A walk through the warehouse, interrupted

I had to cut through the warehouse at work yesterday to use their men’s room while the white-collar facilities were being cleaned. I don’t mind this occasional mingling with the pickers and packers; in fact, it’s a good reminder of where I easily could be if not for a little education and a lot of luck. And if I run out of the luck sooner than later, as this economic downturn turns ever downer, I could find myself working in a similar facility as I tread water toward retirement.

It’s an unpleasant job better suited to younger and stronger backs than mine. Our warehouse workforce may spend as much as 12 hours a day on their feet selecting papers, packets and boxes from shelves and shoving them into things (mostly envelopes though occasionally into each other when a fight breaks out). I’ve spent some warehouse time sorting good materials from bad earlier in my career when I worked in the “quality” department, and I can tell you it’s exhausting work.

My comfortable air-conditioned and internet-equipped office is right next door … 



ROCK HILL, SC — A suspicious parcel has been found next to a major state highway near here, oozing what emergency management personnel on the scene described as a dark red fluid and smelling of a possible biological agent.

The package was at first believed to be a discarded half-eaten combo meal from a fast-food restaurant. The exterior appeared to be a paper bag with a cryptic, possibly terrorist communication written on it. “Wake up to breakfast and the great taste of scratch-made biscuits,” read the inscription. Analysts at the Department of Homeland Security speculated the message was a warning of an early-morning attack yet to be staged.

Local police were called to the scene when the odor, thought to be either anthrax or McDonald’s new Big ‘N Tasty burger, overpowered a passing pedestrian. An explosives disposal unit was said to be en route to the location to remove the package before it could be run over by another car.


… Even if we claimed to have lost the shoes, they have these steel-toed booties on a large hanging shoerack for the occasional guests in the warehouse. There’s even a nice park bench where you can sit while you put on your booties.

That bench is probably the homiest thing in the entire 50,000-square-foot expanse of industrially decorated interior space. Amidst the towering shelves, speeding forklifts and belly-high tables there winds a parallel set of yellow lines that represent the safety zone for those whose feet aren’t steel-encased. This is the path I was taking to the men’s room. Part of the pathway includes now-faded yellow block lettering that represented an earlier manager’s attempt to recognize exceptional work with a “walk of fame”. Each entry included the person’s name and the date that name was memorialized into the floor. We stopped doing this about six years ago, as someone finally realized there were few opportunities for excellence when it came to envelope-stuffing.

I stay mostly between the lines … 



NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg, praising the t-shirt salesmen who first noticed the smoking car bomb in Times Square over the weekend, proposed yesterday having street vendors and city policemen switch jobs.

“We need to have our forces closer to the people, where they can feel their pain and see their problems,” Bloomberg said. “Someone who has sold you an overpriced Yankees cap or a non-functioning Rolex knock-off knows your suffering, and can relate to your security needs.”

Bloomberg said one division of the newly deputized force would be devoted solely to crowd control, using frozen Sabrett hotdogs as nightsticks and mustard squeeze bottles as tear-gas dispensers. Vendors who lay their goods on a rug on the sidewalk would be part of a unit that yanked the carpet from beneath fleeing felons, toppling them to the pavement. Hawkers who stand outside businesses trying to convince passers-by to enter would become part of the white-collar crime investigations team, taking their badgering skills into Wall Street firms and haranging traders to obey securities laws.

The mayor said that policemen, who were at first slow to respond to the failed attack, needed to “spend some time in retail” to realize that the citizens of the city are their customers.

“The old police saying ‘If you see something, shaddup’ has to be changed if we are to confront the threats of the modern world,” Bloomberg said.


… I pass a small caged area that allows delivery men to enter the building and page for assistance without compromising security. I’m always afraid someone will be caged there as I’m walking by and will call out to me for freedom. I’m not authorized to do anything to help, except maybe throw peanuts at them and watch their antics. I keep my head down and hustle by the cage as quickly as possible.

When I finally get to the facilities, I find that it’s every bit as hygienic as the one I usually patronize. The main difference in the warehouse men’s room is that there’s a framed notice on the wall with bullet-pointed rules of use. Most are the usual stuff you might expect – notify your supervisor if the toilet paper runs out, don’t let the sink area get too splattered with water, etc. – but one point instructs users “don’t put your feet on the wall”. Is that really a problem? … 



ROCK HILL, SC — Yet another dubious discovery by the road of this small Southern town has put officials from the state office of emergency management on high alert.

What is being tentatively described as a “miniature pipe bomb” was found within a hundred feet of the package discovered earlier this morning. The plastic vessel, about eight inches in length and painted with orange and yellow vertical stripes, had a still-unlit fuse dangling out of one end, and contained remnants of a syrupy dark solution believed to be battery acid.

“We’re getting it into the lab as quickly as possible so we can tell what type of terrorist group we might be dealing with,” said Sheriff Ben Wooten. “We expect to get a lot of information out of the blasting cap.”

Wooten speculated that the ignition device was either of chickpea composition, compressed and hardened into a stick, or else was a french fry. If it turns out to be hummus, it will point in the direction of al-Qaida; if it’s a fry, then right-wing domestic militias could be suspect.

“Only those with a keen knowledge of explosives know that starch is both an incendiary material as well as an accelerant,” Wooten said. “Either way, this device is potentially very dangerous.”

Wooten said that if detonated, the small pipe bomb could maim a squirrel or small robin.


… “There are paper towels on the floor,” someone will say. “The flower vase on the sink was turned over,” notes another. Animals!

I think it’s just a knee-jerk resentment that represents a minor class struggle between the white collars and the blues. We don’t like it when they dare come onto our middle-class turf to pee into our commodes and put popcorn into our microwaves (or the other way around, to hear one person describe it). … 



HOLLYWOOD — Two veteran folk singers of the 1960s, only recently recovered from the loss of the third member of their famous trio, announced today that they’re adding two new members to the group and beginning a North American tour.

Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, two-thirds of the famous Peter, Paul and Mary who released hits like “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Lemon Tree,” are adding terror suspects Faisal Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to their band and embarking on a 45-city tour of the U.S. and Canada.

“We’ve agreed to keep an eye on them and keep them occupied in gainful work that will help with their rehabilitation,” said Yarrow, who served as spokesman for the America-hating musicians. “We both share the desire to conspire and destroy this great nation, though we come at that stand from different perspectives. I think our body of work will inspire them, just as their smoking Pathfinder and exploding underpants will motivate us.”

The combo will be called Peter, Paul, Umar and Faisal. The band’s first collaboration, set for release next month, was performed in a brief concert for assembled reporters. The music was indescribable, but the words had a familiar ring:

[Faisal, singing lead]

Oh, my Nissan’s packed
I’m ready to scare
I’m leaving it here
Right in Times Square
Hate to blow you up and say goodbye
I put down my bag
Take off my shirt
Now this town’s in for
A world of hurt
Already I’m so lonesome I could cry

Take it, Umar…

I’m blowing up a jet plane
Don’t know if I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go


… Once a year, we have to read through these improbably hilarious scenarios that spell out how to work safely, then take a multiple-choice exam at the end. (One favorite question is “Who should you notify before you enter an electrified or enclosed space? A. Your supervisor; B. the CEO; or C. your family”). If the exercise weren’t so laughable, you’d be tempted to haul out those steely boots and kick your computer monitor.

But I know where they’d send me if I tried that, so I’m staying out of the warehouse as much as I can.


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One Response to “A walk through the warehouse, interrupted”

  1. Paul Dixon Says:

    You laugh about Umar blowing up a jet plane, but he’s got 72 virgins waiting for him at the end of the line.

    You, and me, and the rest of Great Satan America-how many do WE have waiting for us?????

    Answer: not a single one!

    So who’s the smart guy, HUH???

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