During America’s 1970s sexual revolution, Santa Clara Valley flung off its agricultural past and became Silicon Valley, the epicenter of electronic culture shock. We were fortunate to buy our house when we did. Prices leaped up monthly soon after our purchase as swarms from around the world came to develop integrated circuits from silicon wafers which revolutionized the world, making it, like the song title, 'It's A Small, Small World Afterall.'
Escalating home prices shifted our economic position up to semi-elite as homeowners. Many of similar or higher income were regulated to renting. Economic status became associated with if you owned your home and when you bought it, more than how much you made. Those moving into the area came from everywhere bringing new assumptions and lifestyles, free of traditional family and cultural taboos.
Silicon wafer designs quickly superseded one another and made what was new and exciting obsolete the next year or even month. It was new today, old tomorrow. It was a continuous revolution and company death to those who failed to keep up.
The plants sprung up as concrete, tilt-up mushrooms in former prune, pear, cherry and apricot orchards with the trees bulldozed in piles and set alight as historic trash to make the latest chip. Companies came and went and often went, bankrupt or merged with another. They ran twenty-four/seven and shut down only at Christmas for repairs and upgrades to make an even faster chip.
Chipmakers were desperate to hire, even someone like me, only a high school graduate with no experience. There were over twenty pages of Help Wanted Ads in the San Jose Mercury News. Most screamed for workers in wafer fab electronics. In October 1975, with the kids at last in school, I applied to a Nortec Electronics ad. The plant was in Sunnyvale, adjacent to the south of Mountain View. It advertised in bold print, “No Experience Necessary”.
I’d driven past popped up electronic plants but had no idea what they did other than they made "chips" which went into watches, radios, computers, and games like Atari. My morning job interview was short. They looked at my application and asked me to start that day's swing shift as a wafer fab aligner. I started the next day’s swing shift to work out logistics with hubby.
Nervous on starting my first real job, a woman supervisor told me to relax, put me in a “bunny suit”, an anti-dust smock worn in the plant and took me to the wafer alignment section. There she showed how to mimic her moves to align layers of integrated circuits on a silicon wafer by a microscope, a position held only by women. While hard on the eyes it was a sit-down job in a clean work environment, a huge step up from my prior experience of summer dishwasher in a bowling alley restaurant. Wages were good to attract workers from afar and to offset escalated home prices. I loved my new job.
Nortec, like others, ran twenty-four/seven, three shifts a day. My swing shift was 6 PM to 2 AM. I left for work at 5:30 PM as hubby arrived and got home at 2:30 AM. At home, I changed, showered and hit the sack by 3 AM. Hubby left for work at 7:30 AM and returned home at 5:30 PM.
There was only time for a pass off of kids with a kiss for the afternoon switch. We all got up at 6:30 AM, I fixed breakfast, hubby and the kids showered, dressed and gulped breakfast down and left at 7:30 AM to work and school at the morning switch off.
At 8 AM I hopped back in bed then got up at noon to clean house and see the kids return home with a little “quality time” while I fixed dinner for my hand off rush to work. During the workweek hubby and I were together five hours daily but time awake together was only an hour, unless there was an additional thirty-minute awakening. Sex during the week was either when I awoke him at 3 AM or him, me at 6 AM, with one or the other groggy.
Swing shift swings they said. It did. Almost everyone was under forty and most under thirty. Fifty was a geezer. Working hours jumbled to accommodate twenty-four/seven operations meant everyone was time stressed and lived alternate hours from the rest of their family. Swing shift became one’s family.
The males were mostly university-educated executives, scientists, and engineers who worked twelve-hour days, six days a week or more to be millionaires. Females were mostly high school diploma line production or secretary employees. They outnumber males four or more to one. Turnover was constant. Employee loyalty meant staying with the company for over a year.
Security was tight to keep out competitor spies, especially foreign ones. Once in the guarded parking lot, you were in a zone safe from spouse or boyfriend visits. Employee age, gender and income mix, jumbled hours and plant security created a violate mix when the "pill" was a standard item in a woman's purse and before AIDS. At work, there were nonstop sex innuendos, banter, and pranks. Off work, there were nudie and hot tub parties and affairs. There were also parking lot quickie trysts. It was work hard and party harder.
The ongoing salacious banter, sexual gags, erotic presents, and pranks would today cause personnel office sexual harassment panic attacks but back then workplace sex wasn't taboo. It was an employment perk.
Buildings had to be ultra-clean with everyone required to wear a “bunny suit” smock to avoid dust contamination. Girls often dressed risqué under their smocks and revealed to others what they wore and at times not wore under it. A girl game good for a laugh was to “smock shock”, flash a selected male, especially if suspected of being gay, while others watched.
The employee parking lot was secure for quickie trysting before and after shifts and even during thirty-minute lunch breaks. Walking through the lot one would on occasion spot a used condom and more common wadded tissue paper with a yellow smear spot.
Working swing shift meant the day time soap operas I once watched for titillation while ironing and washing were out. The girls at work provide real-life replacements. They unabashedly bragged about sexual exploits and openly displayed hickey marks. They definitely, had not attended parochial school.
Due to my Catholic background, they didn’t accept me as one of them and soon nicknamed me, "Fucking Do Goody" shortened to "FDG" because I didn’t attend their wild parties, swear, smoke and often missed the meaning of their sexual banter and innuendos, a working girl’s inverse hierarchy. Worse, I worked hard to meet and exceed alignment quotas which made me an "FDG" nerd.
A Filipino woman, Penny, was the only one to initially befriend me. She was married to an old Filipino man with a bald head and big, jolly belly who could pass as a Filipino Buddha. I learned US navy ships used men from the Philippines as onboard ship cooks. While they were not in US military service, they earned a pension and got US citizenship at retirement.
Old and retired they often married a young woman like Penny from the Philippines. She was his “mail order bride” and bore him two boys, her passage fare to America. While she worked, he took care of the house, spoiled the boys, and cooked for Penny and the boys until they were plump. For him, the sugar was at the bottom of his life's cup. He taught me how to expand Mom’s Filipino dishes when I visited their always open home.
Penny loved to laugh, was affectionate to her old husband who she teased by rubbing his bald head, was a loving mother and was kind to me at work when no one else was. Their ramshackle house on a big lot, in an older section of Mountain View, was always open for parties with extended family, neighbors, and friends. The husband cooked banquet meals in the backyard as if still aboard ship in the navy. As her husband was too old for sex, she had a white boyfriend for stud service who her husband often unknowingly fed. She couldn’t believe her mail order bride good luck. To her, America was truly the promised land which made her always as cheerful as her husband.
She told the others.
“FDG’s o’key-dokey. She’s just a good Catholic girl, raised by nuns. Don’t be mean to her. She don’t know no better.”
She always invited me to sit with her group during lunch, where I was grudgingly accepted. I tried to adjust to the others but was still known as "FDG" until one swing shift when, Cindy, a regular at our lunch table, failed to show for lunch.
Shy, I usually sat quietly but this was interpreted as being stuck up, part of my FDG character. I was determined to be friendlier. I’d seen Cindy at the start of our shift and wondered why she was a no show. Quietly munching a sandwich, I got the courage to say.
Penny turned, smiled and replied.
"She went to her car for F and F."
I didn't know what F and F meant. My mind raced what F and F Cindy was doing. Find Food, maybe fast food? It didn't make sense with food in the cafeteria and the nearest fast food outlet fifteen minutes away and our lunch break only thirty minutes. Thinking the girls knew about cars I finally said.
"She's fixing a flat?"
Penny looked at me as if I was crazy.
"Fixing a flat?"
"Yeah, F and F, she’s fixing a flat?"
The girls at the table turned to me stunned. Then they began laughing. Soon they were choking laughing. Mascara started to run. One was hysterical choking on her last sandwich bite. Just as they calmed themselves, one would whisper hoarsely
"She's fixing a flat!"
Off they would laugh again. Finally, Penny, struggling with words between choking said.
"Honey, F and F is Fast Fuck, you, fucken twit."
While made the butt of a joke, my "F and F" got rid of the animosity toward me. I was not "FDG" just a "Fucking Twit" or "FT".
The sexual 70s and swing shift girls' escapades and gossip made me restless. Groggy domestic sex and even weekend sex wearing a sexy nightie with children asleep in the other rooms didn't fit the 70s excitement. It took more than large bars of soap, big shampoo bottles, fluffy towels, new clothes, even belly dancing for fulfillment. Something was missing in Camelot.
While time-stressed, for the first time we had leisure money. Our double income and relatively low housing cost kicked us up to a higher income bracket. I started buying nice clothes. Married to a good husband, healthy kids, a nice house, poor origin left behind, why the ennui feeling? What could be missing? Didn’t I have it all?
Driving to and from work, the only times I had to myself, I began thinking.
This, is it? What's missing? Am I satisfied?
Well, it wasn't exactly like that. It was a feeling of emptiness. Others had it, I didn't.
Author Notes: Married Catholic Asian woman is exposed to fast pace of work place sex in the 1970's