Monday, September 7, 2015

Life Takes Some Funny Turns.

Now it's all robots, of course.

Louis Shalako

Life takes some funny turns. Sometimes we’re just reacting to events. A lot of the time we're being pushed, and a lot of the time we’re just doing the best we can with what we got.

I have never liked being pushed, ladies and gentlemen.

When I was about eighteen, I got a job a Fibreglas Canada, bagging glass at their plant here in Chemical Valley. After two and a half months on the job, there was a layoff, and I didn’t have that much seniority. They laid off forty guys, maybe more. (It was a long time ago.) There was a two-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, and then the next week you get a cheque for the first week of your layoff. We were all union (or on probation at a union plant), and so Manpower as it was called back then, waived the job-search requirement. They knew what a layoff was.

So did my dad. He’d worked at Polysar for years. He was laid off one time for five or six weeks and he must have been scared shitless. I understand that much. Every time the contract came up for renewal, my old man would stop spending money. He’d be salting it away just in case there was a strike. We might have to survive on that for a while, right? Times were relatively good, the company usually came through, and strikes rarely happened. He had every right to be scared, of course, with a wife, three kids, a mortgage, two cars and all those mouths to feed.

I had another job within a few days—my old man told me there was no way he was putting up with bearded, drunken, pot-smoking bums laying on the couch all day while he was off sweating his bag off in the plant. He hated long hair, he hated rock music. He hated a lot of things.

I took a job at Holmes Insulation, which was easy enough to get as I had production experience in fibreglass and wool products. The pay was less, the working conditions were atrocious with wool hanging all over you. It hung in the air, it was draped over everything in the place, it crunched in your sandwiches and in your coffee. It was a hundred times worse than Fibrescratch, which was what everyone who worked there called it. The itch never left you, and in fact glass fibres came out of work clothes in the laundry. The stuff infiltrated into every other article of clothing that went through there. After a while it was in the blankets, sheets and pillowcases. And Holmes was worse.

I lasted four hours at Holmes. I walked out during first break, and got in my car and went home without looking back. The next day I was a bit surprised to find fibres, sticky wool hanging from the underside of my car roof…anyways, my old man must have been on his day off.

Rock wool, horrible stuff to work with. (Achim Hering, Wiki.)
And I had just quit my job for reasons which he clearly could not comprehend. I had worked for a year at K-Mart as a stockman. From there I got hired into Fibreglas. I would have gotten an unemployment cheque within a week or ten days, by this time.

I can’t recall exactly what was said. It wasn’t good and I had had enough. I ended up going downtown, after consulting the phone book, and talking to a recruiter for the Canadian Armed Forces. I told him all of this stuff. How my old man was all over me like a dirty shirt, and how I was laid off from Fibrescratch, how I had tried at Holmes, and how I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Get me out of here. Teach me to be fucking man, or whatever, you know the stupid shit people say to young guys all the time.

And he turned me down. He told me that I was upset, and that my attitude wasn’t all that good. Not what we’re looking for. I admitted that my teeth weren’t very good, which he could probably see. My old man would have been all over that—join the army, they’ll fix your teeth, put a roof over your head, they buy your clothes for you, your boots, and oh, yeah, they feed you too.

He was always like that, very practical I’m sure, and I might have told the recruiter some of that too. Anyway, he sent me home. He told me, come back next week, and if you haven’t changed your mind we’ll sign you up.

I went home, and my old man had gone out, probably to the union hall for his two glasses of draft beer.

By two-thirty in the afternoon the phone had rang. It was the plant—they were calling me back.

They must have gotten some new orders and everyone was going back to work.

I might have taken some small pleasure in telling my old man about the recruiter—even more pleasure in telling him I was going back to work.

But I learned something, or figured out something about my old man that day. He grew up in the Great Depression. There were eight kids, and mom and dad in a three-bedroom house. His older brothers and sisters couldn’t wait to get jobs, move into a ten-cent a night room at the YMCA and get the hell out of their parents' house.

For him the greatest sin of the age, was to lose your job. To quit a job, any job was unthinkable. My father understood some of this, as it had to come from somewhere—from his own family life. He told me something that’s not very funny. It ain’t funny at all, but he said it.

“If someone was cutting lawns for fifty cents a week, down at the rectory, and the priest fucked them up the ass, they didn’t dare go home and tell their parents. Their parents would have beaten the shit out of them…” That’s what the man said, ladies and gentlemen."They would have washed your mouth out with soap for telling such stories. They'd be telling you that you're going straight to hell for saying things like that about a priest..."

“Don’t you understand how important that fifty cents a week is to this family…???”

He told me all about it.

He understood their attitude well enough, for they had come from Quebec, looking for work and a better life. It was also one of the most priest-ridden societies in the world at the time, although things might be better now.

Anyways, that’s how I almost joined the army—and got turned down, and went on to work for over a year at Fibreglas before moving onto something else, the door business or something. I’ve had fifty or a hundred jobs in my lifetime, on at least a thousand different job-sites or in a thousand different workplaces.

Well, I got my pension now. Now I work for myself. I write books and stories and I will not apologize for that. Before he died, my old man finally read a couple of my books. That was special, it really was, although I have been told he blamed my mother for my having become a writer.

Old attitudes die hard, ladies and gentlemen. While my old man was a union man, and a socialist in his own way, he was also pretty conservative in some respects. You have to accept certain things about your folks, you have to forgive them for being who they are sometimes. 

Imagine what the poor man thought of me studying art, ladies and gentlemen.

But I will be damned if you are going to rule my life, sir.

In that sense, nothing has changed, sir.


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