinary memo that would restrict my travel and educational opportunities for six months. No big deal. Once we finished the installation the engineer took the entire crew to lunch as a thank you. I told him about the disciplinary memo and he said don’t worry about it. We may even be able to grab a seat on one of the corporate jets.
The Windsor plant was out in the middle of nowhere up in cattle country, not a great place for a vegan but the money is good. We were working 12 hour shifts 6 days a week. The hotel was in Fort Collins near Colorado State University so I should be able to find food because meat is king here but colleges always had some type of vegetarian food places. I found a vegan restaurant in Loveland Colorado but they didn’t follow any schedule. The locals called it the Cheech and Chong joint because of its irregular schedule. I found a whole foods store down by the campus but the prices were outrageous. I did find a health food store in Greeley that was reasonably priced. The lady in the shop warned me not to drink the water because there were about 4 million cattle in the local feed lots at any time of year..
I was pretty lucky except one evening on the way home I went to dinner with the crew instead of going back to the hotel . We stopped at a chain restaurant and I only ordered a garden salad and an O’deull’s NA beer. Like I said the plant was in the middle of nowhere so on the drive back to Ft. Collins my stomach began to churn and bubble. I asked the driver if he could speed up or find a gas station. The situation was getting desperate with the bubbling . Too late no time just pull over now. There I was squatting on the side of the road with the wind blowing at about 40 miles an hour and a the wind chill is about 30 below zero.. Didn’t need the underwear any more so now back to the hotel and a shower, a very hot shower. I guess they should have warned about eating the vegetables washed in the local water .
The project goes well and soon we are back to Rochester.
Returning to Rochester I was given a surprise package. The hotel charged prison rates for using the room phone. They had charged 800 dollars for using the phone to call home. Karen and I had not been separated for more than a week in 15 years so we would talk on the room phone each night and I would talk to all the kids. Never again it would have been cheaper to just buy a couple burner cell phones. Oh well live and learn.
I get a call from a foreman that I had previously worked for on a project and she asked if I would accept a month long loan over at the maintenance department of Roll Coating Division. I had no objections plus I needed a change of scene. So I was loaned to the filter cleaning room . Roll coating was in a state of change because they had a new manager who is a Black woman and the new maintenance foreman is a white woman. The old boys network is cracking. In the maintenance shop a couple of mechanics are cleaning out their pinups and calender’s before the new foreman comes in. One mechanic is sweating bullets because he forgot about a sticker on his tool box that says in large letters”IF GOD DIDN’T WANT YOU TO EAT P***Y WHY DID HE MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A TACO?” When she pointed out that that was inappropriate and she would like it removed he almost fainted because it had been on his tool box for so long he didn’t even see it until she pointed it out..
The filter cleaning room was hot and you used a very powerful caustic solution to dissolve plastic. The work wasn’t hard but you had to be on call all hours of the day and at time night. There was a set procedure to operate the glycol pressure vessel so if you followed the safety procedure there were no problems but it could like most industrial equipment be very dangerous. Every thing was running smoothly until some people in my division started to complain about the amount of overtime I was working. Also we had now a Black foreman so some of the racists were crying that the Black foreman was giving all the overtime to the Black mechanic although I was on loan to a separate division and reported to a white woman. Needless to say I was soon recalled back to my division and replaced by 2 other mechanics. That lasted 2 days before they had screwed up so bad that they were thrown out of the building and the division manager outsourced the job to a contractor. You bust your butt to build relationships with customers then these jerks foul it up.
A major project is coming up with a team going to Germany to interact with the German technicians.. Passed over because of that disciplinary memo is still in effect and me without a friend at corporate headquarters. Oh well this too shall pass. There is always the China project, maybe. Still working with the diversity team and the safety committee. Waiting for these sole plate for the new machine to come in.
Gerald Bunton is a native of Woodburn, KY and a long-time Rochester resident. He has been married 40 plus years, is a grandfather, great grandfather, retired millwright, urban fish farmer and currently an organic gardener.