Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hut Hut Hut Hut Hut And A Six- Plex In Need.

Some guy locked himself in his house armed to the gills today, and it reminded me of the very first day of my very first “real” job when I was somewhere near my sixteenth birthday.

I started mowing lawns at about nine and I made pretty good money painting house numbers on curbs for two dollars a house in black on white or white on black; and Christmas season found me shimmying up trees to collect mistletoe which we wrapped in red ribbon and sold down at the local Safeway out of a Red Flyer Wagon.

And at fourteen, my pops hired someone to remodel our kitchen and then his master bedroom, and I hired myself on to the project and then found myself doing “fix-it” work around the neighborhood some.

But this was the first time I had to meet an employer, a boss, and had to travel to a location by commuting with a friend (my friend Rolf, who was slightly older and had inherited his father’s F-100 pick-up) and the first time I stayed up half the night worried about my “first day”.

It was my first “real” job. OK?

And boy was it something else!

I have an English friend who introduces me like this-- “This is my friend Scotty. Stuff happens to him.”

And if there were ever going to be any indication that things were, indeed, going to ‘happen to me‘, it would have been on my first day of work. You see, my first day had it all. Crazy Vietnam vets, brainwashed Christians, a pair of prostitutes, a S.W.A.T. team and half the city’s local police department, a kidnapping, a low-rider full of ass-clown Hispanic punks that I threatened with an electric chainsaw. Two welfare Mommas. Twelve illegals. Really bad home-made beer that tasted like aluminum. A stack of Polaroid pictures that, uh, were all of the beaver variety. Furry. Not furry. Tight lipped and flabby gabby. There was carpet that smelled of urine and a pair of pot plants not more than a foot tall. There were children with awful sores on their mouths (impetigo) and a very strong black young man who was known for two things-- his blood kinship with Mel Grey the track and football star, and the ability to outrun the cops with a TV perched on his shoulder. That was Charles. Charles was the fittest man I have ever seen, but far too lazy to hold down a job. When the cops came, I saw Charles leap a six foot fence with no effort at all- just one hand on the top rail and boop! he was over. The sound of shotguns being pumped must have really set Charles off.

So here is the deal, the scoop, the story. I applied for and received work credit crap my sophomore year second semester. “Work experience” it was called. What it meant was that I could leave High School at lunch time and that was that. I would go to a job and work from 1-5. I started at 6 bucks an hour and it was with a Christian Vietnam Vet Carpenter named Gene, who Rolf had been working for for about a month, and it was for a guy named Bob who only came by on Fridays to check the progress and write checks. We were to remodel six stucco apartment units that were built out of spare doors in WW2 (they were once temporary barracks of some kind), and they were in the worst part of town and on the worst street in that part of town.

We called the area “South Park” -I shit you not- and this was long before Comedy Central even had a place to park its frequency.

Rolf had been there about three days already, and mentioned me when Gene asked him if he knew of anyone who could help. He told me the place was rough and dirty, but he was also new and, until I arrived, nothing had happened.

I hope this was all clear and I have set up my first day appropriately. Rolf was one of my closest friends at that time. We were jamming out of High School early; we swung by and picked up sandwiches on our way to “work”. Rolf was telling me about Gene, mostly, and about how to act and what to do and I was just a naive (in many, many ways) kid from the white bread neighborhoods where houses had automatic garage door openers and basketball hoops out on flat driveways.

We drove out behind the fair grounds and down these badly paved streets, and it was like a whole new world. There were Hispanic kids and black kids and vicious looking little redhead kids all swaggering around on the streets. They didn’t look like they behaved the way I was used to kids behaving, and they sure looked tougher than I remember ever seeing any kid (except one) the whole time I was growing up. These kids were dirtier and walked with closed fists and threw their shoulders around like Irish pugilists and were grouped up in numbers and were years behind in the latest J.C. Penny’s fashions of the day.

They hade no sidewalks and took over the center of the street, and I had to ask Rolf why he didn’t hit the horn and push on through some of the little shits who did this on purpose.

“They have older brothers,” is what he told me.

We pulled into the driveway that serviced the six units. It was basically the front yard for all six of these little apartments. A duplex on the left. A duplex square in back. A duplex on the right. A horse shoe shaped footprint of six units with them all facing an old asphalt driveway, which was about two cars wide. There was about 110 feet of driveway from the road to the two back units. This was communal ground and it seemed everybody who lived here had a reason for sitting outside in cheap chairs just to watch us work. Rolf and I pulled in and parked behind Gene’s light blue Suburban Carry-All, one of those old late sixties monster station wagons that were as big as a small school bus and was full of windows.

Gene was a big shouldered Italian guy with a relaxed gut. His face was very dark from razor stubble five minutes after every shave. He had a cartoon hair cut (lots of flip to his combed-sideways bangs and no part) and a ski jump nose. My fist impression of him was that he was very very friendly and kind, which proved true through the years I knew him.

We all shook hands, chatted for awhile and then Gene presented Rolf and I with the order of business for that afternoon. We needed to make sure the prostitutes had completely vacated their unit and then we were to start gutting the place, carpets first.


I had never seen one before in person. Just the television ones, with the really long legs and the really short blue jean cut-offs and tops that always had a knot tied under the boobies, for, I surmised, ease of entry and exit.

I was going to meet my first prostitute. Me. The quiet, lanky, white, Wonderbread-Boy from the quiet suburbs with lots of cul-de-sacs...

The three of us went to the door and knocked. This was the first apartment on your left as you entered the driveway. Skank One and Skank Two answered. Oh. So that’s what a Skank looks like? The place smelled horrible. The place was down to two mattresses and a couple of piles of garbage. The girls asked for help getting the mattresses out to the street, where their “boys” would stop by and get them. Rolf and I did our first “work” together, moving prostitution mattresses while learning some new swear words and sucking in a lot of cigarette smoke blown in our faces by two girls who complained about the fact that they were evicted.

“We needed this apartment vacant to redo it.” Gene nicely told them. “You can move back in when we’re done.”

The girls went to a neighbors and sat down in cheap chairs and smoked some more. They drank Old English 800 (the beer of choice in those units) and cussed and swore at us. They kept flashing Rolf and I their boobies. They seemed to enjoy that.

Inside those piles of garbage that we hauled out were a pile of Polaroid pictures of beavers. Rolf collected these in a paper sack and kept making jokes about the two girls and which one was which in which picture. I was still blinking my eyes and just taking all this newness in. There was garbage to be hauled out, a dumpster on the street to be filled, and that’s what I was trying to do, my first day at work.

Gene wore one of those yellow hardhats that looked like he never took it off. He was wearing it when he ran in to the almost empty apartment where I was and yelled at me, his voice shrill and scared- “IF YOU HEAR ANY SHOTS, HIT THE DECK!!” He crouched down behind the front window and looked outside.

I remember not doing anything. I remember thinking "this was all so silly". A grown man, playing army. What was he thinking? I saw a tall and well-muscled black man (Charles) run by. He had been out by the dumpster telling me on every trip how much better he could do my job than me. I was hauling trash. I tried to agree with him. Then he was fleeing for his life, running by the window Gene was crouching behind, and I saw him leap a six foot fence like it was a tennis court net, putting just one hand on the top rail as he sailed over. The man could run.

Then I heard them. The pumps on shotguns being pumped. Shaashick!! Shashick!! Shashick!!

There were a lot of them. Then I squatted down next to Gene and looked out toward the street. There were flashing lights and a S.W.A.T. type van and a street full of cops and lights and shotguns being pumped and shells chambered. There had been no sirens. Just the sudden arrival of about fifteen cop cars and those other guys who liked to “hut hut hut” in funny movies.

Rolf slid in and the three of us huddled there, looking out and wondering what was going on? Stuff like this never happened where I grew up. Those cops smiled and came to our classes and gave us lectures and let us touch their badges and batons.

None of the residents of these apartments had gone inside. Most had stood up, paced around a bit, and then had gone back to their cheap chairs and their Old English 800 cans of beer. Those who couldn’t see had moved their chairs across the asphalt driveway for the proper angle.

Rolf went back outside. I got brave and followed. Gene held on to his yellow hard hat and told us to get back inside.

“This is just like Nam.” he said. “Get back in here.”

Rolf and I had never been to Nam, so we went out to where the prostitutes and the welfare mommas and the illegal migrant workers and the drunks and dirty children all congregated. We asked what the heck was going on?



Hammer said...

Exciting story, can't wait to read the rest.

it's the little things... said...

I'm surprised you ever worked again!

Hammer said...

I hope you had gloves when you moved the hookers mattress! Ewwww

Cheesy said...

To be continued?? CRAP...
Time for me to go walk the streets anyhow to watch out for those vicious redheaded kids!

btw that is one lovely fireplace... something you're working on??

Scott from Oregon said...

Cheesy-- That picture is of my house in Grants Pass. It is finished and I sold it right as Mum got sick. Yeah, I redid the fireplace and the stairwell so that there were two stories of visible stone. The stone all came from the side of the road on the way up to the Mount Ashland ski resort. Every winter it flakes off the slabs up there from the ice, and I collected it by the truckloads. It is golden granite and very pretty.

Hammer- I actually GOT impitigo my second week of work because Rolf tackled me just fooling around and I got a rug burn on my elbow that took anti-biotics to clear up. Nasty.

ITLT- We did all six units, eventually, and everyday was an adventure of some sort. I learned more about "people" then I think I cared to back then.

Jeannie said...

Always a shock when you see how the other half lives

kario said...

You do learn things the real way, don't you? No book-learnin' for you, Scott. I love the way you find yourself immersed in life no matter where you go.

Keep it coming!

Maggie said...

To be continued? I don't want to put the book down! Dirty rotten cliff-hanger...

Tammie Jean said...

“This is my friend Scotty. Stuff happens to him.”
That's great! Can't wait to read the rest...

Jean said...

"Stuff happens to him."... indeed!

Talk about your crash course in society...

Cheesy said...

Oh I'll have to get a map from you! I could bring home a new hearth stone by stone for every visit to Ashland lol...