Category Archives: workin’

Workin’ for the Man – Part 2

This is part two of a series about my work career…

Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper

elbow.jpg 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. angry-boss.jpgOnce 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.


Workin’ for the Man Series

Workin’ for the Man – Part 1

manhole.gif My cousin, Fernando asked me recently what other kind of work I had done before I turned geek, and why I am not doing that anymore. I kinda put it on the back burner for a while. However, since this blog is all about letting my family know who I am, I thought I’d tell a few work stories. These are the many types of jobs I have held over the years. Please forgive me if I mess up the chronology of it all.

  • Electrician’s Helper
  • Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper
  • Music Librarian
  • Apprentice to a Brass Musical Instrument Technician
  • Manufacturing Woodstove mats
  • Tree Planter/Tree Killer
  • Forest Firefighter
  • Painter
  • Iron Worker
  • Cook / Restaurant Manager
  • Musical Instrument Repair Technician
  • Business Owner
  • Computer Programmer
  • Other IT stuff

I will chop it into a few separate entries and then in the end, I may join them together in their own page.

Electrician’s Helper

When I was finishing my 8th grade year of school, my dad (a homebuilding contractor) arranged for me to work for his electricical subcontractor, Heyward. I was legally too young to work, but Heyward paid my $25 a week (a princely sum for me) out of his pocket. The work was hard and hot and I am sure that I wasn’t a good worker. Once while digging a ditch for an electrical wire, I was so tired and uninspired that I stopped to rest. I started working again when the boss arrived. I don’t remember him being angry, but he didn’t let me off the hook completely either. He told me that the way to do it is to work when the boss isn’t around so when he arrives, you can stop and shoot the breeze with him. Good advice. I learned to install plugs and switches in houses. The hard part (at least for a youngster) is installing the cover plates on the wall after they have painted without getting the wall dirty. Although I am sure I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was a great experience for me. Thanks Dad.

Next time, I’ll tell a story or two about being a Sheet Metal Mechanic’s Helper…


Workin’ for the Man Series