|Stephen Silbert was
a student in one of my classes at the Cogswell Polytechnical College in
Sunnyvale, California. A former punk-rocker from Boston, he was also, he
told me, a member of the Lemonheads for about a week. He came to California
to change his career, become a computer geek. I had no doubt that he could
do anything he wanted. The following piece came about from the class's
first assignment. It was written just a few months after the death of Kurt
Cobain, so when I read it aloud in class, there were some small gasps and
a few tears. It didn't have a title at the time, so I've given it one.
-- Bob Basil.
It was 6:40 AM and the sun was beginning to shine on the gray and dirty city streets of my neighborhood. As I walked towards the bus stop, my mind was barely functioning due to a lack of sleep. I was in no condition to risk my life, but the bus rolled up to the stop and in order to cross the street, I ran through the traffic. The extra exertion proved to be costly; I missed my stop at the other end and had to walk another block at a brisk pace to make it to work before seven.
Unlocking the two-inch thick steel black door with my pass-card, I entered into the confines of the Dolby Laboratories. The fluorescent lights shined down upon me as I made my way to the work station where I was to spend the greater part of the next eight and one half hours.
"Good morning, Michael," I said, while draping my black leather jacket over my chair. Michael, a tall young white man with short straight brown hair and gold wire-rimmed glasses, was always the first person on the assembly line to arrive at work, and due to a youthful well-spring of ambition, he was usually a half-hour early.
"Good morning, Stephen," he replied with a smile. Anyone who has spent enough time with gay people to actually understand the stereotypes could recognize that Michael was gay. I earned his good favor one day by mentioning a boyfriend I had at a previous time. Patrick, a young, macho Latino working at the station to my right, visibly flinched when he overheard my remark.
I sat down to work. My work for the day would be the same as it was yesterday, and the day before. I would take twenty one circuit boards, roughly six inches by four inches a piece, and stuff them, three at a time, with potentiometers. The small brown circular potentiometers were unaffectionately referred to as "snails." I was to solder thirty of them to each board. Each snail had three leads to be soldered, so for a round of twenty one circuit boards, nearly nineteen hundred solder-joints were required of me. Then, I could start the next round. Actually, I never did solder a full round in a day.
After stuffing three boards with snails, I reached into a drawer at my work station and pulled out a head-set radio. I turned it on and began listening to "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio. It used to be that I would converse with Cynthia, a portly black woman who visibly appeared to be about thirty-five years old, but must have been older. As she soldered at the work station to my right, she had told me of her grandchildren.
"You used to live in Long Beach?" I asked.
"I sure did," she replied.
"Were there any white people there?" I inquired further.
"Well, yeah... I think so."
"Did you see any?"
"Well, no... I guess I thought they were all in their houses!" she answered, and we both laughed that day.
At nine o'clock I took a fifteen minute break. The company was required by law to give us two of these. I went upstairs to the company library and finished reading an interview in the Rolling Stone magazine. The interview was with singer/song writer and guitarist, Kurt Cobain, and he sounded like he was feeling good about himself. It inspired me that someone with that much artistic ability could also enjoy his life.
My watch read 9:13 so I ran down two flights of stairs to the beverage area and made myself a cup of tea with non-dairy coffee creamer in it. I went back to my work station. Sandy and Dawn, two married, middle-aged women worked to my left and conversed in Chinese, their native language, while they soldered different circuit boards than the ones with the snails.
When people used to ask me what I did for a living, I often replied, "I build sound reinforcement equipment for movie theaters," and they would say that my job sounded "interesting" or "cool." I'm not going to try to describe the remaining six hours in a day of soldering. One day, after about two hours, I went into the bathroom and threw up. The supervisor told me that I looked terrible and should go home. I never went back.
Released: April 21, 1998