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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Jobs That Only Lasted a Day (or Two…)

It took me a long time to grow up, to become responsible, to recognize the difference between being a boy and being a man. I easily demonstrated this gross lack of maturity several times over the years.

Unlike most of my friends, I never had an after school job – or one that took me through summer vacation. After tenth grade, one of my teachers (who thought I might be on my way to becoming a responsible adult) told me I had been chosen to be part of a small group of students to receive a very distinguished gimmee.

This teacher was close friends with the guy who ran the kitchen at Mount Airy Lodge up in the Pocono Mountains. Each year he selected 5 students to take to the Poconos to work as waiters in this very exclusive resort. The prospect of making $1500 for 10 weeks’ worth of work (circa 1966) had everyone’s head spinning. It certainly was a step up from shoveling snow off a sidewalk for seventy-five cents.

My parents let me take our ’63 Dodge Polara for the very cramped ride up (the teacher was with us also). One of the spark plugs went bad early on, making the ride as rocky as my gut. I was afraid of the unknown at this point in my life (easily got over that when a drunk German stuck a gun in my stomach in Munich – a topic available elsewhere in my blog). Not having any sense of adventure, and being uneasy around so many strangers, I slid out of the car like a hot dog in a bun with way too much mustard on it.

The waiters stayed in a single large room with bunk beds. I was mini vomiting in my throat, trying too hard to not display my disdain with a situation way out of my control. Each of us was assigned to an experienced waiter. The deal was easy: we would split the tips. I was thrown into a husband and wife team, so my cut was 1/3 less than everyone else.

They were a cheery couple, but I was sulking inside -- knowing I was getting such a significant hit to my wallet. It was hard work busing the tables, cleaning them quickly and then slapping down a new set of dishes. All of my classmates seemed to adapt easily to the situation -- they even seemed happy.

Getting up at 6 am to start my day was another foreign concept to me. I caved quickly and as the second day began, I went to my boss and told him (and my co-workers) such an egregious and outlandish lie on why I was quitting that I truly believe it would have been right and legal and fitting for my nose to have grown immediately.

I gathered my possessions and sheepishly dragged myself and my tail-between-my-legs out to the parking lot, where the semi-functional Dodge waited patiently for me. My father sat quietly in His Chair, with an ‘I-fully-Expected-You-To-Fail’ attitude, a smug, self-congratulatory air of satisfaction. It was as if he had happily shot himself in the foot as long as the bullet passed through me first. While I take full responsibility for this early failure, it seemed my father was collecting evidence of my malfeasance that he would hold over my head for quite some time. Somehow, this actually made me stronger…


I permitted no moss to grow on the north side of my brain.

I saw a help wanted ad for an ice cream truck driver -- like a spinoff of the Mr. Softie trucks that used to circulate through our neighborhood in the summer months. The owner was a nice guy and took me for two trial runs, showing me exactly how to operate the machines, make the ice cream goodies, and talk to the customers. Finally, on the third day I was on my own and that moron fear gripped me around the throat again.

In an instant, I had forgotten everything he taught me, and I found myself teetering on a small wooden chair with a noose around my neck, Somehow, I just couldn’t seem to shake that chair enough to end my misery. He knew my address, so he knew where to drop off the body.

I was putting too many twists of ice cream on each cone, cutting in to his profits. He was kind but firm – do it right, or else… I thought I got the message as I bolted out for my next, and final day. Everything seemed to be going swell, until I looked into the rear-view mirror and saw this 40 something very rotund woman with her roots beginning to show running after the truck and screaming at me to stop. I nailed the gas pedal to the floor and barely got away from her – I could swear I saw steam coming from her ears...

What I didn’t know was that she was a regular, and immediately phoned the owner to voice her utter (maybe udder) contempt for me. I made her a banana split but had forgotten to put the bananas into the tray. Hey, rookie mistake. Happens to everyone, right?

Embarrassed, humiliated and defeated, I handed my keys to the owner. To add insult to injury, the rear tire on my Honda Sport 50 was as flat as my joie de vivre at that moment. He had tremendous sympathy for me and helped to haul my Honda into the truck. Precariously perched, he took me to the only gas station in Plains, Pa.

As I yanked my cycle out, I thanked him, turned my head and did a double take: my barber Frank was sitting next to the owner. He gladly gave me a ride to the Honda dealer in Wilkes-Barre where I purchased a new inner tube. I can’t call the guy in the parts department an idiot for giving me the wrong size inner tube, It was my responsibility to look at the box and recognize the error. Lessons seem to always be learned the hard way. The really really hard way.

The rear end of the bike wobbled to and fro. I knew immediately what was wrong but kept driving slowly to the Honda dealer where they righted the wrong. I made it home and collapsed; exhaustion, both physical, mental, and moral having had their way with me.

We had a harness horse racing track in Wilkes-Barre -- owned, operated, and scammed by the local mafia. My friend Butch got a really cush gig parking cars – where he routinely walked home with hundred dollar bills as tips by guys who ‘won’ a race. I labored as a concession stand runner. I hauled the frozen hamburger patties, buns and everything else to the cute young girls working the food stalls. I pressed as hard as I could to score with these fair-haired maidens, but to no avail. I had to work on those skills… I was little more than 19, so I hadn’t really polished the banter that Butch had down pat by this time. He had them cued up with a number in their hands, waiting impatiently as he got to the next in line. Italian vs. Jewish. Same ending to THAT story every time…

The smell of the burgers frying got to me, so much so that I begged for one every hour or so. One of the girls knew that the mobsters only counted the buns, not the meat, so, as long as I was satisfied eating a bunless burger, I could literally have as many as I wanted. My scam only lasted a few days, when the guys upstairs realized we had a vast surplus of hamburger buns. Where was the meat going?

Putting two and two together was pretty easy for these jamokes, and I received a stern warning when I was uncovered. I was immediately transferred to the hot dog stand on the grounds. It was one of those weird machines with rollers that constantly turned the dogs, over and over and over.

Hypnotic at best, seasick at worst from watching the unending waves of mystery meat rotating. I didn’t have any problems – until the end of the night came and I had to clean the hot mess on the grills. S.O.P. involved using a cleaner with what can only be described as a very porous, lightweight brick to scrub the contraption.

It was the cleaner that did me in. It was vinegar, and I blew chow. Disgusted with my pansy performance, my boss announced I would be moved to the dish washing station the following evening.  I had already walked away from a Counselor-in-Training gig at Boy Scout camp many years earlier when I was assigned to the same work area; history was repeating itself, and so was my unending inability to man up, shut up, and get to work.

The end came swiftly, and I carved another notch in the plastic stock of my cap rifle. Failure wasn’t just an option for me, it was a studied and well-earned ritual that kept dogging me at whichever bend in the road I took.

My last one-night-stand in Pennsylvania happened right after getting out of college. Desperate to work at any kind of job to avoid spending time with my nag of a mother, I took a gig as a home construction worker. It is funny to note that AFTER this dismal failure I became so adept at working with my hands – in wood and metal – that I was offered several gigs here in southern California that were quite humorous for a guy known as both a professional photographer and a software architect – but it would take a few years before that skill set sunk in to the point that I was well respected with my ability to build stuff.

The work paid well, nearly two dollars an hour. The problem was I could neither operate a hammer, saw, or drill. My incompetence with tools was almost legendary so early in life. The roofer couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t sort wood shingles into small and large piles. It must have been that commonsense thing again. There were no self-help books available yet, so this small vs. large thing was something I would have to hammer out myself. That was a very bad pun…

He tossed me over to the electrician and I spent a few hours trying to drill large holes with a very dull drill bit through what appeared to be two-inch-thick ceiling joists. The drill was heavy, much heavier than I was used to be holding, and the burning in my hands, shoulders, neck and back derailed me into an abysmal mess. I was given a check for $16 for the day’s work, less taxes -- with a side order of sneer and disgust from the boss. It’s a good thing social media didn’t exist back in the early 70’s. I would have been mocked for my incompetence from here to Schenectady and back, and probably back again.

I drive past that home every time I’m back in Pa. It has to be an act of God that it is still standing…

I actually made two attempts to head west. Few know about the first because it was a dismal failure. Just as with the successful venture, I headed to Buffalo, NY to see my friend Jeff. I liked what I saw and Jeff urged me to stay. While Jeff’s roommate was not happy about my presence in their house, Jeff calmed his fears. I immediately found work at a local film lab as a processor. They had a typical color film processing and printing setup, and I was planted on the deep end as the film processor.

There was a cutie working there, but I did not have the time to make the effort required to win her affection, but it was a fun week anyway. I called my mother midweek, and she told me my father was looking for me. This was during the initial ebb and flow of their divorce, and I made the mistake of calling him. He said he had a great opportunity for me in NYC, and who could pass up NYC if they were trying to make it as a pro photog.

Me, for sure.

I already easily squirmed my way out of a bona fide offer that might have made me a real photojournalist a year earlier. Now I was going to blow a good job living with a friend in a decent town on some half-baked scheme by my fully baked father. He wanted me to bolt from Buffalo immediately. He sent me a one-way ticket from shuffle-off-to-Buffalo to bright lights, big city. Boy was I ever naïve, dumb, and etc., ad nauseam, ad infinitum -- and etc. again for good measure.

I stayed with my aunt and cousin in Forest Hills, a relative always willing to help me. When I pressed my father for info about the supposed ‘photo shoot’, he told me there was going to be a trade show warm up, and I’d be doing some product shots. I grabbed my Hasselblad and a string of hot lights and hopped the subway downtown.

The ‘trade show’ was actually happening in the office next to his, which started to turn my stomach immediately. It’s a lot like watching the stock footage of a Cheetah chasing an Impala. You know how it’s going to end, no matter how creative the Impala was with his dance moves. The icing on the cake walked in with blonde hair, a low-cut dress and high heels. She was supposed to be the product narrator, but it turns out she actually was the icing on the cake. My father had purchased her other talents for me, the same way he tried to buy me a three-dollar whore in Seoul, Korea back in the summer of 1965. I demurred both times.

I had literally left Buffalo without notifying my employer I had quit. I dumped all of this on Jeff, who out of an abundance of love and caring phoned the employer, gave my notice, collected my paycheck and mailed it to me. If I had half the brains and one quarter the common sense he had, I would have endorsed the check over to him and sent it back.

My father tried to make this shit show right by telling me I would be doing the pre-production press release photos for the up and coming Broadway extravaganza “Jesus Christ Superstar”.

Here’s a clue: there is no such thing as a pre-production press release. My father knew the producer and schmoozed him up. He told me to call him and arrange a meeting. I called him. And I called him. And I called him again. I called him at least six times over the course of the weekend. He chose to return my phone call at 9:30pm on Sunday evening while I was pouring my heart out to an old friend from Syracuse University. Naturally, my father harangued me for not being ‘available’. The next time I would speak to him again would be about 25 years later after he had returned from a trip to China.

Lesson learned. Stop. Think. Listen to your gut. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is, especially if it’s coming from your parents.

As I mentioned earlier, the hard lessons of life are hard for a reason. We all mature at different rates. No one could ever prove to me that I hadn’t really been raised by snails. Maybe that’s why I have so much respect for them -- and most of God’s tiny creatures – they come into this world with the deck stacked against them, and some idiot like me inadvertently steps on them. Yeah, things did turn around for me, but it took a while. Please watch where you walk, and if you can slide a snail a solid now and then, you may be helping a cousin of mine…

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