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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No More

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Lets drink to the uncounted heads
Lets think of the wavering millions
Who need leaders but get gamblers instead

Mick Jagger/ Keith Richards

I have no clue why working crept into my mind this morning, no doubt guilt from my postponing all the work I have to do here at Blissful Acres. Greater powers know I need direction and conviction, but weed pulling, bed making, and lawn mowing identify a cosmic cycle about the nature of house work: it will always need doing as long as there is a today, and it will be there as long as there is a tomorrow. I am but a mower blade: I need to be sharp but the grass I cut will only make me dull, a conundrum . This funky mood made me recount the many jobs that I have had in 50 years or so. I am thinking also that this eclectic compilation of employment identifies me and no doubt my contemporaries because I bet that their work-history is similar to mine.
My very first job was mowing with a reel mower, the pay, a nickle. The outcome, humiliation. You see, I had a one-armed, maternal grandfather who offered a nickle for my mowing about 900 square feet of his back yard, the little plot of grass that separated the home from the garden, the hen house, and the trash cans. If you are not familiar with a reel mower, it is the eco-friendly type that works from sheer manpower, the blades rotating on a reel driven by gears in the wheels and not by gas, neat device unless the handle strikes you in the forehead thus denying you any leverage to push the damn thing. But I accepted the challenge: a nickle was big bucks, an entire coke or five wax false teeth or 10 licorice twists. And besides I figured if an old, one armed magistrate could mow the lawn certainly an ten-year-old could easily manage. Imagine you are at the butt end of elephant, sort of a step up under the belly and your job is to reach up and push the beast forward and keep it moving. Hyperbole indeed, but the mower might as well have been an elephant for as much as I moved the machine. Because of the angle of force I could only push the handle up and forward which threw the mower up and onto the front of the wheels, binding them, and locking the reel. So, the judge had to mow, and I helped pushing a bit as his belt buckle scraped at my should blades. Not much lawn really, but too much for my skinny ass to handle. Got the nickel, got the wax teeth, got told by grandfather that if he knew I was going to fritter my nickle on junk instead of saving it, he wouldn't have paid me. Damn totalitarian financier.
The next job was another insider deal; I collected bills for my uncle's news paper and delivery concession. Some readers might remember my writing of the Sunday delivery job, but this little hustle was a couple of years before. And I was a relief worker at that, filling in for my aunt who wanted the summer for something or other. I had to walk the little town, street by street, knock on doors and collect the bill for weekly and Sunday papers. I kept the bills and money in a woman's pocket book, another humiliation and a gender crisis. It was a good job, five percent of the gross being my take. I learned a bunch too on this summer job: how to make change, how to deal with the guy who took forever to pry one dollar and thirty-five cents out of his little black clasp purse ( you smile and wait); how people lie(when someone says," Come on in; he won't bite." He will.)
Nepotism provided between my ninth and tenth grades when my Dad hired me to punch clip angles. A clip angle is a steel angle, punched with holes, then welded to a steel beam which attaches with nuts and bolts to other beams or columns, clips onto the beam. Not a problem job if you are working a hydraulic or centrifugal punch, but no, the old man hadn't bought one yet, so he stuck me in the middle of the scrap yard with a hand punch and let me have at it. The deal was: I grab the angle which was about 3/8 inch thick, position it under the punch die so that the tip of the die is in the set hole, grab the top of the punch with one hand and tighten it down while holding the angle in place with the other. Once it is tight, the punch would hold the angle, freeing both hands to slip an eight foot piece of one inch pipe onto the top handle of the punch. Then I walk clockwise a full circle or until I hear the punch pop through the steel, them counterclockwise until I hear the punch suck out of the steel. Now each angle typically has between 2 and 4 holes each and one job might have a couple hundred clip angles. Oh yes, I also got to punch base and cap plates for columns, and lug the 5 gallon cans of slugs to the recycle bin to be sold for scrap steel. If you have seen a mule walking to grind corn, mash sorghum, or to wheel water, you have seen me at the punch. And that my dear reader is why I am mule-headed today.
The next year I learned about chipping: chipping all the loose mortar joints in a two story concrete building and troweling and pointing the joints. Oh wow, I almost forgot scraping: scraping all the loose paint off the off that building before I learned about roller painting a concrete wall. Good job, if you could stay on the shady side of the building, could avoid the wasps' bombarding from their nests, and could anticipate when the old man would come around the corner so that you could be hard at work and not goofing off chunking rocks at rail road cars or at wasps' nest. Good pay too, .35 cents and hour and all the dust I could eat.
Right after high school in an effort to avoid being a punch-mule or wall-scraper, I signed on with parks and recreation as an assistant park director. Job description: take care of all the young boys on the hot softball field while the director, a college girl, sat in the shade with the other girls and did crafts. But I loved it until, one evening at closing, some fat brat of a kid would not give me the chess board. It was a hellacious, hot day; I was tired of chasing down softballs and from sitting up nights with the one-armed judge who by now was dying, and I was working the late shift. The chunky child thought it amusing to stay away from me on one side of the lock-chest where we kept all the bats, balls, dodge balls, hockey sticks, and crafts. Or he would wheel of to one of the picnic benches and stay on one side while I tried to catch him. After a half hour of that I was winded, red, and pissed. I feigned dejection and sat down. When the little toad finally got within reach, I grabbed him and the chess board, gave him a frog in the arm, chucked the board in the box, locked it and headed for my grandfather's. Woe is me. He bruised, couldn't pitch in an important Little League game, his mother called parks and recreation, I got chowed out, escaping being fired only because the woman park director was resigning early to take an early class in summer school. Whoa I was lucky. the pay: .50 cents and hour.
I went to college but ran out of money and had to quit. I did work for the college doing laundry for the football team, varnishing a skeleton (cool), dumping trays in the cafeteria ( a great job, nice people, and lots to eat). But I couldn't make it on .40 cents and limited hours and came on home.
Working full-time for my dad for abut two years was a good experience. I learned to scrape rust, paint, rake, push a broom, use a cutting torch, drill hole with a magnetic drill, weld, draft structural parts, layout for all the holes and clip angles, run an overhead crane, load a truck, and deliver the orders to jobs. When the old man had the first of too many heart attacks, I did pay roll, ordered from Bethlehem Steel. I nearly hyperventilated when I wrote a check to US Steel for fifteen thousand dollars. Heck, the largest check I had ever written was thirty-five dollars for electric. And I climbed the ladder of monetary success moving from .35 cents and hour to 2.50 dollars and hour and, taaa-dum, 100 dollars a week; I was a steel baron.
Despite living large as a steel man, I decided to return to college. To help get by, I worked part-time at Super Giant as a bagger then cashier, Montgomery Wards as as a men's clothing then paint salesman; Green Giant as operator of a green bean picker down near Dunn, NC and as a bartender. The wages varied: Giant was most per hour, bar tending best because I got free meals and a few quiet nights for studying. I also worked as a night clerk at a motel until it changed hands. I did a bit of research for pay in a small town and led a community organization outreach which was a combination of showing the results of the research and organizing committees to address community needs.
I got my first teaching job and that summer I also set up the first sit down bar at Holiday Inn: weird, people were not used to sitting at a bar, ordering drinks, and having food. So I got few tips, but I made out OK because the boss set me up with a service bar on Friday and Saturday nights when the bands were in and the place packed with sweet women and drunken boy friends. I had to give that job up because the county superintendent of education or one of his cronies did not think one of their teachers should be serving alcohol as a part-time job. Pay for teaching- 6300 hundred; tending bar 2 dollars an hour plus 30 dollars each night on the weekends.
I gave up on teaching and went to work for Boise Cascade, selling lumber to build homes in Ocean Pines when that now defunct company owned vacation properties across America. When the boss found out I could draft a little, I got the job of negotiating with contractors, drafting modifications to homes, dealing with clients who were angry for trivial stuff like their homes showing up with the siding on upside down and backwards or 4 foot circular stairs coming up in 5 foot bathrooms. I also got really good at organizing nefarious excursions to get lumber and home supplies out of bankrupt contractors' back yards. And I was told by the head honcho whose job it was to shut down the resort sales and building projects that I was the only person on site with "one fucking ounce of good sense." Now I did admire him, my kind of guy. But I don't remember the pay, only that I was on commission and that I got a couple 500 dollar bonuses for selling a particular model.
I quit that work to join a fellow in a home building venture where I framed, painted, landscaped, wall papered, drafted, and made about 10K a year when I wasn't firing myself at Christmas so that we could pay the carpenters. But I did learn how to go broke- slowly then suddenly.
I was a worse failure than Jimmy Carter and had no peanut fortune to which to return;so, I went back to school teaching, coaching, and finishing up some odds and ins during the summer. I did that in the public educations systems for about 25 years, supplementing the income, in the first couple of years, by umpiring amateur softball at 9 bucks a game; then I went to work at a community college, teaching a bit and running a writing, reading, and testing lab. By then, I had had enough, was cranky, couldn't play well with others, and just couldn't get along with full-time teachers who were paid pretty well but had to be on campus only 20 hours a week, five of which were in the office, but objected to every initiation to improve conditions for the folks who worked with me. Lazy,gossiping, mean, reptilian shits. But hey, I stared back at 13K a year and had a couple of years as an assistant principal at about 75K. I only bitched about pay the first couple of years and felt pretty fairly treated after that. Well, that IS another story.
So here I am now convinced that I have forgotten some job some where (oh, hell yes, I made some dough once freelancing for an upstart beach weekly that folded in more ways than one. And I did paint the floor of the bar where I worked, me and another dude got a high that was far better than the ten bucks and all the Schlitz we could drink). I liked working everywhere but with that sorry bunch of pretend teachers at the community college. I don't know that I learned anything except that, if nothing else, I am trainable.
So do me a favor and punch in a comment about what jobs you had while getting on with the struggle. I am going to go smoke a cheap cigar, pick up the dog from the groomers ( 35 dollars), and maybe move a few stones around the walk. Maybe.

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