My first job, at about ages 10-12, was caddying for my father when he played golf, usually at the Elks Country Club outside of West Lafayette, still in existence but renamed and under new ownership. The eighteenth green is still right where it always was.
My first official job, though, was at the old Elston Lanes bowling alley, tending the pin machines. I cleared pin jams, maintained the alleys and the pin machines. My right hand got caught in the mechanism once, leaving a difference than can still be just barely seen now, in a slight difference between the knuckles on the right and left hands. I was 14. The lanes are no longer there, the building is gone, and I’m not even sure this is a picture of the right corner.
This job lasted about a year, and then I took a summer job with Food Services at the Purdue Memorial Union at age 15. All I can remember is washing lots of forks and then feeding baskets of them through the dishwasher. I think I sometimes helped set tables in the ballrooms too, though. 3 years later, I was part of the group that took over the Union in a protest against the Vietnam War (and some other issues).
At 16, I started working evenings as a surgery orderly at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Lafayette. Surgery was then on the fourth floor. Part of my job was prepping people (males only) for surgery. I shaved a lot of scrotums, as well as every other part of the male body where hair grows. I also cleaned rooms after surgery, held people who were getting spinal injections with the huge needles they used then (maybe still do), worked with the surgical teams fetching and carrying, and at least once became a part of the surgical equipment when I had to sit under the drapes and hold steady the stump of a leg that couldn’t be held by the orthopedic table while they operated on the hip. Strangely, while I became pretty blasé to the sight of blood and horrible wounds, needles fill me with fear and it is difficult for me to have blood drawn without passing out (I mostly have it done while lying down, nowadays). The morgue was in the basement at St. E’s, and I was once sitting on the gurney with the corpse I was taking down in the elevator when the bereaved family started to get on at a lower floor. They got off again. I also remember jauntily carrying a dismembered leg over my shoulder down that route.
One other thing I remember from my time at St. E’s (or times – I worked there two different times) was the number of D&C’s performed. It was (and still is) a Catholic Hospital, and of course didn’t perform abortions – except that many of the “D&C’s” (dilation and curettage) were in fact abortions, and all of the doctors and nurses (and surgery orderlies) knew it. How times have changed.
I worked at St. E’s for about two years, although there was a time somewhere in 68-69 where I left and then came back later. I can’t remember the exact sequence, but it’s not the mists of time so much as the mists of my experiences with LSD, combined with the ’68 Democratic Convention demonstration, the takeover of the Purdue Union Building, getting kicked out of my parents’ home, falling in love with Janice, and other distractions from the workaday world. After Janice and I got married in the fall of ’69, I got a job at the old Brown Rubber Plant, working in the warehouse driving a forklift. I think I may have been the first person there to actually turn a forklift onto its backside (forks pointing straight up in the air, and me still in the seat). That job lasted only about three or four months and then the factory closed. The building itself is gone, or rebuilt, but there is still a factory there.
Janice and I moved into a “commune” on Rose Street in West Lafayette for the summer of 1970, and I got a job working at the Wabash Valley Education Center, which distributed movies and slides and other media to all the schools in the county. I worked loading them for distribution, repairing them when they came back, and eventually doing most of the scheduling. Strangely, this business still exists, although when I worked there it was housed in two rooms in one wing of Cumberland School (it has a separated building north of the school now). This is the corner of the school it occupied when I was there. I was still working here when our first child, Leilah, was born.
Anxious to make better money , I left WVEC to join a construction crew formed by some friends, doing drywall. I was fair at it, and getting better, when the housing crash hit and the work dried up. We did some work on new construction, this being the one place I remember, although probably not the exact house. It’s where the rich folk live, still, I think.
I went to the unemployment office and hooked up with a temporary job working at Wabash Center, which works with the disabled. My job was painting the walls and tarring the roof and doing other maintenance tasks.
It only was slated to last six months, so I kept looking for work, and managed to land a job at the General Foods factory, working in the warehouse.
I started out stacking boxes off the production lines on pallets and loading railcars by hand with boxes of Stove Top Stuffing and Jello. I managed to get a fork lift job eventually, and that is mostly what I did for the next 14 years. I became active with the union – Local 348 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, AFL-CIO. I was a shop steward, and held a couple of offices with the union, and wrote and published the local newsletter – The Blade – for which I got in trouble with management on a regular basis. We had one strike while I was there – I was on the negotiating committee – that lasted a couple of months, which is why you won’t catch me crossing a picket line. I also took a year off in 1984 to work as the local AFL-CIO United Way representative, a position that completely soured me on the United Way (I haven’t donated since I left and went back to the factory). Both my second and third children, David and Anna, were born while I worked at the factory.
In 1990, the factory shut down in the downsizing movement, but I had been working part-time just for fun with my friend Dave Alm at his computer shop, and started to work there full time. We were building computers from scratch, and repairing them, and helping people with software, and we also put together a BBS (bulletin board service, a precursor to the internet) and then became one of the first local Internet service providers in the area. I had a great time working there, learning all I could from the old Navy radioman who was one of Dave’s technicians, and on my own. After 10 years, with Janice no longer working outside the home, I needed to look for a better salary and comprehensive health insurance, so I regretfully left there and began working at the Lafayette School Corporation.
We provided IT service and managed the computers and networks for all the Lafayette schools, working out of this building behind where the Old Soldiers Home used to stand, and next to Jefferson High School. It was here that I picked up my MCSA certification – Microsoft Systems Administrator – the first and only actual course I’ve ever taken, which let me start to work on backups, image cloning, networking and the rest of the skill set I’ve used ever since.
My kids grew up and moved out during my time here, and all went to the West Coast, and I wanted to live closer to them, so after 5 years here, I got a job as close to the coast as I could find, with the Harney County School District in Burns, Oregon.
It was a good job, allowing to further broaden my sysadmin skills, and I loved the countryside in the high desert of Eastern Oregon, but the isolation (the county was about a third the size of the state of Indiana, and home to about 7800 people, total) and the fact that we couldn’t sell our house for a good price eventually brought us back to West Lafayette, where I took a pay cut to take another sysadmin job, this time at Purdue University, after about a year and a half.
I’ve worked here now going on 10 years, and this is my last labor day before retirement, so I decided to drive around and get pictures of all the places I’ve worked (except Burns, Oregon). It took me two hours and 66 miles to cover all the sites, which seems pretty circumscribed. It hasn’t been a really exciting working life, but I have always worked for the purpose of earning a living. I know there’s a lot to be said for following your dreams and passions, and I’m glad when people are able to do that to earn their pay, but working just for a living is neither better nor worse than working at what you love, as long as you can also enjoy a life outside of work, which I’ve always tried to do. My best wishes to all who labor for whatever motivation and under whatever circumstances on this labor day, and my hopes that the lot of all workers will begin to improve again, soon.