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I do the tongues and tripe in offal now. They put me off to one side near the freezers. There's a table full of people down the way from me that cut the oxtails and sift through boxes of face meat and fish out any pieces with bones. I get a chute and a steel basket with a power hose; every six seconds a tongue drops off a hook and slaps down on the others. I have two racks I fill up and when they're full it's like I have my own hallway of dank, twitching flesh to work in. The tongues ooze blood long after they are severed from the heads, which are disassembled over and behind me. I try not to notice the tongues on the spikes. Mostly I concentrate on the ones in the basket, the warm ones I spray, letting the hose recoil a second. When I reach down and yank on the tiny bones that were part of the mandibles, they snap. A nerve pops and the tongue won't slither and wriggle while it hangs on the spike.
As if this weren't enough, every half hour I get a load of tripe I have to separate into four pieces into a bag and then box the bag. Set it on the offal line. That alone takes about sixteen minutes, which backs me up on the tongues and so on throughout the week till today. My station is at the end of the chain. Above me, the steer heads are the last moving section of the killfloor.
The rest of the factory shuts down about twenty minutes before us. The blood crew and the clean-up guys are out in their yellow coveralls. They have these suits they wear that make them look like they're with the hazmat. The guy with the sprayer has got an oxygen tank and everything.
I look up. Count maybe eight more tongues on the line there; the chain slows like it's off, and the tongues pull toward the latch that will free them into my chute. Ahead of me over by a tiled wall, a row of inspectors make slices below the eye holes of the steer heads and peer inside. They've pulled a few heads off the line and begin to dissect them, talking to each other, checking their watches, sharpening their knives.
The plant is going to be retooled this winter and they plan to add parts to the line that would do more fabrication. I'm told our section will continue with the help of a vat of boiling water for the skulls; little enhancements like that are planned all over the killfloor. More conveyor belts, and National Beef will be up there with Excel out east of town.
Officially, for the week, I make 310 dollars. They cash my check at the office and I get the bills in my hands in a stack of tens and twenties. Mostly tens. These in hand, I get out of the factory and make for my truck. There's no night shift tonight and that's a rare event.
A few vehicles are left in the lot, scattered widely on the asphalt. I amble with my thoughts on some quick math: two hundred for rent; forty in groceries, forty for my lady, some gas, and some change for me. The late afternoon is still …