79: Work Sets You Free:
or, My Curriculum Vitae
School bored me from the time I was ten years old. My teachers made me feel I wasn’t very bright. My friends all seemed smarter than me. They certainly did better in school. My father thought I was brilliant in ways the schools could not appreciate, but I didn’t believe him. I took to heart my mother’s point of view. She was convinced I was stupid and doomed. If I didn’t do well in school, I would never earn money, she said. Her nagging threat was that I would become a gravedigger.
During the summer months of high school, my father procured for me various jobs in machine shops where his position was electrical-mechanical engineer. I worked with drill presses, spot welders, and briefly operated a lathe, until it was discovered that I wasn’t supposed to know how to operate a lathe. I did a lot of lifting, carrying, and storing the materials we produced, like depth-charge encasements for the Vietnam War. Did the Vietcong have submarines?
Both my parents wanted me to become a business executive. They felt business executives did very little work and made lots of money. This led me to believe, if I did well in school, I was doomed to the continuation of the same tedium in a career following school. So why should I work hard for such a dissatisfying life? My father claimed I would enjoy being an executive. My mother said I wasn’t supposed to be happy, it was work.
After graduating high school, I worked many jobs. I quit many jobs.
I was a hanker, not that anyone will know what that is. I sat all day at a spinning machine winding cable into a neat noose to hang from jumpers. I quit after seeing the warehouse stacked with cable reels and realized there would never be an end.
I worked in industry, at Strescon Industries, where we manufactured pre-stressed concrete panels in a plant large enough to fit a football field. Here a fog of silicate dust sometimes formed and you could not see the far end. Curiously, smoking Camel or Lucky Strike cigarettes made the atmosphere in this immense enclosure less irritating to breathe. My doctor ordered me to quit the job.
While in and out of college, which I would never finish, I had other short jobs. I worked a fast-food counter at a combination Kentucky Fried Chicken and Gino’s Hamburgers franchise in Falls Church, Virginia. One of the managers did not like me and worked me until I quit. The other two managers liked me a lot, said the bad manager was soon to be fired and asked me to come back to become a manager myself. It was too late, I had moved on.
In Bristol, Pennsylvania, I packed tea for the Atlantic Tea Packing Company. The operation was owned by Jews. When I had worked long enough packing teabags into boxes, I was called upstairs to the head office where they announced my scheduled five-cent-an-hour raise, but I was also asked why a nice Jewish boy like me was doing menial work. I sensed they wanted to give me a position in the office, yet I thought about the others I worked alongside who had been with the company longer. I was uncomfortable being offered a position merely because I was a member of their tribe – and five cents, come on! I soon quit.
Other jobs will never show up on my curriculum vitae, such as working in the factory of Smalls Tuxedo, where rented suits were cleaned and pressed before being returned to the stores. For Keystone Lighting, I sat at a moving belt with a hydraulic screwdriver hanging on a spring from the ceiling and put two screws into every modular recessed fluorescent lamp box that passed by.
There was one year spent creating and maintaining a filing system for the Quality Assurance Regional Office of Supplemental Security Income for Social Security in Boston. After one year, the folks in the office thought I would be made permanent. Alas, Social Security brought in examiners at the end of my probation to rate the job I created. It was determined the position required a college education, so I was laid off. My supervisor was very apologetic.
The second shortest job I ever held was with the IRS regional office in North Philadelphia. I refused to sign the pledge to maintain their secrecy because of the word “God”. I told them I would sign only on my honor and they would need to cross out “God”. I was therefore interrogated by consecutively higher and higher management, and was told it wasn’t important and to just sign it, but I continued to refuse. Finally, some uppity-up gave permission for me to cross out and initial every mention of “God”. I was then assigned a position of the highest security and worked four hours. There was a despotic quality in the manner of their demands to work at an uncomfortable speed and then, at the end of the work day, to fill out a sheet on your own time giving an account of the work done. I did not come back to work the next day.
Oh, but my shortest job was in a Mexican restaurant in Boulder, Colorado where I was hired as a dishwasher. It was a temporary position as I was to be made a pre-cook. Then I learned that the position was mine because my gay boss was determined to have sex with me. End of story.
I have worked outside in the sun doing landscaping for Moon Nurseries, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. I left it to run off to Colorado. That’s where I held my favorite job as Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Boulder Public Library in Colorado. My superior disliked me because I did not maintain a respectable posture, but was willing to lie on my stomach and read aloud to the kids. I had to leave the job because I lost the cheap place where I was living and my superior would not allow me to have the job full-time.
I was a salesman for the French section of Morrell’s Wine and Spirits, Manhattan, New York. It didn’t pay enough and I was taking home too many discounted bottles of wine in lieu of wages. I quit. They asked me to come back and offered more money, but it was too late as I took a job with Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Sears was so impressed with me, a mere filing clerk, that when they closed the buyers’ offices in Manhattan, they moved me and my first wife to Chicago to continue working for them, all expenses paid plus a bonus. But in Chicago, I was not admired by my immediate superiors and was blocked from a promotion that had been promised. That is why I left Sears on a Friday and began working for AT&T the following Monday. After working as a clerk for AT&T in Chicago for a year, I was able to get myself transferred back to Manhattan.
Once back in New York, my first wife and I separated. I remained a filing clerk with no ambition. It was enough just to live in New York City.
I began with AT&T 3rd December 1979. By 1983, disliking my job, I was prepared to move on, BUT, I met Ms Keogh, my cherished companion. She was a package deal, bringing to the relationship two kids by a previous marriage. Recognizing the position of filing clerk was insufficient for raising two children in a manner safe and comfortable in New York City, I took the test for Communications Technician, surprising many by acing it. My income doubled overnight and I moved to Pennsylvania, where we could live in a house in a good neighborhood. I commuted every day to Manhattan, a distance of over 140 miles round trip. Eventually, I got a position closer to home in Trenton, New Jersey.
My mother was right to tell me not to expect to be happy with my job. But she was wrong; if I had understood then what I know now, I would have better prepared myself for a job I could enjoy, a job I would love so much, I would never seek to retire. AT&T was not that job, was not how I planned to expend my life force, but for the sake of my family, I stayed with them until I was laid off in the last week of November 2010. Soon after that, I took retirement and have come to know unadulterated and incessant happiness.
AT&T provided my pension, and they have unwittingly been my patron, since they have financed my writing. Working for over thirty years has at last paid off. I can afford to live a leisurely life in Cardiff , Wales, a place which pleases me more than any description I have had of Heaven. And I continue to have the companionship of Ms Keogh, whom I have never stopped adoring.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.