The Ham Canner

Let me just ask you this: have you ever seen a man can a ham as rapidly and accurately as him? And as gracefully? It’s unlikely: he’s the world record holder for a reason. You– You’re telling me you’ve never heard of him? Je-je-je-JESUS!! Crank the volume on your walkie-talkie and prepare to have your picture of reality re-painted.

I remember the first day I became aware of his incredible talent: it was the first day of the rest of my life. I don’t just mean that semantically. I was strolling down the production line on a Monday a.m., hoping to catch an assembler fucking up in some terrible way — one doesn�t advance in my line of work by reporting that everyone is doing just fine — and maybe earn myself a warm glance from Greg for crucifying the inept dope in Thursday’s ISO assessment, when I caught quite the opposite: one of the canners canning at what seemed even to the naked eye to be a very high rate. I ran to my office and got the big stop clock and rolled it out to the line. Go, I said, and I timed him: 3.5 hams per minute. On average. During one 63 second stretch he canned 4 hams. Is this getting through to you? What I had on my hands was a man who could potentially break the record.

Now the deal was this: he was running at around 3.5 hams that first day I timed him, but it turned out that, as my observation over the next week would show, he was actually moving between a 3.3 and a 3.5 average. The cause of fluctuation? Impossible to know. Could’ve been what he ate for dinner the night before; could�ve been what didn’t eat for dinner the night before — there were just too many variables to even attempt to trace them. But even at 3.3, this guy was within half a point of the record, and — I can still hardly believe this as I write it now — he had only begun canning for us the week before. And he had no previous experience. With canning.

So I took it upon myself to train him. Was it entirely selfless of me to do so? Of course not, I had the world to gain. But in the end it was about him, because he was the source of all of it, and when you looked at him, when you watched him can those fucking things� You just, you weren�t thinking about you, I can safely say that. Anyway, I trained him. I had him stuffing everything into everything, then stuffing that — the stuffed thing — into something else: blankets were stuffed into ziplocs; books into banana peels; potatoes into silly-putty eggs; plugs into outlets; casseroles into ovens; cars into carports� There was no end to what I had him stuff and the thing that I had him stuff that first thing toward and then into. No end. But after what seemed like and was several consecutive two-hour periods of training, he was ready.

We went down to the line. I wheeled in the stop-clock. A camcorder was set up so that verification could later be made by the appropriate committees. The first attempt started well: he was a blur of motion. It was ham-thwop, ham-thwop, ham-thwop — like some sort of precision machine. But when the smoke cleared, there were just two hams canned and an indistinguishable number bulging inside his clothing. No joke, he had stuffed ten, maybe a dozen hams into his outfit. I recognized this as him warming up, getting the blood flowing. Kink ironing. His walleyed stare straight ahead as we unpacked his jumper confirmed for me that he was sorting out his mental game. Well, for attempt two, the planets clicked into alignment. When the clock stopped, we had before us six canned hams! Exclamations of You’re fucking kidding! and You�ve got to be fucking kidding me! were silently mouthed by the stunned dozens who had assembled to witness history first hand. I think I said something to the effect of That’s impossible! I’m seeing it, but it’s impossible! Lord it was a heady moment in everyone there’s workday. Hell, workweek.