Cody Stanton*, 25
Name Tag and Commemorative-Coin Printer
I worked at a name-tag factory for two and a half years. My dad worked there, too, for about 17 years, from the time I was about 8 years old up until about a year and a half ago.
My main job was an imprinter. We made name tags. Our biggest client was Best Buy. We would usually run through about 3,000 Best Buy tags a day; even more around the holiday times. We also had a bunch of smaller companies — Petco, Baskin-Robbins.
We also made coins from scratch — AA coins, Narcotics Anonymous coins, and random coins for other companies. We did coins for Tesla and a lot of stuff for the military. We made congratulatory coins that said things like: Here’s something to show your dedication to the company.
We’d get a design of the image that the company wanted on the coin. We’d cut it with the machine. Once that was done, we’d stamp the metal coins with that image. Then we’d do different finishes on them to give them different looks.
From there, the coins would come to my department. We used paint printers to color them. I was in charge of running the big printers, whether it be name tags or the colors on the coins. That meant setting up the colors, color matching, and getting it so the color lies inside the image perfectly.
I was a security guard before that for about three years. It was a dead-end job. When I found out that this company was hiring, I applied. I briefly studied graphic design so I had a pretty decent understanding of color matching and Photoshop.
At first it was awesome. I was making more money than most of my friends. There was a lot of pride that went into making the coins for Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. Those tags would be worn by people who have gone through hell. That was very big for me. It was a source of inspiration and hope for individuals. This coin represented the powerful change they had made. There would be the triangle with a circle in it and a roman numeral representing the number of years sober. The whole idea of these coins is they’re supposed to give you strength if you feel weak.
When you walked in, it was like walking into the mall in the original Dawn of the Dead. Just a factory full of zombies. I think there were 30 or 40 total employees. There was an office area where people in cubicles would sit — salespeople and graphic designers. In the very back, they were stamping out the coins. And then there was my department, the imprinting shop, where you had four giant printers and four people, plus my boss.
Those printers, they were a pain in the butt. One of the printers I worked on when we were printing coins — instead of being able to print one after another after another after another, you had to turn the machine down and boot it back up before each print. If you did one after another, the image would move to the left and up, off the zeroed-out area. I could never figure out why.
Every machine was different. You had to learn tricks to get them to work. We had this badge-making machine that was supposed to be automated, but it was a piece of shit. It had a silicone stamp that would stamp the image, then the name, and then a piece would rotate. The badge would go on a conveyor belt and heat up and fall into a nice little area.
None of that ever worked — ever. It was a waste of time and a waste of money. The company owners were fucking morons for keeping that thing. We called it the P.O.S. — piece of shit.
My dad mostly worked on that machine. He’d have people come in and ask, “Why aren’t you done yet?”
“Well, because the machine is locked up and I’ve spent the last four hours fixing it.”
Then he’d get in trouble.
It’s like, I don’t know what the fuck you want me to do. This is a horseshit machine.
When I worked that machine I had to go to the bar afterward and get shit-faced hammered. I couldn’t deal with the stress.
As a kid, my parents didn’t get along. There was a lot of fighting. My dad would come home and talk about the stress of everything that was going on. And I would think: I’m just a kid, why can’t everybody be happy? Blah blah blah.
My dad and I had the same job — imprinter. We also both worked floater. If work was slow in imprinting, we’d be sent wherever a job needed to get done. But he was even more of a floater, thrown in every department doing everything, every day. I have no idea how he withstood that for as long as he did. I applaud my father.
It’s not to say that some of the people there weren’t really nice. I actually got along with quite a few people there. It was just a lot of stress put on me by my boss. He rode my ass harder than he rode anyone else’s in the department
I’ll give you scenario. If you were working on name tags, a print would take anywhere from a minute to three minutes. If you were working on coins, every row took about five minutes. So if you had four rows going, you had a print going for 20 minutes.
There’s not a whole lot you can do once the machine starts printing. Usually, it was me, my supervisor and the boss’s kid, all running the machine, doing different things together. In between prints, my supervisor would sit and read a newspaper. The boss’s kid would be online shopping. I was just doodling with a pencil and a small sheet of paper. When the print was done, we’d get up, set things up, then print again.
And then I’d get called into my boss’s office for a good five-minute ass chewing about wasting time. We were all doing the same thing, more or less but I was the one getting chewed out.
After my boss chewed my ass out for doodling, when I’d get everything done, I’d stare into his office, listening to my music, like, say something. I was almost trying to egg him on. Let me show you everything I’ve done today. Let’s ask the kid what he’s done.
I have no idea what his problem was. I remember sitting with my supervisor one day when my boss was on one of those golf trips he often took. And I asked him, “Am I a bad worker?” He gave me this puzzled look and said, “No, you bust your ass. Why would you ask me that?” I said, “Well, my boss just kind of makes it seem like I’m a slack ass.”
I’m not a very proper-looking young man. Long hair. At the time, I had a big, shaggy beard. I’m a very big fan of rock and roll. That came out in the clothes I was wearing. Jeans, graphic tees, and Chuck Taylor Converse. That was my go-to wardrobe.
My dad told me it was my intelligence that scared my boss, but I don’t know how much of that I believe. I’m not trying to say I’m a genius or anything. I’m not Kanye West.
But my supervisor was super cool. He really liked reading. We’d talk Stephen King novels and Edgar Allan Poe. He took me under his wing. I remember one day, him saying, “You know, these machines are going to turn on you and it’s your job to fight against them. You have to figure out your own tips and tricks to make sure they give you a proper print. The way the boss said they work is not how they work, and there’s no getting through to him.” It took some time, but I figured it out.
I made about $15.50 an hour. When you’re 22, 23 years old, that’s really good money. At a young age, you have all this money, you can go out and do stuff. But when you’re out doing stuff and you’re completely terrified your boss is going to have one of those days where he tweaks out, and you’re going to lose it and get into a pissing contest and lose your job, is it worth the stress? The benefits were great. It was the work environment. Health insurance doesn’t really mean anything if you’re going home and drinking yourself to death.
I hated feeling that way, I hated what it was doing to me — drinking a little bit more, numbing myself off to the world. You should embrace what the world has to give you and try to have fun with it. I couldn’t do it with this job.
There were a lot of instances where I would get questioned. I would explain to them, you know, the machine is breaking. I’m doing everything I know how to fix it. But I’m not an engineer, I’m not very mechanically sound with fixing printers. All I’d get is, “That’s not supposed to happen! Why is it happening?” I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not the same for every computer. I understand you want it to be. I would love a golden toilet. I would love peace for the world. But guess what? We’re not going to have peace for the world and we’re not going to have golden toilets. And you’re not going to have four printers that run the same.
*Name has been changed.