I hated Ray and Ray hated me. It was a mutual hate born within the first few minutes of our meeting.
I was young and had been working at a grocery when my little brother’s best friend came into the store and told me about the printing company he worked for. I was frustrated at the nickel raises I had been getting and tired of working six days a week to get thirty-five hours (still considered part-time, so no benefits).
I went to an interview and got hired.
Ray was in his fifties, married late in life, had a son even later in life, and had spent over twenty years in the marines. He had a black bushy uni-brow, graying in the middle, and wore hard framed Buddy Holly glasses.
The printing company was housed in a giant warehouse with no central air. There were industrial sized fans that were strategically placed around to keep you cool. Everyone spent the summers sweating. Ray would sweat and his glasses would slip down. He was constantly pushing his glasses back up to the center of his nose.
It was an eternal fight. Sweat. Slip. Furiously shove back into place.
I had given my two-week notice, and remembered vaguely that my new boss had told me he was taking a vacation day on that Monday.
“Just find Ray when you come in. He’ll show you what to do.”
I had zero experience. I was clueless as to what went on in a printing company and I was nervous. Really nervous.
I’m taken to Ray.
Ray ran a machine that folded things and stapled. One of their biggest customers was Singer Sewing Machine. Ray made the instruction manuals which were printed on flat pieces of paper and then fed into his machine. They would hit all these right angles and get folded into a booklet and get three staples down the spine.
I meet Ray for the first time.
He’s half buried under this ten foot long contraption, lying on the floor, scrunched up against the wall with a hammer. Every few minutes he yells out
and bangs around at places with his hammer.
The guy who had walked me over to Ray, pushes this three-sided bin on wheels up to me and says I’m to use this for stacking the manuals in. It’s a wooden bin and someone has taken a red Sharpie marker and drawn a caricature of the Devil.
It’s a great cartoonish Red Devil with a mouth full of shark teeth, snake-tail, long pointy horns, it’s even holding a pitch fork and wearing glasses. Someone else had come along with a black ball-point pen and had given the devil a pair of thick black Buddy Holly glasses. (and a uni-brow)
There is a huge arrow pointing at the devil with the words, “Ray the Red Devil.”
He finally crawls out and gives me the once over. He furiously shoves his glasses up (I learn soon that Ray does everything furiously.) Looks at the Devil look-alike and mumbles a string of “not-funny-good-for-nothing-bastards…” then turns on me and yells,
“Who in the hell are you and what are you doing just standing there?”
I say, “I’m the new girl!”
(flash my winning smile)
Ray throws his arms up into the air in a last ditch effort to ask Jesus H Christ what he did to deserve all this bullshit?
“Do you know how to jog paper?”
“Are you being funny?”
I’m pretty sure I’m not..so I just decide to be very quiet.
He stomps down to the end of the machine and shows me where the paper is fed. Shoves his glasses. Furiously grabs a stack of paper and whips it back and forth and taps it on the table. (I later learn that jogging paper means that each piece has to lay perfectly on top of one another. You jog to send air in between and when it gets fed into the machine, it folds it in an exact spot so everything comes out neat and square and none of the pages get dog-ears in them.)
Of course, in the ten minutes that I’ve been there…this eludes me. I have no freaking idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I start tapping paper and shoving it in there.
Things start going crazy. I can’t keep the paper loaded fast enough. It starts jamming and stapling books that aren’t even there yet. The paper that I do manage to get shoved in, send out booklets folded at wrong angles, pages are bent, some might have two staples and some might have ten.
Ray hits the big RED button.
and grabs his hammer.
It seems I’ve caused a jammed. This requires a few blows and a lot of cuss words to fix. I kinda wander around contemplating if I’ve made a mistake in my career change while Ray bangs out his frustration.
It’s really hot. I’m really nervous. I decide to turn on one of the giant fans….I’ve never seen a fan this big. There is a table with stacks of paper on it. (Ya’ know, the paper I was supposed to jog and feed…)
It never occurs to me that this fan would be so powerful that it might actually blow the stacks of paper off the table. That I might should’ve angled it away from the paper before I turned it on…It takes a few seconds for the blades to start spinning good. When that sucker got to humming – it could really produce some wind.
Paper started flying off the table at an incredulous speed. I am shocked. Instead of trying to turn OFF the fan, I try to catch the paper.
This was not a good decision.
I glanced nervously over my shoulder at Ray. He had been squatted down with his hammer. He is now encompassed in a gale force of flying paper (trying to keep his glasses shoved up.)
I’ve pissed him off so bad now, he won’t even cuss. Instead he hurls the hammer at his machine.
He tells me at the end of the day,
“Don’t come back tomorrow.”
I tell MJ’s friend on the way home, I think Ray fired me.
He thinks this is hilarious. He assures me Ray is just a crotchety son of a bitch and he is not the boss and doesn’t have the authority to fire me.
Needless to say, when I do show up the next day he confronts me!
“Did I not tell you to don’t come back?”
I’m humiliated and pissed off and feel the tears wanting to sting my eyes. I wheel around so fast and start heading toward the door. If I had made it out – I guarantee, I would have not stepped foot in that place again.
Fate has a funny way.
As I’m flying out of the door my boss is walking in. He takes one look at my face -
“Whoa! What’s happened?”
“Ray fired me! What kinda place is this? I guess I’m going to go beg for my old job back…at least they don’t fire you after the first day!”
He won’t even let me get down the steps. He turns me around and marches me right back in. My boss is only a few years older than me and we went to high school together. He was a jock type, but one of the non-asshole ones. This is the only thing that allows my feet to keep walking.
He gives Ray a good long lecture, though I do notice there is an impish grin that keeps pulling at his face as he tells Ray he cannot fire me…
I ban myself from Ray. I won’t go near the bastard. We work in a mutual I-hate-you-silence at opposite sides of the warehouse.
I start to learn things and I get better. I refuse to give up. I resolved myself to not fail, just to piss Ray off.
One day I’m trying to get a box off a shelf and I’m too short to reach it. I can get my fingertips on it, but can’t slide it. Ray walks by and gives me a smirk and then miraculously comes back and takes it down for me.
“You’re kinda short ya’ know?”
I crinkled up my eyes and gave him a go to hell look.
“You know what you are?”
“What? The daughter you always wanted, but never had?”
I say it with the meanest voice I have, but end up laughing.
This catches him totally off guard and an even stranger thing happened.
He smiled at me. His whole face smiled. It cracked into a million places full of laugh lines and his eyes took on a twinkly look. The forever scowl disappeared. He thumbed his glasses.
“Well, other than a smartass, I was going to say you have become a pretty good helper. “
He digs in his back pocket and pulls out an old worn wallet and shows me a picture of his son, who was about nine. He tells me how he never thought he would marry or have children, but got lucky that someone would take pity on a mean old sonofawhore like him.
His voice is tempered with kindness and softness and a sense of pride for his family. He lets me flick through the other pictures. One of his son as a baby, his wife when they were dating, a stern looking man so much younger in his uniform.
I felt kinda bad about the daughter remark.
I stopped trying to do my job better just to piss off Ray. I started trying to do my job better to make him happy. Having his respect meant something to a young me and it felt a hell of a lot better than spite.
When other new people would come in and remark what an asshole he was, I would come to his defense.
“He’s not an asshole, he is just Ray the Red Devil…”