Chapter 15: Junior College Days
Jobs 32 – 36
Around this time I decided to really take a stab at a college education. As far as financing school went, I probably could have gotten by on a combination of work and financial aid in the form of grants. You know, the kind of money you don't have to pay back. It's odd that public colleges cost money, but the government will give you money to afford college. Why not just make college free in the first place?
Unfortunately, I found the lure of receiving a large sum of extra cash in the form of a loan irresistible. I really think that they were a little too quick to hand out those student loans. Of course, no one was twisting my arm, and true to form, I didn't properly consider the likelihood of being able to repay that debt, or the consequences of not paying. Now I'm one of the several million Americans in default on their student loans.
Of course, I started at the local Butt Community College, because it's a cheap way to get your lower division units out of the way. It's also a great way to explore various disciplines if you were like me and didn't yet know what you wanted to pursue at a university. So, yeah, I really didn't need student loans just to do general education at a junior college. It makes me wonder why they agreed to loan me any money in the first place, let alone why they even make it available at that level of education.
Back then, the junior colleges were on the quarter system, but the state colleges were on the semester system. I couldn't see the point, since the length of a quarter wasn't all that much shorter than a semester, and it's not like they were actually a quarter of a year long, anyway. You could knock out three quarters in one academic year, and if you were really serious, you could subject yourself to a tough, short “quarter” during the summer vacation. At university, you could do two normal semesters in one year, plus a brutal summer session if you wanted. And for real masochists, there was even a super-mega-brutal winter break session. No thank you.
Since quarter units counted for less than semester units, there was a complicated unit conversion process if you transferred to a state college. Eventually the junior colleges switched to the semester system, so their units counted the same as the universities', which simplified the transfer process.
I did really well for my first two quarters, but mid-way through my third quarter, I had some sort of breakdown. I think the act of doing well at something actually sabotaged me. I had become used to thinking that I wasn't really academic material, and earning straight A's those first two quarters was more than my self-image could process. There was one teacher in particular who factored largely in my troubles. Mr. Oxstrangler was a history teacher and a self-made millionaire. He owned hundreds of rental properties in the College Town area. He didn't really need the salary of a community college professor, but I guess he did if for his love of history. Right-wing, Repulican history.
Oxstrangler was an ultra-conservative. The effusive way he would talk about the old system of debtors' prison gave me the impression that he probably thought we should reinstate that venerable institution. In his office he had a picture of himself meeting then-President Reagan. In the picture, Oxstrangler was talking to the president, who I was alarmed to note looked like he was listening intently to what Oxstrangler was saying. I wondered what Oxstrangler was telling the leader of the free world.
Politics aside, Oxstrangler was also very critical, so I'm sure he reminded me of my dad. Before long, I just couldn't do any of the work in that class, and the rest of my courses fell like dominoes, and I dropped out of junior college.
While I had been in school, I experienced a relatively stable period in my work life. I “only” had four jobs (depending on how you count them) that year, three of which were short-term gigs – so in comparison to other periods in my life, I was a model of responsibility. I don't recall the exact order in which I got and lost these few jobs, so let's just start with...
Job #32: Stationary Store Janitor
...which was working as a janitor at an office furniture and stationery store in College Town. I got the job through the school's student employment office. A couple of nights a week I would come in and dust and vacuum and such. It was a great part-time job. I got to work alone, which I had discovered I preferred. They trusted me with a key to the place. However, they shouldn't have trusted me with the “honor snacks” box. If you've never seen one of those, it's a simple, open cardboard rack thing with candies and chips and the like. There was a slot in the front of the box into which you were expected to put the stated cost of the item. They're designed for the employees of small businesses.
|It does say it's "MY" snack box|
I was always hungry, and usually always short on pocket change. Before you jump to conclusions, I didn't dishonor the snacks to the point of actually stealing them. I took seriously the threat of loss of snackage, so I would write little IOUs with my name and the amount and slip them into the slot.
After a while, during one of the rare times I was in the store during business hours, the owner told me that the honor snacks guy had recently serviced the box and found about 20 dollars worth of IOUs from me (and only me). Even I was a little surprised that I had managed to scarf down that much junk food. I made good on my debt, but I wasn't allowed to put any more IOUs in the box.
I had that job right up until I after I quit school. Once I was no long in school, I began petitioning my employers for more hours, and eventually they agreed to let me work with their delivery guy. I blew that chance, however, by getting drunk and not showing up for the first day of my new position. Bye bye, Job #31.
Jobs #33 & 34: Work Study
Either concurrent with or just prior to #32, were two jobs which probably could be counted as one, but you know how I like to go for those numbers. They were definitely individual positions, but they could conceivably be viewed as one “job” because they were both through the work-study program at the junior college.
#33 was working at the recycling center at the college, which has a long history of being very environmentally conscious. My job was to drive around to all the combination trash/recycling receptacles on the campus and collect the cans and bottles. This seemed right up my alley, because I had long been an avid advocate for recycling, but the receptacles were always surrounded by clouds of bees attracted by the sugary residue in the drink containers, and I have an irrational fear of bees. I wasn't so concerned about the environment that if left to my own devices, I wouldn't have simply sprayed them with some insecticide and been about my business. I couldn't do that, however, because the college had bee hives as part of its agriculture program. Goodbye, Job #32.
#34 was a temporary work-study gig helping to line some gullies around the campus with river rocks to control erosion. It was pretty arduous work, with a bunch of cretins who didn't seem like they belonged in college, even at the community level. I was glad when that job concluded.
Job #35: Personal Care
#35 was another example of subbing for Charlie on one of his jobs. For some time while he was at the university he worked for a wheelchair-bound man who had one of those dreaded degenerative diseases – Multiple Sclerosis, I believe. Once when Charlie had to go out of town for a few days, I filled in for him.
Job #36: Dishwasher
After I left school and my office supply store job, I got job #36 as a dishwasher at a popular downtown restaurant and bar. Much like old Hobbie Auto, this place also recently closed up after I started writing this memoir. It seems that I'm out-living some of the places I've worked, which at the time had already been around a long time and which seemed like they'd continue forever. I wonder how many other legacies I can destroy before I finish this?
The job was pretty good for what it was. I got some free food and all the fountain soda from the bar I could quaff. What got my goat, though, was the fact that various people employed there kept popping up to inform me of yet another chore that was my hitherto unknown responsibility. I think they just saw the new dishwasher as an opportunity to foist some chore of theirs off onto someone else. When someone I had never seen before showed up and told me that one of my many tasks was to water the trees in the sidewalk out front, I nearly stomped off the job. None of these various chores was insurmountable, even taken all together. I was just irritated about finding out in such a slip-shod manner. I had never previously heard of the concept of asking for a job description, but this job taught me the importance of such a thing.
After a rough week of ever-increasing responsibilities, I was looking forward to my first official day off. My much-anticipated morning sleeping-in was ruined by a phone call from work asking me to come and fill in for somebody who hadn't shown up. I went in, but it wasn't long before I walked away from that job.
I only had one other job in 1984, which was a personal best for me at that time. But since Job #37 is closely aligned with current job #85, it will take more explaining than I have time for today. So, until next time!