Chapter 7: Chicken Abuse is Job One
Okay. So. Can we somehow get through childhood and into the real meat of this memoir – those 80 jobs? Let's see.
As I moved toward young adulthood, and advanced through the school years, I began hearing more and more lectures from my dad about work. His main thrust was that I should find something and stick with it. I think I heard this so often that it had the opposite effect from what my dad intended. Psychologists would probably call this a reaction formation. It certainly seems to fit the description.
One of my dad's favorite expressions was about certain people who “expected the world to owe them a living.” I'm not sure who these people were he had in mind. His politics seemed pretty liberal, or at least I'm sure he voted Democratic (probably because they supported unions). I can't recall hearing him rant about welfare recipients or other favorite punching bags of conservatives.
Probably his biggest fear was that I would grow up to be one these dreadful people who expected the world to owe them a living. I remember thinking that it would be pretty neat if the world could somehow provide me with a living without any effort on my part. If I had ever dared to voice this thought, I probably would have immediately experienced defenestration at my father's hands.
I'm sure my dad meant well, but his frequent, repetitious lectures about the importance of finding something and “sticking to it” became the bane of my existence. Perhaps he was afraid that my attention deficit would be a handicap for me in the working world, and he may have been right about that.
My dad had an unfortunate habit of tacking a year onto my age when he would be delivering one of his innumerable lectures. I hated it when he did that. I didn't want to think that my own father didn't know my true age. That could be, and being a parent myself for some time now, I can see how it could happen after four kids. In reality, however, he may have just been rounding up in an attempt to impress upon me the passage of years and the increasing importance of accepting the responsibilities to come.
Those diatribes of my dad's may have contributed to my being afraid of the new and unknown. With each milestone passed – grade school to junior high, junior high to senior, high school to “real life” - instead of feeling proud of having accomplished something, my predominant feeling was one of dread for the next phase of existence. I was always certain that I wouldn't be able to handle all the new and increasing responsibilities.
Starting back in about the sixth grade, when someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer, “An author”. I loved to read, and I liked to write, and I showed a talent for it, although those of you reading this are probably thinking I was way off beam. I also used to think I wanted to be a movie director, but that would have involved living in Hollywood. No thank you.
Unfortunately, my dad noticed my talent for writing, and he focused on it as a possible career choice for me. It's a natural desire of parents to hope that their children do better than they, or at least without as much struggle. My dad, in his overbearing manner, basically co-opted my interest in writing. He was always telling me to send my work off to publishers. It's not that he was wrong – after all, that's how a writer gets published. It's just that by now I had grown inwardly rebellious against any of my dad's wishes. You can probably see how this might have contributed to my apparent inability to stay very long with any one job.
High school was chock-full of people whose job it was to be concerned about my future. I'm sure I had to take at least one type of vocational aptitude assessment, but I don't remember what the results were. All I know is that as the day of graduation approached, I experienced more and more anxiety about what I was supposed to do.
Some of my classmates planned on going right away to college. I hated school, and couldn't imagine subjecting myself to more of it. Some people planned on going into the military after high school. That option also seemed reprehensible. I had been yelled at enough already by my dad. I didn't need any more of that noise.
This only left the option of work. But what was I going to do? Some kids already seemed to know what they were going to be doing. I hadn't had much work experience up to that point (except for a couple of summer jobs, which we'll examine soon enough). I hadn't seen anything that looked appealing. I was never much of one for hard physical labor, and I didn't have any skills in more gentle trades, whatever those might be.
Wow. I guess that brings us to the first of the many, many, many jobs I've had. Over the course of a few summer vacations, I had a few different jobs. I have debated long and hard with myself as to which of these first few jobs was actually number one. The two major contenders were the egg ranch and the auto dealership. My gut tells me that the car lot was the actual first one, but my brain tells me that the egg ranch was perhaps the first, because that was the first time I recall being asked for my social security number. It could be that the auto dealership was strictly “under the table”, which would make the egg ranch more of an “official” first job. So, without further ado, I present:
Job #1: Chicken Abuser
Actually, the egg ranch may not have been during summer vacation. Periodically they had to hire some extra hands to help exchange the current chickens – which were all tuckered out from cranking out ova for our delectation – for fresh hens. This chicken exchange only constituted one night's work, and since it was done on an ongoing basis, it's very likely that I did my one stint there during the school year.
The extra hands were usually a bunch of high school kids who wanted to pick up a few bucks. I forget how I got involved. I think my best friend, Good Time Charlie, had worked there before, so I probably came to it through him.
We all congregated in the evening at the chicken ranch, which was located in the foothills above O-Town. We were herded into some sort of office, where we told a man our pertinent information. Most of the kids had been there before, so their information was already on file. When it came to me, the man asked me what my social security number was. I told him I didn't know. The man seemed disgusted, and the other kids laughed. I was embarrassed, but it was the first time in my life anyone had asked me for it. It didn't occur to me to ask them to dial my home, so I could ask my mom. I found out later that she had kept my social security card for years in a fire-proof box. After that incident, I became the bearer of my own card.
As it was, the man just told me to make one up. At his prompting, I rattled off nine random numerals. I'm not sure why they even needed our social security numbers if they were going to treat it so cavalierly. Welcome to the weird world of work.
The job was simple enough, but it required a certain callous disregard for the well-being of lesser animals. It was the kind of job that has probably created more than a few vegans and PETA members. There were long rows of cages in a large shed with open sides. The floors were cement, and troughs were built under the cages to catch the chicken excrement and other detritus. We would open a cage, grab the resident chicken by the legs, and essentially yank her out. We collected four chickens at a time, two in each hand. We would then carry them upside down to one end of the shed, where a semi-truck with small compartments built into the sides of the trailer waited. A scary-looking guy in overalls would take the hens from us while insulting our slowness, and then he'd slam them with one smooth overhand pitch into a compartment and bang the door shut.
The owners of the ranch didn't care about the health and welfare of these old layers, which were probably headed to a slaughterhouse and a future as dog food or something worse. A few hens would sometimes start to flap about crazily while we were carrying them. We were allowed to slam our two handfuls of birds together to quiet such outbursts. Every so often, a hen would get loose and begin running about, usually in the troughs under the cages. Then the scary guy would charge over with a net and snag the poor creature out of there.
When all the old birds had been loaded aboard the truck, another truck pulled in with the fresh hens. Now we could no longer abuse them. Instead, the new hens had to be treated with great care. We would take them one at a time out of the truck, carry them gently to their new home and gingerly put them through the small door. This portion of the job took most of our time there.
Eventually all the hens were in their places, and that was that for my first real job. They probably paid us at the end of the night, but I don't really remember. It's funny to think that maybe I had accidentally given them somebody's real social security number, and that person was mystified to receive a check for a few dollars from some egg farm in northern California. I only worked there that one time. I think it was a bit too brutal for me, or maybe they didn't want the weird kid who didn't know his social security number back.
Well, how about that? We actually got to the first job! In the next chapter, we'll probably discuss summer jobs 2 and 3, as well as what I did on my post-high school summer “vacation” (in the mysterious Orient!), which provided a bit of distraction and delay from having to figure out what I was going to be when (and if) I grew up.