Jobs That Shaped My Future
Working sucks – especially as a teenager.
My first job was hauling thick Sunday edition newspapers around my neighbourhood, tucking them in behind the front screen door of suburban homes in Scarborough. The newspaper always came in two bundles at two different times: the advertising and lifestyle sections with all the small flyers and inserts were thrown out of a moving truck onto the sidewalk at the end of our street sometime after midnight, and the news section was delivered to the front of our driveway at 6am. I never understood why the advertising section couldn’t be delivered to the front of our house like the rest of the newspaper, but that’s just the way is was. I’d make the trek to the end of our street and drag the bundle of ads to be joined up with the rest of the paper. The ink on the news section was never dry and my hands would be black by the time I combined the two parts together to make one big heavy Sunday morning newspaper, The Sunday Sun. My cart was old and the weight of the stack made the worn wheels cry out as I pulled it down the dark streets. Handling the big newspapers was a skill that I learned quickly – if the grip on the bulky paper wasn’t placed perfectly and without the proper pressure, the inserted advertising and small flyers would slip out and make a trail of debris behind me as I reached the front doors. The paper route customer base grew and my rusting cart couldn’t cope with the stress any longer. My father – bless his big heart – started to help and began to drive me around the route in his hatchback Toyota – I would sit in the back with the big door open and my legs dangling over the bumper. A broom was wedged between the bumper and the handle of the hatchback to keep the door from slamming down on my head. Newspapers were stacked beside me and I would leap in and out of the slow moving car and deliver the papers. We would finish quickly and this became our routine every early Sunday morning. Then the route grew again. We ditched the Toyota and started using our other family vehicle, the big Ford Econoline van, which was much easier to jump in and out of – the huge sliding side door was awesome – as long as it kept open and didn’t slide closed onto our little fingers. My brother Lauchie started to help also –both of us running down the streets grabbing newspapers from the open van as my Dad creeped along in first gear. My father never got paid for his efforts, but I’m sure he enjoyed his relaxing Sunday morning job listening to his Bluegrass music on low volume. My brother and I had a lot of fun jumping into the moving van like the Duke boys from the Dukes of Hazard, and we always kept an eye open for the cops, as I’m sure our paper route methods weren’t legal.
My second entry into working for the rest of my life, was struggling with busboy duties at a family restaurant in deep Scarborough. I made a mighty $2.65 an hour cleaning the tables and filling the industrial dishwashers back in the kitchen. I started this job while I was thirteen, being paid cash until I was fourteen and legally allowed to join the workforce. From my first paycheque of $14, I bought an Iron Maiden album from a record store that was just a few stores away. I would work on the weekends all day and I would get so hungry watching people stuff themselves until I was allowed to choose my lunch from a specific employee menu that wasn’t free – a portion of the meal cost would be taken off each paycheque. Sometimes while I was taking my bussing tray back to the dishwasher, I would grab some morsel of food off the plates that I had just cleared. I was starving and there was always something left untouched on the plates – or at least it looked untouched. I’d quickly look around the kitchen to see if anyone was watching, and then I’d jam a hunk of streak or a piece of pie covered in whipped cream into the hungry mouth and chew fast. I hated this place and I hated the owner who obviously hated children and sacrificed them on an alter in the basement beneath the banquet hall where he worshipped his Lord Satan. He was a huge towering man that never smiled and only barked at me to clean this and wash that. Some of the wait staff were nasty as well. I really thought I was a sweet young man, just doing my best to collect enough hourly wage to buy another record from the music shop down the street, but they treated me like trash. Near the end of a particular difficult shift I stole their tips. Fuck them, I thought as I cleaned the tables, gathered the loose change, and carried their gratuities over to the bussing station. I was supposed to give the servers the cash and then at the end of their night they would kindly relinquish 10% of their tips back into my pocket. I’d skim a bit off the amount while checking for onlookers, and with a smile I’d pass the remaining bills and coins to them – saying that the customers were cheap. It wasn’t the start of some huge crime spree I would later embark upon – I only did this a few times and only to the servers who failed to acknowledge my table clearing prowess and treated me with zero kindness.
Following my failed career as a restaurateur, I started an adventure into reading the volume dials on gas meters for the regional gas company. At this point I was a young teenager and trying to attain a decent attendance in High School. After the days classes, I would scoot into a toilet stall and change into my uniform of grey shorts, blue button-down short-sleeved dress shirt, and clip-on ID badge. With a flashlight attached to my belt and bouncing off my hip, a bright orange map-book in my pocket, and my stack of beige computer punch-cards in my hands, I set out on the TTC (Toronto transit system) to wherever in the city I was required to read meters. From 4pm until 8pm was my working hours, and I would knock on the doors of the homes that the day meter-readers could not access - or into the backyards they wouldn’t enter because of a rabid dog gnashing at them on the other side of a flimsy gate. The gas company sent out young boys in the evenings to enter strangers homes to read meters that were in dark basements or crawlspaces too small for adults. We were also expected to outrun the snapping monster teeth of angry pets that were protecting their masters property, or to read the meters from empty industrial buildings – we were offered an entire nine dollars if we could get the reading from a meter that had not been read in over six months. I was paid $2.45 for each computer card successfully filled in after a meter viewing. I had a sharp pencil and carried a sharpener for any pencil-related mishaps. If I lost the pencil or forgot the sharpener, my job would end early as there was no way to complete the computer cards otherwise. Each card had codes that would let me know where on the property the meter was located, and a little comment section for why the meter couldn’t be examined during the day. It was either that the owner didn’t speak English and doesn’t know why you want to enter their home or a warning about possible flesh tearing wild beast digging through the metal fence to chew my internal organs. I always chuckled at the note that read “rattle gate before entering backyard”, … it always filled me full of positive thoughts about my employment choice. On my very first day on the job I knocked on the side door of a two-story home – because that’s what the card told me to do. Down a short staircase from the first floor, a young woman came and opened the door and said she was just on her way out and that the meter was down in the basement, pointing to the stairs just to the left of me. She continued down the driveway and then down the street. I stepped down into the basement hoping to see the meter on a back wall or something, and then quickly darken the computer card numbered slots and jump back out onto the street. I stopped suddenly on the middle of the staircase once the whole room was in view and stared at a young woman’s exposed breasts as she sat on a couch topless watching a loud television. It was a basement apartment separate from the rest of the building and had nothing to do with the woman who left out the side door. At that moment, I froze, not knowing what to do as my eyes were transfixed to beautiful breasts. I heard a man’s voice entering the area from a back room and a panic rushed through me. Neither of them noticed me and I slowly backed up out of their home hoping the stairs wouldn’t creak and be heard over the loud TV. I didn’t make the $2.45 from that location but it did put a little smile on my face for the rest of the night. Tramping through peoples homes in the evening was tricky. I was a skinny tiny teenager with acne and a badge with my photo clipped to my shirt pocket. Some people were frightened by me and wouldn’t allow me into their homes. I always had to explain that I was working at night because the day readers couldn’t get into their house. I had a lot of odd experiences, including trying to navigate through large piles of dogshit in one basement until my flashlight failed to illuminate one giant turd that I slipped in. I was horrified that people would let their massive animal drop stinkers all over their floor. There must of been twenty or thirty giant stacks of doggy waste that my torch found. As I went up the carpeted stairs, I scraped and wiped the shit from my shoes as best I could into the carpet fibers until I thought it was ok to walk out into their living room and out the front door. Another evening I had to go into the downstairs area of a taxidermy shop and pass by tables of animal parts and unfinished horrors – and the smell wasn’t delightful at all. After a couple years of doing this job I had learned the entire transit system of Toronto and could tell you what bus or train to take anywhere. One evening at about 8:30pm while finishing up my route and getting on a bus on the edge of the city to take me to the subway system, I noticed a man staring at me from across the bus. He was about thirty years old, tall with a strong build, had short blond hair and wore a collared shirt and baggy shorts. I couldn’t help but notice everything about him because he sat directly across from me and wouldn’t look away for even a moment. I read the advertisements plastered all over the inside of the bus and all around him trying my best to not make eye-contact at all. I was getting a little bothered that he never seemed to look away. The bus pulled into the subway stop so I exited through the closest door and hurried myself down the stairway to the platform and waited for the train to pull up. I turned around and the man was a few metres behind me with his eyes glued to me. “What the fuck?” I thought to myself. The train squealed to a stop and once I pushed through the opening doors I walked to the furthest seat away from where I had entered. I scanned the long train corridor and watched with uneasiness as the man followed me and sat a few seats away and continued the glaring. There were a few other commuters on the train so I wasn’t too concerned, but he just would not stop watching me. I had five underground stops until I was to transfer to another subway heading east to Kennedy station, where I would get on a final bus that would drop me at a stop a few streets away from home. I ran from the southbound train, entered the eastbound train – periodically spinning my head around to see if I was still being followed. Again I rushed to the farthest seat away from the open doors, dropped down onto the fake red velvet and waited for the train to lurch forward. He walked all the way through each train car yanking open the doors in between and plunked his ass down in the seat right across from me. He was a big man, and I was frightened and I didn’t know what he wanted. I looked everywhere else in the train interior except at him. I noticed with peripheral vision that he had pushed forward in his seat and was leaning up against the pole that passengers hold on to while the train is in motion. His head was resting on the pole, and it seemed like he was in a weird seductive pose. I was freaked out but tried my best to pretend that I didn’t notice him being a total creepy fuck. I was a skinny sixteen-year-old and this man was twice the size of me and seriously freaking me out. Glancing back and forth around the car avoiding his gaze I noticed something horrifying going on. I quickly scanned over him passing my vision over what I thought I had seen from the corner of my sight. Out of the leg of his loose-fitting shorts was an unmistakable erection. I had six or seven more stops – almost fifteen minutes of this asshole sitting two metres away from me with a hard-on and a stare that would unsettle anyone. I couldn’t get up and move because I’m certain he would have just followed me. There was a few other scattered passengers, but no guarantee that they would be of any help if things went worse – so I just sat there and waited through the tense situation. Finally the train entered Kennedy Station and I leaped from my seat, rushed up the escalator out onto the platform where my 34B bus was idling. The bus doors were about to be closed - I could see the driver look around into his mirrors and he noticed me running for the front door. I hopped in and stood next to the driver as he pulled the big handle for the door and I quickly looked out towards the station exit. As we pulled away, I saw the guy approaching the platform staring right at me through the window. I was so thankful that the bus was sitting there as I hurried up the moving escalator, and thrilled at my timing with the bus leaving. This experience scared me and I decided to stop the meter reading soon after.