Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Anecdote III: Midnight Cowboys

I had passed my written and oral exams for the DMA in May of 1969, after studying full time for three months.  Marge had been working full time as a long-term sub at a local high school the entire spring semester.  We had made plans to leave for Europe, flying on 7 September from LAX to Zurich.  We had saved $3000 and planned to stay for six months.  It turned out to be seven months and I had to borrow 700 from my life policy to make it back home.

So we left the house we were renting in Granada Hills and moved in with my dad and stepmother for the summer to avoid rent.  They loved having us around, actually.  Marge worked for a temp agency based on her Flying Fingers at the keyboard.  But I, almost the revered Dr. Dehning, got a job at Sears as a janitor.  Stores need to be cleaned at night, so we worked the graveyard shift from 11P-7A.

That store sparkled when it opened in the morning.  We were a crew of eight plus a foreman, all of whom were black except me and Mac, and Mac, it turned out, was gay.  I found this out after about a month one night at lunch (we got 45 minutes for it, plus two 15-minute breaks during our shift, thanks to the union).  One of our tasks was crushing all the boxes that were opened during the day.  It was a big machine in the floor that crushed them and then they had to be dragged out.  It required a two-man crew, and Mac and I were always sent down there to do it.  Maybe it was the WhiteGuys thing or maybe they thought I was gay, too.

Anyway, back to lunch.  One of the crew was about 6'6" and built like a Sequoia.  His name was Snake and he was the neatest guy; I liked him best.  So I asked him finally, "is Mac homosexual?"  "From his heart," Snake said.  Actually it came out 'frumis hawt.'  Turned out that Mac also had false teeth.  Hmm.  Snake really liked me, too, and he wasn't gay, thank god.  (We still said 'homo' or 'queer' in those days; 'gay' was a long way off.)

In addition to crushing boxes, other duties for the crew included cleaning sinks and toilets, mopping service floors, polishing mirrors and windows, and polishing floors.  In short, ensuring that the place was spic and span by 700.  We had weekly staff meetings run by our foreman, Charles, regarding techniques and the like: "Now I found out that some of you are cleaning the sinks by just wiping them down.  That's no good.  You gotta use (holding up a bottle) diss here Bab-O (emphasis on the O.")

I usually wound up polishing the floors with a big electric buffer and I did a damned fine job.  Those suckers gleamed when I finished with them. I was proud of my work. Take a look at how much floor space there is in a department store next time you go in one, you'll be impressed with my industry and diligence.  If nothing else, my patience (and no radios or ear phones to get me through the boredom).

All told, I'm very glad I had that experience.  Doing semi-hard, mind-numbing work with those men gave me an appreciation of what a lot of the work force had to live with on a daily basis.  Yeah, it paid well, but it grew old quickly and I was glad to leave at the end of August.  I never told those guys why I was leaving, and I sure as hell didn't tell them that I almost had a doctorate.  And nowadays, when someone is angry that garbage collectors and janitors make almost as much money as they do, I tell 'em, "They got it coming, you don't like it, then YOU go and collect garbage or clean toilets.  No one's stopping you."

I never did ask Mac why he had false teeth.

Next:  Billy Banker.  Stay tuned.

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