Careers Week | Rodd Whelpley

An ode to the early ’70s and the Midwestern factories therein

Years before anyone noticed the belt was rusted, before us,
our big brothers, our teachers, our moms and dads owned up,
saw for themselves how, like phantoms in the dawn, jobs
could mist into atmosphere, we children (except for trouble
makers – you, Franky Tapia, and you, Clark Bennet) sat in
rows, alphabetical, crayoning fourth grade pictures of what
we’d seen the day before –

When busses banged us past the TrueTemper, (some still
called it the Fork & Hoe) took us, instead, to the Hi C bottler,
where we covered our eyes with snorkel-mask goggles, then
banded ourselves two-by-two to wander the assembly line,
like one hungry caterpillar, watching fifty moms and dads
press grapes into cans – and Tommy’s cousin, who
recognized Tommy, even in those crazy safety glasses, leapt
quick from his station, sprinted past steel tanks, past pulp
collectors running at head turning speed, so we, the teachers,
the workers, the foremen all had eyes on him when he burst
into the fishbowl breakroom, ripped from its tacks that
calendar with the picture of that woman with those naked,
creamy jugs not soon to be forgotten. Which, somehow,
signaled a jarring end to the field trip, the plant manager
loading six family-sized cans of juice on the first kids in line,
handing an opener to another, mouthing over our heads
somewhere in the vague direction of Mrs. Nichols a silent
“I’m. Sooooo. Sorry.”

And this is how Careers Week starts, with touring and
coloring, with grape-juice mustaches, and pounding each
other right on the vaccination scar, saying, “How about a nice
Hawaiian Punch?’ Eventually, dividing up, scrawling our
pertinent information between smelly mimeographed lines on
employment applications for our classroom factories building
macramé and paper crafts. And John Fitzgerald Kennedy Putt
knowing he’s topped us all – listing as his only reference:

Wednesday, the room – our town – has sparked to life, the
sounds of conversation and commerce, prosperous wafts of
British Sterling from the corner where Jeff Pasqualone (like
his father) eschewed the time clock, opened, instead, a barber
chair to compete with Ruthie Parson’s beauty shop. The
whole room abuzz, bookmarks and greeting cards step-by-
stepping through the process of interchangeable parts until
finished, spilling off the line.

Then, like adults, we let it go to ruin
in all the human ways.

First, Joey Perrico (“Never the most athletic of boys,” I
would later hear a teacher say) sat for five minutes, his
hand in a dish of Palmolive, a practice we had learned from
Madge the Manicurist on TV commercials, and Ruthie had
the gall – and Joey the nerve – to let her coat his nails a
stunning blueberry pearl, which brought catcalls – Sissy.
Girl. Nancy. – raining down upon them, which Battle-Axe
Nichols completely ignored, choosing, instead, at that very
moment, to pull Frank and Clark from the factory floor,
confront them with their pictures, their crude (but not
inaccurate) interpretations of the calendar girl. She sputtered
as if whispering, except loud for all to hear: “You two will
never be nothing. You better hope the army will find some
use for you.”

And so, Thursday, back to lessons, in our beat-up, spine-
cracked books we read: “Someday a man will land on the
moon.” And we laughed, because we’d seen it all before.
And twice last year, when we’d called in from family garages
our scruffy-faced brothers, interrupted their installation of
eight tracks and subwoofers into their Chargers, their
Corvairs and El Caminos to see on our snowy Zeniths these
men in puffy suits, weightless, jump and tumble, pull what
they said was orange soil from the Sea of Serenity that they
claimed could be volcanic. My brother nudged and pointed,
said to me, “Hey creep, some day that will be you. On Mars.”
But I could only wonder how many pages the application
For a job like that could be.

Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt – their images flickering to
earth like a dream – moon buggied, singing past Cochise
Crater in a rover they would leave parked somewhere in a
lunar valley. Abandoned – and as idle as soon would be
the worn-out presses at the Fork & Hoe, the stained-beyond-
salvage vats sitting empty in the cob-webbed shell that once
was Great Lakes Canning. Surely, another mission will make
use of it. And the moon car – only 22 miles on it – fitted with
a newer, better battery will turnover at first crank, run as true
as the day it rolled off the line, the last workman trotting
beside it, wiping smudges from its windows. Yes, the folks at
NASA know for sure they will be back. The rover will run
again, because the moon is not Akron or Canton or
Cleveland, not Pittsburgh or Youngstown, Pontiac,
Saginaw, Gary, Flint, Detroit. This reflective orb is
independent of the air, six flags claiming it solely for
America. Surely, a boy like me will go back
to the moon.

There is no oxidation
on the moon.

Rodd Whelpley manages an electric efficiency program for 32 cities across Illinois and lives near Springfield. His poems have appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Shore, 2River View, Star 82 Review, Kissing Dynamite, Barren, Shot Glass Journal, The Naugatuck River Review, The Chagrin River Review and other journals. Catch as Kitsch Can, his first chapbook, was published in 2018. Find him at

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