Sunday, September 13, 2015

Chapter 14: Rimpy: Agent for G.U.N.S (Ground Up Nut Shells)

Chapter 14: Rimpy: Agent for G.U.N.S (Ground Up Nut Shells)
Jobs 23 - 31

After I got the cast off my leg, there was nothing to prevent me from returning to the work force. Nothing, that is, except my own idiocy. I got a fairly substantial settlement (a little under $10, 000) from the insurance company of the nice church organist who had struck me on my moped. I wasn't trying to be greedy or vindictive, but I felt like I was owed something for my pain and suffering.

With money in hand, I returned to College Town. Charlie was by now attending university there, and I went in thirds with him and another guy named Eddie on a three-bedroom house. To my stubbornly immature mind 10,000 dollars seemed like a lordly sum, and I saw no reason to rush out and get a job.

I bought myself a cute little 1967 VW Karmann Ghia. I didn't really need something quite so fancy, but I had this deluded idea that the car would be some sort of investment that would increase in value. I didn't factor in such things as whether or not I would be able to afford the upkeep on a classic car in order to protect my investment. The whole “investment” idea quickly became moot when I lost control one night on a curve and went backwards through a barbed wire fence, scratching up my pretty blue paint job something fierce.

It didn't take me long to burn through the rest of the money, and with it went my ability to pay my rent. It was time once again to get a job. God bless him, Charlie very patiently covered my portion of the rent quite often until I could pay him back as I bounced from job to job. Charlie was the “good” one in our friendship. I, for my part, wasn't necessarily a bad friend, but looking back on it, I wasn't a particularly good one, either. People probably shook their heads and wondered why he put up with me.


Job #23: Kiwi Farm

I got job #23 at a kiwi farm on the south of College Town. Most of the work consisted of pulling tiny young kiwi plants out of the ground and preparing them for shipping in pairs to nurseries. The work wasn't bad or particularly hard, but it was winter and a lot of the work was spent outdoors or in unheated greenhouses.

I forget how long I was with the kiwi farm, but it seems like it was a fair bit (for me). A new problem I was starting to have vis a vis work was alcohol. There used to be bar and music venue called Cabo's that had a popular tradition known as “Tipsy Tuesday”. At the start of the evening drinks were incredibly cheap, and would go up in increments as the night wore on. It was a clever marketing ploy on their part, and a cheap way to get wasted. One Tuesday night a bunch of us from work went there together. Probably not a great idea on a work night, but maybe my co-workers had more self-control than me (gee, you think?).

The next day I was badly hungover, but I tried to work anyway. I was useless, however, so they sent me home, but thankfully didn't fire me. I forget the circumstances under which I left that job, but given my history, I'm sure I quit for no particularly good reason. I'm pretty sure I wasn't fired.

The next few jobs aren't necessarily in strict chronological order. Such are the ravages of time upon the mind of a flake.

Job #24: Yard Maintenance

Job #24 was at a yard maintenance company whose name I can't recall, which is just as well since I would be unlikely to use it. I do seem to recall that this was the job in which I was asked in the interview if I liked to “hussle” - which I've always interpreted as “work really fast for no good reason”. Of course, I lied and said I did, but it soon became apparent to them that I didn't. Most of the work involved crawling about on my hands and knees pulling weeds out of people's lawns. It was quite similar to job #2, pulling weeds at Hobbie Auto. I tried to perform to their expectations, but like my dismissal from job #6 (Yancey Derringer's), the warning signs were there, but I didn't heed them. A supervisor came by once or twice and told me to hurry up. I thought I was doing a good job of pretending to “hussle”, but next thing I knew the supe came back and said something to the effect of, “That's it, Rimpy. You're fired.”

On my previous experience with being fired, I got to just walk away. I forget how the matter of my final pay had been handled at Yancey Derringer's. I don't know if the law existed in 1978 that says employees are to be handed their last check at the time of their involuntary termination. If it did, it's more likely that the bellicose management of Yancey's weren't very concerned with such niceties as “laws” and “fair labor practices”. I probably had to go back on their regular payday to get my last check, but I didn't know better at the time, anyway.

This time, however, we were in some remote part of College Town, so I had to ride in a pickup with that supervisor back to their office so they could give me my final check. It was an awkward ride – I didn't know what to talk about with somebody who had just fired me.

It didn't occur to me until years later that any job involving pulling weeds was probably one I should have avoided. That was one of those chores that my dad seemed to delight in torturing me with when there weren't any tubs of shit that needed dragging. I remember once, when I was only about 7 or 8, I had gained permission from my parents to try to stay up all night one weekend. I can't recall if I managed to stay awake the whole night, but even though my dad knew I was sleep deprived, he had me out early the following morning pulling weeds along the side of the garage. As he went about his weekend projects, he kept passing by and yelling at me to work harder. I was watering those weeds with my tears by the time my mom finally spoke up and reminded him that I had not had any sleep, and I got to crawl into bed. I'm sure that my dad didn't need reminded of that fact. I think he thought that my wanting to stay up all night was indicative of some kind of character flaw that needed corrected with some good, hard work.

Job #25: Personal Care

Job #25 was a very temporary gig helping to care for a elderly man who had suffered a stroke. He was home with his wife, but she wasn't in great shape herself, and needed the extra help with cooking and personal care.

Job #26: Delivering Coupon Books

For job #26 I got to make my dubious investment in the Karmann Ghia work for me. A lady sold coupon books by telephone out of her apartment, and it was my job to deliver the books to the customers. I remember very little about that job, or the circumstances of my leaving, but take a wild guess.

Job #27: Nut Company

I tried very hard to get job #27, which was at the nut company. It's not really a factory, because it's not like they make nuts there, but it's not really a cannery, either, so “company” will have to do. College Town is famous for almonds (which the locals insist on pronouncing with a short “a” and no “l”) and other tree nuts, and the old nut company has been a large presence on the north side of the neighborhood known as “The Avenues” for many years. It has diminished a bit in eminence in the last couple of decades, but it used to be one of the largest single employers in town, and a well-paying one. Of course, most of the work was seasonal. Only a handful of people worked there year-round. I had applied well before the season, and had been tentatively selected. Then it was just a matter of checking in regularly to let them know that I was still interested. I came to be on a first-name basis with the nice ladies in the personnel office. Finally the blessed day came when they told me to come on in and work on the swing shift. I felt as though I had “arrived”. I didn't entertain any notions of working with nuts for the rest of my life. I just wanted a good paycheck for awhile.

My usual position was at the ass-end of a machine which ground nutshells. The shells would flow through a pipe from the grinder into the top of a huge contrivance which would shake them through a series of screens and spit them out in uniform granules into burlap sacks. My partner and I would sew up the ends of the bags and stack them on pallets. I was never clear of what were the uses of ground nut shells. I heard the Japanese liked to use them for pillow stuffing. They must have had some fatal pillow fights with those.

Sometimes we had to change the size of the screens in the machine, depending upon what size of granule was needed. We climbed up on a catwalk near the top of the machine. The screens were held inside the machine by large segmented metal bands. We had to loosen the bolts holding the screens tight against the machine, swap out the screens, and then bolt them back together. The screens came in designations like 20-20, 20-30, 30-30, etc. I don't know what those numbers meant, but the problem I had was that my partner had a heavy Mexican accent, and every screen size he said sounded like “tooty tooty” to me.

The first time I changed some screens on my own, I thought I had done a good job of securing the bands. I climbed back down and we fired up the machine. Moments later, my partner tapped me on the arm and pointed overhead. I looked up and was horrified to see the bands spinning merrily around the circumference of the machine while unfiltered granules poured out of its sides. We spent the rest of the night fixing my mistake and cleaning up the horrendous mess.

Work at the nut company involved other duties as needed, such as loading trucks, or helping out in other sections of the plant. Sometimes a few of us would pile into private vehicles and drive out to one of the nut receiving stations in the vast orchard lands surrounding College Town. Most nuts are harvested by shaking the trees with special Suessian-looking machines. Then everything that falls down is scooped up, along with anything else which was already on the ground. At the receiving stations, they had huge machines which would separate the nuts from the leaves, twigs, rocks, and other trash, like live rats and mysterious large animal bones. My job on those nights was to walk back and forth next to the machine and keep the screens clear with a hoe on the end of a long metal pole. Those were not my favorite nights.

Working at the main plant was much more preferable, in part because there was a small market across the street, where some of us would buy a beer to go with our lunches. My job didn't involve driving, per se, unless of course, you count forklifts and the little Bobcat loader I sometimes used to shove the un-ground nut shells into the hopper for the grinding machine, and you probably should. So, yeah, it was pretty irresponsible to be drinking at work. After all, we were working around dangerous machinery. I wouldn't dream of doing something like that now, but then it just seemed like an acceptable thing to do. Back then, companies didn't have all the drug and alcohol testing they do now. Sometimes the modern policies can be a pain in the ass – such as when you've been randomly selected to drug test, and you've been good a good boy – but it's probably a good thing we have them now.

I can't recall how long I was with the nut company before I quit, but I suspect it was less time than I had spent actually trying to get the damned job. I recall Charlie commenting on this irony. One night, I went out drinking after my shift with a bunch of co-workers. I had a good time, but I fell into an alcohol-induced low blood sugar funk and decided I didn't want to go in the next day. I probably would have stayed with several of my jobs longer if I hadn't mixed them with booze. When sober, I could deal with the drudgery of the working week, but when I would drink I would start to imagine some sort of better life beyond the confines of my current position. Perhaps one where an imaginative and creative mind could make a living from his talents. I didn't have the fortitude to try to make my dreams come true, so the only control I had was to quit whatever job seemed so restrictive at the time.

Job #28: Gorilla
(Updated Jan. 1st, 2016)

Happy new year, everybody. Observant readers may have noticed that the title of the blog has changed (slightly) yet again. That's right - yesterday I suddenly recalled a job which, though I think of it often, I  - for some reason - forgot to include in my list. This brings the total to 85. I guess I may not have thought of it as a "job", per se, because although I was definitely "hired", I'm not sure I was actually paid for any of the small amount of time I spent being where I was expected to be. I'll explain in a moment.

I remember where I was living at the time, and what car I was driving. Given the nature of the job, it puts it around September into October, so I'm going to say it was in late 1981. As for the job itself, I was hired to be a gorilla in a haunted house. No, really. In the weeks prior to Halloween, a married couple was advertising for workers for a new haunted house they planned on opening up. This wasn't going to be just one of the many run-of-the-mill, short-lived haunted houses which pop up at that time of year. It seems like those are usually run by some fun-loving volunteers who either just really love scaring people and want to make a quick buck, or by charitable organizations who are trying to raise funds for a worthy cause. My new employers actually planned on trying to make their haunted house a year-round attraction. That was something of a warning sign right there.

I don't know if they bought or rented, but they had acquired the use of an abandoned motel on the far north end of the Promenade in College Town. That area has always had a lonely and forlorn feeling to me. At the time it was mainly a mix of orchards and light industry. It has grown up some since then, mostly with somewhat expensive housing developments, but the rest of the area still has the dodgy look that unplanned development tends to bring.

For the past several months, most days of the week I drive my bus right through this neighborhood. I'm pretty sure that the site of the old motel has been replaced by one of the new housing developments, but there is one weird old pair of buildings which looks approximately like the place I remember. I'm pretty sure they're not, though; they don't really look like a motel. I don't know what they are, to tell you the truth. I was looking at them as I drove past yesterday when I suddenly thought, "Oh my god - I forgot to put that job on the list!"

The couple hired several young people, and we met a few times at the old motel to discuss the plans. I think there was an understanding that we weren't getting paid for those early meetings. That may have been legal back in the early '80s, but I'm pretty sure it's not now. If you expect people to report for duty, they need to be paid for their time. Another warning sign ignored.

For some reason I was chosen to be the gorilla. I don't know why a gorilla would be in a "haunted" house with ghosts and ghouls and such. That should have been another warning sign. I never ended up even trying on a gorilla suit before I left.

There was one interesting thing that happened during one of those planning meetings. There was an intense blond fellow in our party.I think he was slated to be a vampire. He was standing in the middle of one of the motel rooms explaining an idea he had for a spooky effect.  He said he could slowly raise his hand (which he did), and then the light in the room could dim. Which it did. But no one was near the light switch, which wasn't the dimmer kind anyway. The rest of us exchanged nervous glances, but blondie acted like it was the most natural thing in world. I kept my distance from him after that.

One morning, I was having stomach pains, They became quite severe, so I asked to leave early. When I got back to the house I shared with Good Time Charlie and our roommate Eddie, I couldn't get in because everyone was gone and I had forgotten my key. It was a cold day, so I curled up in the old easy chair on the front porch and covered myself up as best I could with a foam rubber mat I found in the backyard. Eventually one of my roommates came home and let me in, and I crawled into bed. I ended up having a bout of intestinal illness that lasted several days and left me weak and drained and even skinnier than I already was. Needless to say, I gave up on the gorilla job as a lost cause. It was too flaky, anyway - even for me.

The couple did open their haunted house before Halloween, and I heard it did a pretty good business during the season, although I never went to see it. There was a segment on the local news about it, and they paid for radio advertising. They tried to keep it open after Halloween, but it wasn't long before they had to admit the folly of this and closed up shop. So much for "job" number 28 - a total non-starter from beginning to end.


Job #29: Cleaning a Warehouse

So, onto another series of short-term jobs. #28 was helping a man clean a warehouse he was leasing, in a row of old warehouses next to the railroad tracks just south of the university. Those buildings are long gone now, razed to make room for the never-ending expansion of the college, which seems to be the only growth industry left around here.

I can't recall exactly what business this fellow was in (if I ever knew), but he was a nice guy, and seemed to be doing well in whatever it was. He was restoring a 1930s era Rolls-Royce in the loft portion of the warehouse, which was accessible by a ramp of massive wooden beams built into one corner of the building.

Job #30: Yard Clean Up

Job #29 was doing some yard clean up and stacking firewood at a small daycare center that a lady operated out of her home. There were about six little girls and a toddler boy running around. The job only took a couple of days, which is good because the little brats were driving me crazy. At one point, all the girls popped their heads up over a low wall and the ringleader shouted, “Hey, mister. Do you want to see our bottoms?” and then they fled in gales of shrieking giggles. Thankfully, I'm not a pervert, so I had no interest in seeing their bottoms, but I was eager to get away from there before a neighbor could overhear a similar bizarre question and get the wrong idea.

Job #31: Dormitory Janitor

Job #30 was actually a pretty cool job. I was part of a large crew of janitors at a huge complex of privately-operated dormitories for the college. Each “apartment” had four bedrooms and a bathroom. My main task was to clean the bathrooms of the apartments. We worked in pairs, and the schedule was designed so that each bathroom got cleaned once a week, so they didn't get too gross.

Cleaning up after college kids wasn't tons of fun, but the job had lots of perks, not the least of which was being surrounded by hundreds of young women. There was even an all-female wing, which was informally known as “The Nunnery”, but I very much doubt that any of the girls there were as chaste as a Bride of Christ.

Sadly, I was too shy to take proper advantage of the proximity of all these single females. Most of them didn't pay much mind to we lowly janitors. I did work up the courage to ask out one friendly young woman, but it turned out she was going out with a young man from another wing. It was kind of funny because I had become friendly with both of them without realizing they were seeing each other. They were both really nice people, so I was happy for them, despite my broken heart.

Another great perk of this job was almost-free food. The complex had an on-site cafeteria, and we workers were allowed to have one meal a day for a mere dollar. I've always been a big fan of breakfast, and I took full advantage of this boon. Also, our boss, Chip, was really mellow. As long as we got our jobs done on schedule, he didn't care how about making sure we were busy all the time. He gave us two thirty-minute paid breaks a day, instead of the lawful minimum of ten minutes. We also got an hour-long unpaid meal break rather than the usual half-hour. A very civilized place, all in all. It seems silly 33 years later to say that I should have stayed there forever, but I probably should have stayed longer than I did. As it was, I was there for at least a few months, which was quite long for me back in those days.

I can't remember the particulars behind my decision to leave the dormitory job, but at least I know I wasn't fired. My decision may have had something to do with my resolution to finally attempt to attend college, which we will explore in the next chapter.

The end.

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