Labor Day, part 3

 

 

Another odd job I had as a young man was handing out advertising fliers. There was nothing particularly odd about the job itself. But how it all played out.

I was living in Berkeley at the time, and the job was in San Francisco. So I had to commute to the city. The problem was, it was one of them “graveyard shift” jobs. It started at 2 in the morning and we worked until dawn. BART was shut down by that time. So the only way to get to San Francisco was to hitch hike at 2 in the morning. So that was a pain in the ass.

The job itself was pretty simple. I’d meet the guy who coordinated the job at his van on a street corner in one of the residential areas of San Francisco. And he’d give me my batch of fliers. And as I walked along, I’d roll them up and fasten them with a rubber band. And toss them on the front doors off all the houses and apartments. Not exactly highly skilled labor.

But after about 2 weeks on the job it got to be too much of a hassle to hitch hike to work at 2 in the morning. So I quit.

This friend of mine suggested that I apply for unemployment. It seemed like a long shot. Because I was under the impression you had to be fired or laid off to be eligible for unemployment. But I figured what the hell, and gave it a shot.

So I’m at the unemployment office talking to this woman behind a desk and telling her about handing out advertising fliers and how I had to hitch hike to work because BART was closed and etc.

And she said: “Due to circumstances beyond your control you were unable to commute to your place of employment. Therefore that makes you eligible for unemployment.”

And she signed me up.

So I ended up getting an unemployment check every month for an entire year. So that was weird how that one played out. Parlaying a two-week job into a one-year vacation.

But that’s often how it plays out in this life, isn’t it?. We get an unexpected break for no apparent reason. Or we’ll get crunched for no apparent reason.

Though I suspect there are cosmic reasons for all the things that happen to us in our lives. Even if we’re not always privy to those reasons.

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Labor Day, part 2: Ace Backwords, pumpkin patch salesman

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One of the best jobs I ever had was pumpkin salesman. Every year for 2 months around Halloween this guy would set up 6 or 7 pumpkin patches at different lots in the East Bay. And he’d hire guys to run the lots.

It’s hard to be depressed when you’re surrounded all day by beautiful bright orange pumpkins. And little kids joyfully romping across the lot (the kids all got to pick out their own pumpkin and they were all convinced they had scored the most special pumpkin of them all!).

The guy who ran the gig would spend the day driving around from lot to lot to make sure everything was running smoothly, and to collect the dough you’d amassed. Often you’d have a big wad of cash in your pocket, a couple of hundred bucks. And the guy was no fool. He didn’t trust any of the guys who worked on the lots. So periodically he’d send in an undercover guy posing as a customer to buy a pumpkin with a marked 20 dollar bill. And then later when he came by to collect the dough he’d look through all your bills to make sure that marked bill was in with the wad. And if it wasn’t, you were in trouble. (One time he thought he had me because the marked 20 was missing from my wad. But what actually happened was, another customer had paid with a 50 dollar bill. And I had given him the marked 20 as part of his change.)

An even better gig was: He had these little campers on all the lots. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette. And he’d hire homeless people to stay in them overnight to guard the pumpkin patches from thieves. How’s that for the ideal job for a homeless person. Getting paid money to live in a home.
Ha ha.

After Halloween the guy would do the same basic gig for the next 2 months setting up Christmas tree lots. He tried to talk me into taking that job, because I was a pretty good salesman. But Christmas trees was a whole ‘nother gig than pumpkins. You had to lug the big heavy trees over to the customers cars, and strap them down to the top of the cars. And hammer the stands to the bottom of the trees. Often in the pouring rain. So I passed. It was too much like work for me.

But selling pumpkins was great.

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Labor Day

 

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Another odd job I had as a young man. I got hired to build a driveway.

It’s the only time I ever worked any kind of construction job. Because I’m a complete incompetent who couldn’t nail a nail into a board and am unqualified — as well as unfit — for 90 percent of the jobs in this world.

But this friend of mine, who was a brilliant carpenter and could do virtually anything with his hands, worked for this nut named George. And George wanted to put in a new driveway that led up to his garage. And my friend needed an assistant for the job. So he hired me to help him.

Now the driveway George had, looked perfectly fine to me. But for some reason George wanted to tear it out and put in a new one. So there we were.

My job was to take the big bags of cement and pour them into the mixer and then add water from the hose. And then when you had mixed the cement and the water into the perfect concoction, you dumped it into the space where it would eventually coalesce into concrete. Magic. And I was just barely competent enough for the task.

But the weird thing about this George guy, he lived in the rich section of Berkeley in the hills. Owned a large and expensive piece property. Had a nice big house. But the entire estate looked like a disaster area. Like a bombed-out war-zone. He had 20 different construction projects going on at 20 different sites. And the yard was completely torn up all over the place. And he had different men working on different things all over the place.

I couldn’t figure out if George just liked to have all these shirtless sweaty young men toiling away on his property. Or if he was just like a big kid endlessly playing in his sandbox.

But you got the feeling that if George ever did finally complete his dream estate. The next day he’d tell my friend. “Ya know I think I’d actually prefer to have the first floor of my house on the second floor. And the second floor on the first floor. So let’s tear it all out and start all over.”

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Working the Graveyard Shift in the Twilight Zone

 

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One of the oddest jobs, of the many odd jobs I’ve had over the years, was working the graveyard shift at this home for retarded children.

It was 1975 and i was 19 years old. I had spent the previous year going to college in Cleveland, but I had flamed out at that. So, for lack of anything better to do, I moved back in with my parents at their house in the New Jersey suburbs. And that was weird — sleeping in my childhood bedroom even though I was now an adult man. And all my high school friends had moved out of town to go to college, so it was like a ghost town to me. It was like everyone else had moved on with their lives while I had been left behind.

This was a very surreal period in my life. It was like everything was upside-down. Like living in a twilight zone. I never really adjusted to the graveyard shift. Which added to my discombobulated head space. The whole world was sleeping, but I was awake, toiling away in this ghost world.

There were about 40 big cribs in this big room where the retarded children slept at night. They ranged from mildly retarded to complete vegetable. Our job was to watch them at night., My boss and my co-workers were all women, I was the only man. So, as usual during this period, I was the odd man out. Literally. Our main job was to go into the room every couple of hours and check on the children, make sure they were OK. And some of them we had to change their diapers. And the rest of the time we watched TV and killed time talking and reading. So that was upside-down, too. Most jobs you work a couple hours and then get a 15 minute coffee break. On this job it was like you worked for 15 minutes and then you had a 2-hour coffee break.

The room with all the sleeping retarded kids was eerie and ghostly. We’d turn on this night light with just enough light so we could see what we were doing but not disturb their sleep. So the room had this eerie, translucent glow. And the retarded kids would make all kinds of weird noises in their sleep, like they were having nightmares. Which made the room seem haunted. I remember this one black kid named Charles, he was about 12 but he was already almost 6 foot tall, and he had an intimidatingly large penis. And he would shout to himself all night long: “CHARLES, GET IN THAT CLOSET!! CHARLES, GET IN THAT CLOSET!!” (I’m sure there was a story behind that one)

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Most of the kids I really couldn’t connect to. But there were a couple I grew really fond of. My favorite was this black kid about 5 or 6 years old who looked just like a little Jim Hendrix with the wavy hair and toothy smile.

Most of the time I spent watching TV or reading books. The only decent thing on late-night TV back then was the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder where he interviewed famous people. But mostly it was the dregs. Infomercials, etc. I spent several weeks trying to read that Russian novel The Brothers Karmazov. I thought maybe I could become an intellectual or something. But the thing was like 700 pages, and I only got to about page 25 before I gave up.

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Most of my co-workers had been working together for some time, so they were like a clique and I was an outsider who mostly couldn’t connect with them. But I became friendly with this one woman who was my age and had started working there the same time as me. She was very cute but completely crazy. And completely humorless. She would sort of whisper to me in this urgent tone: “My mother is a witch! She does satanic rituals at our house! She’s tried to poison me multiple times!” I was so lonely, I actually considered her as a possible girlfriend. And we went out on several “dates.” Well, as much as you can go on a date at 7 in the morning after we got off of work. I even went to her house once. Like me, she lived with her parents and was having trouble making that often difficult transition from dependent child to independent adult. I remember she had this inexpensive electric keyboard in her bedroom and she would play the same 4 chords over and over, like a 10 year old. We were both stunted people basically. My development basically got psychologically stunted at age 17 and I never developed much past that point. I did meet her mother, who seemed like a normal suburban housewife who cared for her daughter. But for all I knew she had bodies chained up in her basement.

One of the weirdest things about the job was driving home at 7 in the morning. My day would be ending while everybody else’s day was just beginning. Adding to my out-of-sync-with-the-world, twilight zone feeling. I used to drive my Mother’s yellow Toyota Corolla back and forth from work, so I managed to learn how to drive a stick shift (that was about the only thing I accomplished during that period).

I was seriously depressed at that point in my life, almost catatonic. I spent a lot of time lying on my bed in my bedroom in the darkness staring at the ceiling. Periodically my father would come in and assure me that all my problems were just in my mind and that everything was fine, along with other pollyannyish cliches of inspiration, and then leave my bedroom with a self-satisfied smile, having solved all my problems yet again.

reasonswhyalatenightdriveismostawesomethingever1_1412682674_350x163.jpgOne day, after working there for a couple months, the boss unexpectedly called me into her office for a stern reprimand about my job performance. She complained that, while I related well to the kids who were only mildly retarded, I treated the ones that were like vegetables like, well, like vegetables. I was embarrassed and humiliated by this dressing down. I had no self esteem as it was. And now I was being told I wasn’t even capable of doing this most menial of menial jobs.

As I drove home that morning I knew I wouldn’t be going back there. So that was the end of that job.

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