Going to work, of course, was always a slog. But, at the bare minimum, he could count on the same thing. That is to say, “no surprises.” Not much room for surprise in a sodding potato factory (it feels like there’s a pun in there somewhere). And that’s part of what he loved and hated about the job. He knew that any profession he might have pursued would be this banal. Yet somewhere, deep down, he questioned if he had made the right decision. Could he have done something more worthwhile? More cerebral? That was always the question that weighed on him: am I capable of more?
It’s, in fact, the question that weighs on most people’s minds—even those who tell themselves they’re “fine” doing what they’re doing. Going through the motions and blacking out for the cash. But Eddie DeWint knew for a fact he was not “fine.” He was starting to understand that. Particularly on the day that he came across a suspicious-looking potato on the conveyor belt. The one near the “potato reception area.” A term that made the facility sound as though it were far more elegant and sophisticated than it actually was. In the end, they peddled fries to people. Made the masses fat. Leave the potatoes for the Irish and the Americans, that’s what Eddie always thought when he had to handle their dirty, rough-textured skins. His fingertips had grown a darker shade than the rest of his hands over the years from so much “handling.” For, even though he was supposed to touch the “product” as little as possible, he found himself among the most perspicacious of the quality control team. Which is likely why he was the one who found the “potato.” In actuality, a rusty grenade from almost a century ago, when men were more barbaric and engaged in things like full-scale war. Oh wait, they still do that now…
Having worked at the Mr. Chips in Auckland for most of his adult life, he had seen all manner of shapes and sizes when it came to potatoes. And so he immediately knew that there was something “off” about this one (try as it might to blend in). That he ought to pluck it out and examine it more closely. Which he did, with the utmost discretion. Fishing it out like an expert and shoving it into his pocket so that he might better examine the “odd potato” on his cigarette break. And yes, he was one of the few men in the factory who still smoked. Every other bloke, it seemed, was from a younger generation that had moved on from smoking altogether, or instead preferred to wait until after work to light up a “fat joint.” A.k.a. vape in the privacy of their own homes where the long arm of the law couldn’t stop them. That kind of “smoking” wasn’t Eddie’s cup of tea. Neither was going home right after work. He, instead, preferred to go to the “pub” closest to the factory. It was called The Waypoint, and the only thing he enjoyed about it was its no frills aesthetic and cheap happy hour. A man couldn’t ask for more—certainly not decent female clientele to ogle every now and again. That’s not what The Waypoint was for.
As he turned the potato over and over again in his hand, the distinct hardness was quick to let on that this was no common spud. And with the dust having cleared from it, a narrative about the grenade began to take shape in his mind. It must have been harvested near Matamata, which turned out to be more than just “hobbit” territory as, long before that, it was where a number of WWII training camps were set up. Why New Zealand bothered getting involved at all in the war was beyond Eddie, and he saw it more as weakness in terms of being utterly sycophantic toward Britain rather than a show of strength against fascist appeasement. After all, what country was more fascist than Britain? In any case, this was no ordinary Ranger Russet. It was plain to see. As such, Eddie knew he ought to report it to his superior, and yet, another glimmer of a thought flickered before exploding like the very grenade in his hand might… if he were inclined to pull the clip off. Indeed, he was—inclined, that is.
For years, he had been pondering a way out of this factory, a way out of this middling “profession.” It was as though the sudden appearance of this grenade was a gift and/or sign from “God” that he had found a way. By putting this “potato” back on the conveyor belt with the clip pulled out, he knew it might not necessarily come to anything. That the grenade might, by now, be defective or simply “non-operational” was a false assurance Eddie gave himself to insist he wasn’t really doing anything wrong. Of course he knew that UXOs (unexploded ordnances) were still functional many decades after being manufactured. And that was, in truth, what he was counting on when he went back inside, pulled the clip, tossed it on the belt and then rushed out as “inconspicuously” as he could. When ten minutes passed with no result, he considered just setting the building on fire with his lit cigarette. That’s when he knew how badly he wanted this whole pathetic, pedestrian existence to go up in flames.
He sighed heavily, almost ready to surrender to the life he was apparently born for, when, all at once, the factory erupted in a massive blaze. The explosion sent potato shrapnel everywhere—or were those the guts and other assorted innards of his erstwhile co-workers? No matter, he reasoned as he wiped away red and white “mush” from his face. It was no time to overthink it. It was time to get out of here and start over again. Create an existence that wasn’t so… “working class.” Then he remembered that it was essentially impossible to alter one’s station in life, opting, in the end to get a job at the AFFCO plant. Arguably far worse than the potato factory, but then, at least AFFCO didn’t ask him any questions about why he was the only surviving worker from the explosion.
At the same time, AFFCO didn’t allow Eddie any of his once-treasured, oft-taken cigarette breaks. So maybe it all just went to show that when one tries to reach for something “higher,” they somehow only end up lower in the long run. And oh, what a long run it is when you’re just another shill.