Saturday, May 08, 2010

Working: The Early Years


I was never in the carpet-rolling business (way too complex), but I sure know what it felt like to be the “new guy.” All my new, friendly co-workers always stared at me like I was a creature who just crawled out of the sewer, or like my barn door was unzipped and the horse was about to bolt. The females were much better. They contented themselves with giving my ass a quick gander, looked sorry for me, and went straight back to work.

But no one wants to read about my boring office jobs, especially the ones with the Federal Gov’ment, so I’ll tell you about the early years instead.

My working career began in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school. The year was 1962, and I was fifteen. I was a caddy, as in golf, at a very exclusive **sniff sniff** country club. The place boasted two 18-hole courses, one of which has hosted the U.S. Open several times.

I have to give me an A+ for that job, based on chutzpah. Skinny as a rail, I schlepped two bags at a time, and on a good day, I could get out of the caddy shack twice. That was a total schlep of 36 holes with leather bags that felt like they were full of bricks instead of golf clubs. So why did I do it? Each golfer paid me $8 in cash, so a four-bag day meant $32. Add tips, and I rode the bus home with $32 and change in my skinny pocket.

Not bad money for a kid in 1962, so I did it again the next summer.

Le crème de la crème of jobs, however, came during the summer between my junior and senior years. My father, who was a less-than-ethical accountant, kept the books for a less-than-ethical clientele. He took me into a bar one night, not to drink, but to introduce me to the Head Guy of the Waiters and Bartenders Union. Long before The Godfather movies the Head Guy oozed Godfather; he scared the crap out of me. Think Tony Soprano giving you the once-over with that little enigmatic smile on his face and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

“Chuck is looking for a job,” my father said respectfully. The Head Guy thought a while and then said, “Okay, I got two openings for a busboy. One’s at the French restaurant across the street and the other is a hotel downtown.” Since I didn’t speak a lick of French I chose the hotel, hoping I could master hotel-talk. The Head Guy nodded and told me to tell the maitre d that he’d sent me. That was it. I was in the Union with no muss or fuss. Unless, that is, I was replacing some poor slob who’d recently met with an “untimely accident.”

Bussing wasn’t a difficult job, but neither was it lucrative because business stank. When I asked the maître d, who was a mean drunk, if there were any other openings in the hotel, he threw a drunken fit. “Alright, then, I’ll speak with the boss,” I said calmly, dropping the Head Guy’s name. I had no intention of doing so because the Head Guy scared the crap out of me, but the next day I received a promotion to room service.

Hello le crème de la crème of money. So much money that I didn't need my one-dollar per hour minimum wage paycheck. I loved that job so much that I kept it when my senior year began. It was then that I learned how to multi-task: I could work at night and not-learn during the day, which worked like a charm.

It was just me and another fellow servicing a fifteen-story building, but we had no thirteenth floor so it was only fourteen-stories. But the small fifteenth floor was where the hotel manager and his family lived, which means we really had only thirteen stories to take care of. Since there was no thirteenth floor, however, the total ended up being twelve.

So how did I make so much money? Ice. The kind that ice machines make. None of the twelve floors had an ice machine, so they had to call room service. The cashier and I had a deal. Give my partner all the orders for floor thirteen and give me the rest. There was a monetary gratuity involved, but I could take a dozen buckets at a time on our private elevator. The cost was 50¢ a bucket and invariably the guest gave me a dollar. There were other lucrative services I provided that involved lucre, but I don’t need to go into those here.

When I graduated from high school in June 1965, I had a nice fat savings book. I’d worked hard for that money, and I was reticent to spend any of it. But then I had “The Idea.”

My mom had cancer, but it was in remission. I took her to the World’s Fair in NYC. It was the first time either of us had flown in an airplane, and it was the last time she saw her older sister, who was also dying of cancer. Mom crammed a lot of living into those few days in August: we saw several Broadway musicals and we ate at fancy restaurants, but mostly we just strolled and talked. We got to know each other for the first time as adults.

Mom died of brain cancer a little over three months later, shortly after her forty-second birthday. Our trip together? It wasn’t worth every penny it cost because it was priceless, something I will never, can never, forget.

24 comments:

Elisabeth said...

Charlie what a terrific story, and especially the ending. Your mum died so young, too young and you brought her so much joy in the end.

Kim said...

That was the perfect present :) And I bet she thought she was the luckiest Mom in the world!

Sharon Longworth said...

Charlie,
I had no idea of the direction your story was taking, so it really hit me at the end - very moving.
I'm really glad you were able to spend that time with your mum and that you spent your hard-earned money so wisely.

Peter S. said...

A very moving story as usual, Charlie. Can I be your literary agent? Seriously, you should get these stories published.

Kim Ayres said...

Grab hold of Peter S. and don't let him go until he's got you a book deal Charlie

Pat said...

So many images- I was gripped. I hope you're carrying two golf bags protected you from wrenching one shoulder out of whack.
And I ought to know what a bus boy does. I really admire your entrepreneurial spirit and what a joy to have the memory of that last trip with your mother. No-one can ever take that away from you.
Thank you.xox

Diane said...

Charlie, what a beautiful post about trip with your mother. Memories are so important and you have some special ones. (Your mom was so young).

I lost my mom (23) years ago to pancreatic cancer; she was 69. You just don't get over those things quickly.

LIFE....

Ponita in Real Life said...

Wow! You're a good egg, Charlie... and I bet your mum was thrilled beyond words with the gift you gave her... the gift of time... and of love... both yours and her sister's. What an excellent and thoughtful young man you were... and I'll bet you still are like that today. Hugs to you, Charlie.

hope said...

What a wonderful gift you and your Mom gave to each other!

You're a good guy, Charlie. I can't say that to everyone you know.

(Although as someone employed in local government, I'd love to hear how you survived the Federal level!) ;)

papa t said...

a great story...you do learn something at every job...and a mothers day gem to boot
thankyou

TechnoBabe said...

Dang, this is a wonderful post. The trip with your mom was a gift to you both. You tripped me up with the ending of this post. Hugs to you.

Lady_Amanda said...

Hey Charlie,

At first, I thought this was going to be one of your funny story. However, then I got to the end. When I read about the trip with your Mom, I cried! It really touched me (again you wonder why you got the passionate blogger's award? Really?). Thank you for sharing your story! Me I worked at Six Flags Great America when I was in high school and I used the money I saved from it to join a soriorty! You made a smarter choice than me, totatly!

Hugs,
Amanda

Fay's Too said...

Holy shit, Charlie. You blind-sided me with that one. I wasn't expecting to cry. Oy! beautifully written, beautiful story. I love stories about good investments and that was surely a good one.

Unknown Mami said...

You made an unbelievably wise investment with your hard earned money.

Tiffin said...

What a superb Mother's Day story, Charlie. This was one of your best, both in the telling and in the tale itself.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I had no idea you were such a young go-getter, and a de facto member of the "union" to boot. They shoulda made a movie of your teen years.

But what an lovely thing gift to give your mom, and yourself. Your story inspires me to pay more attention to the things in life that are really important. Thank you.

Charlie said...

How do I answer these unbelievable comments individually? I can't.

When I started this post, I had no idea how it would end. I was writing humor, and I figured I'd end it with a funny line or two.

Often times, however, thoughts come out that I wasn't remotely thinking about—-thoughts from the sub-conscious or, in the case of this post, directly from the heart.

Thank you, everyone, for your beautiful comments.

Madame DeFarge said...

A lovely story and a marvellous thing to do for your mother. You are a true gent.

Samm said...

It's not something you live past, the passing of a family member. I recently had a nightmare about losing one of my parents--the one I hate of the two. I don't know what it will be like..only that the heart will be scarred forever with those memories, the good and the worse

..Thank you for sharing your feelings about this experience. It means a lot to me personally.

-Samm

Robert the Skeptic said...

And they say that money can't buy happiness!

Wandering Coyote said...

Oh Charlie! I am a schmuck for not getting to this post in a timely manner because it was really lovely to read.

savannah said...

xoxoxoxox y'all are a good man, sugar! thank you for sharing this bit of you.

Mary Witzl said...

That's a great story, Charlie, and a good memory for you on so many levels. So many mothers and children don't end up with last memories like yours, so you are truly one of the fortunate ones.

Charlie said...

Once again, thank you to everyone who commented. I'm overwelmed.