Dirty work.

I was following the comments about stinky factories in the previous thread. It made me recall a line from an older Jim Harrison novel: If you think a belching smokestack is ugly, try one that isn’t. It was a fact underlined over and over when I was up north last month — good jobs for working-class people are likely to be smelly and/or ugly.

We pulled up to the foundry that’s the heart of East Jordan Iron Works, and it’s this big, steam-belching deal on the shores of a lovely lake. It doesn’t look right, but the parking lot is full of $50,000 pickup trucks and everyone who works there loves their overtime.

A few years ago, there was a photo story in the New York Times about the foundry in India where Con Ed, the local electrical utility, has their manhole covers made. East Jordan Iron Works makes manhole covers for virtually every city in Michigan and many more around the world. The NYT photos showed conditions that would horrify most modern eyes, of barefoot men working around cauldrons of molten iron, sparks flying, the whole bit, all for the usual wage of third-world peanuts. The plants in Michigan pay very well.

Work is frequently done in ugly, smelly places. We can’t all be college professors.

So, how was your weekend? The cold hung on and hung on and is supposed to let up…Tuesday. Well above freezing, 37 whole degrees. Woo! And then? Cold again. FML. I could use a week in Mexico right around now.

And then we went out to the movies. Saw “Maps to the Stars,” yet another David Cronenberg cup of poison that, when the lights go up, make you cackle bleakly. The screening was at Cinema Detroit, located in an old elementary school in the heart of the Cass Corridor — the film is shown in the school auditorium. But the seats are in surprisingly good shape. So much in Detroit is strange, and so much of the strangeness is being paved over by a certain pan-yuppie familiarity, it’s nice to see some things are still the old way.

News: Grand Rapids revels in its low murder rate, the headline says. For some reason, it makes me giggle.

NYT: How to dress to complement your dog.

And that’s what I got. I hope you got a little more, and a good week ahead.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' |

41 responses to “Dirty work.”

  1. Dexter said on March 2, 2015 at 1:24 am

    Here’s a chance for me to plug my fave Cronenberg, “Naked Lunch”, from 24 years ago. If you’ve read the book but missed the film, you’ll be happy with the movie. Bug powder, Mugwumps, talking typewriters…all from Interzone. Great movie.

    I worked in several dirty dangerous environments. One was a chrome plating operation; I wore rubber gloves but chromic acid CrO3 always got inside the gloves. I quickly developed ulcers on my fingers and areas of my wrists and hands and my doctor flat-told me to get another job. I worked that job for nine months and I was 18. Here is what I was facing and never was told: “Symptoms: irritation respiratory system; nasal septum perforation; liver, kidney damage; leukocytosis (increased blood leukocytes), leukopenia (reduced blood leukocytes), eosinophilia; eye injury, conjunctivitis; skin ulcer, sensitization dermatitis; [potential occupational carcinogen]
    Targets Organs, Blood, respiratory system, liver, kidneys, eyes, skin…” source: CDC-NIOSH Pocket Guide.

    I also worked in an aluminum factory and I witnessed a huge pot of molten metal crash down from an overhead rail as it was moving along the rail and spill it’s contents all over my work area where I had been sampling the holding pots for metal make-up content. ( I was the lab tech). I had stepped over to the Coke machine…a lucky break…closest to death I have ever been outside of being shot at a couple times in the war.
    I was at times a holder of union positions in the last place I worked. One day we had a meeting with the local fire department officials to inform us of just what chemicals we had stored and what would happen if an explosion or fire got to these barrels. The chief said he had never seen anything like we had in the factory, so many different chemicals that could cause such harm to humans if touched, fumes inhaled, all sorts of warnings. Well, shortly afterwards a horrible incident happened and two chemicals somehow got mixed up together and as I recall bubbled up out of the outside drains and covered the floor by the heat treat furnaces. Two guys cleaned up the mess as best they could, inhaling toxic fumes for long minutes. Now hear this: within two years both guys, both friends of mine, were dead of leukemia. So that’s what people who work hard in shit-holes gamble against. A few of my former co-workers died in their 40s but almost all died around 70 but for the ones, the largest percentage, who died in their early 60s.

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  2. Suzanne said on March 2, 2015 at 8:12 am

    And with the decline of unions, these types of dirty jobs are likely to become more & more dangerous. Let’s face it. In today’s world, those not among the elite are seen as expendable.

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  3. alex said on March 2, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Dealing with casualty insurance claims, I’ve always marveled over how factory workers seem to drive the most expensive cars, while people who really have lots of money seem to spend it much more judiciously. I suspect that those who work at foundries not only pay mandatory union dues but are expected to participate in a parking lot pissing contest as well.

    Plus ca change. My dad put himself through college and law school working summers at a Fisher Body plant. He was the odd man out. Most of his coworkers were newly arrived southerners who had no interest in bettering themselves outside of acquiring bling while living paycheck to paycheck.

    My dad always took pride in the fact that he never had to take out a loan to buy a vehicle because he knew how to budget sensibly. He treated himself to some luxo boats in the past, but these days he says “How much more pleasure do you get out of a car that costs $60K versus $30K? Is anyone really impressed? Even if they were, is it worth that much extra? Just think of all of the other things you can do with that money.”

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  4. Wim said on March 2, 2015 at 8:50 am

    I imagine everyone has had the tl;dr experience, but here lately I’m et up with tl;dw–that is, too long; didn’t write. I feel the urge to chip in with Stinks I Have Smelled and Jobs Whut Near Killed Me but then I’m a couple of paragraphs in and I think, Jesus, is this going to be on the test, or what?

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  5. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 9:14 am

    tl;dr and tl;dw are new ones on me, but Lordy my autocorrect did not want to let me type that. The time I took to change it back I could have typed out the words.

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  6. brian stouder said on March 2, 2015 at 9:37 am

    …but then I’m a couple of paragraphs in and I think, Jesus, is this going to be on the test, or what?


    Well – the way I look at it, if you’ve expended the effort to type it, then click “submit”….and if you’re hip-deep into it, and realize you’ve a long way to go, then add the “….” and say something like ‘y’know what? To hell with it!’ (or YKW?THWI!) and hit the ‘submit’ button, and pull the eject lever!

    This is one of the secondary reasons why nn.c is here, I think

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  7. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 10:23 am

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed out a comment and then said YKW?THWI! but then hit delete instead of submit.

    I’m killing time this morning before my travel day begins. Hopefully there will be no cancelations like what happened on Saturday. I have jury duty in Chicago tomorrow so if I do get canceled I may get out of that.

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  8. brian stouder said on March 2, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Jury duty…ugh!

    Fascinating; enlightening; and essentially unpleasant

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  9. Bitter Scribe said on March 2, 2015 at 10:34 am

    I used to be reflexively in favor of international trade agreements like NAFTA, on the grounds they lowered prices across the board, for everyone. Now I’m not so sure. If degrading pay, worker safety standards, etc. is the price we pay for making manholes a few bucks cheaper, maybe it would be better to shell out those few bucks.

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  10. Sue said on March 2, 2015 at 10:47 am

    “Is anyone really impressed? Even if they were, is it worth that much extra?”
    alex, I was in a McDonald’s parking lot two weeks ago and saw a Cadillac Escalade with the license plate ‘ok4u2nv’.
    Nope. Envy wasn’t the emotion I felt.

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  11. susan said on March 2, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Sue @10- That Escalade was screaming for a keying…

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  12. BigHank53 said on March 2, 2015 at 11:04 am

    2015 Cadillac Escalade base price: $71695
    2015 Chevrolet Tahoe base price: $45595

    Same chassis, engine, transmission, etc. The Cadillac gets different sheet metal, a leather interior, spiffy navigation/entertainment system (you’ll want it because driving either one of these barges is a snoozefest) and a lot of soundproofing. The price difference between these two land yachts is bigger than the price tag on my next whole car is going to be. Envy is not the emotion that comes to my mind, either.

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  13. coozledad said on March 2, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I despair of living long enough to see my ideal vehicle: a solar or fuel cell powered all wheel drive ATV with 1/4 inch flat sheet metal skin, a roll bar, an integrated winch system and clips for shovels, chainsaws, axes, etc.

    Until then, fuck 50,000+ for a car. That’s enough money to build a functional dwelling for a small family.

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  14. BigHank53 said on March 2, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Cooz, how about the Can-Am Commander E?


    It doesn’t hit all of your requirements, but it does cover most. Also, in many states you can get street plates for it as a medium-speed vehicle. Pretty sure NC is one since I’ve seen plated EVs there.

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  15. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Can you believe that Sunday it’ll be time to spring forward already? Yay, daylight savings time! Especially because I’ll be back in grey Chicago then.

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  16. brian stouder said on March 2, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    btw – that Marilyn Vos Savant probability problem in the last thread was wonderful – the Monty Hall question.

    The logic threw me at first, until the example was changed to 100 doors – and THEN the light-bulb came on!

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  17. Judybusy said on March 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    I really doubt I will spend $71,000 on cars the rest of my lifetime. Sheesh. I’m all with alex’s dad about what else could I do with that money? Donate, travel, a new kitchen…..

    Deborah, sorry to hear you got delayed. I had hoped you’d make it out!

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  18. coozledad said on March 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    BigHank53: That looks great. Better than the Bad Boy electric we’ve got. I’m going to have a look at that.

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  19. Snarkworth said on March 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I was behind one of those Escalade-type vehicles that had an “Enjoy your Prius” bumper sticker. I was in my Prius. My first thought was, “Well, isn’t that nice!” My second thought was different.

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  20. coozledad said on March 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Ain’t nothing short of four legs would fuck these boys, and only then if there’s a head stall and a bucket of oats, so no, prostitution in this case always has a monetary value of at least $12,000, unless they purchase the headstall and set it up in the capitol building, in which case it’s a one time taxpayer cost, plus supplements, plus bunk feeder.

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  21. Bitter Scribe said on March 2, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    To me, there’s only one vehicle more ridiculous (for the reason elucidated by BigHank53 @#12 above) than an Escalade, and that’s a Hummer. I still can’t help snickering whenever I see one of those absurd things on the road.

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  22. Dexter said on March 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    If my 1995 Ford Windstar was instead a pickup truck, I’d be happy. I became enamored with minivans back in 1986 when the Ford Aerostar wowed the automotive world ( I rented one for a week and loved it) and I have usually had a minivan in our fleet since then. Now I don’t need a minivan but my late brother-in-law willed his Windstar to us, and it has become my only vehicle now, but since I am down to just one motorized mode of traspo now, the next one is going to be an F-150. Used, unless the lotto comes through. If I was so well off money was no object, all I’d buy for myself would be a new aluminum F-150.

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  23. Charlotte said on March 2, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Jeez — I only paid a few thousand dollars more for my house than that Escalade (and I’m damn near paid off). I can’t imagine. Insane.
    We keep ogling the Ford Transit vans — Himself could use it for work, and since we’re in bear country, we like to sleep in a hard-sided vehicle when camping. They don’t have 4WD yet though (although the intertubes tell me they do if you live in Finland).
    Meanwhile, I just keep driving my grubby-but-paid-off Subaru.

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  24. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    So I’m at the airport and my flight to Chicago has been delayed twice and I have no confidence I’m getting out of here today. As it is I won’t get home till about midnight. I tried to call the Cook County jury duty officials to let them know that I probably won’t make it tomorrow. And each time I call I go through an exasperating series of prompts to select various numbers and when I finally get to the point where I actually think I’m going to get to speak to an actually person, it suddenly tells me the office is closed and to call back during regular business hours of 8:30 until 4:30. Only when I have called (repeatedly) it has been well before 4:30 Chicago time. On one of the recorded prompts they gave an email address so finally I left a long involved email message about why I won’t be able to serve on the jury tomorrow. Hopefully they will have pity on an old lady.

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  25. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Actual person not actually person.

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  26. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    What happens if you don’t show up for jury duty and they don’t accept your explanation?

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  27. Deggjr said on March 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Deborah @#26: Tell them you’re still hung over from Casimir Pulaski day.

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  28. Deborah said on March 2, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Ok they just changed my departure for a third time.

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  29. beb said on March 2, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    Deborah, have you considered walking? It’s beginning to sound like you’ll get to Chicago faster by just hoofing it than by flying…

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  30. Dexter said on March 2, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Marcy Kaptur is boycotting Netanyahu. http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2015/03/02/Sylvania-rabbi-as-guest-to-Netanyahu-s-speech.html

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  31. LAMary said on March 2, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    The super huge Nissan SUVs of a few years ago, and the Lincoln and Ford monsters were pretty obnoxious. Navigators, Armadas, Expeditions, all those giant vehicles mostly used to get one person back and forth to work are hideous. A lot of them are heavier than what’s allowed on local residential streets as well.

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  32. David C. said on March 2, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I froze the amount I think I should pay for things about ten years ago. Thank heaven for used Korean cars or I would have had to violate my car limit with the last car I had to buy. My first house was $50,000 and I damn sure wouldn’t pay more than that for a car, or even more than 40% of that.

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  33. Dexter said on March 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    David C.: My son-in-law Drew comes from a family who drove and drives only Fords. Drew is 38, and he too only drove Fords. When his Explorer died after 12 years, he went to replace it. He tried, but could not fit a new Explorer into the budget.
    He bought a new Kia Sorrento for thousands less.

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  34. susan said on March 2, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Bitter Scribe @21- Here’s the site for you! Somewhere in there is a pic of my finger. This goes back aways…

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  35. BigHank53 said on March 2, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    The sick/funny thing about the Hummer H2…is that it’s also built on the Chevrolet Tahoe platform. GM has made billions of dollars with that thing.

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  36. Dexter said on March 3, 2015 at 12:30 am

    OMG was “Better Call Saul” a scream last night…a total laugh fest at times. If you are not watching this you are really missing out big-time. AMC Mondays, 10:00 in the east. Bob Odenkirk is so great as Jimmy/Saul.

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  37. MarkH said on March 3, 2015 at 12:40 am

    Ummm…no exactly, BigHank. The frame is three sections, the front and back modified GM with the middle specific to the Hummer. At least according to wikipedia:

    “The H2 was built under contract by AM General at a specially constructed plant in Mishawaka, Indiana, USA. The H2’s final frame assembly is made up of 3 sections: The front uses a modified GM 2500-Series utility frame, the midsection is all new and is completely boxed, and the rear section uses a modified GM 1500-Series frame which is upgraded for the 8,600 pounds (3,900 kg) gross vehicle weight.”

    Nancy – If the Vipers ever lose their guitar player,I suggest this gal get an audition:


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  38. Basset said on March 3, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Dexter, I hear you on the prices – put off buying a replacement for our nearly worn out Subaru for over a year while we waited for the new, smaller Chevy pickup to become available but it’s as big as a 90s full size and at least $30,000 if you want 4wd. Used Tacomas tend to be expensive and have many miles on em, we finally gave up on a truck and got a low-mileage awd Toyota wagon from Carmax, just picked it up last night. Planned to get it muddy this weekend and maybe get some fish slime on the back cargo area but we have another damn storm coming… 60s this afternoon, teens overnight.

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  39. Basset said on March 3, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Make that teens tomorrow night. close enough.

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  40. BigHank53 said on March 3, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Thanks for the correction, Mark. What a ridiculous vehicle that thing was.

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  41. Renee said on March 27, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    I live in East Jordan,and there are no $50,000 dollar trucks in the whole city. Foundry work is not all it’s cracked up to be. $55,000 a year = 30,000 after taxes are taken. East Jordan has the highest city taxes in all of Northern Michigan at 18.4% . Water and Sewer bills average $1000 to 1,200 a year. Were it not for that foundry on the lake, East Jordan would be a ghost town. Sorry to burst your bubble, but foundry life is hard on the body, and many guys can’t do it for long. I suppose if the men got to choose,they’d rather see their kids on the weekends, but that overtime pays the bills and keeps food on the table.

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