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Attack Of The Plant Men
By James Marck
March, 2006, 19:24

Populate your work with unique characters to make life funny enough to write about.
ou’re still writing a comic novel, a stand-up routine, a humourous short story or a stage/screenplay for an absurd comedy (see last month’s IN Comedy column), and you’ve established that your protagonist works in a plant.

The next step is to populate your book, act, play or sitcom with other characters to make your guy’s life funny enough to write about. To wit, allow me to introduce: the plant men.

Gino. All plants have one. In his late-30s, Gino has been working there for 20-odd years. Knows everything about the operation from the ground up, is always in demand, but never on hand. Rides around on a forklift (usually called a tow motor, not to be confused with a tow motor which is usually called a hand truck), is genial, grease-stained and can fix anything with a hammer. He's usually referred to as ''Seen Gino?''  or, more specifically, ''Where the f**k is Gino?'' Like you know.

Old Guy. All plants have at least one. His age is indeterminate, but he’s the go-to guy to fix things when Gino isn't available. (He usually knows where Gino actually is, but will fix the problem until Gino comes along and re-fixes it after asking, ''Was the old guy f**king with this?''). The old guy can barely hear and only knows two useful job-related words of English: “What?!” and “Eh?!” but can make himself generally understood through cartoon-like body language. Everybody loves the old guy even though he could probably buy and sell the whole place with the money he's squirreled away

Ex-Con. Many plants have one. Lead hand, way cool guy, hangs with insider crowd because they want him to. Arted-up over both arms with good jail jobs, with a kinda blowsy live-in girl friend. Takes good care of his guys and is a born leader. The ex-con, like Gino, can fix most things, but uses a crowbar instead of a hammer unless the bitch just won't listen to reason. Your guy normally sides with him.

Hey Buddy. A plant fixture. People call him Hey Buddy because he's only been there a couple of years and nobody's got the hang of calling him by name yet. Like you know it. Oddly enough, Buddy is in demand almost as much as Gino because he is so accessible. Buddy has a non-fixed job description so he can be readily summoned to fetch a tool, hold something while the other guy looks for something to hit it with, or go find Gino. Because of his peripatetic ways, Buddy also usually knows where Gino is, but when Gino says, “Tell them you couldn't find me,”  he does so, thus undermining his own position and condemning himself to another year of being Hey Buddy. It's a thankless job.

The White Hats. Supervisors, foremen, inspectors who wear white safety hats. Their numbers vary according to the size of the plant but are always mean and hands-on. They know their stuff and go by the book. They can be found peering closely at a machine and asking, ''Has Gino been f**king with this again?'' before storming off to find the right tool or technician. Everybody but the old guy is slightly afraid of them because they look at you like you’ve just caused a major malfunction.

Clipboarders. These guys wear every bit of safety apparel the plant can provide, are clean and distinguished by safety shoes, not boots. They mark down productivity, downtime, maintenance time and every other conceivable aspect of mechanical banality. The others welcome them because things slow down or stop when they come around and everybody gets a smoke break. Clipboarders are disdained because they are college boys who hobnob with the bosses and can only bring down memos from the office that suggest that everybody' s slacking off. 

And, like every good comedy, the prevailing attitude is, “So what?”

So what, indeed.IN Icon

James Marck is a Toronto, Canada freelance writer. Email James Marck

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