Posts Tagged ‘jobs that haunt me’

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?

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Micrometer, image public domain, Splarka

-micrometer, image public domain

Jobs I’ve had over my entire life, in no particular order? It was hard to remember them all. And it seemed like there were so many more.

Isn’t it strange that we spend most of our lives working jobs in which we wonder what we’re doing there? I’ve always been envious of those who knew at age 6 they wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Yes, I know people who are working jobs they knew they wanted to do when they were kids. For me, following my true heart has been a long time coming. Decades have been spanned. But no time wasted.

1. Sharpened dental tools micrometer in the left hand, metal blade in the right, moving with precision and care against the spinning wheel next to a stack of 15 grades of polishing and grinding stones. You need good eyes and coordination and a humongous box of Spiderman Band-Aids for the nicks and cuts. I’ve still got a scar on my hand.

2. Pumped diesel for semi-trailer trucks – heavy, hard work. The truck dip sticks were as long as I was tall. I smelled like grease at the end of the day. I looked like James Dean – T-shirt, tight Levi’s, those tan workman’s boots. I was in shape back then and played tennis every morning that summer at the high school with a friend.

3. Wound huge reels of magnetic tape on to cassettes – 1972 – clip fat reels of magnetic tape on a steel machine that looks like an old reel-to-reel. Push the red button on Led Zeppelin, the reel winds off until a code on the tape tells the sensor to stop. The cassette is full of tape. Quick, razor cut splices tape. Next cassette.

4. Tended snack bar at a local golf course – ate all the hot dogs and slushy iced Cokes I wanted. I actually liked that job. Worked it right before I left for college. The people were nice. They tipped well.

5. Pumped gas and checked oil – at a city Alert station (back when gas stations still did that). I also painted the curbs white every night because the manager was a meticulous perfectionist. I wore an orange jumpsuit with my name over the pocket. I swear.

6. Supervised about 30 people as a middle manager in a national healthcare company – the greatest job when the company was start-up. I worked my way up from data entry. I took the job as a temp after art school (I was up to my eyeballs in student loans), the longest job I ever had – 9 years. Wasn’t so fun later when the company merged with another healthcare giant in San Francisco. Two different cultures that clashed.

7. Worked as a counter clerk at a Husky station – My first job when I moved to Montana in my 20’s. I rode a welded red bicycle that winter (no car) that I’d bought with $20 I’d scraped together. It was dark and cold when I got off at midnight. Soon I would buy a powder blue VW Squareback from a friend. I loved that car.

8. Dusted the furniture, washed the dishes, ironed the family clothes – That was how I earned my weekly allowance. Oh, how I wish I could have earned it mowing the lawn (I love to mow) and taking the garbage out like my brothers. No – check that. No garbage.

9. Hand picked cherries near Flathead Lake in Montana Shortest job. I think it only lasted a month. Breathtaking view. Unsteady ladders. One cherry at a time.

10. Babysat the kids – didn’t every young girl do babysitting?

11. Installed microscopic volume controls into hearing aids – Red Fox road, I always loved that name. I did this 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, with tiny tweezers, peering through a microscope, every minute of every day.

12. Worked as an independent freelance writer & consultant – doesn’t every writer do this?

13. Performed data entry for a local fan company – Yes, fans. This was a temp job. Only lasted a few months.

14. Worked at the on campus library (work-study) while I was in art school – One of the greatest jobs I ever had. What’s not to like about shelving books about art & artists in between printmaking and art history classes.

15. Pumped gas at a Chevron station one summer in Montana – I’m just realizing how much gas I’ve pumped in my life.

16. Coordinated project data entry and filing for an accounting firm – no, I was wrong. THIS was the shortest temp job ever. One day. They thought I knew accounting. Crossed wires between agency and client. They called the next day and said not to come back! One day.

17. Shoveled snow – from the driveway of an 80-year-old woman who no longer wanted to do it herself (although she could have). This woman had spunk.

18. Worked as a clerk for a large bookstore chain – seemed like a good idea at the time, a smooth transition between the corporate world and creative writing. Below zero walks and midnight bus rides with the nightstalkers.

19. Cleaned hotel rooms at a Class B Missoula motel chain – this lasted exactly one week. It was the grossest thing I ever did. I hated it. And have great respect for those who can tolerate other people’s stinky dirt and grime.

20. Dug fence post holes and strung barbed wire fence on a cattle ranch – only a weekend in Billings. But it was so much fun. Fresh, clean air. And those mountains. Thick leather gloves recommended.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

-from Topic post, Job! What Job?

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For 8 years I lived in a sleepy little western town called Missoula. I was 22 when I arrived, 30 when I left. In between, I was a dental tool sharpener at American Dental on Reserve Street (now defunct), a clerk at a Husky gas station behind Ruby’s Cafe (on the strip near Malfunction Junction), and a student at the University of Montana where I took one of my first black and white photography classes, soon to be followed by my first Women’s Studies class.

Near the end of my time in Missoula, I suddenly found myself unemployed when I got so sick and tired of all the crap on the job (I was the only woman) that I quit on the spot, walked out of the dental tool sharpening profession forever. I got in a lot of trouble for that. We were trying to save money to move away. But I was just plain done spending 8 hours a day grinding blunt-tipped metal into precision instruments of pain.

Montana license plate from Montana Official State Travel Information Site, credit to Montana Historical Society

When I lived in Montana, I identified with Montana. This was Big Sky Country. I wore flannel shirts and Levi’s and hiking boots (like most all the women there did at that time). I hiked the steep winding curves of the Bitterroots and camped with friends near remote, one-room fire towers made of glass. Jobs were scarce and many of my friends worked summers on fire crews with the U.S. Forest Service. In the winters, I ironed, corked, and waxed my cross country skies (the color of the wax depended on how wet the snow was) and once took a hot air balloon ride at 5am over mile-high mountains.

I was happy in Missoula. The minute I stepped off the plane (on to what was then Johnson-Bell Field) I knew I loved it there. It was laid back and liberal. (Does anyone use those words anymore?) With the exception of the winter inversions, it was a pretty happy place to be.

I’d spend hours writing in journals, taking wildflower walks up the Rattlesnake Canyon, scraping bark off of giant Ponderosa pines for my friends who were hand building log cabins in the Bitterroots and up the Blackfoot. I felt like I belonged, like I was a part of something that felt like home. It was home for the longest time.

Eventually, I found a girlfriend and settled down. We stayed together a long, long time. And when the town became too small, and the time came to move on, we packed up everything we owned, rented a 50 foot U-Haul, and pulled our 22 boxes of vintage albums, 7 boxes of rocks and minerals, 2 cats, and 1 red Subaru wagon across the Rockies and the Dakotas and into Minnesota.

For the first five years I lived in the Minnesota, my number one goal was to move back to Montana. I missed the tall, grounded mountains. I missed my friends. I missed the slow pace and the way everyone knew everyone else. I missed tumbling down the Blackfoot River in yellow rubber rafts and hanging with men and women who seemed to really know what it meant to live off the land.

But then something happened. I started to mold to the sturdy independence and protective Midwestern resolve. I began to value the way the arts were supported, and the lakes and rivers were the cleanest in the country, and the neat rows of houses and gridded streets formed nice straight patterns I could follow on a map.

I learned to love stoicism, The Loft, the Walker, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (but never quite took a liking to hotdish or Rice Krispie treats). I traded the vastness of Lake Superior for the rounded glacial peeks surrounding the five valley area of Missoula.

This place changed me. And I let it. It’s been 23 years. I finally stopped telling everyone I was going to move back out West. And settled in – to me. But I still miss Montana. And once in a while, I break out in that Willis Alan Ramsey song, Goodbye Old Missoula. If you know the one I mean, maybe Missoula is one of your secret places, too.

Goodbye Old Missoula
by Willis Alan Ramsey

Searchin’ for the sunlight
On this winter’s day
But here in ol’ Missoula

They’ve thrown the sun away
Come tomorrow morning
I’m headed for the Bozeman Round

And it’s goodbye to ol’ Missoula
sleepy town

I met a girl named Rosie
Sweet as she could be
But I guess that Rosie
She didn’t have eyes for me

Time waits for no one
Lord, why did I hesitate
And it’s goodbye to ol’ Missoula
a day too late

Clouds that hang on the mountain
They make me lonesome inside
And these four walls surround me
Leaving no place to hide

Goodbye Rosie you’ll never know
Time tells, my love will pass
But if I just remember your smilin’ face
That’s all of time that I ask

Show in this town is over
Maybe just never began
And it’s goodbye to ol’ Missoula
done all that I can

And it’s goodbye to ol’ Missoula
goodbye to ol’ Missoula
goodbye to ol’ Missoula
Sleepy town

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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