The narrator goes to Liberty Paints and finds it to be very patriotic, with flags and nationalistic slogans. He is sent by a certain Mr. MacDuffy to work for a Mr. Kimbro. A boy takes him to Kimbro, who is busy yelling at someone over the phone.
Mr. Kimbro quickly instructs the narrator how to properly mix ten drops of a liquid into each bucket of paint, and then paint a sample on a little bit of wooden board. The narrator notices that the drops are black, yet the paint strangely dries as white. Not just white, actually, but Optic White, the color that made Liberty Paints famous. The paint buckets that the narrator is working on are for a governmental monument.
The narrator is going on more than seventy-five buckets when he needs to refill. Mr. Kimbro doesn't specify which toner he refills with, so he picks one based on its color and terrible smell. But he sees his mistake when the samples come out with a gray tinge.
Mr. Kimbro notices this and makes the narrator work on mixing more buckets, though now with the right kind of toner. Angry, the narrator refills the buckets he has already incorrectly measured drops into. The color comes out not perfectly white—again kind of gray. Fortunately for the narrator, Mr. Kimbro doesn't seem to notice.
The narrator thinks he's going to be fired, but Mr. Kimbro directs him back to MacDuffy, who sends him off to be Mr. Brockway's assistant.
The narrator goes to another building three stories down, and looks for Lucius Brockway. He finds an old black guy in the basement who is quick to dislike him. Mr. Brockway declares that he doesn't need an assistant, but figures the narrator can clean the glass and read the many gauges. There are various things going on in the basement, but Mr. Brockway says that they make the paints down there.
The narrator is annoyed with all of Mr. Brockway's personal questions. Mr. Brockway is paranoid that people are after his job.
The narrator is surprised that Mr. Brockway could hold so much authority without having received any engineering training. Mr. Brockway is proud of how much he knows and how Liberty Paints could not function without his know-how of the basement and its workings.
Apparently, every single paint manufactured by the company must go through his process of applying pressure to the oils and resins. He's been there from the beginning of the company and attempts to replace him with highly educated engineers have always failed.
Mr. Brockway tells the narrator the slogan he helped think up: "If It's Optic White, It's the Right White."
In dawning comprehension, the narrator says, "If you're white, you're right."
That's exactly where Mr. Brockway got the idea.
Soon Mr. Brockway announces that it's lunch time, and the narrator goes to the locker room to get his pork chop sandwich.
When the narrator arrives in the locker room, he's surprised to find a crowd of men in there who welcome him in a friendly manner as "brother." The narrator is confused, saying that he didn't know there was a meeting.
The men ask who his manager is, and when they hear Brockway's name, they go ballistic. Turns out it's a union meeting.
The men begin arguing with one another over whether the narrator is a fink or if he should be allowed the chance to join the union.
Finally, he is allowed to retrieve his sandwich and retreat.
When the narrator returns to the basement, Mr. Brockway demands to know what took so long. Once he learns that the narrator was held up by a union meeting, Mr. Brockway flips out and threatens to kill the narrator. Unsure what's going on but afraid for his life, the narrator fights back. He thinks he feels Mr. Brockway stabbing him in the shoulder with a knife, so he takes an iron bar and almost hits Mr. Brockway.
The narrator is in fighting mode now. But then he learns that Mr. Brockway used no knife, only his dentures. He bit the narrator on the shoulder and then his teeth fell onto the floor. The narrator lets Mr. Brockway retrieve his teeth.
Mr. Brockway is almost in tears as he complains of how people are trying to take his job. He criticizes the union people and how the black students working at the company are beginning to join the union. He thinks the black guys are ungrateful for the good jobs they've been given.
The narrator tries to make amends with Mr. Brockway, but the boilers start to shriek. Mr. Brockway yells for the narrator to turn the white valve. That doesn't seem to work, and it doesn't help that Brockway runs away.
As in, really doesn't help.
The narrator is blasted away. He falls. He hits stuff. Painful stuff.
When he regains consciousness, he can hear someone talking about how the boys of that generation (born around 1900) just don't have enough nerve. The narrator is too beat up to speak.