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Friday, August 12, 2016

Crunching Pigeon Bones to Broiling Elephants: #firstsevenjobs

Grueling, Exhausting, Wonderful, Formative Child Jobs

It’s an Internet meme, so here it goes. My first seven jobs are as follows, and note how much “child labor” is going on here. In the future, all children should have the right to work as I did (even if I did it entirely under the table).

The pigeon bones crunch under your feet and your stomach turns. Organ Tuner. A friend of my father’s ran a company that tuned organs. He needed help. I was eleven years old and itching to make money.

Now, tuning organs also means repairing them. You have to pull the pipes and figure out why they aren’t making any sound or why they are making an odd sound. Pipes can be as small as a cigarette or as large as a sewer line. You find the one that is not working and pull it. Then you figure out what the problem is. You blow it out, fix the leather flap, or whatever it is, and put it in.

There are several weird aspects to this. I was warned that my throat would get sore. This was true. Why? Because when working on the high pitch pipes, which the person at the manual mashes for whole minutes at a time, your voice unconsciously tries to reach the note. So you tighten up your throat without knowing it. Hence, soreness.

Another strange thing is that you work in organ lofts where birds live. Many generations of birds. Then they die. Then their bones land on the floor. Generations of bones. Then you walk on them. They crunch and crunch, and your stomach turns. It also unleashes terrible pigeon bone dust that you inhale if you aren’t wearing a mask.

And then you have 30 years of nightmares about it.

Roofer. My great uncle had a weekend job of replacing a roof. We went up there together in 100 degree weather. We started at 7am. By 9am I was dying of thirst but he kept working, and so did I. By 11am I thought I would need to be hospitalized. Finally noon, he said: “let’s take a break and get a drink.” Finally!

I climbed down and turned on the hose. I shoved it in my mouth and let it run. He said: “You probably shouldn’t do that.” As soon as he finished the words, I started throwing up and didn’t stop until every drop was out. He laughed and laughed.

I followed him into the house and started sipping water. He proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee. One cup of hot coffee! After he was done, he said: “you ready to go up there again?”

One wrong move and I knew I would be a dead 12-year old.Well digger. My father had a friend with a water well. He needed help getting it going again. We drove together for an hour and pulled up in the middle of nowhere West Texas and started to pump some metal thing. We pumped all day. Again I was dying of thirst. Finally by late afternoon, the darn thing started working. I was the first consumer.

Piano mover. The organ-tuning man also moved pianos. He needed help again. We moved pianos here to there and here to there. These things weigh a gazillion pounds so we strapped them on carts with wheels. It’s a nice tool except that it does nothing when you are taking a tall piano up a flight of stairs. The man took the top and I took the bottom. One wrong move and I knew I would be a dead 12-year old. Much more importantly, the piano would be destroyed, so if I didn’t die, I knew he would kill me. Somehow I found the strength, and then I was bedridden for three days with sore muscles and general terror.

Maintenance Man. I’m skipping ahead past lawn mower and dog sitter, and going to my first real job. I did after-hours cleanup for a shopping center. Me and my friend Tad pick up pins from changing rooms, polished floors in the glassware section, broke down boxes and put them out back, vacuumed the entire place, polished countertops, cleaned ghastly restrooms, and fixed broken things.

We had a blast. We sang and shouted. We played and told jokes. It was massive fun!

Then one day a sign appeared in our workroom. It said that the government was raising the minimum wage. The next day, Tad didn’t show up. The boss explained that he had to be let go because of the new costs.

Tad was physically and mentally challenged. The job was charity. We all knew it. But now the charity came at too high a price. My job was retained and his was eliminated. I cried. Then I was angry. Though I had not studied economics, I had a sense that the government was to blame. Two years later, Tad died – my friend died. He didn’t enjoy the dignity of employment in his last years of life, simply because some bureaucrat had decided to “help” him.

I had no idea how to cook a large snake or an elephant. Catering Service. At some point, I got into food service, first as a busboy and then as a server. But I needed more hours so I found a position with a sketchy catering service. I was almost fired after two weeks. I overheard the assistant manager complain to the manger that “that Tucker kid is so lazy.” I’m glad I happened to hear this because it was a wakeup call to stop waiting to be told what to do and start finding things to do. I turned it around.

We did ridiculous things, like serve huge groups of gullible men “exotic” cuisine like endangered species meals. I had no idea how to cook a large snake or an elephant. We got the frozen meat in by truck and then put them on large tin pins. I covered them with salt and pepper and fired up the ovens. No matter how bad a cook I was, the massively drunk men loved every morsel.

“It’s ok, he was massively drunk.”Jazz Trombonist. I’m completely leaving out my entire career in the clothing industry, which was interesting enough, so that I can get to the night-life part of my teen years. I played lead trombone in a jazz band. We started playing at 9pm and played until 2am. I was amazed at the money. I picked up $200 at each session. Cash.

But I would talk to my fellow band members about how they spent their money. Let’s say that my teenage innocence was no more.

One night I was playing a long, unaccompanied cadenza and feeling like a prodigy. A man stood up in the back of the room and yelled: “hey, cut the bullshit!” I stopped playing. The band came back in and we finished the song. Everyone told me to chill. “It’s ok, he was massively drunk.” Maybe so, but I also knew he was right. I stopped playing professionally. Later I learned that critics are ubiquitous and you can’t let ‘em beat you.

Ok, I can’t resist adding one more: Waterbed Salesman. Yes, these were once a thing. I sold them and installed them. People would always come back and complain: “all night I moved around and it just feels like waves.”

So then we started selling waterbeds with “bevels” that would dampen the water waves. There were many levels to the bevels from weak to strong. The strongest bevels were most in demand because they pretty much turned the waterbed into a regular bed.

Eventually regular beds just came back, and everyone looked back and said: “so what was the whole deal with that waterbed thing?”

So it is in free enterprise. The organ never stops being tuned.