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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

The Meat Diaries

If The Packers Lost A Game, The Mood Inside The Plant Was Fucking Terrible

Brett Rawson

HANDWRITTEN: It’s interesting to watch your experience unfold. You almost have a musical playlist, too, as we go through these notebooks. It gives an acoustic feel to the experience, whether it’s your mention of the Rolling Stones or otherwise.

BUTLER: You know, that’s one thing. When I was a teen, my parents owned a small business. A warehousing business. Their biggest client was a light fixture company. So they would take shipments of light fixtures and warehouse them, and then ship them out to regional hardware stores. 

I worked there throughout my teens. It was my first job. I frequently wouldn’t get paid because I just wanted to be around my parents. I liked their business, their employees treated me like a mascot. It was great. Always at that job, my dad’s employees had giant stereos and speakers set up in the warehouse. You could listen to all the music you wanted to, as loud as you wanted. My dad was a big music guy so it was great for him. I think he thought music was a good way to keep people occupied and moving, or whatever.

But that used to drive me just bonkers. I remember two or three hours into my day at Oscar, I wondered, why in the hell can’t we listen to music?  It was against the rules. It was probably for sanitary reasons. Or if a machine started to eat your hand, you would probably want to know that noise and not be plugged into Wild Horses or something like that. But that just used to drive me crazy.

So when I sat in my car in the morning, I would frequently listen to music really loud for ten or fifteen minutes to get a song in my head, and then be kind of haunted by that the rest of the day at the plant. 

HANDWRITTEN: Was there any music that others told you about? Or were they your own personal discoveries?

Butler: No. No, I don’t remember that at all. We would talk about how shitty the job was, about our boss, if someone was having an affair, getting a divorce, had a surgery or something that was interesting. We talked about that, or what we brought for lunch. The biggest thing we would talk about was the Packers. We talked a lot about the Green Bay Packers. And that’s represented in the journals, too.

It’s not that different now for me in my own life, as a lonely writer, but man, if the Packers lost an important game, the mood inside the meat packing plant was just fucking terrible. Just terrible. Because people were living for their weekends. I’m not saying they weren’t living for their families or their marriages, too, but people were always really excited about their weekends, about watching the Packers, and if they lost, Monday was just a really ugly day.

Yeah, but I don’t ever really having conversations about music. Part of that is because when I was a teenager, I was big into Tom Waits and cool jazz in the 1950s, so there were elements where I knew I wasn’t going to find a sympathetic ear.

HANDWRITTEN: There’s a list at the end of this first diary that has a list of "journalistic pieces." One says, "What The Packers Means at Oscar Meyer." It sounds like they controlled the morale of the plant.

BUTLER: So the Packers were the only publicly-owned team in American professional sports, or it might be worldwide professional sports, I’m not sure. They’re in the smallest market in the U.S. There are like 100,000 people, maybe a little over that. It’s a blue collar town through and through. Of course, their name harkens the meat-packing industry, so it’s easy to draw those lines. We identify with this team, we identify with their lunch-box mentally, all those sports cliches. If your team was the Dolphins, you’d be a little less excited about being a meat packer. 

HANDWRITTEN: I just happened upon the page where you had your New Year’s Resolution. "Propose to Regina," among others. Did you resolve all of these items?

Butler: I think I would’ve proposed to my wife, so we can cross that one off the list. My whole life I had a fascination: could I join the military and preserve individuality? Or, I had that fascination in my late teens and early twenties. I'm glad that didn’t work out. Obviously, I was trying to find a new job, but that also didn’t work out. I don’t think I ever published anything about Oscar Meyer, which was not really about Oscar Meyer itself, but an anti-war poem.

It’s interesting to see the list. Round River was the conversation group I was studying with. And Elan** our company that financed all that. I was really possessed about, or preoccupied with, financials at that time. I didn’t have that much debt — around 4,000 — which was the most I ever had. I was trying to get all that paid off. I never took the LSAT or GREs. I’m not a good test taker. The first time I took the GREs, I had a terrible score and then I wouldn’t take it again until I was 29 and trying to get into grad school.

I remember running into an old high school buddy of mine during Christmas Break. A good guy. We were good friends through high school, and I hope this doesn’t sound mean, but nobody in our class would’ve said that this guy was the brightest dude in our class, or destined for greatness. He was just a great athlete, a rock-steady guy, and I remember running into him at a bar around Christmas time that year. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was going to med school, and I was like, "That’s great, I’m so happy for you." I was filled with happiness for this guy because he was somebody you want to cheer for. Then he asked me what I was doing. I told him honestly that I was working at Oscar Meyer, and you could see that he didn’t know how to respond to that.

And I would have those conversations once a month and it was heart-breaking. It was embarrassing. Not because working at the plant was a bad thing, but it just wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. So I was making lists of goals like this and always sending out job applications and trying to figure it out.