Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Post 2055 - 1983 In Review

Welcome to 1983, ladies and gentlemen!

I turned 19 in 1983. 

I was busy.  I was a full-time student, and I was dating someone a little bit.  I will not reveal her name because I have nothing much nice to say about her. 

We had begun going out in the Fall of 1982.  In '83, in addition to my studies, I was taking her to movies and to the concert at Acadia for a very young Bryan Adams.   Other places.  Other things. 

She made it clear we would not be bf/gf, but she continued to drain my limited finances until she met a guy who did become a boyfriend. 

Anyway, I wrote final exams in April of 1983 and began to look for a summer job.  The prospects for finding work were bleak.   Same kind of economic problems as I discussed in 1982.

I spent the balance of April and into May trying to find a job, any job, to no avail.  Finally, on June 4th, 1983, my father's birthday, I began my summer job working at the Burger King in New Minas.

It was... a job.  I was older than most of the staff there, who were younger teenagers.  The boss' sons both worked there and I knew not to mess with them.  (They still work there, by the way.) 

There are things to be stated about the disconnect between university students, people who are trying to get an education; and the people who aren't or don't or can't.  There is a deeply-rooted jealousy from one group to the other.  I worked with high school students, yes.  Many of them would go on to post-secondary education, or at least go to a vocational school to learn a valid trade.  All well and good.

But there were plenty of people who didn't fit into either category.  They were folks who couldn't hack school, there were "too many rules", they didn't see what studying Shakespeare had to do with their eventual work, et cetera.  To be kind, to be charitable, these folks made mistakes that had life-long consequences.  They quit school without having any kind of backup plan.

As we university students took on some of these menial summer jobs, it would be the final time these dropouts would be able to put the boots to us, the last time that they would be able to give us a hard time and order us about, before our educational achievements would open doors for us that would be forever locked and bolted to them. 

I saw this over and over.  It even happened to me that summer.  I got the crappy shifts.  I did not work at the counter taking food orders from the public; I was always in the kitchen, that hot kitchen, day after painful day.  Another guy I met that summer, Andrew C., was treated even worse.  One time, he refused to work a particular shift and was punished by having his next week's shifts awarded to someone else. 

There is a funny, telling story about my first pay cheque from the Burger King in New Minas.  A few weeks after I started, it arrived.  I looked at it.  I noticed that the hourly wage was less than what it should have been. 

Screwing up my courage, I went into my boss' office.  I said, "Jeff, there appears to be a discrepancy on my pay cheque."

He didn't know what "discrepancy" meant.  I explained that it meant a mistake.

It became a joke around the restaurant.  "We don't want any discrepancies today", they would say over and over and look at me.  "Let's not have any discrepancy between what the boss wants and what we do."  It was all about discrepancies.

The, uh, mistake on the cheque was that they thought that I was below the age of 19.  If you're under 19 in Nova Scotia, they can pay you less than the minimum wage under the argument that you're being trained.  This training wage, or whatever it is called, is supposed to cease after 3 months, and does not exist at all for those 19 and above.  They corrected the error, the mistake, the discrepancy, for the next pay cheque and paid me the difference. 

There was a girl who worked at that Burger King who talked to me.  She was a year or so behind me but we had gone to the same school.  She told me that she had run into me in the hallways on purpose, but I had not noticed her.  Again with the not noticing when women are trying to get my attention.  If they walked naked (except for high heels, of course) in front of me carrying a sign, "Bevboy, come get me!", I would assume they were addressing this need to some other Bevboy.

Anyway, we talked a bit that summer, but once again, nothing came of it.  And don't ask me her name.  I don't remember to save my life.  But it is occasionally fun to play what might have been.

Also that summer, I was hired by my church to be their janitor.  My job was to make sure the place was clean and heated for the weekly service, and for times like weddings.  The pay was 80 dollars a month, plus expenses.  That meant that if I needed to get some Brasso to clean the collection plates, or some other cleaning supplies, I would keep the receipt and be reimbursed for that purchase when they paid me my monthly fee. 

I mostly liked the job, at first.  I applied the cleaning skills I had acquired at  Burger King to this job.  I would mop  the floor, vacuum the church area, and so on.  They didn't care very much when I did the job, just that it got done.  I had no problem fitting in that work during the week.  It gave me time away from my studies and to think about life.  I had a radio on to keep me company.  I would keep that job for 3 years.

The upstairs at the church was where the Sunday school was.  I shudder to this day at the condition of some of those rooms.  I did not think my job included spending untold hours trying to remove the crayon that had become embedded in the floor.  I would vacuum there, but other than ripping out the old carpeting and replacing it with new carpeting, which would end up with the same fate, there was nothing I could do.  Not everybody agreed with me.

One Summer's day that year, as I was cleaning the foyer of the church, a couple people dropped by, scaring the crap out of me.  Turns out that they were tourists, I think from the US.  They saw the open church and asked some questions about it.  I gave them a small pamphlet about the history of that church, and they made their merry way.

I am not a religious guy now, but I was at one time.  I went to church pert near every week, even after other members of my family had stopped going.  Part of it was that I was the janitor and pretty much had to be there.  Another part of it was that it did provide me comfort.  And yet another part of it was that I had known those people since I was 6 years old and liked them.  That church held such memories for me, mostly pleasant, and I didn't want to see them end.  I can see the church in my mind's eye and remember very fondly the people who attended back in the day.  I would see these people in their Sunday best and not know that during the week one guy was a big executive at the phone company, and another was a tenured professor at Acadia, and his wife was the secretary to a department head there, and that a current politician and his political rival attended the very same church!  Another guy was a maintenance man at the local chip plant.  We had stay-at-home mothers. Students like me.  People from all walks of life who came together every Sunday to worship.  For that one 90 minute period, it didn't matter what people did the rest of the time.  Church was the great equalizer.

I still think about that church, all these years later.  I still drive by it from time to time and wonder what's going on in there and who from the old days is still attending.

I have discussed my summer job at Burger King, and the church position.  I have not talked about the summer job that I quit after 5 hours.  It is a lost tale of Bevboy, and it is high time I let you know about it.

Remember I told you I was applying for jobs everywhere, to no avail?  Well, there was some avail a few weeks after I started working at Burger King.  The local chip plant called and offered me a job.  I was told to show up at a certain time and place, and I did.  Also hired was a girl I went to elementary school with, one who would go on to become a doctor.

My job was to work with the men out in the factory and take the boxes of potato chips off the conveyor belt and place each box on the appropriate pallet.  Seems easy.  I got all of 10 minutes worth of training and was left on my own.

The boxes of chips started coming at me.  I tackled them as best I could and kept up for a short time.  But the belt sped up and more boxes came rushing out toward me.  It was a sea, a tsunami, of potato chips.

I tried to persevere.  I grabbed boxes as best I could, but for each box I could get, two got past me and crashed on the floor.  Worse yet, after a few minutes, the boxes began to back log and log jam on the conveyor belt.  The women who were putting the boxes on the belt tried to clear them off, but it was too little too late.

I was nearly buried, literally, in potato chips.  The boxes were falling on the floor, squeezed on the belt by other boxes, and some boxes exploded open, spilling chips all over the place.

Finally, some other guys saw me and ran over.  Together, we put the boxes on the pallets.  They looked at me.  I looked at them.  They said something about how it was a training issue and things would get better.  I said,  "I quit".

The whole thing reminded me of the time Lucy got a job working in a chocolate factory.  Here's a peek:

I had given my notice at Burger King.  Imagine their surprise when I showed up the next day for my regular shift.

And imagine my surprise when I got a cheque in the mail from the chip plant a couple of weeks later.  It was my vacation pay.  A whopping $1.42.

Because I had been late getting a summer job, and because I would need the money, I decided to take on a second part-time job, one that did not involve salty snacks.  I had applied for a job working a few shifts a week at the university library.  I got the job!  I found out I would work for a man named George Halliwell, who reads this blog from time to time.

One day that summer, I was heading into the mall as the little red-haired girl from 1982 walked out.  We chatted for a moment and parted.  What the hell was wrong with me?  Maybe she even played with her hair or batted her eye lashes.  I don't remember.

In late August, I went into the Sears store in Kentville and bought a basic stereo, with record player, AM/FM radio, cassette, and an external rca jack input.  It became my pride and joy, especially when I got an FM booster for it that enabled me to pick up Halifax radio stations.   I would keep that stereo, with an exception or two, until 2010 when it finally gave up the ghost.

Speaking of radio, it was late in 1983 when Q104 went on the air.  That station has proved to be a big part of my life.  Hello, JC Douglas.  Let's go out for coffee sometime. 

I took out a subscription to Amazing Heroes and to The Comics Journal.  I had subscribed to The Comics Buyer's Guide in 1982.  In early '83, the original owner sold the paper to Krause Publication in Iola, Wisconsin, and hired Don and Maggie Thompson (columnists for the old paper) to edit the weekly paper.  It became must reading for me.  Oftentimes, getting CBG in the mail each week would be the best thing that happened to me.  Sounds sad, huh?  It was what it was.

My second year of university started.  I was, by definition, a sophomore.  The course load was intense.  I would struggle that second year.  In fact, I would fail a half course by Christmas.  I had to take it again, and passed it that time.

I went out once with a girl from one of my classes.  It didn't go well.  I will leave it at that.

One day, working at the library, a young lady approached me at the desk and asked me some questions.  We shared at least one class.  We talked for a few minutes.  Every time she saw me, she would smile and sometimes say hello.  Nothing came of it (see above!), but many years later, after she realized she was gay, and they had moved to another part of the country, her partner killed her by burning their house down with her in it.  It was quite the story at the time.  Frank Magazine was all over it. 

Sorry to bring down the tone of the post!

I saw some movies that I still remember fondly, in 1983.  I saw "Never Say Never Again", the film in which an aged Sean Connery returned to the role of James Bond.  I liked the film and still like it when I watch it today.  It is leagues better from the "official" Bond movie that year, "Octopussy", featuring an even more aged Roger Moore (Moore is even older than Connery). 

And, quite by accident, a buddy and I went to see a movie in Kentville one evening late in 1983.  We thought it would be one film but it turned out to be something else entirely.  It was "A Christmas Story", and I loved it.  Of course, it would go on to become a holiday favourite.  I saw it in its original run.  How many can say that?

Exam time came.  I failed one course and struggled with another one.   I was bummed.  I had graduated high school with honours, not that it made a lick of difference in university.  As one professor told me that year, "High schools are a funny place." 

I had had some personal set backs, and a couple academic ones, so I looked forward to a mini high school reunion at a classmate's apartment.  I think it was at Elaine's.  Several people came from the graduating class, including the red-haired girl.  We talked that much more that evening, until others suspected that we would become an item.  The reality of that situation was, I didn't see her again until 1986.  And I haven't seen her since then. 

1983 was over.  1984, replete with its Orwellian overtones, beckoned to me like people going down on a sinking ship.  It would be a year when I left my teens, when I became a letter hack, when I would date another girl, and an acceptance of what and who I was.  And The Beachcombers kept on keeping on!

We will talk about that stuff tomorrow, when I discuss 1984 in review!

Be here, unless you have something more important to do.  Like washing your hair or cleaning the paper out of the bottom of the bird cage.  I'll understand.


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