By David Glenn Cox
Damn it all, how I wish that I could write about puppies or a lemony-fresh, new dishwashing detergent. My life would be so much easier, and writing would be so much easier, as well. I could write about how my little rusty-brown pup with his size twelve paws frolicked with his tabby roommates. How as the weeks went by his feelings were hurt when they would no longer play with him because he had grown into his paws, and his yaps had become baritone barks which they would answer with hunched-back hisses. Easy enough and true enough, but it seems to me that we have plenty of cute puppy stories these days.
Ah, that things weren't so, then I wouldn't have to crack my head open to try and make you see what I see; not to harvest pity nor to draw attention to myself, for I'm trying to draw attention to you. These stories are about you. I am three feet ahead of you in a dark cave holding the flashlight, so please understand that when I say, "Look out," it is not for me as much as it is for you.
I got my first job at age eleven delivering the Homewood-Flossmoor Star newspaper. I kept it for three years. I had eighty-eight papers but they would always give me ten extra to prospect with. I learned in the summer time to end my route near the commuter train station. Even though they had a paper box in the tiny ticket office, commuters running late would sometimes shove a dollar in my hand for a newspaper that only cost a dime.
My friends and I learned where there were holes in the fence at the local country club, and at dawn with bucket, mask and snorkel we'd empty the water hazards of stray golf balls. I'd say we were ambitious young boys, though the country club had another name for it. We would take the balls and lay them out to dry along with the bucket. Then we would take them to the pro shop where the good balls would fetch us twenty-five cents, and the chipped or scuffed balls would bring us a dime.
The last summer that I had my paper route I got a part-time job building concrete forms and tearing down concrete forms for a company that built garages. This was an independent contractor and it was illegal as hell to have thirteen-year-olds working for him, but he was very kind to us and paid us the unheard of sum of $20.00 a day! My paper route only paid $4.00 a week for two delivery days.
My friend who got me the job warned me ahead of time, "Just do what he says and don't pay any attention to how he talks to you."
"You! Where are you going with that? Do you just wear that head to keep your neck warm?" Or his famous standard line, "If you keep doing stupid things you're going to make me crazy, and then I'll shoot myself and you won't get paid! Do you want that..er, ah..?"
"Don't tell me your name! I'll figure that out when I write your last check!"
He really was a good boss because you quickly figured out that it was an act designed to motivate us and keep us from goofing off. After work we would load our bikes into the back of his truck and he would give us a ride to my friend's house and pay us in cash.
In high school I worked at a Gulf gas station. I pumped gas and changed oil, washed cars, you name it. Then I went to work at a tire store where the boss would pin a twenty dollar bill to his corkboard and challenge me to see who could sell the most tires. It got to where I would win so regularly that he stopped putting the money up. Instead I was promoted to assistant manager, and then when he opened a second location, to manager.
I was having more and more work placed upon me, but no more money was coming in, and when I asked for more money I was refused. I applied at every tire store in town, but they hadn't any interest in a twenty-year-old manager or assistant manager. I worked construction jobs. I hung acoustical ceilings and lost that job because I worked with racists and wouldn't hide my own views. They wouldn't dare fire me; they just stopped coming to pick me up as they had always done before.
I landed a job with a railroad contractor doing right-of-way maintenance. I was trained as a heavy equipment operator. I operated a switch undercutter, imagine a chainsaw blade laid on its side that's ten feet long. It would pull all the rock and dirt from under the switch ties and dump it into a ditch and allow the railroad to repair the switch. I loved the job and made good money travelling the country. In Kansas I got intestinal food poisoning and was admitted to the hospital. That was the only time I missed work, but I was supposed to go to Buffalo, New York a few weeks later and I missed my flight. And when I called the office to explain that I would catch the next one, they said, "Well, I guess that's it for you!"
"Pardon me?" I asked. "What does that mean?"
"It means you're fired! I didn't take you to raise!"