Thursday, October 20, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - Night Shift



When I was in college, a billion years ago, I worked several odd jobs, to make a few bucks. Most were in the kitchen, washing dishes. Typical grunt work. I made a buck. I spent a buck. Once my roommate needed a new clutch disk in his Barracuda. Maybe it was a Firebird. I don't remember. We spent the day lying on our backs in a parking lot replacing it. And the evening in the gym shower room cleaning up. I wasn't going to bring that grime into my room!

Then I got some other jobs outside. One was for a paper mill in Providence, RI. I was a security guard. Me and another third shift guard would sit in the guard shack, talk about crap, and go on patrol every hour on the hour. I remember talking to him about the Constitution. He thought the protesters at Kent State deserved what they got. I was appauled. We still worked together. That's how it goes.

I'd walk through several stations. The stations consisted of key boxes in various locations around the plant. I had to visit each key location, take the key out of its box, on a chain, and place it into a clock that I carried with me, and make an impression. The key would register that I was at that place at that time. It left a mark on a ribbon of paper inside the clock.

Nobody ever looked at the paper.

That's how they did security back then.

There were numerous buildings. One was a silo of recycled paper. It looked like the New York Times threw up. Sometimes the recycled paper contained pornography. That made for some interesting posters at the key stations.

The paper was shreaded and mixed with natural wood pulp and boiled and extruded into a paste. The paste was then wrapped around huge hot rollers that wound the paper up and around many other rollers in one huge building. I always felt overwhelmed when I went to the key station of that building. Imagine looking up and seeing several hundred rolling pins, each thicker than you are tall, all winding sheets of steaming paper in one continuous sheet. At the end coiling and slitting it off into huge spools.

So I punched the clock. And went to the next station. Another post.

One night, just before dawn, I saw a sight while I was going off to a distant shack. The moon was a clear crescent. There was a bright light, maybe Venus, in its embrace. Providence was quiet. The sky iridescent. The air expectant. It was a night to embrace the sky. A night for Van Gogh.

I knew a man. He lived in a one room appartment in downtown Providence. He was pretty poor, on his own, alone, but managed on his social security check of 65 dollars a month. He got by. That was during the wretched inflation years of the Seventies where so many saw their livelyhoods go up in smoke. I don't know how he survived. I never forgot. I'm still afraid of poverty.

Hospitals were good gigs. I'd patrol the parking lot during visiting hours. I thought of it as being a scare crow. I was there to be visible and to make the visitors feel secure and make sure nobody snapped off any antennas while they were visiting their injured loved ones. Then I could sneak off and do homework or steal food.

I had a friend. A janitor at the hospital. After hours he and I would let ourselves into the kitchen and steal cakes and desserts. He had a master key, of course, and these were the spoils of war. Well, the spoils of Pinkerton. One of my duties was to open the morgue when the undertakers came. "Mr. Blue," came the intercom. "Code 10." I don't remember the code number exactly, but I was Mr. Blue and the code meant to get downstairs to the morgue and unlock the stiff.

Undertakers were a sorry lot. Dead people even sorrier. I had a friend going to college in Boston at the time. I visited him one weekend. I hate driving in Boston. The roads are too revolutionary. We had a nice time. His roommate was studying to be an undertaker. I took a peak at some of his textbooks. They were all about how to reconstruct faces. Gruesome. I prefer the living, thank you.

Once I was in the phone room flirting with the telephone opperators. There was a security box on the wall and I was leaning up against it, looking cool, of course. I accidentally clicked a toggle switch off, then frantically back on again. It took less than a second. All of the emergency doors in the hospital swung noiselessly closed! No sirens, thank God. We had to bring them back to their electromagnetic state of equilibrium and assure the staff that the end of the world had not happened. My security buddy was not happy with me that night. I did still get cake, though.

Another hospital. Another janitor friend. I made friends with the off shift staff, of course. We used to get together and eat dinner, or whatever you call it on second shift. We'd talk about current events or something. One evening the papers were full of a home robbery and assault. Someone invaded a house and assaulted the occupants. He was outraged.

"What would you do?" he said. "If someone came into your home and threatened your family?" "I don't know," I said. "What do you mean? You'd defend your loved ones!" "I hope so, but I don't know what I'd actually do. I know what I'd like to think I'd do, but I can't say what I'd actually do in any situation until I have been there."

I still don't know what I'd do.

You think about those things on the night shift.

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