Friday, August 12, 2011
A History of Work
How about the hat? This was the de rigeuer style back then.
I don't remember my first paid "job".
So I suppose you could call that my first job.
I had a number of chores at home I was expected to do, wash the car, mow the lawn, help weed the garden when we had one and keep my room clean and neat. I hated those first three and was a dismal failure at the fourth. I had one chore I loved, taking out the trash.
Things were not like today with all our many restrictions and fears. There was less waste and there was a kind of a priori recycling. You didn't throw anything away until it was beyond recognition, let alone use. Clothes were patched and socks were darned. When you found yourself patching patches, then the item became a dust cloth and beyond that use it was a rag for the Ragman. Yeah, there was a Ragman who came about the neighborhood and took old rags.
We lived in a town bursting at the seams with paper mills (almost all gone now) and our used foolscap and magazines went to paper drives and back into the hoppers of these plants. Soda bottles and such were collected by we kids and returned to the store for a couple cents deposit. Garbage, real garbage, potato peels and apple cores and table scraps went to the curb in iron pails. The Garbage man took the contents. You knew when he was coming since you smelled him two blocks away, maybe even across town on a hot summer day if the rotting pulp from the paper mills didn't overwhelm all other scents. He drove an open bin truck. The refuge from our plates went to the slop troughs of the pig farms.
Here I am (back to the camera and wearing my motorcycle hat) with friends finding other uses for those 55-gallon trash barrels.
But those were household chores, not paying jobs, unless you count my quarter allowance. Oddly, as much as I hated doing most those at home, I jumped at the opportunities to do these things for others. I would mow a lawn, wash a car, even hoe a garden for a fee. I would solicit from a neighbor those things I tried to duck out from at home. So I guess they were my first employments.
I was in elementary school when I did those. I was also in elementary school when I became a professional writer writing, publishing and selling a newspaper ("The Daily Star," although it came out weekly) with my buddy, Stuart Meisel. We charged a penny a copy. We did make money. We were very successful.
Newspapers were to be important in my early "careers". When I moved from Grade School to Junior High I also moved to more regular employment, Paperboy being one. That occupation came a bit later and lasted only a short period, although I loved doing it and thought it the greatest job in the world. I kinda still think it was. I guess I'm a strange fish, but one of the things I enjoyed about the job was doing it in harsh weather, pushing on through the snow and battling the rain to keep my wares dry. I could imagine myself some kind of adventurer attempting to get supplies to an isolated outpost in some godforsaken part of the world, such fun.
I didn't like the breezy days or that blowhard Old Man March, no not at all. I could cover up my product from the downpours and hail stones if need be, but if an ill wind got under my pouch papers would do what Charles Brown's kite wouldn't. They would fly, here, there and everywhere.
I took over the route from my friend, Ron Tipton, known today as "Retired in Delaware". He moved on to bigger and better things, I hope, and turned over his customers to me. I had about 100 clients for the daily and perhaps a third less for the big Sunday edition. This was the Philadelphia Bulletin, then the premier Philly rag, now defunct. I was earning between 18 and 20 dollars a week, a lot of money for a thirteen-year-old kid in the early 1950s. That would have been around $148 to $165 today. Dailies cost a nickel and the Sunday paper was $25. I had to split that four ways, a portion for me, a portion for my Supervisor, some for the delivery truck driver and the rest to the owner of the newsstand where I picked up my allotment. I got a penny-and-a-half for the dailies and five cents for the Sunday.
And it only took me an hour a day to deliver. Wow, wouldn't you like to make a $165 an hour today?
I said this bonanza was short lived. Ron held onto his route until after Christmas the year he quit. He wanted to garner those extra-bonus Christmas tips from his cliental. I took over for the New Year, but then my parents moved out of town and in June I was living in the country and could no longer do that route.
The Meisel's had a large stone house on a good sized lot in the historic part of town. Here is a photo of the front of the home. Sadly, despite attempts by my friend to have the place preserved, it was torn down and apartments built upon the site.
In those times, too, some us walked just east of town and got jobs at the Farmer's Market. The Market was only open on weekends. A lot of Mennonites and some Amish from Lancaster County came down and had produce or meat stalls there. The place was something of a bizarre, selling a little of much, books and boots, clothes and clothes lines, hunting gear and records. It had a penny arcade of pinball machines. The place was our hangout on weekend nights, feeding nickels into those contraptions or making little records in recording booths. I and a friend got jobs one year with a greengrocer. I was not happy. My friend got to wait on customers. I stood in the back behind a tub of water washing celery. I wasn't long for that job.
When we moved from town upcountry, there wasn't a lot of opportunities for a teen. It was still real country then and there wasn't much around. In the summers I got employed on some farms in the area as a picker. I picked tomatoes and I picked strawberries. It was sweaty, uncomfortable work. It isn't called stoop labor for nothing. You either spent the day bend over or waddling up the rows like a duck. You came home sticky, covered with dust, thirsty, stiff and tired.
I plucked plants for the two summers between ninth and tenth, and between tenth and eleventh. On the third summer of High School I moved up and out, getting a job loading 18-wheelers at the farms in Lancaster County. Those Amish boys would gee their horse wagons up along side and I would offload their harvest onto the flatbeds, bushel baskets of tomatoes heading to the ketchup factories in the Western end of the state. The baskets got stacked to just above my head all down the trailer. You have any idea how many bushels of tomato you can stack six high down thirty feet of truck?
I think I got paid ten bucks a load.
That was summertime, when the livin' is easy. The winters were harsh and sparse. I got an occasional gig shoveling snow, mostly the parking lot of a restaurant called Flowing Springs Inn in Kirkwood, about four miles from my home. That was a hit or miss proposition. I only made money when a snow storm hit, otherwise I missed out on earning anything.
That's the Flowing Springs Inn as it looks today, under the name Titus Inn. That enclosed porch was open back then, so I had to shovel it and its steps off as well.
I guess I started those childhood chores for hire when I was 8. I might have done some earlier, but I was living isolated from the world in a swamp for a couple years. So all those little scraping jobs covered about a decade, from the third grade until I graduated high school.
They were the beginning of a history of work. Much more was to come and still is.