This is part two of a series about my work career…
Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper
Much like my first job, this was working for one of my dad’s sub-contractors. In the 1970’s we didn’t have flexible duct work like I see in houses today. Air Conditioning ducts were either sheet metal boxes that we had to custom make or hard sheet metal pipe. All the sheet metal and pipe was stored at the shop where we met at the beginning of each day. We, helpers would be assigned to work with a crew each day. Sometimes it was mildly interesting. Mostly it was hot, hard and miserable work. Even though we were working on AC, we didn’t get to enjoy AC for ourselves. I was paid minimum wage (about $3/hr) and with overtime, I could bring home over $100 in a week! That made it all worth while.
The owner of the company and I had a few unpleasant episodes. He was not a happy man. Once in the middle of the day, he was away and there were two or three crews at the shop making ductwork for our jobs… only we weren’t actually doing much of that. We were all sitting around or lying on the tables shooting the breeze. The owner drove up into the parking lot and everyone jumped up and started looking busy. Everyone but me, I should say. I wondered why the others thought we needed to pretend that we were busy when we weren’t. I guess I felt that we should be the same whether he’s around or not. Deep down, I can see that I had a good desire to be transparent. Had it been a perfect world, the incident might have turned out differently. As it was, I got an ass chewing that I won’t soon forget (it has been over 30 years). Although this probably wasn’t the message he wanted me to take away, I learned the importance of “not drawing attention to one’s self” and “always looking busy when the boss is around.” That lesson has haunted me ever since and has kept me from being as productive as I could be. I wish I could unlearn it easier.
One day I was assigned to a sheet metal mechanic from Vietnam. I have two memories of that day. First thing was that he was late for work, so on the way to the job site, we swung by his house to pickup breakfast that his wife had made. She had made some sort of egg roll looking dish, which he shared with me. I don’t know what was in it, but it stays in my memory as one of the best things I ever ate. Later that day, I asked him a rather insensitive question, but I wanted to know. I asked, “Why do your people always have names like, ‘Hong’ or ‘Wong’ or ‘Fong’?” His answer was perfect. He looked me in the eye and replied, “Why your people always have names like, ‘Jimmy’?” I didn’t ask him anything else.
One day, we had more helpers than we needed and I was designated to stay behind and clean the shop. Cleaning the shop consisted of sweeping the floors and straightening out the bins. The bins were wire cages in a storage room where the different sizes and shapes of pipe were separated. That room was a complete wreck! I started picking up pieces of pipe and throwing them in the right bin, but quickly realized that I wasn’t really making it any better because the pipe that was already in the bin wasn’t the size that belonged there. I realized that the only way to straighten the bins was to empty them completely then put everything back in its place, so I did it. It took all day to finish, but when I was done it looked great! Everything was in its place and the whole place was neat. When the crews came back at the end of the day, they were amazed. They had never seen that room so neat. Someone must have told the owner because he took a look and even he complimented me on what a good job I had done! Takeaway lesson of that day, “I like organizing things and I’m good at it.” In fact I still like to organize things. I think that’s why I enjoy working with databases so much.
Next time, My exciting and short career as a music librarian. Stay tuned.