Chapter 12: Slouching Towards Bedlam
Jobs 11 - 17
From here on out, the jobs start coming fast and furious, so you'll have to look sharp or you might miss some. Even I am not sure I haven't forgotten one or two, and I certainly won't swear to the chronological accuracy of this “history”.
In fact, at the end of the last chapter, I made reference to an unorthodox method of job search I used. Upon reviewing my notes, I think that doesn't come until a bit later, but I'm going to let the previous chapter stand for now, and come back to that later.
I think I've said before that you'll probably start to figure out that, at least early on, when it came to work, I was a bit of a wanker. I wasn't a victim of circumstances – I was just a neurotic dork. Another thing you should know about me is that I do not quickly learn from my mistakes. Please just keep that fact in mind when you start to wonder “What on Earth is wrong with this guy?”
For a lot of these early jobs, I can't usually remember how I got them, but I suppose that doesn't matter. Before the internet added new possibilities, the usual methods for finding a job included the state employment office, temp agencies, classified ads (those were predecessors of Craig's List that came out in things called “newspapers”, kids), word of mouth and just plain “pounding the sidewalk”. So it's safe to assume that if I can't remember the specific means by which I came to a new job, it was through one of those means.
Job #11: Cleaning Out a Garage
Job #11 was a one-day gig cleaning out an old man's garage. I think it was located on a property he had been renting to someone else, but which hadn't been occupied for some time. A lot of junk had piled up in the garage. When I saw what was in there, including mountains of aluminum cans, I made a deal with the gentleman that for a reduction in the cost of my labor, I could keep anything I might find in there, to which he readily agreed. I've never seen myself as much of a wheeler-dealer, and in fact, I may have done myself down on that one. The old guy probably wouldn't have known or cared if I kept some of the stuff or just trashed it, so I likely didn't need to offer the reduced wages, but I felt it was better to be upfront and clear from the get-go.
I made a pretty penny by recycling the cans, and some of the better items I gleaned from that job were a pair of removable, canvas Jeep doors. I had no use for them myself, but I figured I could sell them, which indeed I later did. I forget how I transported all that stuff, since I didn't own a vehicle. I think I was using a pick-up belonging to the owner.
Job #12: Groundskeeper
Job #12 was as a groundskeeper at the golf course, which was located by the airport. It was actually a pretty nice job, but the commute was murder. I would get up well before dawn and ride my bike over 5 miles to work, then of course the same distance home at the end of the day. That was probably the deciding factor in my not-so-eventual decision to leave that otherwise unobjectionable position.
Of course, I was still living at my parent's house, and chaffing to break away. Old buddy Good Time Charlie was then living and attending school in Santa Barbara, so I decided to try my luck there. I rode down with the parental units, who were on their way to a Thanksgiving gathering of my dad's relatives. Charlie welcomed me to his tiny studio apartment. I think the plan was that once I got on my feet, he and I would room together in a larger place.
Santa Barbara is almost exactly half-way between my old home of San Luis Obispo and my dreaded former residence near Los Angeles. Fortunately, it's much smaller than LA, and its geography was more reminiscent of SLO, so I didn't get me that heeby-jeeby feeling that LA induced in me. In fact, I had a very interesting experience being back in southern California – one people smarter than me would call a Proustian memory. I was in a natural foods cooperative near Charlie's place when I saw some fruits called pineapple guavas. I was suddenly smacked with the memory that we'd had a pineapple guava tree in our front yard in SLO. I used to love the taste of the fruit, but I had not seen or heard of it since we had left there, and had completely forgotten about it. That may seem insignificant, but it was a very powerful feeling to suddenly have some long disused door in my mind yanked open and a bunch of thankfully pleasant memories come spilling out.
Job #13: Jack in the Box
This is one of my many brief jobs which I'm having the hardest time placing confidently in the time-line. So much so, in fact, that I somehow missed it on my messy hand-written chronological list of the jobs, subsequently forgetting to include it when I first published this post. That job was at none other than O-Town's Jack in the Box restaurant. As previously mentioned, I had worked in restaurants before, but never in fast food. What a different world that is. I donned the itchy, horrible polyester tunic and silly paper hat and stepped into hell. I just couldn't keep up with the insane pace of places like that. After a couple of days, I quit. Yeah, I know - I'm a wuss. You would think that slinging burger patties would be a breeze compared to - say - dragging a tub of shit. I think it was more the getting yelled for not being fast enough that got to me. Too many shades of my father for my angry, insecure mentality to deal with.
Job #14: Sales Associate in Training
Another thing that helped me forget my proximity to LA was the clothing-optional beach near Charlie's apartment. I probably should have spent more time finding work than I did collecting material for my favorite hobby. As it was, it wasn't long before I landed job # 14, as a sales associate at a home improvement warehouse store.
That was an interesting job. During my training, I learned about all kinds of things I had never done before, like calculating square footage, cutting glass and operating a fork lift. After a couple of weeks, they said that we needed to begin thinking about what department we wanted to specialize in. It was nice we had a choice, but this made me very nervous for some reason. I guess I didn't feel prepared to try to become an expert on anything.
I don't think this minor anxiety was enough to push me on my way down instability lane, but true to my developing pattern, I began itching to be on my way again. I think the southern California ambiance was starting to get to me, after all. It seems that I never wanted to stay where I was, but I wasn't brave enough to just set out for parts unknown, unless there was someone there I knew. When the thrill of a new location began to wear off, and the dull reality of having to work to live set in, all I could think of was returning to the only place that seemed like home. These brief interludes of relocating provided me with an escape from the humdrum of being a grown-up. I was able to delude myself that I was somehow moving toward an as-yet-unknown goal. The world was my oyster, but I didn't know if I even liked oysters. I'd never had them, but I was allergic to abalone, so maybe oysters were just as bad.
Since I didn't have the luxury of a ride in my parent's motor home, but a little too much stuff to reasonably carry aboard a bus, I got an empty bike box from a shop and put in my partly-disassembled bicycle, along with my few other possessions. The driver of the bus looked at me funny when he attempted to heft the box. Of course, it was heavier than the average bike, so he threw it on a scale, but it was still under their limit, so it got put in the cargo hold of the bus. Then I was on my way, once again, toward O-Town and an uncertain future.
Job #15: Personal Attendant
The months after my return to O-Town are a bit of a blur. I stayed for a bit with my parent's, but then I happened into job #15. In high school I had a girlfriend named Liz, and her mother is a wonderful lady named Sandy. Both of them are still dear friends to this day. At that time, however, Sandy had ovarian cancer, and had to have a hysterectomy. She was very sick for a long time. Sandy was living with an older gentleman named Al, who was in a wheelchair. In addition to being his partner, Sandy also provided for Al's medical needs. Of course, she was too sick to that, so they hired me as a live-in care-giver for Al. I also had some responsibility for Liz's brother Andy, who was about 10 years her junior.
It was a mutually convenient arrangement, but it was especially beneficial to me. I had free room and board, and money to boot. Of course, I was too dumb to look far enough ahead to see that this arrangement couldn't last forever. Instead of saving my wages toward this eventuality, I spent it on silly stuff like a .22 rifle. Sandy gently tried to talk to me about this, but I was too clueless to heed her wisdom.
Job #16: Yard Work
I also picked up a little work on the side. Job #16 was doing a bit of yard work for an old lady friend of Al's. Really nothing much to say about that.
Eventually, and thankfully, Sandy was once again well enough to resume her usual domestic duties, as well as attending college, which would eventually lead to her relocating to Berkeley to attend the Pacific School of Religion. Liz would follow in her footsteps a few years later.
Job #17: Air Conditioning Helper
With Sandy back in the pink, I needed to find new digs and a new job. I once again squeezed behind the piano in my former bedroom in my parent's house. It was then that I hit upon the unusual idea of just cold-calling a bunch of possible employers. I started at the beginning of the yellow pages and called every local business who seemed likely and asked them if they needed workers. My dad was sure that such a method would never work, but I proved him wrong. Before I even got out of the “A's”, I got job #17. I think I can safely say the real name of the place, since they don't seem to be around anymore. Besides, you'd probably think I was making this name up anyway: Sweem's Air Conditioning.
Now I had a job, but I still needed a place of my own. My parents departed on yet another of my mom's painting trips, and I was left alone for a bit. I jumped into action, and had a yard sale. I sold a lot of my old stuff, including those Jeep doors I mentioned before. I also sold a pachinko (Japanese pinball) machine I had received as a gift, for which I got a good price.
The proceeds were enough to get a dumpy little studio apartment on the south end of town, near the railroad yard. It was one of about four units under a common roof. I'm sure it used to be company housing for the railroad, which at one time had been a major employer in the area. It was hideoulsy furnished, and had strange Art Deco prints on the walls, but it had a wall air-conditioner, and it did nicely for my purposes.
Sweem was a funny old guy. He never did seem to be able to get my name right, instead calling me by any name starting with R. I finally gave up on correcting him and just answered to whatever he called me. Eventually he figured it out – probably when he had to issue my first pay check – and then he gave me some ribbing for letting him call me by the wrong name.
I was initially hired as extra help around the shop, which was in desperate need of some cleaning and organizing. Pretty soon, I was going out on calls with some of the technicians, one of whom was Sweem's son-in-law, Jeff, who had been a pretty good friend of mine before high school. It was a funny feeling now being a subordinate to a former peer. Jeff had never been a very happy kid, and work had only seemed to make him a grumpier man.
For my part, I didn't really know how to do construction-related work. I was learning on the fly, inside dark, dusty, super-heated attics in the Sacramento Valley summer. One day I was struggling to nail a bit of duct-work into an opening of a ceiling, and just making a total bollocks of it. Jeff came storming over, and with a few angry but well-aimed blows of his framing hammer, and a few choice words, he slammed the troublesome sheet metal into place. He later apologized for his temper, but I felt especially unmanly and incompetent that day.
Another time our only access to an attic was through a very narrow hole in the roof. I knew I could fit my skinny self through it, and though it was a creepy prospect, I was about to do it. But Jeff – who was thin enough to fit as well – said that he wasn't being paid enough to go down there. I can't remember how much he made then, but it was well above my legal minimum of $3.10 an hour. I found it odd that the well-compensated employee felt underpaid for such work, and the definitely underpaid employee was ready to tackle the task.
Some of the other pros were more agreeable. I preferred to go on calls with an older guy. He was more of a repairman than an installer like Jeff, so I usually had little to do, which suited me fine. That guy was funny. One time he said that when he was on a tough job, he liked to let his dong hang out of his pants and go about on all fours. When I asked why, he said, “Well, if I'm going to work like a donkey, I might as well look like one.” Heh heh. Donkeys.
Then a new technician joined the crew, and I seemed to get stuck with him a lot. I couldn't stand that guy. He wasn't much older than me, but he seemed to think he knew everything, and wasn't shy about sharing his wonderful wisdom. One day he left me alone to do some menial work at a house in the foothills that was being remodeled, and said he would be back later. I couldn't stomach the idea of having to see that jerk again, so I walked all the way back to the shop and told old Sweem I was leaving.
So now we're at 17 jobs and I was still only 20, and I had been on the work force for barely five years. According to my understanding of math (which is poor, at best), that yields an average of one new job approximately every 3 and a half months. Ye, Gods! Now you can start to see how I've managed to pack so many jobs into a lifetime. It's a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.
In the next chapter, the whirlwind of employment continues, despite being briefly interrupted by the crunch of broken glass and bone, on the eve of that dark period known as the Reagan era.
World as We Know It.