Saturday, October 07, 2006


by Gina

One of the many jobs I held as an undergraduate was Looper.

"Looper" sounds exciting. The word conjures images of aerial acrobatics in a bi-plane, or at least the common college passtime of getting looped. The reality was more mundane.

Loopers, essentially, make loops. We make them by twisting little pieces of wire. In other words, I made junk jewelry.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, there is "fine jewelry," which includes the high-priced diamond and platinum kind of stuff, then there is "junk jewelry," made with less expensive materials. "Findings" refers to the little pieces of wire and other materials that go into every necklace, earring, etc.

I worked for a company called Odyssey Creations in a windowless basement rank with sulfur fumes. Copper findings take on the appearance of antique gold when boiled in sulfur water. We were paid by the piece -- ranging from $0.15 for a pair of earrings to $0.30 for a complicated necklace -- so everybody worked intensely, looping as fast as humanly possible. Once you got the hang of it, you could make $5 an hour or more, decent wages for the early '70s. We weren't paid extra for new designs, but I'd create new pieces on occasion when I couldn't stand making the same old things a moment longer. After a few months, I could reach into a vat of earring wires (the little hooks that go through the holes in pierced ears) and pull out the exact number that I needed, six, three dozen, whatever. I would see heaps of beads and findings every time I closed my eyes. We worked with rosary pliers, small needle-nose pliers with a built-in wire-cutter. The wire would be threaded through beads or decorative metal pieces, looped, then attached to a chain or earring wire. Boring repetitive work. We had a tape of James Taylor's Sweet Baby James that we would play over and over again. I'm a steamroller baby. Yeah.

So what did I learn from this job that helps me as a writer? Aside from the technical terms defined above, I learned that creativity helps fight the boredom. I learned to sit in one place hour after hour, concentrating intensely. In other words, it helped me to develop "bum glue."


Tory Butterworth said...

I can imagine it stopped the room, cold, when someone asked, "What's your job?" and you said, "I'm a looper." Especially in the 70s!

Gina said...

Actually, the best job title I've heard was in a hearing, when a gentleman on the other side of the case described himself as a "night stalker." Turned out he worked in a grocery store and had really said "night stocker."

Kristine said...

LOL Gina!

I guess I'd rather be a "looper" than a "night stalker."

Cathy said...

Sorry so slow--I was at a wedding in Erie this weekend.

Since I'm a jewelry person, found your story very interesting. Sorry you had to work in those conditions.

I agree that creativity can work magic, can make the unbearable bearable. It lifts life to another level beyond the mundane.

I haven't developed the bum glue yet--always have had jobs where I get up and move around. Don't think I'll apply for the looper job, though.

Thanks, Gina.

Rebecca Drake said...

Yet another interesting job, Gina. It sounds tedious and hard, but good fodder for writing. How long did you last as a looper?

Gina said...

I can't remember how long I looped -- guess I must have been looped at the time. I think it was 6 or 8 months.