The Meat Diaries
In 2003, 23-year-old Nickolas Butler took a job at an Oscar Meyer meat-packing facility in Madison, Wisconsin. Living with his then-girlfriend ten blocks away, he woke up each morning at 3:00am, sat in an empty parking lot for ten minutes, and listened to music that he hoped would accompany him while he worked on an assembly line that served childhoods faraway: the conveyer belts that filled the iconic plastic boxes of baloney, if not The Oscar Meyer Weiner Truck itself.
Nick worked there for eight months, which is seven months and thirty days longer than some, but fifty-nine years and four months shorter than others. But during his time, Nick wrote. Initially, it was an activity to do when the slicer broke down for an hour. Isolated in temperatures of 25 - 40 degrees, he courted wild ideas, recorded thoughts about corporate America and working for The Man, but also recounted stories about the beautiful and blue-collar souls he worked and joked with.
Thirteen years later, or last year, Nick dug up his three "meat diaries" during a move and sent them to us (by FedEx, signature required, in bubble-wrap and a heavy-duty plastic bag, with a handwritten note that encouraged us not to lose them). In part, it had to do with timing: the plant he worked at was, after 100 years of operation, on the verge of shutting down, leaving the city that grew up around it economically hollow. But it was also the 2016 Presidential Elections, a time when industrial America was promised of returns on capital, but also ways of life.