Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Job Jobs 3: Late 80's Employment

You may wish to begin at part 1: PIZZA or part 2: RETAIL.

By Mid-January of 1986 I had been attending Community College full-time for 2.5 years. I was all ready to transfer to a local University. I had toured the campus, met my professors, selected a dorm and had lined up all of the necessary scholarship and grant money. My trajectory was fixed and my future as a writer (pronounced "English Teacher") was secure. All I had to do was complete all of my current classes, and finals were only two weeks away.

The next week found me living in a tent in a city park in Van Nuys, preparing for the Great Peace March, which would spend the rest of the year walking across the country. Goodbye schooling! Hel-lo education!

Living life like a 3 year old boundering through a spider web…….

My parents were divided, as they always were, about everything. My Dad was unhappy that I had skipped out on college, but he was never able to assist me in paying for it, so I considered his vote to be invalid. My Mother said "You're 20, for goodness sake. Get out of here and have the adventure that I never could. Now lets go get you some good shoes."

The Great Peace March (1986)

And so my job for that year was just to walk. I won't get into Peace March stories here, (that's a whole 'nother book!), but here's a synopsis of each of the states that all 500 of us crossed.

  1. California: Is a long state, but it is also super wide, especially at 3.5 miles per hour. We started at the L.A. Coliseum on March 1st, and it was April before we touched Nevada. San Bernardino County, for example, is wider than Belgium.
  2. Nevada: A whole lotta nothin. Dust storms and dumping scorpions out of your shoes in the morning. The sound of tambourines left us as one by one the Deadheads drifted away.
  3. Arizona: We just crossed the corner of this on I-15, so we all got cake for breakfast, and for dinner!
  4. Utah: Evil, but efficient. When we crossed their Western Border, Utah just quietly showed up with a fleet of buses and advanced us to their Eastern
    Asleep in a city park, somewhere in Nebraska.
    border. Do not pass "go" - do not collect $200.00
  5. Colorado: The shocker here was not that hiking up to the 12,000 foot Continental Divide will make you sicker than a dog, no, the shocker was that once you pass Denver you have a whole other half of the state to cross, and its basically as bad as.....
  6. Nebraska: The worst state. They hated us, and God apparently hates them. Great place to be a soybean though.
  7. Iowa: Nicer people and better food, but what kind of fool walks across this state in July?
  8. Illinois: There is not a tree to be found in this state. Pizza in Chicago was good though.
  9. Indiana: Apparently it is a law that every front yard must have at least 47 lawn ornaments on it.
  10. Ohio: I'd call them the "mediocre lakes", at best.
  11. Pennsylvania: is 160 miles wide, and has, on average 8 hills per mile. Stupid glaciers.
  12. New Jersey: The Northern half is surprisingly beautiful in late October.
  13. New York City: was like one big klaxon siren after 8 months of listening to soybeans grow.
  14. New Jersey, again: The Southern half is one, giant, interconnected mall. Also the only accent that I just out-and-out laughed at every time I hoid it.
  15. Delaware: Walked across it in one day. More cake, please!
  16. Maryland: Surprisingly Southern, for a state this far North. I don't ever want to visit the South.
  17. Washington, D.C.: 9 months and 3,701 miles later (that's an average of 18 miles of walking a day), two pairs of shoes and 10 pairs of socks, we reach the Lincoln Memorial - and I am unemployed again. Enjoyed my first threesome that night though.
Ready to make myself employable.
GPM intermission feature: Temp Agencies

Now, I wasn't on the Great Peace March for the entire 9 months. I came home for a few weeks in the Nebraska/Iowa slog because I had crippling hay fever. Hey, suburban boy - I'd never encountered hay before. Who knew?

I knew I'd be heading back though - my instructions to my tent mate was to call me when he next saw a tree - so I worked for temp agencies during this down time.
And it tells you a lot about the sexism of the last century, and my own Feminism, to tell you that I worked for both Manpower and Kelly Girl.

I quickly found a specialty with both agencies: The short-term gig. I became their go-to man (or girl) for jobs that were 1 to 3 days long. Mister Gemini here had a blast roaming from job site to job site. I once worked 5 different jobs in one week.
I alphabetized and filed papers that were two feet high. I got job instructions that were one sentence long. "I need a trench two feet deep and 18 inches wide from here to that stake."

I worked for Millers Outpost for a day. This was a job unloading boxes of jeans from a long line of 40 foot trailers. In the afternoon it looked like we would finish early and not get our full 8 hours of pay. So I constructed a hollow cube of boxes in a corner of the warehouse (lego skills for the win!), crawled inside with my hand truck, and took a nap.

Everyone exactly the same, just like you and me!
Cucamonga at the time was the fastest growing city in America, so there was lots of construction jobs. But Lefty here was once fired because I couldn't hammer a nail in straight, so I got the clean up jobs.

One day I was tasked with getting a model home ready for a grand opening the next day. In the afternoon I was given a pair of gloves, a box of plastic toothbrushes and a steel bucket of hydrochloric acid - yes, you read that correctly - an open bucket of hydrochloric acid - and was told to use it to dissolve any rough edges to the new concrete walkway leading to the front door.

I did that for awhile but I quickly got wildly nauseous and I also burned a couple of holes right through my forearms. Also, my toothbrushes kept melting. So I called ManPower, and they said, (and I quote) "Do not talk to anyone. Walk directly to your car and drive to the nearest hospital. Call us from there."

I don't know what happened to that construction company, but that Open House did NOT happen for quite awhile.

Perhaps the strangest one day job I had was at a plastic extruding plant. I showed up for the 3 - 11pm shift and a guy in a space suit showed me a dark, empty room with a picnic table and a vending machine. Then he helped me into a space suit and a helmet and showed me the other room, which was blank and bare and white and had a dozen extruding machines all loudly spitting out white plastic widgets.
Something like this, but 12 of 'em, each with a
plastic-lined cardboard box in front of it.

By pantomime he showed me that I was to walk around the room and jiggle the plastic-lined boxes underneath the machines. When one was full I was to place it in the middle of the room and get an empty box from behind that machine. Then he walked out of the white room and disappeared without a word.

I did the loop countless times, walking in super slo-mo in the hot space suit, jiggling boxes and leveling the little towers of plastic parts. There was no clock, and I quickly lost all track of time, space, reality and my hopeless, bleak existence in the shattering void that was conscious life. At exactly two hours I felt a hand touch my shoulder and I screamed in my space helmet and shit my pants.

The other guy led me back into the dark room, where I took off my helmet and sat at the picnic table for precisely 10 minutes, while he stood off and stared at nothing. Then he waved me back inside. A few minutes later I checked back in the dark room and he was nowhere to be found. But two hours later, in the clean room, he squeezed my arm and I shat myself again.

Something like this, but smellier.
This time I sat at the picnic table for 30 minutes while he stood across the room. By the end of the night my suit was awash with most of the fluids and solids of my body. At 11pm he tapped my helmet from behind and I yelped and leaped across the room like I was in Moon gravity. He waved me back into the dark room, helped me out of the abandoned aquarium of my space suit, signed my time slip with a slash, and waved me to the door, all without saying a single word.

He's probably there, still.

UPS Store (Holiday, 1986)

I flew home from the Great Peace March in Mid-November of 1986. 9 months to get to the East Coast........6 hours to get back. My Mother, who had been surreptitiously sending me money the whole time now came through again and got me a job at a UPS store.

I was the Christmas help, and my presence doubled the number of employees. My boss was a woman, yes, and we were in the little store by ourselves a lot, yes, but she was  twice my age and looked like Abe Vigoda on a bender, so, no.

What I learned from this job was that I was terrible at wrapping packages - lefty can't use scissors - but I was very good with the few customers we had, so she did the work in back while I schmoozed up at the counter. I also went out and got lunch for both of us each day, and then we sat around with our feet up and scratched off lottery tickets.

San Antonio Comm Hospital (1987)

Like these guys - just not as cool.
The mother of a friend got me my next job, as a hospital housekeeper. I learned a LOT at San Antonio Community:
  1. The messiest rooms in the entire hospital are the Nurses break room and the Surgeon’s lounge.
  2. If an earthquake happens while a surgery is taking place, the surgeons will instantly prostrate themselves over the patient, just like on an episode of M*A*S*H.
  3. Some Deliveries are so loud that the entire wing of the hospital will start breathing in time with the expectant mother. This is why Delivery is often times out in its own wing.
  4. There is very little drama in Surgery. Its basically car repair. They wheel you in, put you up on the rack, swap out the thing that’s broke, check your fluid levels, and send you on your way.
  5. One of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed was a Harvest. A young woman was brought into Surgery; a recent fatality from a motorcycle crash. (This is why caring states have helmet laws.) She was as add-on, an interruption to the carefully planned day at the Surgical Repair Shop, but nobody complained. Instead procedures were canceled or postponed and other surgeons poured in from all surrounding areas. Some even arrived in their golfing outfits. Soon couriers started arriving with small ice chests, for this unfortunate young woman had an organ donor card in her wallet. And so the Harvest began. It was a chaotic hive of activity all afternoon in room 5 as almost every single part of her was frantically shipped out to some incredibly lucky soul who was in desperate need of that very thing. Breaks
    and lunches were completely ignored and I’d never seen everyone so happy. At the end, there was very little for me to clean up. She looked like the buffet table at the end of a good wedding. But that unfortunate Biker lives on, in many many other fortunate souls, who toast her generosity with every single sunrise. I want to be that hero someday. Ah, but by this point I'm pretty sure my cadaver would be examined, and then returned with a stamp across my forehead that says: "Too Much Fun".
  6. Every single patient in Mental Health smokes. Also, attendance at the 2pm group therapy was spotty but every seat was filled at the 3pm episode of The Outer Limits.
One day John, my co-worker, was mopping the women’s restroom in Mental Health. John was a tall, lanky Georgian. Back home they would say he was “slow”. Out here we’d say he was “Chill”.

He had followed protocols, knocking before entering, calling out to make sure the room was empty, putting the safety cones out, and so he was super surprised when one of the stalls open and a defiant naked woman stood before him.

He stammered an apology. The woman silently blazed at him and then defiantly peed a little on the floor.

A long moment passed, while this one-sided standoff took shape. And then John reached out very carefully with his mop and daubed up the spill. The woman glared even more righteously at him and let loose with another spray.

Again, the mop slowly glided over and absorbed her anger.

Again more bulging eyes, resolute chin and the threat of urine splashing on the tile. Finally John regarded her in his calm, sleepy way. “Go ahead. I can keep doing this a lot longer than you can keep doing that.”
I liked working for the Non-profit hospital, even though I never got laid there. The orderlies and nurses-aides though - hoo-doggie! - remember to set the brakes on the gurneys down in the basement, kids!

At the end of 1987 it was time to move up the coast to a small city I had never visited and never heard of before then. I went to AAA, had a Triptik made, hooked up a rented trailer to my old Chevy, and pointed it, let's see, North.

And so the 22 year-old with a spider web on his face bounders blindly into the next phase of his adventure, now based in Santa Cruz.

Dominos Pizza II (1988)

By this point I had two job skills, but only one that paid cash each night and kept my job-hunting roommates in free pizza.

Move to a new town means shave the beard off and go to work for Dominos again. Why did I need to shave? Because no facial hair is allowed for this Conservative Christ-Loving Corporation.

Except, didn't Jesus......? Whatever. Hey, free pizza! Also, I used to work in Surgery, total-hip, total-knee, open heart surgery with a full beard. But now I can't hand someone a cardboard box with so much as a goatee. But hey, free pizza!

Delivering in Northern California versus SoCal meant a change from stimulants
Whoa, Dude. It all makes sense now.....
to depressants and psychedelics. Less coke and speed and more pot and shrooms. Whatever.

Wherever you go you encounter humans, and the universal creed of humanity, since we first climbed down from our trees, has always been this: "Given my situation and the materials now in front of me, how can I possibly get totally fucked up, as quickly as I can? And once I AM wasted, how can I get someone to bring me food?"

Amongst us delivery types, our shorthand was this: The higher the elevation, the lower the tip. UCSC? The City on A Hill? College kids don't have any money. Engorged genitalia? Yes. Loose cash? No.

Pasatiempo and the snooty estates up above Santa Cruz? Oh, they have money, but their genitalia don't engorge anymore, so they get depressed and order pizza. But they're embarrassed about not being happier with their riches, so no tip.

The beach flats down by the Boardwalk? Well, my favorite place to deliver was once a month to an address down an alley behind a seedy motel. The pie was always Extra large Extra cheese with about 18 toppings in a complex series of overlays: 1/2 pepperoni, 3/4 olives, 1/8 green pepper, 2/3 pineapple and so on.

The alley was dark, but the light in the window was always bright, and there was always little heads jockeying for position in it. As I walked up, the door would open and a large family would assemble on their small, immaculate porch. 

Father would be holding a big Tupperware container full of coins. He would ceremoniously hand it to Mother, who would hand it to the oldest child, and so on down the staircase to the toddler, who could barely carry the thing as he waddled towards me and set it by my feet. 

With an elaborate bow I would hand him the pie, and he would waddle back to the line where the pizza would be handed back up the food chain to the Father, who would open the box and show the family their dinner and then they all would laugh and cheer.

Everyone would then run inside except the Mother who would always ask me if there was enough (there always was, with about 10 bucks over as a tip), and who would then take the empty Tupperware that I had brought from the month before.

I loved delivering pizza, but my old Chevy did not. Plus the house was breaking up, so I needed a real job.

The house broke up over food, but not pizza. We were two couples and we shared all of the household expenses. But when Sarah and my girlfriend Biddy wanted to spend $10.00 on a salad spinner, Lisa and I refused, because its a useless, unnecessary piece of technology.

Just say no.
Just shake your goddammned lettuce, which is 95% percent water anyway. Shake it over a houseplant, to really conserve. And any droplets left behind will just make the salad dressing go that much further, and the resulting salad will then be lower in calories.

Here Lisa and I made our stand. Do what thou wilt to us, but this is our finest hour. Go buy your stupid plastic thing if you wish, but you will NOT spend our $2.50 per person on it.

So both couples and the house broke up. There MAY have been other factors involved.

On, on to the 1990's......

Angus McMahan

Pics: Me at age 20 by myself, me asleep from Lisa Brown (stealing my camera out of my backpack), me shaving from Richard Colodny, tract housing from Wikipedia Commons (Photo by David Shankbone), extruuuuder from, Space Suit from, Cast of M*A*S*H from, Organ box from, Hospital Mopping from, cosmic pepperoni from, delivery hero from and the evil EVIL salad spinner from

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