I didn’t know very much about this company when I accepted the assignment but found out that it was a cosmetics company. It wasn’t until one of my female co-workers explained to me that Benefit was a cosmetics manufacturer that I got a clue.
We were sent to their new production facility in east Oakland that was near the Coliseum. For all the excitement that my co-worker had displayed, I had expected some sort of glamour or something special that warranted it. Nope, it was just a brand new mostly barren warehouse with a lot of fold out tables, a lot of pallets of materials, a lot of cardboard boxes, a lot of FOB immigrants from all over the world and a tiny industrial mixing machine with a roller conveyor. There was also a break room consisting of the usual microwave, vending machines and a full size fridge flanked by two tables with seats. I was so disappointed.
My lack of enthusiasm was in stark contrast to the immigrant workforce already there. They acted as if they were working for the greatest company in the world. Their bright cheery smiles and passion for what they were doing, packaging small cosmetics tins for shipping, were admirable qualities to be sure, but a sick joke to me in 1980’s America. You have to understand that this was the beginning of Globalism, NAFTA was not even heard of and this was their launch pad for a bright new future, for them. Not for me. All I saw was a steady decline in pay, quality of assignments and co-workers from worlds I knew little about. I couldn’t even talk with them for the most part. The bosses (two white guys) didn’t like me either, they said that I had an attitude problem. I realize now that my female co-workers enthusiasm was for hopes that she could score free, high quality cosmetics and work her way up in the company. I shared none of her aspirations.
One of the nice things about the job was that I was one of the few males working there, I became an item of interest to the females working there. Unfortunately, it also meant that I was abused like a pack animal, I was enlisted for doing all the heavy physical stuff. I unloaded five gallon buckets from pallets, replenished cardboard boxes for the ladies packing, shrink wrapped pallets and other medium duty manual stuff. I quickly learned that ladies from the Latin American regions had absolutely no problem exploiting me, they would come get me for anything that might involve exertion. The shop supervisor was from Asia and she worked just like a man, she would work right along side of you while the latina’s would not. In all fairness, I don’t know whether they were instructed to treat me that way by the other workers or not, but I do know that I was eyed very warily by the few male workers already there, when I first arrived. I think that they might have had a lot to do with my being taken advantage of.
Interestingly, the Chinese supervisor lady fell in love with me (romantically) almost as soon as she laid eyes on me. I soon learned however that she was an absolutely driven woman and my lack of matching zeal for the job soon killed her infatuation. Then, I met Maria.
I wanted to poke Maria so bad, I’ve always had a thing for older latinas, even back then. She actually worked out of the same temporary agency as I did, in fact we were dispatched together. She did not like me at all at first. I would say she was about 30 ish, I was still in my late teens. Maria was slightly overweight but not grossly so, she dressed like a traditional housewife wearing cardigan sweaters, conservative skirts, flats with white knee highs and her hair in a bun. To me she embodied everything comforting and warm, with a fiery temper below the surface. You know, a traditional latina homemaker from the old world. I was in love with her and she treated me like a bothersome boy, which only made me want her all the more.
At the temp agency, Maria was so very enthusiastic and excited to be there, I was fascinated and thought it cute. Were I to try to talk to her or even ask a question, she would snap at me with irritation. I kept trying to break through but to no avail, Maria wanted nothing to do with me and would insult me with her broken english. None of it deterred. When we settled at the warehouse she kind of lightened up around the other females but there was still an aloofness there. All of us new people started off working side by side at one table before they figured out where we would eventually go. Our first day on the job was to form two person teams and pack shipping boxes together. I was ever so happy to be assigned to Maria by the supervisor, which she hated. Maria did not want to work with me.
I wasn’t making passes, hitting on her or saying anything lewd, I just tried to be nice but she was having none of it. I tried really hard to be nice but it was hopeless. The straw that broke the camel’s back and made me give up on her was when I put a tin in backwards and Maria snatched it back out, got close in my face and brutally chastised me like a child. For the first time she looked ugly to me. Feelings hurt, I watched her rush away from me in disgust when the shift was over. The next day she was working at a different table full of all latina’s, chatting and laughing, happy as could be, didn’t even look my way. I was crushed.
As the following day passed she began to change, became nice and talkative, almost girlish to my great surprise which I found really enticing. At first I couldn’t believe that she was actually being nice to me, had she actually started to flirt? At this point we had been there for about two weeks so I can only guess that she had begun to relax. I tested her and tried to speak to her again, she was all smiles and giggles. The only time I had a chance to talk to her was quitting time and I would make a bee line for her. The first time I did that she seemed a little irritated but the next day she was very receptive. I suppose that the other ladies she worked with must have made favorable comments because her attitude completely changed. She began to make a big show of our little rendezvous at the end of each work day, I’m sure it was just for bragging rights among her co-workers but I didn’t care, I got to talk to her.
Then one day I sensed a change, I saw the real her for the first time. She laughed and cackled as usual but this time there was something else, she seemed a little more serious in a reserved kind of way. She never had given me a straight answer about whether she was married or not, she just laughed those questions away. I loved to see her laugh so I let the question go. She had children but they were back with her family in Mexico and it seemed to make her sad so I didn’t press there either. This day was different though, I knew that something had changed.
As we got close to the exit she seemed to get anxious, not like there was a problem but I could tell she really wanted to say something to me and was having a hard time. She stopped and kind of faced me, fidgeted with her hands close to her chest and asked about the Chinese supervisor whom I had long forgotten about. Surprised I answered her question but she acted like she didn’t hear me. I wondered if she was having trouble with the language since her English was broken (something else I found appealing) but that didn’t seem to be the case. As more workers left I began to worry that something was really wrong but she wouldn’t answer, just stood there in front of me looking worried. It bothered me the rest of the night. To this day I don’t know what is was.
The next day it was back to normal, I headed straight for her as soon as the shift was over like always. She seemed to have forgotten about the previous day and was even more flirty than usual. As I walked her out I made up my mind that the next day I was going to ask for her phone number or a date or something, I wanted her so bad.
And then I got reassigned. The next day never came and I never saw Maria again.