There was one other thing I picked up on when going through those old diaries and it is this. While it is true that my first profession of choice was to be a high school teacher, before that I was a mill-hand. For four long and hot four-month university summers I slogged away in a satanic plywood mill known as Beaty Laminated. Ah, those glorious mill work summers.
We made quality 4×8 wallboard panels and proud of them we were. So, if you live in the greater Vancouver area and have a home of a certain vintage, I just might have had a hand in creating those rec-room walls.
As summertime jobs went, I lucked out. It was a good one. It paid a union wage and even granted seniority to students. It rendered me able to carry on with my studies throughout those years, despite the fact those years had nothing resembling vacation. One year I finished my last exam in the morning and reported for the afternoon shift that afternoon and my day continued until 1 a.m.
Though it was a good job it doesn’t mean it was an ideal way to spend a summer. For one thing I was often stuck on afternoon shift which meant I never got to see my girlfriend during the week since she worked days at a different job. My only sexual solace was looking at the office secretary who was ‘hot’ in all capital letters and if I really thought about her even now – well – never mind. So, yes, I’d rather have spent my late afternoons and evenings at the beach or at a barbecue than stuffing veneers into a hot press on a torrid evening.
By the way, a sheet of plywood is a simple sandwich of a rough core of wood and then exotic veneers laid over top with all being glued together and then popped into that press which was huge and ran so hot guys used to grill cheese sandwiches on it or cook TV dinners for lunch break.
Eight-hour shifts, two coffee breaks and a half hour for lunch and don’t be a minute late getting back to your work station. That is, you didn’t leave the lunchroom at the end of break, you were back at work.
I was lucky in one regard. I had a good foreman. He was a little Cockney named Tommy and Tommy had a mouth so foul he would have embarrassed a longshoreman. ”Puhleez, can you clean it up a little.” But, he was a good guy to work for and tough as boots but fair as he could be. So, we had this guy who was a very slow worker, and he was also a dangerous little loony. Smart, but scary and kind of deformed. He had tiny little hands so small that the Vancouver cops had special cuffs for this guy who was busted often. One shift he slowed me down radically and I told Tommy it wasn’t my fault the production level was so poor. “I know,” Tommy said. “But, I don’t have the heart to get rid of him. If you were dealing with the adversities that little fucker is, you’d want a break, too.”
Sad postscript to the story in that a few years later the little fellow, who went by the underworld name of ‘Dogface’ was blown away in a drug burn gone bad.
Interesting people indeed. Guys of all ethnicities and peridiocally we’d have low-scale Balkan wars break out when the Serbs and Croatians would get under each other’s skin. The language was always raw and I believe the first English word and worker from any culture learned was “fuck”. And it was used all the time – but not in the good way – just as a constant expletive.
So, I would go and have dinner with the parents on the weekend and out would come, “Hey, Ma, pass the fuckin’ salt, wouldya?” It used to be quite amusing when we got back to class in September and all the boys and girls were ‘effing’ this and that for about a month.
But, as I said, as onerous as it was, it paid very handsomely for the day and, in fact, by the time of my last summer I was being paid much better when I was that fall when I started my teaching career.
And despite the fact I resented giving up my summers, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My only regret is I didn’t avail myself of one of those big ole working guy lunchpails. They were pretty cool.