Thursday, August 26, 2010
My BEST Job Ever
Current mood: Nostalgic
The best job I ever had came after a series of disappointing endeavors, up to and including the unfortunate plumbing episode. Once I had sworn never to work in the dastardly world of human waste, it didn’t take long for me to stumble into the equally filthy world of retail. Long known as a money-grubbing, profit-only enterprise, selling goods of popular need to the public at a profitable margin, retailers have long been considered the bottom-feeders of the business world. I tend to disagree.
The best job I ever had came to me through my friend Raoul, who worked at a hardware store called Handyman – nowadays, it would be called a “home improvement center”, selling a variety of hardware, lumber, electrical, plumbing and garden center items. Handyman was the precursor to the Home Depots and Lowes that are now sprinkled in every neighborhood in the country. Not quite as big as these warehouses, Handyman was larger than your Ace locations – in fact, one of the stores I worked at on 7th street and Camelback was home for a ToysRUs for many years.
I worked with Raoul in the building materials department, selling 2x4s and lengths of carpet from rolls, measured with a hand-held tape measure and cut with a box cutter using an eight-foot 2x4 as a straight edge. We sold sand and mortar and floor tiles and chicken wire – I once sold a section of chicken wire to a polite elderly gentleman. Being a film buff, I recognized him as Buster Crabbe, the former Olympic swimmer who had played Flash Gordon and Tarzan in the 1940s. He didn’t really resemble the Buster Crabbe of the 40s, but I had seen him on Merv Griffin or something. “You look just like Buster Crabbe,” I said. The man’s face lit up like a Christmas tree – for a moment I thought he was having a stroke. Being only nineteen years old, I was not trained for that eventuality. “I am Buster Crabbe,” he said, shaking my hand and taking the chicken wire I had cut. It was my first run-in with celebrity. I told my co-workers and no one knew who Buster Crabbe was. Raoul said he did, but I thought then and still figure that he was bluffing.
We once made a blow-gun out of a six-foot length of aluminum tubing, using a finishing nail, wound with a cone of masking tape as the dart. We practiced shooting at the rolls of carpet we stored on-end, which were wrapped in brown paper and looked like massive upright cigars. Eventually, I shot Raoul in the thigh and we were called to the office and lectured by Sam Cassius, our manager, who stood about five-foot three and was often under the knife for some heart ailment or another. We wore nametags that were issued with the Dyna-mo tape labels that were fashioned in the gun with the rotary wheel that lined up the letters and numbers. You pulled the trigger and the pressure of the mechanism stamped the tape with the letters. I often got ahold of the label-gun and made my own name tags: Ernest T. Bass, Seymore Butts, Buckwheat, Jonny Quest, Gepetto and Officer Friendly made brief appearances, but whenever I was spotted by management wearing the tags with the fake names, I was forced to retire the tape and replace it with my own proper name, which varied from J. Ford to Jerald L. Ford to JLFord, esq., depending on my mood. The fake name tags ended up stuck to the inside of the door to my locker.
The cashiers that were hired by Handyman were even younger than me and no smarter. I once told the cashier up front that Mrs. Hunt was looking for her husband and would she please page him to the garden shop. His name was Mike. “MIKE HUNT TO THE GARDEN SHOP, PLEASE – MIKE HUNT…” There was a couple of moments pause as laughter trickled from various aisles of the store, then another announcement: “JERRY TO THE OFFICE, PLEASE – JERRY TO THE OFFICE…”
Around 1983 or 1984, our band The Hired Help was playing at a little club across the street called “Lonnegan’s”. We knew all the staff there and it had become our regular hangout, even on the nights we weren’t playing. My birthday came one July and Mike Taggart, keyboard player, high-school buddy and rogue-at-large showed up at Handyman to take me to lunch to celebrate. Never big on celebrating my birthday, I reluctantly accompanied Taggart to Lonnegan’s and consumed lunch, which consisted of three bottled beers and several Kamikazees. I went back to work and my manager took one look at my flushed, smiling face – me with my vest buttoned all crooked – and grabbed me by the arm and dragged me up the stairs to the office. “You’re drunk,” she said. Her name was Jamie and she stood maybe five-foot two and weighed 80 pounds if you counted her attitude. “Nuh-uh,” I replied, stumbling up the stairs as she shoveled me along. She took me into the big office – Sam’s office and closed the door. I figured my hardware career had come to a drunken, screeching halt. “I’m going to put in some videos and I want you to sit in here until it’s time for you to go home.” I nodded dumbly, wondering just when that would be – I rarely wore a watch. She put in a video and I stretched out on the little sofa and went to sleep. My job had been saved.
I worked at Handyman for six or seven years and had many adventures, none of which featured deadly swordplay, spies, zombies or boll-weevils. I was bit behind the ear by a black widow once, which caused blinding headaches, double-vision and nausea, but that was the closest I ever came to real danger – even though I was permitted to work the table saw, cutting lumber and carried a really sharp box-cutter at all times. It wasn’t Hollywood, I wasn’t auditioning exotic strippers and I wasn't making a living writing - which to this day I have yet to figure out how to do. I didn’t make much money and was constantly in trouble with the powers that be, but these things considered, they were a lenient lot and laughed with me even as they put on their “boss” faces. I think they appreciated my moxie. I made lots of friends – my buddies in the warehouse and “Woody” Page. For these reasons and many others, I have to rank Handyman as the best job I ever had.