(Warning: This is a little graphic at the beginning.)
After high school, my friend Amy and I got night clean-up jobs at New Richmond Turkey Farm, which wasn’t a farm at all. It was a slaughterhouse in Faribault, Minnesota. Trucks full of birds pulled up to the loading dock. Turkeys were hauled out of the semi and hung upside down for the yellow-slickered men in the blood tunnel to slit their throats. Once the birds stopped bleeding, they were flipped around to hang by their heads for their journey past the women who plucked the white feathers and rendered the parts so everything could be packaged to sell. Only the gizzard stones remained. Unpackaged and carried in a barrel out into the night.
Amy and I cleaned up when the day workers left. She quit after three weeks. I stayed on, the only female on the crew and most likely the only vegetarian member of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. I didn’t mention my diet to my one black co-worker, Winston, or to the enormous, greasy haired Charley Two-People, who tormented Winston. I got by, tried to stay under the radar. I wrote in my journal, “Tromping on turkey hearts, with blood clots leaving their slimy trails on my plastic apron, I discover my capacity for gore quite adjustable to the situation.”
That was me in 1975. Adjustable.
On television at that time I saw a woman named Patty Hearst express allegiance to the Symbionese Liberation Army. I felt sympathy for her, first brainwashed by her family, as I saw it, and then by the men who kidnapped her. I didn’t feel much different as I played out my roles. In fact, I felt pretty sympathetic to the turkeys being processed into cellophane packages. I could relate.
As the only woman on night clean-up I, of course, had laundry duty, washing the greasy aprons and untangling their strings. Though I had zero training, when a worker was injured, I was also the nurse. I did remove metal from a guy’s hand one night. The foreman, Gene Bonkoski, looking faint, took him right back to work.
When I started school at Sarah Lawrence in the fall, I heard about other people’s summer jobs, in banks, on Broadway, and at publishing houses. Cushy, yeah, but how many of them got to know characters as colorful as Charlie Two-People or got to find out how far their tolerance could go? I thought I was a turkey on the dismemberment line, but turns out I am a stone that can pass through the system and come out the other side. Unpackaged.