Chapter 13: Broken Bones and Dreams
Jobs 18, 19, 20, 21 & 22
Well, there have been some changes here at the blog. For one thing, just this morning I suddenly remembered yet another job. It was only a one-night affair (I broke it off – it just wasn't working out), so it's not surprising that I had forgotten about it. However, I cannot ignore it, so I've had to add it to the list, which means I've also had to change the name of the blog.
Now you've probably noticed that the name has been changed to “82 Jobs in 35 Years”, and you must be thinking, “But Rimpy, shouldn't it be 81 jobs?” Well, that would be true, but since I've had to let go of the nice, round “80”, I've decided to go ahead and count the substitute paper boy gig as a whole number, instead of a cheaty decimal.
Fortunately, Blogger allows you to change the URL of the blog, so it can remain consistent with the list of jobs. This will no doubt cause problems if people click on older links in Facebook, but hopefully I can fix that later.
Now! Back to those jobs! We've barely scratched the surface. At some point, I ended up living in College Town. Despite my already spotty employment history, somehow I had managed to save enough money to get a room in a house with three other young men. It was my first multiple roommate living arrangement. I got along quite well with my roomies, and it was mostly a lot of fun, having other young people to hang out with, and a room to go to when I wanted to be alone. After all, some hobbies aren't for public viewing.
I can't recall the exact order of the next three jobs, but let's just go for it.
Job #18: Dishwasher
I got job #18 as a dishwasher at a place called Joe's Barbecue (no longer extant). It wasn't a bad job, especially since I wasn't above eating some of the untouched food which came back from the tables. Unfortunately I developed an allergic reaction to the combination of steam and dish cleaning liquids I was using, and I got a terrible rash on my arms. It was probably for this reason that I left that job.
Job #19: Car Wash
Job #19 was at a car wash and gas station which no longer exists. Usually I worked where car owners would pull in, then we would fuel the cars, and drive them around to the entrance of the cable-driven car wash. I seemed to have a problem not running the left front wheels up unto the side rail of the mechanism that pulled the cars. Finally my boss said that if I didn't stop doing that, I would be fired. I didn't do it again. I guess I just needed the proper motivation.
One time, a man came in with a very expensive looking Jaguar. After I drove it to the car wash, I was having trouble finding the door handle so I could get out. It was very dark inside that car, and I had never been in a Jaguar before. Everything was dark leather with polished wooden accessories. Finally I found a pretty wooden handle on the door and pulled up it. To my surprise, it came out in my hand, because it was actually a .357 Magnum revolver that had been tucked into the map pocket. I quickly jammed it back where I'd found it and managed to find the real handle. After that I was more careful about what I grabbed in unfamiliar cars.
One day it was one of the summer holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day. Rather than asking, I just assumed the car wash would be closed that day. I should have known better, but I was probably already cruisin' to be losin' that job. I was sleeping when my boss called to find out why I wasn't at work and I told him why I. When he straightened me out on that point and told me to get in there, I said, “Well, I guess I quit, then.” I've never been at my best when awakened before I was ready.
I didn't really have a good reason to leave that job. I was just well on my way to being a total wanker when it came to work. I knew people had to do something to make money in order to survive, but sometimes in my darker moments I wondered what the point of it all was. I had already given up on my young dreams of doing anything creative, and just slaving away at some dead-end job in order to eke out an existence until you became too old to work seemed like a life sentence. Besides, constantly quitting jobs was a subconscious way to get back at my dad for those interminable lectures about the necessity of work, work, work.
Job #20: Rice Cake Factory
Job #20 is the one which I had forgotten about until this morning. I don't know what made me remember it, but I think the reason I hadn't is because it wasn't even a job I had tried to get. It just happened to me, so I had even less invested in it than in many of the jobs before or after.
One of my roommates worked a night shift at a place which made rice cakes, which many believe was the first of its kind in the country. He would come home from work smelling like popcorn, which embarrassed him a bit when people would notice it. One night he was either sick or just didn't feel like going in. He knew I was between jobs at the moment, so with my acquiescence, he called his bosses and told them he couldn't come in, but his roommate needed work. They must have been desperate, because they agreed to take me sight unseen, so I filled in for him. My roomy said if I liked it and they liked me, I might be able to find regular employment there. I was happy about that prospect, at least until I got there.
It was actually pretty awful – packing boxes and stacking pallets at a high rate of speed in a hot, noisy, dusty environment. I only worked there that one night, and didn't feel bad about not trying to pursue it.
Now, somehow I ended up back in O-Town. I'm really not sure what prompted this move. I do know that my parents' relationship was going through some turmoil. My dad had retired from the trucking company in West Sacramento with a decent union pension. Now he was around the house all the time, bored and driving my mom crazy. I was living away from home, so she only had her husband's dubious company.
Finally she couldn't take it any more, and ran away from home at the tender age of 60. She didn't tell my dad she was leaving, let alone where she had gone. Eventually she contacted him. She had lit out to San Francisco, and was living in a dumpy residential hotel where the communal bathrooms were at the end of the floor halls. She was looking for work, which must not have been easy for a woman on the back side of middle-age who hadn't worked for some years, but it's not like she wasn't without skills or a work history. My mom had often worked while I was growing up, but always while I was at school so that she was home when I was. Being a kid, I didn't think about it at the time, but now I am eternally grateful to her for that.
My mom always put her all into everything she undertook, and she had great organizational and leadership skills. She had spearheaded many public art projects through the O-Town Art League which helped to dress up our drab little town. She would have been a plum employee for any boss. I think she did get some kind of clerking job in an office during her escape to San Francisco.
I was a little flabbergasted by this unexpected turn of events in my parents' lives. Mostly I was full of respect for her for summoning up the courage to leave my dad. I also respected the fact that she was brave enough to tackle a big, strange city like SF. I've always been fascinated by that city, but never had the courage to try to live there.
There was, however, a small part of me that wished she had left my dad sooner, and taken me with her. I recalled a horrible Christmas (one of many), when my mom had partaken of a little too much holiday spirit and told my dad some of things she really thought about him. A huge row had ensued, which ended with my dad slapping my mom.
Afterwards, pubescent me was trying to comfort my distraught mother. She was talking about how she wished she could have left her husband much earlier, but she felt like it wouldn't have been a good life for me. She painted a rather bleak picture of the prospects for a woman her age trying to raise a boy alone, because she was sure my dad wouldn't have contributed any support. At the time I couldn't help but agree that this scenario sounded pretty grim. But still, maybe we would have both been better off, despite privations.
After I left home, my mom must have felt that she had nothing to lose, so she just went for it. My dad was pretty shaken up, and I'll admit to a certain cruel satisfaction at seeing him so upset. In the end, he managed to talked her into returning home, with promises to seek marriage counseling. I don't know if they ever followed through with that or not. Probably not.
I don't know if it was part of the agreement for reunification, but my parents also decided to sell their home in O-Town and move back to the central coast region of California. They first settled in Grover Beach, where they opened a strange hybrid business in their home called Solar Arts Studio. This “home” was actually a rented commercial property, but my parents managed to live there as well with the help of the good old motor home parked in the back. My mom tried to sell her artwork, and my dad tried to sell solar energy equipment. It's hard to imagine my dad as a salesperson. His bombastic, opinionated, and judgmental personality probably rubbed potential customers the wrong way.
Not surprisingly, this business venture didn't last long, so they bought a small house in Cambria, a trendy sea-side artists' community featuring small lots at high prices. Some of you have probably seen Cambria without realizing it: it starred as the fictitious town “Canaima” in the 1990 Steven Spielberg-produced film “Arachnophobia”.
Despite my mixed feelings about the last house I had shared with my parents, it was a strange feeling to have that removed from me. Now my parents were off on adventures and a future of uncertainties (but considerably better resources), and I was alone in a familiar town. No back up, no safety net, no more second chances. My dad still continued to offer to let me leave with them rent-free if I went to college and brought home good grades. I continued to decline.
Job #21: Mucking Out the Underside of a House
I lived for awhile with my old high school friend Lurleen and her boyfriend (later husband) Scoop (not their real names). While there I got temporary job #21, which was cleaning out the crawlspace under a house. Basically I had to make sure that there were no large pieces of wood or other trash under the house, making especially sure that there was no organic material connecting the frame of the house to the earth. The house was being put up for sale, and this was apparently one of the many strange things one must do before a house can be sold.
I had actually done this chore once before, when Sandy sold her house in O-Town before moving to Berkeley, so I was familiar with the process. But that had been summer, and the worst thing I encountered was a desiccated cat corpse. This time it was a rainy fall day, and I was slogging through cold mud and standing water. My clothes were absolutely sodden and heavy with brown muck. Not a job I would have wanted to do on a regular basis.
My 22nd job was as a part-time janitor at Liz and Sandy's church, the First Congregational, which was a beautiful old building built in 1913 (and which tragically burned to the ground in an arson fire in 1982). I really liked that job, despite my suspicions that the place was haunted, though I never saw anything definite.
A part-time job was sufficient for my means at the time, because when my parents left O-Town, they had lent me the use of the old travel trailer (you know, the one that produced all those tubs of shit). I rented a space in a residential trailer park on the south side of O-Town. My dad moved the trailer in there, and I had cheap digs.
It was certainly an eye-opening experience living in “South Side”. During the whole of my comfortable middle-class upbringing, I had never ventured south of O-Town's main drag. I had once driven Al in there to see an old friend of his, but that had been at night, and I didn't see much. What a different world it was on the wrong side of O-Town Dam Boulevard. It had a well-deserved reputation for poverty and roughness. It hadn't always been that way. When the railroad yard and its roundhouse (which also burned down mysteriously) had been a major enterprise, many of the people who worked there lived nearby. There were many successful black-owned businesses, including grocery stores, bars and a taxi company, and lots and lots of churches.
With the diminishing of the railroad, poverty and decay began to creep into the neighborhood, even before methamphetamine and crack became such scourges. My trailer home was right next to the sidewalk, so I had a front row seat for some of the goings on in the ghetto. One night I was trying to get to sleep, but I was prevented from doing so by a man with a loud, gruff voice who kept badgering someone he called “fat boy”. He kept yelling, “Get over here, fat boy! I'm going to kick your ass, fat boy!”
I was concerned for this poor, unknown corpulent man who was on the verge of a savage beating, but I didn't know what I could do. Eventually the bellowing man's voice faded into the distance, presumably in pursuit of his silent, tubby intended victim, and I drifted off to sleep. Then next day, I was outside my trailer when I saw a big, burly biker type walking his pit bull (no leash, of course). In the same voice I'd heard the previous night, the biker kept trying to get the dog to mind by yelling, “Get over here, Fat Boy! I'm going to kick your ass, Fat Boy!” Fat Boy paid his bellicose owner no mind.
I borrowed some money from my brother Dick to buy a moped, because I was still seeking more gainful employment, and doing so on a bicycle wasn't efficient. One day I was exploring South Side on my new ride. Ahead I saw a crowd of people in the parking lot of a defunct drive-in eatery. They were standing around a man lying on the ground. I figured there must have been some kind of accident. As I got nearer, a man was running across a field across the street with something in his hands, followed by a woman. I thought that he was bringing some object to help the fallen man. I crossed in front of the running man just as he got to the street. He paused, probably not for me, but because of the crowd of people. As I passed him, I saw that the object in his hands was a sawed-off shotgun! Meahwhile, the woman had caught up with him. She was screaming, “NO! Don't do it!”. The maniac, who was huge, was breathing heavily, with this wild look in his eyes. The best I can figure is that he had injured the man on the ground, and had run back to his hovel to fetch the weapon to finish the job, but was stymied by the people who had gathered. I just kept going and didn't look back. I never did hear what became of that incident.
Other than these brushes with the seamier side of society, though, my life on South Side was a mellow time for me. I had cheap accommodations and transportation, and a pleasant job which provided for both. I could probably have continued on like that for some time, but fate intervened.
It was two days before my 21st birthday, which I was looking forward to greatly. It was also approaching the national election, which was to be my first presidential election since becoming an adult, so I was looking forward to that, as well.
That night of October 23rd, I was riding my moped home after visiting my dear friend, J (the future Mrs. Rimpington). A car suddenly turned left in front of me at an intersection. I tried to brake, but struck its right fender and flew over its hood. I remember watching in fascination as the nearby Safeway sign described a lazy somersault in the dark sky. Then I struck the pavement face-first, bounced into a half-flip and landed on my back, with a badly broken left leg. Luckily I had been wearing a helmet.
I was in hospital for a few days, including my birthday - so no partying for me. My brother Dick and sister Buff came to visit me, which was nice. I don't know if this counts as irony, but the driver of the car was the organist for the church where I worked. She was a very dear lady, and she felt terrible for what had happened.
After being released from the hospital, I convalesced for a bit at J's apartment. I struggled out on my crutches on a very rainy election night, so determined was I to vote against that bastard Reagan. I wish votes that are difficult to cast counted for more, but the election was a fait accompli anyway.
My brother came up again to help me close down the trailer, which my dad ended up selling. I spent the rest of my time in my cast at Dick's house in Sacramento. At least it wasn't my fault that I lost the job at the church.
Eventually I healed, and was ready to re-enter the workforce, but not before demonstrating just what a nitwit I could be when handed a sum of money. But that's a story for another chapter.