The things that I say here are in no way an attempt to garner pity or sympathy; I wish only to tell my story. My story is not unique or unusual in any way. My story is typical. I am but one of millions upon millions of faceless, friendless Americans pushed into a hole from which there is, at this time, little chance of escape.
I got my first job when I was eleven, delivering newspapers twice a week in suburban Chicago. The summer mornings were idyllic, delivering papers on my bicycle at five thirty as the summer sun came up. The winters, however, were a different story, with below zero temperatures and drifting snow or sleet or ice. I think back now and wonder that my parents would let their child out in such weather. I kept the job for three years and only missed one day when I had the flu, and my father drove and threw the papers for me as I pointed out the houses.
My next job was building concrete forms for an independent contractor. He built garages like the ones they used to advertise on TV. My friend Craig and I were 14 and it was illegal for children to be doing such work. We didn't care, he paid us twenty dollars a day for one or two day's work per week. That seemed a king's ransom as my paper route only paid four dollars a week.
After that I got a job in a gas station, the old fashioned kind with full service pumps and oil and lube jobs. I earned three dollars an hour plus commission and the boss regularly reminded us, "You don't sell and you can go to hell." But the commissions were fair; you could do well if you applied yourself. The oil crisis hit and though the owner was making money from gas he made nothing in the ways of add-ons. Gas supplies were spotty so we never knew if we would be open or not.
I then found a job doing apartment maintenance. I had grown up in a family of do-it-yourselfers so changing a faucet or toilet tank valve was no challenge. In the meantime we, myself and two others, picked up trash and cut grass. It was a good job for someone playing music at night because it wasn't too physically demanding.
I guess I worked at two or three complexes. We lost our job when, as we were leaving our workshop for the day, a lawn service pulled up and began cutting the grass. Management forgot to tell us, "We're sorry, but you're all fired," with the exception of the head maintenance man. He quit in disgust knowing he would now be expected to do the work of four for the same money.
Then I got a job at the $99 Tire Store, that's right, four tires for $99. The boss was an affable fellow who planned on opening five stores around town. The money wasn't great and the work could be hard but he promised to make me a manager, a ground-floor opportunity so to speak. In a year I was a manager but the money was still not very good. I explained my predicament to the boss, I was doing the ordering, the sales, the inventory, installing tires and batteries while watching a two-island self-service pump for $20 a week more than I was making just changing tires.
I got the rah-rah story about building the business up some more before the money for any of us would get better, and it worked until his wife pulled up in a brand new Crown Victoria. I left in a huff and began submitting applications to other tire stores only to be told that they would hire me as a tire changer but would never consider me as a manager because I was only twenty years old.
Opportunity knocked and I got a chance to work for a railroad contractor. I loved the work; I loved the travel and the money but a year or two of living in hotel rooms takes its toll on you. I was the operator and the senior man on the job but they would not consider me for the foreman's job because I was only twenty-one. I left after being told by the home office to keep an eye on the foreman; that I was the senior man and I would be held responsible for any of his mistakes. Or to quote, "You're the senior man so don't let him blow up the machine or it's your ass!"
I returned home and got a job driving a delivery truck for an auto parts company. In six months I was working the counter and six months later I was promoted to the company's premier division selling industrial engines and parts. Nine months after that I was promoted to manager. I was in charge of sales for a two-state territory; I was in charge of a half a million dollar budget and a full service rebuild shop.
We had a difficult time finding an outside salesman due to the nature of the work and senior management asked if I would try it for more money and they would promote from within to fill my job. My first year I set the company sale's record for largest single order, $55,000. I also landed two contracts with the Air Force of over $100,000 each. But in the meantime, finding my replacement in the office wasn't so simple. Sales were shrinking and complaints were rising, so I was returned to management.
The company sold out to another company in the next state. I was told that I would be their marquee player and that my future was bright with the new company. I was placed in a cubical with a computer screen and a telephone. I was the top inside salesman for a company that would announce a new sales program one day and two weeks later announce another new sales program. I was so busy that I came in an hour early each morning to stay caught up on my work. Senior management took a dim view, however, of my leaving five minutes early to beat the rush-hour traffic, even though I never took a lunch hour.
My commute was an hour each way; if I left at five straight up it could be an hour and twenty minutes. Then management announced a new plan. We were going to become a John Deere dealer, selling lawnmowers and tractors in an urban environment. Everyone tried to tell them it wasn't a wise decision, but management wouldn't listen. Then they bought a piece of property off the highway fifty miles further from my home. I quit and took the catalogs that I had accumulated over fifteen years. They threatened to have me arrested and promised to give me a bad reference after I had worked there almost ten years.
I started my own Internet parts business. I had explained to my previous employers that they were missing the boat on Internet sales. My first year I did well, then the business just stopped. My sales were related to the small construction industry. I could no longer pay my bills and began looking for a job. I made small amounts of money freelance writing. I worked doing outside sales for an ambulance company but was laid off because they were owed $400,000 by Medicaid and couldn't get paid. I went to work for a company that sold promotional coupon books to schools but had trouble getting paid. I never got two paychecks from the same bank account.
I took classes and worked all the primary, general and runoff elections as a poll clerk. I was promoted to assistant poll manager, but then the election season ended. My wife of six years asked me to leave the house with six dollars to my name. I should have found a job; I should have done something besides what I did, but that's where I am and can't change it now. I've lost count of the number of resumes that I have placed. I apply for anything now and the last job I applied for was as a maid in a hotel in exchange for a hotel room.
Apparently the skills I've accumulated don't correspond to the skills of making a bed or cleaning a room. I've applied several times to a news website looking for writers but they don't find my skills adequate either, especially for the princely sum of $10.00 an hour.
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