I’ve worked fairly hard in life and I’m the type of person who needs a routine to keep her grounded. At one time I thought work was everything. The job market has shrivelled up so much I lament for those young folk out there today who will miss out on rich employment experiences I had. As I discovered, looking back on my Brilliant Career, it is varied and colourful, and if I ever get the chance to retire, my early memoirs might look something like this.
At fifteen, my first job found me in Strawberry Fields, forever. Down on my knees picking luscious fruit. Getting paid piece-work kept me from eating most of the berries; some actually got in the basket. Around here, these days, those jobs only go to what our tender fruit industry conveniently calls “off-shore workers.” Personally, I call it slave labour. Back in the day though, I got a helluva tan.
Next I worked for Bick’s Pickles on an assembly line while the foreman walked by and periodically pinched my ass. I had my hands busy pounding pickles into the jar with a rubber mallet so I had no recourse to swat him. I was only sixteen and never even knew I could've reported him for sexual harassment. I did give him my dirty “you cocksucker!” look on my way out of the factory one day. Next day he put me on 'sorting rotten cucumbers' duty. I think I puked, then quit after that.
Temporarily, moving up in the world, I then worked at our hometown library teaching arts & crafts to under privileged kids. I think my folks thought I had found my niche and had a respectable profession ahead of me. I soon learned I was not cut out for teaching. When I consider my short list of virtues, patience is not high on the list. Decades later (a few years ago) I taught a college course. I had the same reaction but worse. Confronted with a generation of Millennials, I'd rather compete with older vices like sex and drugs before attempting to compete with cell phones, laptops, facebook and twitter feeds. But I digress.
After graduating high school, I went off to school and I got a part-time job shovelling slop to students at the university cafeteria for Beaver Foods Company. Now I know the busy beaver is our national animal but it's just not a good name for a college cafeteria. Being a young woman and wearing a uniform, branded “Beaver Foods” kind of left you wide open for rude comments.
Anyways, the first day working there I cut my finger cutting cabbage in a meat slicer. When I saw the coleslaw speckled with red I should have known to shut the machine off but my reaction time was slow as I already felt faint from loss of blood. I tried to hide my sliced finger but nearly fainted in the cold storage retrieving another cabbage. They bandaged me up but it was “The Head of Trent” (another ill-conceived name); an annual rowing event held at our school, so I didn’t get to go home. As a result a few freshmen might have had some extra A-positive blood with their lunch.
University is expensive and a working class gal like myself was on no free ride courtesy of Mommy & Daddy. So that summer I moved away from my friends and in with relatives in a very boring uptight neighbourhood. I got a job at Guelph Elastic Hosiery factory and made jock straps. I got my big break and was called in for an interview at the local transformer manufacturing company. I’m dating myself to actually write “manufacturing.” Yes, boys and girls, North America once made things besides cars.
I worked there on the line just for the summer and because I was not a lifer, I learned about class struggle in a whole new way. Apparently I used big words like "please and thank-you," which didn’t sit quite right. I wonder if those folks that drew such class lines in the sand would be envious to know that I eventually paid my student loan off at 35 after working - ha aha ha ha ha - in my “field.”
Anyways, on this lovely assembly line we tied wires together and handled PCBs practically with our bare hands before sludgy-looking stuff went into metal casings. When I turned off the lights at the end of the day, I glowed in the dark.
That job had me running back to the hallowed halls of academia where I found something I loved more.
Through a series of fortuitous events, in the early eighties, I found myself playing in a rock 'n' roll band because in that decade real rock n’ roll was all the rage. Another ha. ha. ha. One of the highlights of those days was playing at Le Spectrum in Montreal. We also went down Ste. Catherine street to play at one of the avant garde clubs: Les Fouphones Electrique.
I think the conversation at the end of our last set was, "Um, C’mon ladies let’s load up the amps and get the fuck outta here."
Still, it was one of the best jobs I ever had but you know entertaining people is easy, like the song says it’s, "Money For Nothing."
Yeah, ... right.
© Scarlett Sumac