The Job

Published on August 31st, 2015 | by Richard Black

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The “J” Word (Part 2): My Unemployment History

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As the son of an itinerant melon farmer my first job was taking pictures of of cars full of melons.

People often ask me what I do for a living and, before I became a stay at home dad, my typical response was that I tended to get fired a lot. As an adult I worked in Marketing and Public Relations so my response wasn’t completely out of line. Lindsey Lohan is more stable than a career in Marketing and PR, particularly if one isn’t all that gifted in the field to begin with.

I used to believe that my adversarial relationship with employment was a recent phenomenon. Over the past few years however I’ve come to understand that my attitude was crafted through my experiences as a young boy many many years ago in a land far, far away called Indiana.

The first job I ever had was for my old man. He was an attorney in a small town and one summer, when I was 10 and my oldest brother was 11, he asked us to alphabetize his old files. I remember thinking he was talking about the steel three drawer filing cabinet in his office. I remember thinking that the old man was getting lazy. I remember thinking that it would take us an hour, maybe two, to knock out the project.

Ahh the naivete, the innocence, the utter stupidity of youth.

“I’ll pay you each ten dollars,” our old man said. My brother Maynard and I readily agreed before following our father up three flights of stairs each narrower than the last. Finally we arrived at a thin wooden door. The old man flung it open to reveal a room the size of a an aircraft carrier chock full of banker’s boxes that were packed with files that hadn’t seen the light of day since electricity came to West Virginia.

“Having a parent who is an attorney is a lot of fun,” is a statement that no one has ever said. The old man knew that he had us. Retreat wasn’t an option. Both my brother and I had been indoctrinated from an early age that once an agreement had been made it was never lightly broken.

In retrospect one might imagine that I’d incurred some bit of wisdom or skill from spending so much time around a person who had devoted his life to asking questions and arguing over minute points. I could have, perhaps become a master in negotiation or even learned to successfully arbitrate my way out of expulsion for having written an underground newspaper but it never happened. I always fell hook, line and sinker for any deal the old man had to offer. I still do.

For the next three weeks Maynard and I spent eight hours a day in a non air conditioned room on the third floor of a building in the middle of July. In addition to losing about a quart of blood through file cuts we also dropped a good fifteen pounds in water weight every day. I’m not Catholic nor am I well versed in theology but I’m pretty sure the experience was the living, breathing embodiment of Purgatory. It wasn’t Hell. Maynard and I knew our trials would end but that was really the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal experience. Aside from our financial remuneration of course.

I’m not saying that alphabetizing a room full of flies large enough to build a Boeing 747 for $0.12 an hour ruined me for gainful employment but it certainly didn’t drive my entrepreneurial spirit. If anything it made me a commie. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need was a philosophy I could get behind. And then picked up smoking and realized that my allowance of a buck twenty five wasn’t enough to buy a decent pack of cigarettes.

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As a young paperboy i approached my job with joy and vigor.

Like many youngsters in the 1980’s my first real working gig was a paper route. I didn’t mind the work itself. I’d happily walk a few dozen miles slinging papers in every sort of weather but I couldn’t stand collecting for my services. Harassing elderly shut-ins for a buck  just wasn’t in me. After six months or so I found that I was collecting enough money to give the paper its due and that was about it. Some of the homes I delivered to owed me for a month, some two or even three and at some point I enlisted the help of my sister to help me collect.

Frit had many admirable qualities. She had once planted a steel Secret of Nimh lunchbox squarely in the head of a kid who was choking me on the bus ride home. And then she did it again. And again until the little shit let loose of my neck. Frit had a very black and white view of the world which lended itself well to slamming the side of her lunchbox against a bully’s head or a career in collections. I firmly believe that if Mother Theresa skipped a payment for the local paper on Frit’s route my sister would have cheerfully exhumed her corpse in search of payment.

In short order we struck a deal. As a sort of finders fee I would take 50% of anything my sister collected from my delinquent accounts and magnanimously give her the rest of the proceeds. A few months later we realized that it was ridiculous for me to walk the route and deliver the papers while she was, essentially, going over my footsteps to collect at which point I ceded another 25% to her for taking on the entire route and the duties it entailed.

Our deal didn’t last more than a few months. One fateful day our father noticed that I was raking in cash without doing much while my sister Frit had suddenly become absent for the bulk of the afternoon only to arrive covered in black ink and soaked in sweat. I’m also pretty sure the fact that she was wearing my old filthy paper bag around her shoulders tipped him off as well.

After a few pointed questions my father put an immediate stop to the “arrangement”. I was instructed to resume my duties and repay Frit for her labor. Instead I took option B. Quit the route and promised to repay my sister once I found another job (Note to self: pay your sister $58.75 plus 3% interest for 28 years the next time you see her).

I learned a few lessons that day. The first was that the next time I suckered my sister into something I’d make her swear not to tell our father. The second was that if I was going to pretend to have a paper route I probably should have not come home right after school to take a nap every day and the third was that I needed to research how to launder money and/or buy items with some measure of discretion.

The most important lesson I learned was regarding my own limitations. Even at the age of fourteen I knew that I had a better chance of discovering a new planet than collecting money from people who couldn’t afford their gas bill (but still wanted their newspaper) and shut their ragged sun bleached curtains when they spied me walking up the block.

Forgoing “gainful” employment I explored…other options.

UF_Playboy_090115By seventh grade I began pilfering vintage skin mags from a friend’s parents. His name was Ron and, to be honest, he wasn’t much of a friend. Our relationship was one of mutual exploitation. I enjoyed playing his Nintendo and he enjoyed being an emotionally abusive douschebag until we discovered his father’s substantial stash of pornography at which point video games were replaced with a truly eye opening collection of nudie mags.

The tamer fare was stored in a few closets around the house but the really weird shit was kept in a small space above an attached two car garage. Two or three times every week Ron and I would leaf through a few metric tons of 1970’s era pornography and when he had to take a leak I’d stuff a few dozen magazines down my jeans and then walk, rather awkwardly, to my mother’s car once she picked me up from Ron’s house.

It was a time that was both enlightening and disturbing in equal measures. I can honestly say that I’ve never looked at horses, farm implements, vegetables or really anything vaguely phallic the same way since.

At some point, and after bragging to a few of my other friends, I took a few of the mags to a shop class run by an old Vietnam vet with the last name of Smallwood. It may not seem like the most likely place for a young man to peddle pornography but, in addition to missing the better part of his left arm, Mr. Smallwood also was missing his entire left eye.

Whether the injury occurred during his service or his time in a shop class running bandsaws and other machinery with dangerously whirring blades was the subject of some debate. He also reeked of gin and weed and after ten minutes of instruction he’d manage to wander off and leave a bunch of young teens to their own devices amongst a lot of saws and blades and equipment that could relieve a finger, a hand or even an arm from a young body in the blink of an unsupervised eye.

The upshot was that Mr. Smallwood wasn’t exactly present in class even when he wasn’t ferrying an injured student to the school nurse or the ER. His absence provided me with an…opportunity. One day I decided to show a few guys my stash and was offered five bucks inside of thirty seconds. It was never my intention to become a purveyor of smut but I’ve never been one to shirk from my civic, nay my constitutional, duty.

Bidding quickly went up to eleven dollars and I realized that I had a market to provide my peers with ill gotten Playboys, Penthouses and other publications of much more dubious origins and content over the course of the next year. In addition to providing a valued service I also like to think that I had something to do with the drastic decline in aggression during my tenure in seventh grade.

There were, quite naturally, a few…inconveniences resulting from my decision to trade in smut. I’m sure I contributed to an unhealthy and unobtainable expectation regarding the female body but that’s really the only thing I’m truly sorry for. At the time and, more pragmatically, it also became difficult to find an open stall in the Boy’s room or a toilet seat that wasn’t stuck fast to the bowl.

After the better part of a year I quit. My parents were divorced, I spent the school year with my mother and the summer with the old man, and the logistics of smuggling fifty some odd dozen magazines between the two homes was somewhat daunting. Upon winnowing my collection down to thirty or so “pieces” I dumped a giant Hefty bag full o’ porn in a storm drain a block away from my mother’s home.

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I’ve never read the document in its entirety but I’m pretty sure that Jefferson included a paragraph for the use and sale of pornography.

The rest, once I’d hauled it 200 miles back to Indiana in folders labeled after different subjects I studied in school, was finally ditched in the brush behind my father’s house. Typically that’s where the story would end. Unbeknownst to me one day my brother, while walking to school, found this cornucopia of pornography and, being an altruistic sort, decided to give it a good home. I didn’t think much about them until his mother found the magazines prompting a very uncomfortable conversation of which I was immeasurably pleased to not be a part.

Throughout high school and college I worked the usual sorts of jobs that teens perform. I flipped burgers for MickyD’s. I worked at a car wash for a few years. I tended bar in a dump that catered to drunken college students on the weekends and just drunks during the week. I worked on a landscaping crew when crystal meth was just coming into vogue and cleaned school classrooms with a young girl named Twiggy who had stabbed her boyfriend in the leg a few months before we began working together.

Unfortunately that, dear friends is where we must part ways.

I’d love to continue but propriety forbids me from discussing my employment history further. I should also add for the sake of my future employer that I’ve matured greatly since seventh grade and haven’t stolen or resold any pornography in decades. If you’re looking for someone to fill an immediate need let me put you in touch with my stepbrother. I’m sure he’s been saving my old porn for days.

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