What I loved about sharpening dental tools was the pay. What I hated about sharpening dental tools was the pay. The jobs that paid well in a sleepy Western town weren’t necessarily jobs that you could sink a growing brain into. I loved the precision of it. There were certain tools that I was good at sharpening – I can’t even remember their names now.
There was one tool with a scoop neck that was just too hard. I couldn’t get the curve to the grinding wheel at the right angle. I’d grind a little, neck down, eyes penetrating and alert, stop, pull up to the micrometer. Measure. Too little off. Too much off. I blame it on my lack of spatial awareness.
What I loved about picking cherries was the view. What I hated about picking cherries was the pay. Just didn’t pay all the much for the blood, sweat, and tears. We wore these belted buckets around our waists and chatted it up while we stood atop tall ladders between gnarled branches and plucked cherry after cherry after cherry.
Most of my friends smoked back then. We probably spent more time on smoke breaks than we did picking cherries. Not to worry, the owner of the topside grove stood puffing away with us. The view was stunning. Flathead Lake. The drive from Missoula to Flathead through the reservation was peaceful and still. I loved the country there. I ached for the mountains after I moved to the Midwest. Ached.
I settle for the Great Lakes now. And prairie grass. And colder, windier winters. What I loved about pumping diesel for semi’s was the people. The truckers were friendly and well-versed in the gift of gab. The waitresses were hot. The food was cold and greasy. Truck driving food. The lights were bright. And I used to like the smell of gas. Plus at that time I was proud to be able to do physically demanding jobs. They kept me fit and trim and made me feel solid. Grounded.
That’s what I can say about jobs like cherrypicking and pumping diesel and checking oil on big Peterbilt or Mack trucks. Grounded. Step up, pull up the latches on the right side of the hood, or was it the left?
The office I worked in was about 12 x 12 and smelled like Granddaddy’s shop used to smell. A mixture of male sweat, girlie calendars, oil, gas, grit, and grime. That’s exactly what it smelled like. I used to like that smell. And the times we would visit him on Reynolds Street.
About 7 or 8 years ago, I headed Down South with my mother and sister. We went to the old haunts. My granddaddy’s shop was closed up tight. And it looked almost exactly the same as it did in the late 50’s, early 60’s. The Bear alignment sign was still hanging out from a rusty pole. And the auto service sign, we nabbed that one for my brother.
When we got back to the North, I gave the sign to him. And asked him to hold on to mine for me. I don’t know what happened to them. I need to ask. For a long time they were hanging in his barn. They tore the shop building down a few weeks after we left the South and widened the highway. All that remain are my photographs. I think that’s why I love photography.
I have an affinity for signs. I don’t know why. I shoot them all the time with my camera. Maybe it goes back to those hot humid days we’d visit my granddaddy at his shop. And drop salted Planter’s into the frosty, dripping tops of Coke bottles. We’d pull them out from between those machine pinchers hooked to a red metal cooler that went clink and suck down the caramel acid sugar between bits of swollen saltless peanuts.
Maybe that’s why I liked the smell of gas. And working at gas stations. Maybe it’s in my blood.
Thursday, May 24th, 2007
-from Topic post, Job! What Job?