A Young Man’s First Job
When spring came in my freshman year of college I had to do something I had never done, get a job.
Because of my mother developed a heart problem the family upholstery business and tobacco growing had been stopped with my dad selling (although it’s called renting) the growing rights instead. Also, raising a bunch of cattle would not generate enough money. While I was in high school I had raised sixteen head of Black Angus. So I had realized rather late that I needed a job.
I will never forget how I got my first job. I had come home the weekend from my first year in college. I had never got a ticket or even been through a traffic stoplight. I had just made a turn at a T-intersection and looked up and I had a NC Highway patrol car on my rear bumper. I lost it, and swerved almost hitting a railroad crossing sign.
After the cop had a couple of laughs he gave me a ticket because my mother had let the inspection sticker lapse. While he was checking out whither I was stoned or drunk he had asked me what I was going to do that summer. I shrugged and said get a job and asked if he knew of anybody needing a worker. He told me to check the Canton Laundry; two days later I had a job unloading 800 lb. washing machine. What a job too, 100% humidity, always about 110 in the washroom and very heavy lifting. After the machine was unloaded we hung out on the loading dock sitting on the dirty laundry. So one minute I was hanging out in the cool breeze then I was pulling very heavy wet sheets and other linens out of the washers and dumped them in a steel bin. The bin was loaded into an extractor which was an industrial wringer that was so large I could stretch out on the lid. (Yeah, I did it a couple of times that summer) This took about fifteen minutes.
One of the real bummers about the job was that you had your hands wet all of the time. So part way through the first day I had blisters on every finger. The second day at work I had all my fingers bandaged and taped. Man was I getting ribbed and the crew started taking bets about how long I would last. The guy that won told me at the end of the summer. Because I always heal very fast two weeks later I started to not need the tape. After a couple of weeks I got my first raise, a whole nickel; the huge rate of $1.65 an hour. One of the weird things about the calluses was that they were really thick so I had almost no sense of touch.
Loading the bin was hard but getting it into the extractor was a real hassle. The laundry was piled into a canvas sling that was in a crescent shaped steel tub. The sling was then dropped into a huge steel tub with hundreds of eighth-inch holes to spin the water out just like your home washing machine except this was over a ton total. You see it held the contents of two washers and all of the water in the laundry was quite heavy, it might have even been over two tons. The hoist was rather beefy and used a 3/8” chain!
Well one day the sling was dropping into the extractor and stuck a little crooked. Over the past couple of weeks I had learned how to hit the sling with my fists or feet to get it to slide on into the tub. So I looked and looked at the sling for several minutes trying to figure out exactly where to place the blow. I was a little nervous because the sweet spot was about six inches from the rim of the tub. Then I checked out how I would have to kick the canvas sling, it was awkward but do able and lately I had a lot of success doing this.
When I felt my foot hit it was a shock because I had hit about four inches below the rim. The sling dropped perfectly into the tub. As my toe hit the tub I felt the skin tear. You know the old black and white movies where someone kicks something and they were jumping around and screaming like an idiot. Well that was me I was screaming and swearing jumping holding my foot. The head of the laundry was out on the loading area and came running in; when he saw I was just hopping around holding my foot he started laughing loudly. As I limped past him he yelled at a couple of other guys to finish with the laundry. Then he came over to the bench I was sitting on, “What happened, I thought that someone was killed. Don’t be mad, I’m so relieved that you’re not hurt that bad.”
“Ah, I missed…”
“So you kicked the tub, well you figuring was good the sling was already in the tub when I got into the door. Now let’s see that foot.”
I knew that I didn’t want show him my foot. I slowly unlaced my boot and when I pulled my foot out the toe of the sock was bloody.
“Don’t stop I need to see what damage there is, so pull that sock off.”
I could feel my toenail moving around as I slid the sock down. When I pulled it off the nail was only attached by a tiny piece of skin.
“Well, I’ll call your parents and you go to the doctor. When he releases you; you can come back but not until then. I don’t want you getting an infection and maybe losing a foot.”
After a week and a half I was back on the job. One of the yucky but interesting jobs was doing the hospital laundry. Sometimes little chunks of tissue would be in the surgical wraps. Since it had been sterilized in an autoclave there was no danger to us. Also we would find tools in the laundry too.
After a few weeks my hands had very heavy calluses all over them. One time I was reaching into a four pocket (a four section washer) and felt some resistance. I slowly pulled my hand back and expected a bad cut because I had found scalpels and stats in the laundry. When my hand came out I yelled at my cousin who was working there also, “Look at this…” hanging from a callus was a scalpel, the blade had been stopped by the callus. I’m still using that scalpel to build plastic models. I specialized in Russian/Soviet armor and trucks since the 70’s.
When I started back at college in the fall it was weird because I could tap a table and not feel it. So when I was writing or something that needed good muscle control I would watch my hands to make sure that I didn’t mess up. Doing calligraphy was especially challenging.
During the year I made a big change in my career plans. After being in the nasty hot washroom I rethought the idea of working in a biology laboratory I had gotten into the major because of loving nature and the outdoors. Since I was rebuilding myself I changed to psychology. When the end of the year came in the spring I asked several of my professors to do reading lists for me. My advisor was a little surprised when I bought thirty books to read over the summer.
Naturally, I called the Canton Laundry to see if I had a job. Well I did but he needed me BUT it was going to be a nightshift, 11 to 7. While I had never worked the nightshift; I had listened to my dad struggle with working rotating shifts at the paper mill all of my life. He just couldn’t adapt to sleeping in the daytime.
So the first day I was very apprehensive as I came home beat but feeling good about the nights work. I hit the bed and went to sleep fast. So time later I came walking out of the bedroom to go to the head. My dad heard me walking around and stuck his head around the door. “How do you do it, it’s one o’clock. Go back to bed.” Over the next week I settled into being a ghost for the first time.
One of the funny things that was like a running joke was my reading my psychology books on the job. You see we were the clean-up crew. We handled whatever the second shift had leftover and whatever maintenance needed to be done. Because of this we had several long brakes during the shift. Naturally I asked permission to read my books. My boss said if I didn’t go to sleep he didn’t care what I did because I was a good worker and he wanted to help with my college education. My co-workers were largely illiterate; some didn’t even finish high school. They thought that if it was a paperback it was porn. So I would be trying to get Viktor Frankl’s existential psychology, and they would be yelling at me “So who’s she doin’ now?” Even though I showed them the diagrams in some of the books they refused to accept that I was trying to study, although sometimes I wondered if they just enjoyed ribbing me. But none-the-less by the end of summer I had all but a few of the books read. The winter would have me starting as a reader for blind students and no longer needing a summer job.
Ironically boredom would see me getting a job working in photography company’s operations in an amusement park. This would introduce me to the world of real photography. Jumping in and out of inclined railway trams with an antique camera and working in a darkroom I became passionate about the art and it is a passion that continues to this day.
Previously published at Love’ Notes – A View from the Trenches at lovesnotes21.blogspot.com