Category Archives: Work Sucks

Sore Feet

As assistant manager in training, my beat was the basement of the Newberry’s Department Store.  electroshockvpBy basement, I mean we were underground, not a window anywhere.  Above florescent lighting, below linoleum over concrete.  As a non-union, salaried, administrator I sometimes walked that floor, if they needed somebody to fill in, for 12 hours at a time.  Back and forth, up one aisle, down another, straightening this and organizing that: towels, bathrobes, pots, pans, wash clothes, draperies.   For ten, twelve hours at a time, with breaks running the cash register if we got backed up, which was very rare, or arguing with somebody who wanted to return a dress with huge sweat stains in the armpits (this was in the day before the consumer was always right), or going around with my trusty sticker gun and putting prices on things, or chasing around after a customer to tell him his fly was down because one of the worker ladies said it was down, and he should be told, or running a credit card and saying to its owner, “Onan, your name is Onan!  My that is an unusual name! Onan, I mean.”

I mean who the fuck would name their male child “Onan.”

 And one night when I was going to do the late shift, the real assistant manager sidled up to me and said that the Manager had said that I should fire Suzi, the young woman who worked from 4 to 8, because she wasn’t doing her job.  So keep your eye on her, he said, and when she is screwing up, fire her, OK.  I thought that was pretty fucked.  I didn’t know if Suzi was a screw up or not because I didn’t usually work her shift.  The guy was passing off the nasty firing stuff to me, I expected.  

I walked around all evening, circling Suzi like a vulture, for a moment when I thought she was really screwing around.  What the hell constitutes screwing up in a nearly empty store?  There weren’t any customers to be rude too and the stuff in her area was straightened up and neat.  Was I going to fire her for standing there looking so bored she had gone gaga?  So I didn’t fire her, and felt that right there my career in retail was over because I didn’t have the right stuff for firing people.  I was cool though the next day when the guy asked if I had fired her, “No,” I said, scratching my head, “I mean I never could find a time when she was messing around. I just couldn’t find a moment to pounce, you know.”  And made a little pouncing gesture.

One morning the crazy woman over in draperies and shades takes out two little American flags on wooden sticks and begins to wave them around and to blow one of those kazoo things like on New Year’s Eve when the ball comes down, and she launched into a version of God Bless America.  She had a little storeroom where she hid a lot and had a radio back there and had heard that they had just signed the Paris Peace Accords.  The war was over.

I didn’t know what she was going on about.  I guess she figured we had won that war although I couldn’t see how anybody could believe that.  But many people think we won the cold war and I don’t see how anybody can believe that either.

I was learning though.  In the fall, I was one of a couple of million Americans who voted for McGovern.  What did he win?  One state?  I sat in the break room with the old ladies who worked there, most on Social Security, so they could work only limited hours and still get their government money.  I was outnumbered.  They seemed to hate McGovern and the only reason they gave that I could understand was that he had a squeaky voice and sounded like a preacher.

I mean, good golly, gee whiz, but when a guy’s got a squeaky voice who gives a shit about his views on foreign policy?






A Career Move

As long as I was draft eligible, no employer with what might be called career jobs was going to look mission valley2at me.  I could be snatched by the US Army at any moment.  No sooner was anxiety about being drafted relieved, than it was replaced by an anxiety about what to do with myself in an ontological and economic sense.  I wanted money to get out of the hole, and I wanted a job with prospects.  I didn’t think about going back to school because that cost money and my recent endeavors in the realm of higher education had proven a bust.

I didn’t turn to human resources because I had been there already during my period of unemployment.  The unemployment office seemed to have notices only for the unemployable.  “Real” jobs were advertised in the newspapers.  But I wasn’t an engineer and I wasn’t in business; and men were not yet frequently hired for secretarial work.  I turned hither and thither and found nowhere to turn.

 My father had “contacts” only in the world of concrete, brick, and block.  We had further no family in the area that might have pointed me in a particular employment direct.  My mother, who did not drive and was a possible illegal alien, had zero contacts having not worked a paying job since WWII.  We had no family in the area. I knew that the children of some wealthy and influential people had gone to the college where I had gone, but I had failed to meet any of them.  They all were in fraternities and sobrieties; and I wasn’t.  They all went skiing; I never have.  I had gone to a tiny school.  The names of everyone in my graduating class could be put on the back of a t-shirt, and I had apparently only met a hand full.

In an act of desperation, I went to one of those places that finds a job for you and then takes all of your salary for the first two weeks.  I filled out the forms and within a week they called to say I had an interview.  This threw me into a panic.  I figured that I should wear appropriate clothing for the interview but I had none.  No suit, no dress slacks, no dress jacket, no tie, no shoes.  Underwear? Yes, I had that, as long as I was not required to strip and pee on demand.  So I borrowed stuff from my father, my brothers, and shoes from somebody that pinched.

I cut my hair; shaved my beard, and feeling about as awkward as a person could in my assembled ensemble did the interview.  A week or so later, I got a call saying I had been hired as an assistant manager in training at a Newberry’s Department Store.  I would get a salary and be set on a career track towards becoming one day the manager of my own Newberry’s Department Store

Knowing what I now know about myself, I can only think that I must have been still severely mentally disturbed when I said and when do I start?


Sisyphus Chokes the Chicken

I had to make some money for college stuff, so the old man got me my first paying summer job with Buzzard’s Brick and Block at minimum wage, a buck twenty-five an hour.  I drove forty minutes both ways in my 50 Plymouth station wagon to an abandoned brick plant on the side of a canyon not far from the Pacific.  I say abandoned because there was nobody there but me, the plant, and piles and piles of brick stacked more than 20 feet high.

My job was to unstack those brick and to restack them on pallets of a thousand brick each.  Trucks came and picked these up and took them to the main yard for sale.  I don’t know how I stood it all alone there stacking one brick after another that whole summer.  But I had a little radio I listened to; the Stones were singing, “My, My, My said the spider to the fly.”  And because my brain was still saturated with hormones I could sustain sexual fantasies for a good while, sometimes topped off by an assisted, open air ejaculation.

One day though I was told to start up the dump truck, load it with rock, and back it down to the gate and dump the rock to one side of the gate where it was still possible for a car to drive through.  They must have been worried about some sort of liability thing with the abandoned brickyard.  I was 19 and had never driven a dump truck; true, it was not huge, but it was a dump truck.  And I had failed my driver’s test twice.  

But I loaded it with rock and broken brick and backed it down and got the truck to dump right where it was supposed to.  I guess I got over elated because when I tried to pull away from the gate, I lost control and the truck backed into the metal pipe to which the gate was appended.  I bent the pipe pretty severely with the result that the gate stuck up in the air at about a 45 degree angle, so while a person could not drive around it, a person in a small car could drive directly under it.  

I figured my ass was grass.  But when one of the trucks came out to pick up stuff, the trucker said he would fix it and did by backing down his rig and pulling the metal post almost back to an upright position with a chain.  The fork lift battery gave out.  It was not a minimal forklift; seated in it I was a good six feet off the ground and I needed it to get down the highest brick so I could stack them on the pallets.

They sent out this weasel guy they used to do all the little bitty shit work.  But failing to bring jumper cables, he decided we would push start the rig with his truck, even though the forklift was an automatic and I swear I have never heard of a way to push start an automatic with a dead battery.  But there we were banging along over the rough ground hitting maybe 20 miles an hour when the ground just ran out and I had to make a turn.  But I hit a bump and went flying, as the fork lift went on over the edge and sunk its blades completely into the opposing embankment.

I have gone flying a number of times, mostly head over heels over my bicycle handles, and each time, it’s funny.  When I realize I am flying, I just sort of give up and go limp.  I swear that the three of four times I have gone flying, including the fly from the forklift, may be among the most relaxed moments of my life.  In any case, I was not injured.





Gold Tooth

The last job I worked as a brick mason tender was right on the beach by the blue Pacific.  On an empty stretch of sand the Navy was building garages for amphibious landing craft.  They would be able to drive the craft straight out of the water, across a little sand and right into their garages. 

unioncardThese garages were big.  Almost forty feet high.  I was given the job one day of getting all the planks off the scaffolding.  Usually I would just throw the 2 by 6 planks–what were they? 12 feet long maybe–onto the ground.  But if you threw a plank that heavy from forty feet up you could crack it pretty easily.  So instead, you had to walk out to the last layer of planks, bend over, pick up a plank and balance it on the two 2 by 6 that were left for you to walk on.  After this naturally, things go more intense because you had to go out, bend over, pick up a plank, and walk back to dry land, on ONE 2 by 6 while balancing a 2 by 6.  And this was forty feet up going straight down to the concrete floor of the amphibious craft garage. 

I did ok for a bit.  I would go out and pick up one and walk back on two.  Then I would go to the scaffolding right next to that, pick up one and walk back on two.  I did this for a bit and you can see I was avoiding the part that involves walking back on one and yet it was impossible to avoid because I was running out of scaffolding that had three planks (except for the part of the scaffolding where we were stacking the planks to be lowered down by fork lift).

Finally I steeled myself and went out to the very end of the scaffolding where there were only two planks, bent over and picked up one, leaving myself with one, which I slowly pivoted across my body to balance it and myself.  Whereupon I completely froze—too much aware that I was standing about 40 feet off the concrete on one 2 by 6 while attempting to balance another one across my body.

Fortunately, there was a black guy there who had been picking up planks from the other direction.  He saw me and said, “What’s wrong.”  I said I couldn’t move.  “Drop the plank,” he said.  So I did but I still couldn’t move.  “Get down and crawl,” he said.  So on wobbly legs I got down on my knees and crawled.  He gave me a hand up and began to talk about a job he had in Chicago working forty stories up and one guy was pushing a wheelbarrow full to the brim with mud along a two by six and the wheelbarrow started to go and the guy struggled to straighten it and losing his balance tumbled to his death.  “Always let go of the wheelbarrow” the black guy said. 

He had an interesting grin because he had a gold cap all around one of his front teeth, and a piece of the gold was punched out in the shape of a star, so that the white enamel of what was left of his front tooth filled in the star.  I hadn’t seen that before and I haven’t seen it since.

At the end of that week, I got a pink slip.  I had been laid off.


The shrink was not cheap.  Forty bucks a shot, not chicken feed adjusted for inflation.  So I had to make some money.

The old man got me a job as a brick mason tender.  Mostly I worked with him; I doubt if anybody else would have worked with me. No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t get any faster or put on any muscle.  It was a job from hell, for about a year as I recollect.

A tender is the brick layer’s servant.  You get on the job and the first thing you do is start the cement mixer to mix up a batch of mud.  The worst thing that could happen was the mixer wouldn’t start and then you’d be playing catch up for the rest of the day.  I hated it when that happened.  With the mud going, you started carrying brick to the brick layer.  I used this device that allowed me to pick up ten at a time.  I’d lug them over and he would start putting up the outer shell of the fireplace.  You would continue lugging brick to the spot of the fire place.

After a bit the outer box would be about shoulder high and the bricklayer would go inside to make the firebox.  He usually mixed the mud for that.  Then I had to lug the firebrick inside.  While he was building up the firebox, you would start setting up the scaffolding.  The scaffolding was usually shit, all rusted and covered with concrete.  They you hoisted up three two by sixes for the bricklayer to stand on while he built up the outer shell of the chimney and stuck down the flu and filled in around it (requiring yet more mud).  Then you put up a mud board and heaved mud onto it and the brick layer would come out and start working on the outer shell again.

That was pretty much it; all day long.  Lugging brick, throwing up mud.  To get it to the top level of the scaffolding, I would stand on top of the wheel barrow, one foot on each outer edge and heave the mud up from there; otherwise it was hard to get it up to the top level.  You had to keep an eye on the mud.  When it started to run out, you mixed more.  When he was running short the brick layer would shout, “Mud.  Mud.”  And sometimes, he would shout, too dry, and you would go up with some water and slop it on the mud to make it easier to spread. 

 And when you weren’t lugging brink, or mixing mud, or hoisting it, the bricklayer would have you rake the joints which you did with a joint raker and/or smoother.  This would go on for 8 hours a day, and the next day also for 8 hours, and so forth and so on, endlessly. And as I said, I didn’t get strong.  In fact I got weaker. 

One day I had to work a retaining wall.  Just me, one tender, for three layers.  It was fucking impossible.  I ran my ass off carrying block; these were the whoppers, twenty five pound each.  It was, “Mud, Mud, Mud.” All day.  They had no mercy and since it wasn’t their job, no way they would help.  On the way home, my hands cramped up around the steering wheel.  I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to get my hands off the wheel if I needed to shift.  They had locked right up around the wheel.  It was a weird sensation.  But they loosened up after a bit.

Old School

The old man was a good brick layer.  He was old school too.  They are not necessarily the same.  brick leadAs a good brick layer, the old man knew how to lay brick.  He was a good technician and could read blue prints; most bricklayers can’t.  On any job back then with more than three brick layers on it, one had to be made foreman by union contract.  That was the old man.  He would get the job going by building up the corners of the wall or whatever it was; if the corners aren’t built up properly the wall might lean one way or the other or simply fall over.  He knew how to make the whole thing plum.  On really big jobs a lot of his work was building up the corners.

But he was old school too.  Unlike the newer generation of bricklayers he did not steal from the job; they would drive off in their little trucks playing heavy metal with sand, brick, concrete, flues—since the boss had fucked them, which he regularly did, they would fuck him back.  But the old man being old school bent over the other way.  As the foreman on the job, he was supposed to get 25 cents or 50 cents an hour above scale.  But if he was foreman on a job for a couple of days of a week, and he didn’t find that time paid for on his check, he wouldn’t say anything to the boss.  His way of getting ahead was to take abuse.

 The new guys would arrive on the job at 730, unload their tools, get set up and actually start working at 8.  The old man would arrive at 7 and be at work by 730.  Also the young guys would start laying off, cleaning their tools, washing their hands, twenty minutes before 430.  The old man would work right up till 430 and then clean up his tools and head home.

A couple of times he was foreman on really huge jobs, like building a bunch of barracks and out buildings for the Marines.  A government job was always agood job since the government was so wasteful.  But the old man was not a good foreman.  He would almost have a nervous breakdown and around the house he would get positively dangerous.  The boss would put pressure on him to keep on schedule (otherwise they might lose money) and he would go around blowing his top and squawking like an old lady at the men for not double-timing it.  The fussing around and cussing and throwing things and kicking the dirt and throwing his hat on the ground stuff didn’t work outside his family.  So after a while the boss didn’t make him foreman on those jobs anymore.

The old man wasn’t a man’s man.  He didn’t know how to talk to the guys; he didn’t go out for a drink with them, not even on Friday evening.  He was pussy whipped.  Anybody could tell.