Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the gun - the alarm - the cops - the retired marine

The story I retell most about my days at the liquor store has nothing to do with partying. For effect, in the last post, I made it seem like I was ‘wasted’ all the time at the store. In truth that kind of fun mostly happened after work. It was really a job with lots of free time. My ADHD and OCD had me busy with different hobbies or watching the 9” B&W TV most of the time. Too much cleaning would have ruined the patina of character the place had.

Under the cash register was a gray metal box with a handle about the size of a portable typewriter. (If you were born after 1975 picture 1 foot by 1 foot and 6 inches high). This was our silent alarm. It also had an antenna that was less than a foot long and on it’s side was a kind of dead man switch. A little piece of wire on a spring was held in place by a piece of clear plastic about the size of a dime. Tied to the piece of plastic was a thread that was tied to the next display case over. The way it was supposed to work was that if you got robbed you could nervously drop anything between the cases and the alarm would trip. 
One quiet afternoon after I had been there about 3 years or so I was watching the troop of kids that came through for candy on their way from school to home. If I looked way for a minute candy would go missing. This day, in the midst of all these kids, an exasperated policeman came to the counter.  “Are you being robbed?” “Why no officer, why do you ask?”. It seems I thoughtlessly tripped the alarm while dusting the display case or something. When the police started getting a message on the radio that we were being robbed they had no idea what was going on. As it turned out the silent alarm was lent to the store after a robbery years before. It had been so long since that system had been used that no one on duty that day at the police headquarters knew what to make of the message coming over their radio. All of that kind of thing is managed by private companies now. That way false alarms are filtered out so as to not bother the police unnecessarily. 
They took away our alarm and the false sense of security security such things usually provide. Except in our case the false sense of security security was even more false. 
We weren’t totally defenseless there was a pistol under the counter too. Not a big one. The squarinsh kind with the bullets in a clip in the handle. I’m not a fan of guns. I had shot them before as a kid. My uncle was the president of a trap shooting club and range. Trap is done with shot guns but there were pistols used on the range too. The thing is that, statistically in the U.S. the majority of gun shot wounds are inflicted by a friend or family member. I am also very much a pacifist. Except for this one time.
It was Christmas day and the store owners kept the place open. We were one of the only places open on Christmas so it was busy and many people wanted things we had no reason to stock. One time they did get a case of canned cranberry. I think it took 3 years to sell all the cans. At around 5 it got real slow. By 7 the customers were just dribbling in. 
A guy came in who was obviously on PCP. If you have had to deal with these people you know any exchange is difficult. The usual tactic with drunk or stoned people is to remain as serious as possible without showing hot or cold emotions. Either will give an excuse for them to respond in kind. Also by acting as if they are sober too they are quietly pressured to conform and pretend to be sober. It works most of the time. This guy was having none of it and could only see what was on his addled mind. He had been in once earlier and I had asked him to leave. This time I just wanted to sell him whatever and for him to leave. He was really pissing me off. I had two 5ths of Cuervo Gold on the counter and when I turned to get another he grabbed the bottles and was trotting for the door. 
I grabbed the gun and was going to shoot over his head. The place had high ceilings. It would have been fine; but the gun jammed. Still pissed I called the cops. After 45 minutes and no customers I closed the store and wanted to go home. I continued to wait for the police. Finally they called me back and asked if it was okay if they came in to see me the next day. Fine.
After I got to work the next afternoon an officer came in to take my report. It seems they were busy the night before with a shooting at the low rent apartment complex up the street. From my description the officer told me it was likely that my thief was also the dead guy and that he wouldn’t be back to bother me. I had to assume that someone else reacted similarly to his attitude. In that case it wasn’t a warning shot and the gun didn’t jam.
That night I was making the most of the event by going on and on about what had happened to anyone who would listen. A man rode up on a motorcycle he and his lady friend came in to store. He was not real tall but in good shape and had a calm clear eyed gaze that made me trust him. I was talking about how the gun wouldn’t fire and handed it to him. (I know, not smart) In about half a second he had the thing in pieces on the counter. “Here’s your trouble” It seems guns are little precision machines you have to clean and lubricate from time to time. It belonged to the store, so if I did ever think about it, I assumed the owner did all that. The man who knew so much about guns was a retired Marine captain. 
There were many strange happening at the liquor store during my time there. If I can remember more details I’ll make them into more stories.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

First jobs

Growing up at my parent’s A&W drive-in I started early working the grill, the fryer, the cool wall mounted gizmo that sliced whole onions into dices in one pull of the lever, the Root Beer machine & especially the soft-serv ice cream machine. It wasn’t a job really but I helped and learned fast food and how to over eat. My folks got out of the food business when I was 11.

It wasn’t till I was 17 that I got an actual part time job stocking the shelves of a convalescent hospital’s kitchen. The young manager was fresh out of college and as cute as she could be. I could have sworn I was getting some place with her, but one day she started talking about her boyfriend the baseball player. Besides being pretty she was very all american so this made sense. What was her name?  . . . I can’t think of it now but what I do recall is that her name was equally ‘All Amaerican’. The job got kind of boring after that. When summer came I went to work in the laundry to cover for the people taking vacation. I got fired on my 18th birthday for being too slow. Telling my supervisor it was my birthday after she gave me the news was a sweet dose of instant karma back at her.

Then it was on to The “Sandwich Express”. Sandwich shops were a new thing in our town in 1975. This one was owned by on of my buddy’s step mom and her brother. It was in what had originally been a Dairy Queen. Some places are just not meant to be food places. in the years since then, several food places have failed in that location. 
Again part time, I showed up early on Saturday mornings to build what were actually quality sandwiches that we sealed onto foam plates with stretch wrap. For example the Turkey sandwich the boss roasted whole turkeys every night. We used a good quality sour dough bread the dbl wide kind with real mayo tomato slices and whole lettuce leaves. After a few months I asked why we peeled the heads off of each of the heads of lettuce. “Why don’t you just bonk the lettuce?” At the A&W we went through allot of lettuce. At the prep sink in back we would rinse then hit the heavy cut end of each head on the counter. This broke the heart away from the leaves all at once. After another rinse the whole thing was ready to use. The colorfulness and usefulness of this hint made me the the hit of the place for several days. 

The boss Stan was a real character. Among his traits was a very slow and deliberate way of speaking. My best friend at the time was Steve who also worked there. We had endless fun at Stan’s expense; imitating his voice and catch phrases. “You wanna cut me some Raaare Rooaast beeef?” “You wanna bonk me some lettuce?” Steve liked to chronicle the absurdity of our work place by drawing a comic strip of some of the more famous moments. 

Stan (and his sister Soni) would have their mother down at the shop every day. They were raised in a different kind of business where the whole family went to work together for 40 years. Just because Granny had no idea where she was at any time was no reason to leave her home. She was actually quite dear all things considered but had other issues relating to age. Certain of us who’s turn it was to keep an eye on Granny made sure to place her near the floor drains and down wind, if you get my drift.

After prep I loaded the sandwiches into ice chests and loaded the chests into one of the delivery cars. I had a route of beauty shops, card rooms and other places. At each place I brought in a selection of sandwiches, containers of gourmet versions of the standard mac and potato salads and juices in a picnic basket. After the route I had the duty of giving the restroom it’s weekly cleaning. Again, thank god for floor drains.
At college I studied Theatre and got paid to stage manage and run lights when groups came in to use the theatre. 
After college was my time at the ambulance company. See earlier posts.The post about my time as a massage therapist starts with that.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but interacting with the old timers and other ill people while doing my medical transportation driver job at the ambulance company, took a toll on me. This should have been the first indication of my special gift of empathy. 
The next 5 years I was the guy behind the counter at a small neighborhood liquor store. Arrow Liquors. The owner claimed to keep a close watch on the stock but I never heard a word about the sometimes significant amounts of liquor I drank. There were times I would grab a six-pack on my way out after closing to take to a friend’s place. Most times they would pay. If they were under age I would bring it with me after work. 

I have to say that I loved marijuana. Still do. These days it’s only fun for me once a month or so or when I have an attack of gout. At that time the novelty hadn’t worn off a bit and for several years I had from a few hits to a few joints every day. This and all the liquor made for many many adventures with friends I’ll post later. A few took place in the store. 

When it was 115 outside nothing was better than piling into the cold box with a few friends and downing some of those 8 oz. Millers they sold back then.

I had many regulars. With a few of them the routine was to retreat behind the cold box to smoke pot before they completed their purchases. I remember one time I was so ‘wasted’ during the Saturday night rush that I had to keep one hand on the counter so I wouldn’t fall down. No surprisingly my till never came out just right at the end of those days. Still I never heard if from the owners. I was a pet I suppose.
During that time I had a couple of part time day jobs. I’ve always preferred to live simply, but $97 a week from the store was a bit too simple. 
My dad had a friend and customer who built swimming pools. He also had a pool cleaning service too. 
Tom was a really big man. Over 6’6” tall and a bit of a gut but you could tell by looking that he’d been a big league football player. I want to say the Detroit Lions, maybe it was Green Bay. Anyway, Tom didn’t know the concept of an ‘inside voice’. He was always very loud and except for women customers he always addressed people with “You god damned piece of shit” or “Asshole Mother Fucker” either before or after your name. 

This wasn’t a problem in the big picture because everyone got the same treatment. You could tell that he only acted that way because no one had ever called him on it. He was at heart an easy going good ol boy. Even when he did have something to be mad about there was always a lilt of humor behind his words. His wife Rachel had a kind of Elvira thing going on. She didn’t put up with his abuse, she kept him in line. Tom had a heart condition that prevented him from drinking the way he liked to but even Rachel couldn’t stop him from smoking big cigars in the company trucks. This was before fine cigars were easily available. The ones he smoked were pretty nasty but did come in these cool aluminum tubes lined with a paper thing sheet of wood. They littered the floor of the trucks and came in handy for all kinds of things.

As basically a customer service job it was the kind where most of the complaints were from the pool owners with the least to complain about. Then as an often hung over young guy I did screw up a few times too. Like the time I was dropped off at a pool that had been covered for the winter and told to get it ready for summer. I had never done this before and didn’t know about draining the water off of the top of the pool cover before removing it. It took me over an hour to get the 150 gallons of leaves and water pulled down to the deep end inside the plastic. I was a moment away from literally pulling it off when at the last second all the leaves dirt and rain water that didn’t get in all winter did get in. I remember being told in no uncertain terms that I was a good for nothing mother fucker idiot asshole. I was further queried as to what the fuck I was thinking and how and why the fuck I was so stupid. As you would have done I had no explanation to offer. 
Next was my next step into working with people. 
I got a day job driving the vans and the short bus for the local YMCA. This may deserve it’s own post as it involved dating 2 women and was during the time of the Bakersfield witch hunt. It was quite a change from the storm of verbal abuse to working with latch key kids. 

After I had been there 5 years the little store suffered a steady decline in customers.  No, not because of me. Mostly it was the way the city kept changing the traffic flow. Making it 2 left turns for lots of folks to get to the parking lot. Besides the old couple that owned the place were ready to retire so the store closed. 
That's when I started looking for a new career and started to investigate Massage schools.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Massage Therapist Me pt.2

After getting through training and establishing myself in a location; then there was the part about actually doing the work.
Today you have 2 basic approaches to massage:
One is the medical/clinical model; very technically oriented similar in procedure and protocols to what a physical therapist does. A few less years of training than a PT, usually, but not always. Almost always less pay and it works best if an MD does the billing.
Two is the luxury/spa model. Not so much about rehabilitation as just relaxation and being papered. (Whenever I hear (or type) the word Pamper I think of Procter & Gamble Pampers™)
In 1984 the spa thing had taken root a little in Bakersfield. That's why Hairwest had me there.
Hairwest's owner John told me the story more than once about how at the Elizabeth Arden spa clients were never spoken to by their first names. Massages, pedicures and the more servile tasks were always done by black women. What? why did he keep telling me that? He knew I wasn't going to change. 

I have an analytical mind, kinda, as analytical as my adhd allows. However it was and remains to this day the more ethereal qualities of massage that intrigue me. I studied anatomy and physiology to know where I was when working on body parts. To understand what the goals are. The science based ways of getting there, not so much.
The additional classes I took were almost always about what we called "energy work". Along with Swedish Massage I was taught Shiatsu at the Santa Barbara School of Massage. Shiatsu is a type of acupressure. Acupressure and acupuncture work on the eastern model of Chi. The life force energy. The same life force energy utilized in Martial arts, Yoga and Tai Chi. In other words, energy work.
Energy work is also part of a number of western techniques (modalities). Reflexology (feet) Therapeutic Touch etc. Reiki and Ortho Bionomy, two of my favorites, were developed from both east and west.
Even after studying and getting to know these new ways to use the life force energy, my mainstay is the energy you can feel in my hands guided by intuition. All the new information and skills were added to my tool belt. For example most of the time I find Ortho-Bionomy by it's self is best with geriatric clients. It's just so gentle and is all about the freedom to release instead of work out areas of tension or stress. I took a dozen extra classes from 1983 to 1993 but still I prefer the plain old Swedish massage best. 
I think more than any other tool, what I used the most was what got the whole thing started. Making a genuine connection.
This connection, I have to explain. 
I started my spiritual quest about the time I got our of high school. Unsatisfied with what I had been told in Sunday School and I suppose I was an early adopter of the kind of cynicism based on the hypocrisy of most religions, so popular in media today. My working hypothesis was and still is that:
 “the parts of any belief system that have truth in them can be observed or experienced by anyone. no information or special process should be necessary to at least perceive what ever it is.” also “the meat, as it were, of whatever is meta physical is beyond words or forms” additionally “the idea that whatever is beyond our physical world is even aware of us any more clearly than we are of  ____ or that _____ is interested in us at all is conjecture.” finally “ i admit to a bias in my seeking towards what is light, life, growth and from those kind of sources”  
Like as not, during massage sessions I imagined myself in the roll of a farmer who considered himself a steward of his land and crops. I turned the soil to provide oxygen and encourage the natural regeneration of health and life to the soil.  While not wanting to tie my quest with a particular dogma I did make one concession to efficiency; Most of the time the massage was a kind of meditation I did. I called it “Let go and let god” Sometimes My mind would wander a thousand miles away to topics no way connected to the client. My hands and arms did their work untroubled by my analysis or the observations of my ego or libido. I could only do this well after a couple of years of practice. Always with clients whose physique I was already familiar with. I would stop and focus on any new developments in the regular client’s body as needed. 
This was actually what I always had in my advertising: 
Harmony and Balance of Mind * Body * Spirit. 
I never got a client from this part of my advertising approach. I did use others that worked quite well. Almost every client I got was because of where I worked or the yellow pages. I still thought it was important to be up front about where I was coming from. 
I did a fair amount of work in the clinical setting. Dr’s office, hospitals etc. Like I said before, I never thought is was my niche but I dutifully went where the business was and did my work in the expected professional manner. 
The ego based, elitism based part of the spa experience still offends me deeply.  The concept that every person just by the fact that they were born a human deserves the nurturing of the other humans is at the base of why I did (still do sometimes) this work. I tended not to work in places with a high degree of the status symbol bs. Some places like Hairwest did the spa thing on a casual basis. As with clinical I dutifully went where the business was and did my work in a manner of mutual respect.
My dream was always to work in a place that was mostly spa-ish but where the emphasis was on the whole person and virtually no attention to the fee they paid. 
I did that in my mind every time. The fees varied, free is absurd, the client has to value the service in a tangible way or it’s pointless. I got tips often ($100 once) but never expected them or encouraged them. If I did it implied that I didn’t do my best every time. (tried to do my best, I too am human an tend to vary).
I did always make it a point to offer single parents (our nation’s real heros as far as I am concerned) and elders on a fixed income. If you were old, bux-up and collected SSI, no discount.   
I got close to working in that situation a few times. See pt.3