She sounds as matter of fact as a seamstress in a factory but before she leaves this job, she’ll need to check herself for evidence. Probably the other clipper at the table will help. Women in the business manicure each other before they leave to go pick up their kids and fix dinner. They pluck delicate five pointed marijuana leaves off of jackets and out of hair. They pass each other olive oil to clean the sticky brown resin off their fingertips and help each other change out of work clothes so they don’t smell like pot, in order to make sure they don’t shock their neighbors and don’t get arrested. Monica, a handsome blond who looks as if she is a suburban doctor’s wife, tells me, “I’m an independent woman. I’ve always worked and I like it.” Married, she has a comfortable life growing her own pot but she enjoys working for others. “Payday,” she says, “is catching up on the community news” though she likes the money, too. At $250 per pound of manicured pot, the money is good. Fast clippers with solid buds can end an 8 hour day with 2 or more pounds (though leafy, light, moldy buds can yield much, much less.) But it isn’t only the money. In many ways, the working conditions are excellent. Monica tells me that at home she’s the one that takes care of her husband and son. But on the job, “I get pampered. I get served. I get compliments.” Many growers also provide organic lunches and snacks. At some places, the perks include smoking some of the product. In spite of what Monica says about pampering, I notice that she ends up fixing lunch when the grower takes me out to see his drying room. And other clippers at another gathering tell me that if “pot goes legal—first thing we’re gonna do is get a union!” The monotonous work consists of steadily snipping the dry leaf from the crystal covered bud. This often leads to Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Being hunched over a table for long hours on cheap metal chairs gives workers bad backs and sore butts and many spend part of their pay on chiropractors and massages. In fact, lunch breaks frequently have one worker rubbing the aching shoulders or back of another. Nonetheless, salaries are decent for part-time workers with flexible schedules. Bee tells me she makes $2000 to $3000 tax free per month for a five hour work day, four to five days per week. Monica, who chooses to work less, makes about $1200 per month. Although the job varies, the day usually starts around 9 or 10 A.M. to allow workers to drop off kids get husbands off to work and, often, to drive from town to the rural areas where much of production takes place. There, the grower pours a heap of marijuana plants or branches onto the table and the workers begin to separate the product. First, the clippers pick off the bigger sun leafs (though often the grower has already done that in pre-production) and break down the plants into smaller, more manageable sections. Then the tips of the scissors slide between the leaf and the crystal covered bud, snipping away the outer leaves which contain little THC from the sugary resin coated flower which contains the most.
Meanwhile, the women share stories and news as their fingers move so fast I have a hard time taking pictures. The grower, a big shouldered, silver haired man, tells me, “I only hire girls; otherwise they don’t feel free to sit here and gab. A guy would want to hit on one.” He flashes a big white smile and winks, “And, I can’t flirt with a guy.” Bee smirks and the owner adds, chuckling a bit, “Every time I flirt with her, she says, ‘Hey, wake up guy, you’re havin’ one of those dreams again.’”
Quietly, he tells me that he tries to hire “girls” (both women are over forty) “who are single with kids. I try to give ‘em a break. They’re working mothers. They have responsibilities.”
Monica hears and agrees, “He understands when we have other obligations.”
Another grower, a woman who dropped by to chat, says with a laugh, “I hire my son and my renter so he will pay his rent!” But, usually, the workers are women. The meticulous labor over tiny leaves requires concentration and patience. Men seem to have trouble sitting still through the long hours. Dave Reeves, in a rather wild account of his short time as a clipper in Humboldt, relates how a fellow worker was introduced.
“A dude that can trim?” said the Grower.
“Yeah, he has a wife,” the Landowner offered by way of explanation. Everyone knows men can’t trim. It’s one of those patriarchal generalizations, like white men can’t jump…” LACityBeat.com 3/04/2009
Still, the larger “clipping parties” have at least one man because the money is relatively good and men want in on the cash. The “clip” I am at though is small and comfortable. Both the women working there prefer it that way. Monica tells me, “I never worked a big grow. Sometimes people work jobs where they are out [sequestered in a rural cabin] for three weeks. And I only work for people I know.”
Normally, growers and clippers are well acquainted. The illegal nature of the activity requires some trust. Often they are neighbors and friends. Bee tells me she often works from home on pot other people give her. “I’m lucky. People wait for me to clean… It’s a trust issue. [The pot] has got to be manicured nicely.” And, it’s not just the manicure. The grower has to trust the clipper won’t be stealing some of the buds for themselves. Sometimes growers do hire strangers but these, too, are mostly women. Dave Reeves tells in his Los Angeles City Beat story.
All the trimmers were strong women with independent streaks that render them unemployable in the real world. They are the Grower’s new girlfriend (of course), a Lesbian Couple, and some badass café au lait chick from L.A. with Jimi Hendrix hair. The Lesbian Couple were pros, never missing a minute of trimming at the standard rate of $250 per pound. Years of scissorwork had wizened their eyes back in their heads, so they looked like two little possums futzing with the weed. The L.A. Trimmer and the new girlfriend were new to the trade, so they took time to eat breakfast.
Rumor has it that sometimes growers are so desperate for clippers they will hire people off the street. Last fall, I met a threesome from out of town—a man and two women sitting by the side of the road in the small town of Redway flashing a cardboard sign decorated with scissors in hopes that they might be employed..
Usually though the workers are at least friends of a friend.
Here, at this “clipping party,” everyone knows each other well. They talk about the buyers—“”They always want us to grow plants that don’t get a good weight—like Kush.” They talk about the pot—“I prefer to clip outdoor but indoor is consistent, every two months.” They talk about their families and people they know—“Their manhood gets all wrapped up in pot. There is a self-esteem thing. They have to grow the best.”
Most of all, though, they talk about their communities. “After the Real Estate business tanked, his brother-in-law and sister lost their home. Now he’s bringin’ them up [to his land] to let ‘em grow a little 215. They’re 68 years old and lost everything.” Bea and Monica’s scissors snip, snip as they talk. The room is warm and dry. Outside it is cold and rainy but I have to go.
After bringing in another plastic garbage bag full of dry marijuana plants, the grower stands in the doorway listening to his workers working and chatting behind him. He stretches and walks me out to my car, helping me with my camera. He tells me he likes to have the clippers over. He likes to have “clipping parties.” He looks out over the green hills where even his nearest neighbor’s house can’t be seen and says contentedly, “You hear some crazy stories when you get a bunch of women clucking over here.”
Driving away, the rain spattering against my windshield, I follow the long curving road to town. I think of the cozy room busy with the hum of voices and the snip of scissors and I feel a little left out.
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