Friday, July 20, 2012

Post 2058 - 1985 In Review

Welcome to 1985!

I turned 21 in 1985.

I was in the winter term of my 3rd year of university.  I was getting tired of the grind of classes, studying, writing and producing deliverables, working part-time jobs.  Repeat as necessary. 

I was single.  I wanted to go out with someone.  I had been interested in someone for a while and decided to ask her out.  She didn't say yes, and didn't say no.  I kept persevering.  One night she was studying at the library and I asked her out one last time.

She rolled her eyes. She sighed.  She practically screamed.  And she said she wasn't interested and I might as well stop asking her out.  Of course, this was in an area where there were quite a few people, all of whom saw and heard what happened.  One of them was a friend of mine, who probably told everyone she knew.  Sigh and double sigh. 

I stormed off, trying to muster my dignity, and not really succeeding.  From then on, for the next 2 years, she would avoid eye contact with me.  Even after graduation when we had both moved to the city, we might run into each other on the street and not even be acknowledged.  What did I do, other than specifically ask her out when I had not received a firm no, to piss her off to the point where she would hate me?  It is a mystery for the ages.

I wrote my final exams in April.  As I recall, I literally wrote my final, final exam, dropped my stuff off at the locker I was renting at the SUB, and walked down the hill to the library to work a shift.  I segued from my studies to my work without missing a beat. 

It was in May of 1985 when actress Shirley MacLaine received an honourary degree from Acadia.  It was big news at the time; my boss George took a picture and gave me a copy.  Many years later, I rescued it off a bookshelf in my old bedroom at my mother's and scanned it in, posting the result on the blog.  It's one of the "Early Bevboy" posts. 

The previous summer I was more-or-less alone for my noon hours.  I'd eat my lunch by myself in the SUB and read my book.  In the summer of '85, several of my friends and fellow students were also working on campus and would sit with me.  We would talk about life and so on.  The difference was that they were working for the computer centre on campus, while I was not.  I felt a little... what's the word I'm looking for?  Disadvantaged?  Out of their league?  I'm not sure. 

Some of the people I sat with, didn't always like each other.  One guy in particular was someone who remains the most opinionated person I have ever met or worked with or heard about.  Maybe the writer Harlan Ellison is more opinionated than Rob was/is, but it would be a tough call. 

Rob would get into heated discussion, spirited, passionate arguments, with just about anybody about just about anything.  What are the Canadian nuclear reactors called?  CANDU?  He had an opinion about them.  Someone else at the table disagreed with his position and mounted his own.  They went back and forth. 

People who are extremely opinionated run the risk of alienating their circle of friends.  They will not consider, even for the sake of discussion, alternative viewpoints; and swaying them to that other viewpoint is so much trouble and work as to be not worth it.  God forbid you get two opinionated people in the same room: Anybody else wouldn't be able to get a word in edge-wise.

Most people may have opinions they hold and discuss with their friends.  They won't necessarily go to the wall with another person about these opinions.  Most people will just shrug their shoulders and walk away, leaving the other party thinking he has won the argument, when that may not be the case at all.   The one who walked away has more important things to do than argue with someone who will not concede a point.

During the summer, I received a phone call from the woman who ran the co-operative education program  at the university.  It was a new program back then, having only existed for a year or so.  Companies were approaching her looking for students who would be willing to leave university for a few months and take on these work terms, which paid much more money than most of us were used to making.

She called me to ask me if I might want to consider taking a job working for the federal government, specifically the Department of National Defense, more specifically, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood.  I would be the only candidate for the position.

I agreed, and met with the man who would be my boss.  His name was Steve.  It was a formality.  I was the only candidate.  He just asked me what my approach to handling certain tasks would be, and how I felt about working in a certain environment.  I  nearly turned down the position, as not every aspect of it appealed to me.  But as I stated earlier, I was burned out after 3 years of university.  The prospect of making more than the minimum wage was compelling.  The only other job that paid more than minimum wage in my young life, I had quit after 5 hours (the chip plant in 1983).

I accepted the job.  I would have to leave university for 4 months and work for these folks.  They even helped me arrange transportation with other guys who commuted the 40 minutes or so to and from work.  But I didn't know that yet.  The first day, I drove there myself.  I was told to show up at a certain time.   The man at the gate, as you would expect, was not terribly polite, but he told me to go to a certain building, there to await the person who would pick me up and take me to the work place.

I did what I was told.  You do that when you're on a military base.  The man showed up and I got my pass to work on the base.  I was taken to the place where I would be working.  It was made very clear to me what sections of the building I could go to, and what places to stay away from unless I were accompanied by someone who was allowed in those sections.  There were parts of the base I could go to, such as the mess hall, and lots of places I daren't go to.  I paid keen attention to what they told me.

I guess I should admit this now.  My maternal grandfather had fought in World War II.  He was never more than a Private.  He was teased and tormented and bullied by his so-called "buddies" because he didn't have much education and had reading and writing problems.  He had a bad experience, which he told people about.  I grew up with the perception that military folks were rude and hateful.  I would see them in military marches and nothing would disabuse me of that perception.

So, there I was, scared to death, taking my first professional job, and at a military base to boot.  You can imagine my nervousness and reticence.  However, I was treated with respect.  My supervisor, Steve, was a civilian.  And there was a mixture of civilians and military folks working in that office.

I was getting briefed on what I would be doing, and where I would be doing it.  I told the Captain I was talking to, Lou, that I had a very basic question: Given that there were people in the office of different ranks, was everybody on a first-name basis.  He said they all were, but with one exception.  There was a Major whom I hadn't met yet, and I should call him, "Sir".  I readily agreed.

I learned a lot over the next few months.  I made my share of mistakes and learned from them.  But what I learned most, was about myself.  My grandfather had had a terrible experience many years before.  My own was vastly different.

There were elements of humour over those months.  There was one civilian, Jack, whom many disliked.  He was a guy who felt he was always right and everybody else was always wrong.  One day, after he left work, he had left his radio on.  The work area that we were all in was quite small, and the sound was piercing enough that Lou turned looked at me and said, "Bev, could you do me a favour and turn that shit off?"  I cheerfully complied.

Another day, Jack approached Lou, in front of me and a few others, and said he wanted to register a grievance.  He felt he had been disrespected over some trivial matter.  Jack had a way of shifting from one foot to another.  Lou replied in some fashion.  So did Jack. It went back and forth.  I probably should have excused myself, but at 21, I didn't have that level of common sense yet.

The word that they used, over and over, was "advised".

"You were advised to do this."

"No, I was not advised."

"Yes, you were advised".

After about 40 minutes of this, I had heard that word a few dozen times.  I was sick of that word.  I remain sick of that word.  It is an overused word, overused to the extreme.  How many memos or emails have you read, or written,  that started with, "Please be advised that"?  Ask yourself, "What do those 4 words add to the message the writer is hoping to convey?"  The answer is, "Nothing."  Nothing at all.

I remember there was a holiday dinner on the base.  We all had to dress up.  My boss,  Steve, wore a tux that he owned.  I think I wore my one and only suit.

Christmas came.  Claire, another Captain, brought in some home-made Christmas decorations and gave me one, which was very kind of her.  We had an off-base Christmas drinkeroo at a pub.  I may have imbibed more than a bit.  I felt a sense of family, a sense of being with... maybe not friends, but certainly people I would have enjoyed getting to know better.

I got a good review of my performance.  I met with the man who ran the base, who was polite and well mannered with me.  I regret, however, not having told him about my grandfather and how I had learned, more than all the technical stuff, that military folks were human beings.  They had mortgages and discussed hockey (it's where I first heard the name, "The Toronto Make Believes".)  They bought groceries and had families.  They were like me and you.  I hadn't known that.

Believe it or not, from September to December, I took a course every Monday night at Acadia.  It was Business Law, and it was taught by a sitting judge.  He expected everyone to be on time, every time.  He would frown mightily at people who were ever late.  I made sure I wasn't late.  So, yeah, I would work all day and then take my course on Mondays and study the course during the week and weekend.  Oh, and to rub it in: The woman who had thoroughly repudiated me the previous Winter, and discussed at the top of this post, was also taking that course.  She must have thought I was stalking her, when in fact I could never have known that she and I would be taking the very same course the very same night.

After I finished working at CFB Greenwood, the guys dropped me off at the campus, where I wandered around and sobered up before driving to my parents' place.  I must have written that Law exam sometime that month, but I don't remember just when.

Christmas came.  I got some good presents.  And I bought some good presents because I had been making some decent money and could afford to do so.

1985 was over.  1986 was just around the corner, lifting her dress and getting my attention.  '86 would mark a return to full-time student status, a period of unemployment, and something cool involving a person who reads this blog.  And, the Beachcombers was waning.  How sad.  Poor Nick.

I will tell you all about that... tomorrow!  Be here for the exciting final chapter in the "LifeInReview" series!!


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