What follows is my answer to the That’s Enough Of That- Memoir Prompt. Traditionally, memoirs are accountings of events that take place years before the retelling, but this one tells a tale that was played out less than eight weeks ago…
‘That’s enough of that‘ was the look I was trying to lay down, and judging by the ‘Oh shit, he’s going to throw me off this machine‘ look I got in return, I succeeded.
As he white knuckled one of the clamps fixturing the thirty-six inch diameter cylinder to the work table, a nervous laugh backed his words, “You said ‘Fuck you, Jack’. I really wasn’t expecting that out of you, Al.”
Towering over the second shift machinist as we stood on one of the three work tables attached to the horizontal mill, I evenly answered, “You had it coming.”
“Look man, I’m sorry. I really wanted to blame your set-up for the crash, but after we got the plate back on the table and I retracted the quill, I could see that the tool burned up.” He was retreating.
“You let the mill push nine thousand pounds of stainless steel casting, and half a ton of steel fixture plate, six inches— off the table,” then I pointed to the cut, “and you want to deny that rougher quit cutting well before it started shoving the whole shebang?”
Jack looked closer at the cut and saw where the tool had stopped working— gaulding the steel instead of cutting it —a good three inches before he hit the emergency stop button, then looked up at me with excuse number fifty-three written all over his face, “It was still making chips when I stopped it.”
“And you know this, how? I thought you were trying to get the coolant back on?”
I stopped in the shop two nights before this conversation took place. The reason I went in on my own time was…welll…let’s face it, I had a woody about a tool I ordered for the purpose of carving thirty percent from the machining time, and according to texts I was getting, the tool was performing better than hoped.
When I arrived to watch the Jesus Tool perform its miracle, there was a coolant around the mill, and the surrounding machines, lake large enough to water ski on. The bloodletting of the fluid was the harbinger of the crash.
The next day, I had to climb off the mill five times to prime the coolant pump because nearly all 300 gallons had escaped the reclaim system.
“I was told not to let the mill stop, so I had to fight the coolant flow from the platform.”
“Dammit Jack- grow a pair. You won’t be chastised for trying to preserve the process.”
“Look, Al- I feel bad you had to spend your shift resetting the process.”
Really, I wasn’t mad about having to maneuver the 315 inch long piece back into a position we could restart the milling from— that wasn’t it, but it was the last in a long string of ‘Its’.
Calming just a bit so I could make my point clearly, and make it stick, “That’s not why I’m mad, Jack. I’m not even angry about the coolant mess. Or the way you bushwahcked me on Monday, or having to come in every day and police the area just so I can start the mill, or all of the bad mouthing you have been doing about me,” one huge breath, “I’m pissed about all of it. One thing after another.”
“Dude, I’m sorry about Monday. It’s just that I have been called into too many meetings like that where I have been trampled on and berated— I wasn’t going to let it happen again.”
“Screw you. Jack. No one in this shop has been more in your camp than me, and you want to toss me under the bus by using my ideas as your own? All the while, I sat there defending you, knowing full well you were flaming me,” another slow breath, “That seventy-two hours you said that could be sliced from the job was unrealistic. That should have been near fifty. And now Michael (the owner) has your numbers on his desk- along with that burnt tool and a report of how many hours were lost due to you not paying attention”
Jack’s face turned a bit white as the truth sank in. He had painted himself into a corner and was too late realizing he had, “Yeah, I know- and it really looked like that tool was going to save the project.”
“Don’t worry, we have two more,” with two more tools scheduled to arrive in a few days. I wasn’t going to tell him about the others because we needed him alert and careful to finish the project.
“And about me bad mouthing you- yeah, I have been. Only because I feel like you have been pushing me too hard to learn the new [already three months old] controller. I don’t want to learn it because I don’t trust it.”
Calming just a bit more, I offered, “I have been pushing you hard, only because you need to learn the controls, Jack. You need to open up so you are comfortable,” The horizontal mill had become my new home just after it was retrofitted with a brand new, state of the art, CNC control. The actual integration was akin to putting a young genius brain into an old and tired body [the mill has seen a lot of hard service in its fifty plus years of life], and was far less than perfect as there were, and remain, wrinkles to iron out. But, without any formal training on a system that was foreign to me, I caught on and became the only machinist to gain a full understanding of the controls and how to work around the flaws of the integration.
Jack just doesn’t like change.
“Look- there is nothing wrong with the control. I have been feeding you everything I’ve learned about this package so you can feel at ease working around the quirks. Because if I can make it work fine, anyone can.”
“I know, and I do appreciate you taking the time. Also, I have changed my ‘this thing is a piece of shit’,” Jack paused to chuckle, “to ‘It can’t be as bad as I think it is’. I’ve seen you work it, and make it perform as it should. But when I try, it all goes to shit.”
My rant being in the books and played out, I began to wind the conversation down by stepping towards the edge of the table and suggesting, “I say you should spend less time on your phone and more time getting intimate with the controllers manual during those long cuts. You also need to pay attention to the display screen and catch how it relates to what is happening out at the spindle. If you do those things, the knowledge will click like tumblers of a lock falling in place— you will soon know what you need,” turning back to face him squarely, I tossed one final dart, “I will no longer extract those two hundred pound slugs, you create, from the area. I have my own to take care of, Jack. Just stop and get them out.”
“I’m sorry about that,” a smile crawled across his relieved face, “I noticed you left me a hint with that clamp and strap. I really had no idea how you were taking yours out and stacking them without using one of the grunts. Don’t worry- I will take care of mine from here on out.”
Stepping off the table (more like jumping off), I looked back up at Jack, “Good. Now have a great shift…and pay attention.”
Stopping to generalize my focus and plot my path to the back door (read: exit stage left), I noticed two things right away:
1) The impromptu meeting that was taking place next to the mill (a meeting involving an angry shop owner and several apologetic supervisors) had dispersed and the area was quiet. In fact, the hubbub of the shift transition had long died, replaced by the humming of a shop in a harmonious working state.
2) Along my path to the portal leading to the outside world, I saw two supervisors standing furtively just off the path— each at different points.
They too must have seen the look.
Generalities were exchanged- ‘We all good?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Enjoy the evening.’ ‘Thanks, you too.’ -and out the door I went.
Did I feel justified? Hell yes I did. Someone needed to rattle Jack’s cage because he had been skating along— creating scrap, not finishing jobs, assigning his own work —with no one confronting him directly, so I took the opportunity to thump him while letting it being known he can’t push me forever.
Did I feel successful? Certainly. I have been trying to cultivate that look for quite sometime because I am getting slower and need an advantage while looking for escape routes. For the second time in less than a year, that look came naturally, and it worked!
But, as I journeyed home, I felt something else creeping in, something to dull the party favors- guilt.
I am severely hampered by empathy, so I felt terribly guilty about releasing in such a negative manner. I felt genuinely sorry for Jack.
The other thing I felt guilty about? Over ten thousand pounds of steel were shoved several inches by a one and a half inch diameter by eight inch long tool that weighed less than a pound. That tool should have snapped first. While the set-up worked like a charm on the previous part, and has worked for several years at that shop, it wasn’t foolproof. On one hand, I should have seen the accident coming; on the other, the accident provided the company with a reality check that prompted a close look at the set-up procedure which in turn resulted in a more solid fixturing process.
On the third hand— how much hand holding should we provide to a forty something machinist who should pay attention during critical portions of any process?
Hopefully, my Look, and the ensuing conversation, reduced that amount exponentially.