Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Return to Thor

After existing in my natural state – that is to say, being lazy and irresponsible – for almost a month, it was time to find a job. Rather than to exert any real energy or thought, I chose the easiest possible path. I applied for a position at Thor Power Tool Company, where I’m certain my father’s long service, and excellent reputation, helped to open the door.

The position I was offered would not have been my first choice, but a job was a job, and the $1.48 per hour, times 40 hours a week – plus some overtime – was a welcome enhancement to my personal cash flow.

In my new job I was to be a second shift milling machine operator. Implicit in this was the expectation that I would learn machine setup as well, meaning somewhat more interesting work, and a modest raise in pay. But first I would have to learn to run the machines, and to produce acceptable parts. To accomplish this I would work on the first shift for a 30 day probationary and training period.

I mastered the simple operation of the basic milling machine in very short order. But since I was not expected to be learning setups just yet, for the remainder of the training period I was assigned a never-ending series of mind-numbingly boring jobs. Led to a milling machine, I would be given a quick instruction by the Set-Up Man, and would then “run the order” by obtaining a part from a container and clamping it into the machine. I then would perform the predetermined series of motions required for this particular job.

These actions would cause the machine to remove the required amount of metal from the part, in the correct location. When the part was “complete” I would unclamp it and toss it into a different container. I would then do this again, and again, and again, and again . . . Until it was break time, or quitting time, or until I had satisfactorily run all of the parts I had been given. I would then of course be led to another machine, set up with a different order, to do pretty much the same thing.

But, to repeat myself, a job was a job and for the time being it was first shift (7:00 am to 3:30 pm), and I could ride to and from work with my dad, who worked in another department setting up and running some pretty exotic machinery.

At the end of the training period, I was indeed switched to the night shift. However, the whole issue soon became moot due to what I believe to be one of the most ill-advised labor actions of all time.

To be continued

The 1961 Tempest

My first car, after returning home – actually my first car ever – was a white 1961 Pontiac Tempest, purchased, at my Uncle Ray’s recommendation, with the mustering out pay I received from my recent separation from the active duty Navy. The car was sporty looking, clean, comfortable, and provided trouble-free service until I replaced it a year later. An additional feature was that, despite its small engine, the car’s manual transmission sported a floor shift. Just like a hot rod, or a sports car! Pretty cool!

One of my hangouts in those days was a small coffee shop named Gloria’s, located in Aurora’s south east side, not too far from Vern’s house on Lafayette Street. Among the regulars there was the mailman whose route serviced that neighborhood. Bert, the mailman, was at least 10 years older than I, but for whatever reason he and I hit it off while occupying the stools at the coffee shop counter. We became friends within the boundaries of that limited context, and I enjoyed his company and our conversations.

By coincidence, Bert’s car was a carbon copy of my ‘61 Pontiac Tempest, identical in every way, except one. Bert’s shift knob, the ball at the end of his car’s shift lever was white. Until we met I hadn’t realized how much I disliked the similarly sized black knob screwed to the top of my shifter. Both knobs were about the same diameter – just a bit smaller than a golf ball, but mine was dark and virtually invisible against the black of the floor mats. In Bert’s car, on the other hand, the white knob was a small but significant spot of brightness that just popped out at the viewer. I don’t know why, but that made all the difference. I was suddenly less than pleased with my ’61 Pontiac Tempest.

I tried finding a white shift knob of my own, but no auto-parts outlet had a white ball that both matched the threads of my shifter, and wasn’t much too large. My envy knew no bounds. I offered to trade shift knobs, thinking perhaps that Bert, being older, wouldn’t care. He did.

One day upon arriving at Gloria’s I parked behind Bert’s car. Before I went inside I switched shift knobs. In a stroke, my car was transformed. I was delighted at how it looked, and somehow convinced myself that Bert wouldn’t even notice. He did.

In fact, he was furious and confronted me the next day with what I had done, forcing me to slink out of the coffee shop and change the knobs back. Because of my foolish action, there was a chill between us that lasted for several weeks. Truth be told, the relationship was never again quite the same.


“I Remember Mama”

When I was pretty young, there was a TV program called “I Remember Mama”, which was broadcast in glorious small-screen black and white in Chicago on CBS Channel 4 from 1949 to the mid 50s. I was quite fond of the program. I remember well the introductory narrative in which a young woman, looking through a photo album remembers San Francisco in the 1910s, the house on Steiner Street, the family, and ends with the famous line, “and most of all, I remember Mama”. (Always, for some reason, kind of made me think of my Grandma)

As I say, I liked the show, it was wholesome, and humorous, and heartwarming. I didn’t know at the time that that’s why I liked it, but in retrospect that pretty much sums it up. Whenever I’m in that part of San Francisco, I drive down Steiner Street and remember “I remember Mama”.

The show was an adaptation of Kathryn Forbes’ memoir “Mama’s Bank Account”. Today in the mail, I received a copy of that book, and started reading. It turns out they didn’t live on Steiner Street after all, but the rest of the book, a series of short little stories is sort of like, but probably infinitely better than, the Day Calendar stories. And they are as entertaining and wonderful to me today as the TV show was to the seven or eight year old me, all those years ago.

Called Back?

A few weeks after I returned home, I received an unexpected notice from the US Navy which initially, I totally misunderstood. This bolt from the blue seemed to be saying that I was being reactivated and assigned to duty as engineer aboard, of all things, a Navy tugboat stationed in San Francisco. Maybe it was the shock but upon rereading the notice, it again said the same thing to me.

My mind reeled with conflicting emotions. I had just returned home, and the thought of leaving again was daunting to say the least. On the other hand, if I MUST go . . . The thought of it was dazzling. All expenses paid to San Francisco, a city I loved, where I would live more or less expense free, and have a pretty neat job as well.

After reviewing this notice several more times – with the implications racing through my head – I finally figured out what was being asked of me. That is to say, virtually nothing. I was being informed that in the case of a national emergency (the current conflict notwithstanding), and reserve forces were mobilized, this would be my assignment.

And so, with these additional, more careful readings, reality set in. I honestly don’t know, if I had actually been given that choice, at that time, which path I would’ve chosen; staying in Aurora with my family and friends, old and new, and a path on which I would eventually stumble upon a successful career – or a return to San Francisco, and the Navy, and an altogether different life.

It was not for me to ever know, of course, but sometimes, in the midnight hour, I would think about it. And wonder.

Cultural Revolution – American Style

The pivotal year of the 60’s era was 1966, during which the country experienced perhaps the most profound cultural change – in the shortest period of time – in its history. Which I of course missed by virtue of being in Viet Nam.

When I left the country early in 1966, “white” Levi’s and plaid shirts were a fashion norm for boys and young men. The Beatles, and some other rock and rollers, did have what we thought of as outrageously long hair – which actually covered their ears. But they were, for the moment, exceptions and “crew cuts” were still common. Musically, the Beach boys were getting around (in their plaid shirts), seeking help from Rhonda and having “Fun Fun Fun”, while Sam the Sham and his Pharaohs were encouraging us all to “Woolly Bully”.

But when I returned a year later, to San Francisco – the vanguard of the new culture – I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Hippies swarmed the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate and Buena Vista Parks wearing bell bottom pants and paisley shirts in all the colors of the rainbow. Beads, granny glasses, and girls and boys with hair “down to there” were commonplace.

The Grateful Dead was gaining notice playing the Avalon. Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane were playing at the Filmore, asking if you wanted “Somebody to Love”, and telling young people everywhere to remember what Alice’s dormouse said.*

The Beatles were recalling “Penny Lane” and wandering “Strawberry Fields”, while the hirsute Scott McKensie sang the compelling “San Francisco, (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)”. Much of the old, familiar world still remained, of course, but here, and in places like Greenwich Village, the Sunset Strip in LA, and Chicago’s Old Town, was a new and growing and quite different facet to American society. And nothing, as it turned out, would ever be the same.

And so the die of change was cast. The remainder of the 60s era evolved rapidly, reinventing itself yearly as we progressed from the Summer of Love in ‘67, to the total chaos of ‘68, to the Days of Rage in ‘69, and to the inevitable, fatal conclusion at Kent State University in 1970.

* Feed your head