Weekday mornings, I wended my way northwest in Little Red to the lumber company, often driving past the Clover Club potato chip factory with the broad stack belching steam; a lover of potato chips since childhood, the sight made my mouth water even at the breakfast hour.
The lumber company’s headquarters was considerably less glamorous than those of the two previous companies for which I had processed data. The building was located on a broad, windswept, and dusty side street that contained no sidewalks. The street’s asphalt ran right up to the company’s doorstep, and parking spaces were indicated merely by a few concrete chocks arranged diagonally.
The front of the old, boxy, two-story building consisted of white brick with patches of wood paneling; it had a single, unsheltered glass door. The bottom floor of the headquarters contained a reception area―small and, due to the floor’s split-level architecture, totally isolated―the offices of the president, the vice-president of finance, and the vice-president of sales; and a large, wood-paneled room with cubicles for the company’s several salespersons.
A narrow, angled staircase with a small landing led to the top floor, except for the glassed-in computer room containing the System 38―my third 38―a largely open area where inventory, accounting, and computer programming occurred. The floor’s large windows overlooked the lumber and shipping yards. The floor had worn carpeting in some places and cracked linoleum in others. The men’s restroom was cold, bleak, functional. Yet after the swank of the Denver companies, I rather liked all this grittiness; given the nature of the business, it seemed as appropriate as the rugged mountains and mesas framed in the floor’s windows. (It was my understanding that the 38 was, with a forklift, delivered to the floor through one of those windows; I would not have wanted to have been responsible for that procedure.)
I worked with seven others on the floor, a nearly even mixture of Latinos and Anglos. The person in charge of computer operations was a young and easygoing Latina. She and her husband, an auto mechanic, were originally from the northern New Mexico hamlet of Questa.
In the cubicle next door to mine sat the accounts receivable clerk. She was middle-aged and lived on what she called a “hobby farm” close to the Rio Grande in the sleepy village of Corrales, just northwest of Albuquerque. (“Drive slow, see our village,” reads a street sign in Corrales. “Drive fast, see our judge.”) Ordinarily quiet and focused on her work, when prompted she loved to discuss her farm, particularly her beloved goats. Proud of her pastoral life-style, she could hold forth about the tastiness of horse meat.
Sharing her cubicle was a fellow named Steve, also middle-aged, who daily updated the company’s inventory. He always addressed me as “Mr. Davis,” although with the warmest informality. Whether by necessity or choice, he was always the first to arrive at the second floor, at 7:00 A.M., an hour before my appearance; thus, his natural warmth notwithstanding, I associated him with the mauve skies and chill of the New Mexico dawn. He was always in good humor. At lunchtime, I’d poke fun at some mysterious glop he’d just heated in the second-floor microwave and was enjoying at his desk. “You were expecting The Galloping Gourmet?” he’d respond. His home was the Shalako Apartments complex on east Central Avenue. The name was perhaps some marketing director’s idea of attracting tenants by invoking the hallowed winter ceremonies of western New Mexico’s Zuni Indians. Apparently unimpressed with this ploy, Steve always referred to his residence as “The Shacko.”
Nearly every day employees from the first floor and the lumber yard paid visits to the second floor for one purpose or another. The visitors included Carlos, the vice-president of finance, the middle-aged Latino who hired me. Although he was not a programmer, I got the impression he was responsible for the purchase of the 38 and was thus most invested in its successful day-to-day functioning. He was relaxed, often with his tie loosened and collar unbuttoned, but businesslike, rarely in the mood for levity. Early on in my employment, observing my frustration with one of the company’s software applications, he offered, “The challenge is not the mountain, Phil, it’s the pebble in the boot.” At this point in his life, he did not look like a mountain climber, rather like someone who would have been content to surround himself with his extended family, enjoying their respect, at a picnic at a National Forest campground at the base of a central New Mexico mountain. In any event, especially as a hiker, I liked the ring of this homily: it struck me somehow as uniquely Hispanic, uniquely New Mexican.
One of the company’s shipping clerks, Ray, a young, slim, handsome, and soft-spoken Latino, appeared with his coffee mug first thing every morning to get java from the second-floor coffeemaker and jaw in a relaxed manner. Like many Albuquerque Latinos, he had a beautifully constructed pompadour; yet how he managed to maintain its shape and stature apparently without so much as a dab of styling mousse, I couldn’t figure. (This as my own hair was thinning.)
Other visitors to the second floor throughout the day often included the Albuquerque mill manager and the company’s several area foresters, two of whom lived in Albuquerque and one who lived in the northern New Mexico town of Española. I envied the foresters, pumped them for impressions of their latest sylvan rambles, for I knew they spent much of their workdays in the mountains up north, either in their trucks or on foot, among majestic ponderosa pines, the most coveted of the company’s raw material.