Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter 8: Summer Jobs and Vacations

Chapter 8: Summer Jobs and Vacations
(Jobs 2, 3, 4 and 5)

Job #2: Weed Puller

Like I said in the last chapter, the egg farm job may not have strictly been my actual first job. The other contender for that title was Hobbie Automotive, but it shall now be known as job #2. It seemed that they had already been around forever when I started working there, and they've been around for the forty-odd years since then, at least until recently. I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the Hobbie name had been replaced by the much more generic “O-Town Auto Center”. That is why I feel safe using their actual name.

I can't remember how I came to this job, but I took it very seriously. The nice man – probably a Mr. Hobbie – who interviewed me asked me questions which indicated that they were looking for someone who was willing to work hard, and I answered all them in the affirmative. I meant what I said, too, even though I hadn't yet had enough experience to really know what hard work was (except for dragging a shit tub). This was my first encounter with the strange phenomena of job interviews. You wouldn't be there if you didn't want the job, so even if down in your heart of hearts you're a bit a slacker, you're not going to tell the keeper of the job that.

I was mainly hired to pull weeds in the landscaping surrounding the property, and to keep the lot clean of trash. Occasionally I was asked to perform other tasks as needed. One day one of the many adults who worked there asked me to move a company pickup truck from one side of the lot to another. This put me on the horns of a dilemma. For one thing, I was only about 14, and was still a long way from having a driver's license. I guess I looked older than I was – which was a compliment, I suppose. I had been trained from infancy that when an adult tells you to do something, you do it. I figured the good people of the car lot must know what they were doing, so I nervously climbed behind the wheel of the truck. I had once “driven” our family station wagon in circles in a parking lot while seated on my dad's lap, so I knew enough to be able to turn it on and get it in gear (thankfully it had an automatic transmission).

I set out very slowly, and I probably never got above a few miles an hour, but this just seemed terrifyingly fast. Even though I was nowhere near any other objects, I panicked and slammed on the brakes with a great deal of noise, leaving some nice black marks on the concrete surface of the lot. I finally got the truck into the designated spot. The experience shook me up enough that I confessed to my employers my total lack of qualifications for that particular chore. They weren't upset, but they certainly never asked me to move any more vehicles.

One afternoon, I was doggedly pulling weeds in the summer sun when I began to realize that work can suck. I'm sure I was just sun-burnt, thirsty and hungry, but above all – hungry. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I was diagnosed as having hypoglycemia (chronic low blood sugar), but I'm sure I must have had the condition all my life. Had I known earlier about the importance of healthy snacks, it might have made a significant difference in a lot of areas of my early life, like school and work. It's rather sad to think of a little boy who already had Attention Deficit Disorder (oops, Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder) compounding his behavior problems because he probably just needed to eat – or worse yet, had eaten the wrong thing – like Shake A Pudd'n []. Is anybody here old enough to remember that stuff? It was the bomb, but what a poor choice for a brown-bag lunch for school! Like the kid in the commercial says, “What a crazy way to make a snack!” No wonder I had troubles.

That fateful day on the car lot, though, I suddenly felt like I couldn't take it anymore. I went into Mr. Hobbie's office with my head hung low. I told him that I knew they wanted somebody who could work hard, but that I guessed I just wasn't that person. I felt genuinely ashamed for betraying the faith they had shown in me. Mr. Hobbie seemed to take it well enough. He probably found my earnestness amusing. We parted amicably, and I slouched my slimy self home. So much for job number 2.

Job #3: Moving a Bookcase

Job number 3 was a temporary gig at a local law office. It was one of the more prestigious law firms in O-Town, located in a beautiful, tall Victorian house in the historic downtown residential neighborhood. It was right across the street from future job number 20, the Congregational Church. It was one of those heritage law firms with the same family name repeated on the sign, like “Kardashian, Kardashian, Sputter, Booboo and Moore” (names changed to protect the lawyers).

My mother was in the local art league with Mrs. Kardashian, the matriach of the family business. They needed someone to disassemble a metal book shelf on the second floor and move it into the attic – which was more like the third story of the old building – and reassemble it. My mom suggested me for the job.

The day I performed this chore was the hottest day of the year, which in the Sacramento Valley is nothing to laugh at. I don't know how accurate the LED time and temperature sign outside the bank on the main drag was, but the entire town seemed to take it as meteorological gospel. That day it was reading 114 degrees. The business portion of the law firm had air-conditioning, but that didn't extend to the attic. It was probably in the upper 120s in that airless space.

I managed to finish the job, but my clothing was absolutely soaked with sweat. I also somehow hurt my finger, and went in search of a bandage. One of the lawyers asked a co-worker if they had any band-aids on the premises, because – as he said – “our boy” had hurt himself. I felt quite honored that he had called me their boy. It made me feel like I belonged, even though it was only a one-day job. So, I'd call job number three a success. If I had been asked to spend another day in that oven of an attic, though, I probably would have balked.

That summer of 1975 was fun because I got to go on a prolonged trip to Alaska with my brother Dick and his friend Al. I won't go into detail, because they are not germane to this memoir. In short, we drove up in Al's VW van, which he had rigged up with a bed in the back. We were up there for a few weeks. I saw a lot of great sights and had some interesting adventures, including being charged by a ferocious marmot. Additionally,  I was out of the California heat for the remainder of the summer.

"I'll get you next time, Rimpy!"
A day or two before we were to depart for Alaska, my mom and I drove down to Sacramento. We stayed in the trailer at my dad's then-current job at a trucking yard in West Sacramento (the place of my first residence as an infant) until it was time for me to leave. On the morning of August 1, the day our journey was to begin, I was walking Bonnie, the family dog, around the truck yard. I noticed that Bonnie was acting strangely. She was whimpering and hunching her shoulders and pawing at the ground.

A few moments later my dad came out of the mechanics' shop and said, “Did you feel that?” I asked him “Feel what?”, and he said, “We just had an earthquake!” I couldn't believe it. I hadn't felt a thing, even though I was standing outside, on the very earth that was allegedly quaking.

My mom had been inside the trailer at the moment, and she had felt it shaking. She thought that perhaps I was jumping on the towing tongue of the trailer, and she yelled at me to stop. When the shaking didn't immediately cease, she looked outside and was mystified to find no naughty boy to blame.

It turns out that a 5.7 magnitude quake had occurred in none other than O-Town! There had never been an earthquake there before in recorded history, and I was out of town the day it happened! Here we had left southern California because of earthquakes, and now they were happening in the seemingly safe foothills of the Sierra Nevada. In the months following the quake, I wondered if the relatively new O-Town Dam (1968) and – more importantly – the weight of the water it impounded could have triggered the quake. Resevoir Induced Seismicity is now a more well-known phenomenon, but relatively unheard of in 1975. I felt pretty smart for thinking of it as a teen.

Damage was later estimated to be around 2.5 million dollars. There were no fatalities. I don't think there were even any injuries. The quake was the death blow for my old alma mater, Bird Street School. It didn't collapse, but its already unstable portions were damaged enough that it had to be torn down and replaced by a boring modern one-story building. The old Catholic church across the street from the school had damage to its bell-tower. They didn't remove it, or rebuild it, but instead shortened it. It was never as impressive-looking after that.

On the day of the quake, through phone conversations with friends and neighbors, we were able to determine that our house had received no outwardly visible damage. There was another large temblor in the early afternoon. I did feel that one way down in Sacramento, so I didn't feel too ripped off. Being Friday, it was time for my dad to go up to O-Town. My parents departed to see how the homestead was faring, and my Alaskan adventure began unimpeded.

Job #4: Moving Stuff

Returning to the subject of jobs, number 4 is so vague in my memory that I've had a hard time placing it with great certainty in this chronology. It was at the old Montgomery Ward store in O-Town. I don't recall exactly how I got the job. I do recall applying at MW. It was one of the first times I had to fill out a typical job application form. I was embarrassed because I had nothing to put in the “work history” section. I didn't want to leave it blank, but the one or two things I had done didn't seem sufficient. I spoke of this with Charlie, who later went on to great success as a business man. At the time, though, he confessed to the same problem, which I found comforting.

The MW store was a great relic of a bygone era. It seemed almost too nice for little O-Town. It had a full-service diner inside. Actually, the Woolworth's store across the street had one of those as well. It was a glorious time for retail. The MW store had really nice restrooms, as well. Later, during jobs 55 and 57 (I'll explain later), when I was a para-transit driver, that restroom became my favorite to use during the course of my work day. I could park right outside the door closest to them. They were clean, climate-controlled and (sadly, because the chain was in decline by then) almost always devoid of other humans.

In my teens, I somehow landed a temporary job helping to move some stuff around at the MW store. I had never been “behind the scenes” there before, and I was amazed to find out that not only was there a vast second story storage area, there was (obviously) a freight elevator to transport items up and down. Interesting what you never suspect.

Job #5: Substitute Paperboy

Finally, there is another job that I had originally considered for this list. I initially rejected it, because, for one thing, I couldn't remember actually receiving any monetary compensation for it. Charlie assures me I did, however, and I believe him. Pay or not, it was really more in the nature of a favor for a friend. At prompting from Goodtime Charlie, I've decided to include it now, but I am reluctant to number it, for reasons I just cited. Besides, I like that nice round 80 number. 81 jobs just doesn't have the same ring to it. Let's just call it Job Number 4.5 and leave it at that.

Charlie and his younger brother and sister shared a paper route in their neighborhood. It wasn't a very large route, and they did it on foot rather than on bikes. When their family went on vacations, I would fill in for them. Seems like every kid since time immemorial has had a paper route. Although I never had one of my own, I can proudly claim membership in that honorable club, at least as a substitute.

It was an easy enough job. It had some perks, too. A pretty young woman would deliver the papers to Charlie's house. One time when she was leaning into the trunk to fish out my allotment of papers, I could see down her shirt. This being the '70s, she wasn't wearing a bra, and I got a full view of her breasts. This makes quite an impression on a teenage boy.

The job also had its annoyances, and even dangers. This was mostly in the form of people's dogs. I took a clue from the mail carriers and got a can of Halt! dog repellent, which I carried on my belt. There was one vicious little poodle, whose elderly lady owner never seemed to want to constrain him in any way when it was time for the paper to be delivered. I ended up having to spray that little bastard, in front of the old lady. I warned her I was going to do it, but she didn't do take any action, so I let him have it. And it didn't seem to bother him much! His vile, curly hair was growing down over his eyes, and most of the spray got hung up in that.

Or maybe it's just something about poodles. What's with that breed, anyway? They don't seem to respond to things the way other dogs do. A tactic my dad had taught me when I was younger, when menaced by a dog, was to act like you were picking up a rock, even if there was no rock available. Almost every dog I had ever used that on had responded by turning and running away. The only one that didn't was a fucking poodle! Are they too dumb for self-preservation? No less luminaries than Dennis Haysbert in an All State commercial and the internet claim that poodles are one of the smartest breeds. Maybe they're smart enough to know that unless they actually see you pick up a rock, your threat is an empty one. Hmm.

The main reason, however, that I decided to include this sort-of-job is the significant role which that can of Halt! would play a couple of years later in my life, but you'll just have to wait to hear about that.

I feel sorry for anyone who just goes to work immediately after graduation. I think you need one last chance to be a lazy kid before taking on the adult world. My last summer vacation, the one after graduating high school, but before entering the grown-up work force, was a blast.

My high school had been participating for a number of years in a cultural exchange program. Well, exchange isn't quite the right word in our case – it had always been one-sided. For one month every school year, a group of Japanese students would stay with host families. In my senior year, we hosted a young man named Takuya.

That year it was announced that for the first time a group of us Americans were going to travel to our sister school in Japan. I was surprised when my parents said they were going to pay for me to go, as a sort of graduation present. Spoiled, First World, middle-class brat that I was, I was also a tad disappointed. You see, my siblings had each received a car from my parents upon graduation. While I realized that a trip to Japan was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I couldn't very well drive it around when it was over.

My far east adventures could fill a separate book. I'll just touch upon the basics here. We and groups from other high schools flew into Tokyo, and spent the first week touring that city, as well as Kyoto and other locales. We spent a night in a Buddhist monastery, where we ate terrible food and some of us got hit upon the shoulders with bamboo sticks during meditation practice. You know, to loosen us up.

At the end of the first week, the different groups separated to travel to the cities of their respective host schools. I stayed with Takuya's family in a small town outside Nagoya. Japanese schools don't have a summer vacation, like we do, so most of our days were spent at the school. All in all, it was a rewarding experience, despite the culture shock I sometimes suffered. The extremely high humidity played absolute hell with my already acne-prone skin. Despite my hideous appearance, I fell in love with a Japanese girl. Good times.

On our last night in Japan, we were back in Tokyo prior to catching the plane home. Because I had repeated kindergarten, I was the only 18-year-old in the group, and could legally buy alcohol in Japan. Not that I needed to be legal. There was actually a beer vending machine on one of the floors of the hotel and no one watching. We had been ordered not to drink on pain of being sent home. I figured that on the last night it couldn't make much difference if I did get caught. Long story short, I got terrifically drunk and much mayhem ensued. Something involving lit firecrackers being thrown from a fifth-floor window. My buddy Edmund had managed to get drunk somewhere else, and the next morning he threw up french fries and grape skins all over the floor of our room.

Despite that international incident, and all the other American hi-jinks that had gone on during that trip, the Japanese school still agreed to host another group the following year. Apparently that group was even worse than we had been, because after that they went back to it being a one-way exchange program.

And that is how I spent my last summer vacation. I flew home with a hang-over and the pressure of what to do with the rest of my life. But I had already formulated a plan. Of sorts.

The end.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow, there's a ton of ancient lore of O-Town in here that I had largely forgotten. And I do remember Shake A Pudd'n. Probably used to wash it down with a big glass of Tang, just like an astronaut.

    I was also away on the day of the big earthquake, but got to enjoy the aftershocks for weeks afterward. One thing I remember is that while some buildings were repaired or replaced, there were other structures, like the high school pool across from your house, that were still in their damaged, unusable state when I moved away from O-Town years later.

    I'm pretty sure we would have paid you a portion of the month's take for the days you subbed on the paper route. That would have been when my siblings and I were off on our annual 2-3 week summer visit to out-of-state relatives and I can't imagine you would have otherwise agreed to fold a hundred papers daily and then walk around in the O-Town summer heat delivering them from that canvas pouch thing that we would stuff all those papers into. Do kids even still have paper routes? Ours gets delivered by some middle-aged guy in a car who pulls up and flings it onto the driveway.

    I remember that damned poodle, too. I hated that thing. One time when I was trying to get close enough to throw it somewhere near the front door, it ran out barking and snarling, followed by the old lady who owned it. She assured me he was harmless and as she did so, her stupid dog bit me on the leg. I turned around and gave it a good hard kick, which surprised the dog, the old lady and especially me. Then I yelled at her that she had just taken delivery of her last paper, and that was the end of that.

  3. > I was trying to get close enough to throw it somewhere near the front door

    That is, to throw the paper near the front door, not the poodle.