Friday, August 11, 2017

An Electrifying Experience

Did you see the news clip last week in which a Ft. Myers, FL, airport worker was almost electrocuted by a lightning strike on an airplane he was touching (

Scary. It brought back memories of when I almost was electrocuted while working in my parents’ factory during the time between college graduation and the start of graduate school.

The factory, or as our family called it, “The Place,” was then located in Manhattan, at 683 Broadway, at the corner of West 3rd Street. It was a typical rectangular loft leased by small apparel manufacturers, mostly lingerie makers like my father, about 5,000 sq. ft. Down the center of the production floor stood a cutting table about 15 yards long and six feet wide, where Ricky would spread out rolled piece goods before cutting them into patterns for half-slips, panties and later, when that business tanked, T-shirts. 

Along the perimeter near the tall, wide windows that never seemed to provide enough air during late spring and summer—it didn’t help that the windows faced the southern sun all day—sat the sewing machine operators. Eloise, the lace trimmer, was first in line, sitting nearest Broadway. In the middle, when she showed up around noon, usually hung over and often bent over her machine for short naps, Little Mary. Even so, she turned out more garments that any other seamstress working a full day, which generally was 8 to 5. At the end of the line was Big Mary.

My job entailed several tasks, first and foremost being not getting in my father’s way followed by doing just as I was told. Usually preparing orders, then packing and shipping chores. No deviation allowed lest I awaken the wrath of Khan, or should I say Karl (also known as Kopel), my father. My brother aptly nicknamed him “The Boss,” not for his singing abilities, though he did sometimes serenade his workers while trying to inject more life into an aging Merrow sewing machine.

One hot day, with my mother working in her air conditioned office, Dad went in there as well, but not before telling (never asking) me to move an upright industrial metal fan from its location behind Big Mary’s chair.

I didn’t shut the fan off before grasping the metallic column with my sweaty hands. Immediately current started pulsating through my body. I shrieked.

I remembered my first aid classes—to free someone from an electric current, never touch them or you will be electrified as well. Rather, pull them away with a towel or some other non conductive material. But I was the victim. Apart from screaming I couldn’t convey any suggestions to my co-workers.

By this time Mom and Dad came running to see what all the commotion was. I can’t explain what happened next other than to relate that somehow I was able to let go of the fan. As soon as I did Big Mary fainted.

Needless to say, ever since I have been super careful around electric appliances.