C.M. Vitali

Of Working in a Bottling Factory

The Cellar Boy by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin

Facemasks are not required, yet. We bottle anything: soda, champagne, wine, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, as long as it’s in a glass bottle. My job is to stand over them and pull out the crooked labels.  Sometimes, if the glue is still wet, I can rub the cover into the right spot like pulling up a pair of pants. If it’s dried, they’ll be white streaks and then it goes into the soap bucket where I will clean it later and send it back down the conveyor belt. There are folks on the line: a woman stands by the tanks; another by the main spout, in case a bottle gets stuck; another by the label machine, in case one gets stuck; another after the label machine, in case one gets stuck; and myself, further down. Two men pack’em in boxes and two more haul the boxes onto crates. One guy drives the lift but that requires a permit—lucky bastard. By the end of the first shift, I seek a stool. Someone, it’s not my boss, says I’m not supposed to sit and work. I tell them to find their own stool. I don’t know who my boss is actually but there’s an office by the punch-in cards. He must live in there.

At lunch, an older Latino lady tells me to never smoke pot unless I grow it myself. She and her husband smoke every night. They sound happy. She shows me where everyone hides the bottles they swipe out back.

After lunch, I’m given a new job: checking for cracks in champagne bottles. There’s a chance that they’ll explode when opened. We can’t have that. There’s a chance that they’ll explode when being inspected, too. Another has taken my stool, so I stack a few boxes to sit on. I’m given goggles to wear. I imagine I’m defusing bombs. I imagine each bottle could cough COVID-19 into my face. Which is worse: flying glass, or flying germs? I find five with cracks; even then, I’m not sure they are cracks. I pull twenty others, just for safe measure. I place them alongside the dumpster, gingerly.

After work, returning to the spot, I realize that I can’t possibly carry this many bottles to my car without notice. I leave most of them under the bushes where the old lady pointed.


About the writer:
C.M. Vitali attended UCLA for an English BA (CRW Emphasis). She has an MFA from CSU Fresno. She’s earned the May Merrill Award, San Joaquin Fiction Award, and her work appears in Westwind Journal, Digital Americana, Offcourse Literary Journal, and San Joaquin Review. She will be seeking representation for debut literary novel soon.

Image: The Cellar Boy by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779). Oil on canvas. 18.1 x 14.9 inches. Between 1736 and 1738. Public domain.