Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Work patterns.

When I was a kid I secured a job at an amusement park not far from my parents' home. For $2.30/hour I would keep order in the game-room (kids would come by bus from the Bronx and they were, often, none-too-genteel).

Even back then, as a 16-year-old, I had size enough and a natural gruffness that tended to keep people in line, and only once during the whole summer did I have to summon the police for help. I also had to make change--turn dollar bills into dimes for Skee-Ball (the greatest game on Earth) or into three-plays for a quarter for pinball.

I was also given a small broom and a dustpan on a swivel so I could keep the place in Apple-Pie order no matter how many cigarette butts were dropped to the concrete, or how many hotdog wrappers blew in from the beach.

I quickly learned the routine of the place. We were busy from opening at around 10 till 1 o'clock when the main precincts of the park opened. Then the kids would clear out and go on the rides, or chase girls or go to the other game-rooms which were more modern than mine and had electronic machines rather than the old mechanical ones I guarded.

From 1 to about 4, I would sit in my little caged change booth and read, or I would sweep up, or I would practice my Skee-Ball skills.

One thing I took great pride in was the cleanliness of my area. I would sweep my game-room and the abutting boardwalk like the Nazis swept over the Russian steppes. There wouldn't be a butt or a gum wrapper or a scrap of paper anywhere.

It occurs to me as I wrestle with some work demons that I was exactly the same worker back then as I am now.

I keep my area clean.

I'm not talking about my desk, which is most often strewn with the detritus of the day, but of domain or domains I'm meant to watch over in my job. I keep things neat, efficient, and well-done. There is no rough-play, no garbage strewn about, and things get done on time and with a minimum of fuss.
As an aside, the best part of my summer started each afternoon around 4.

At that hour, old Mr. Nelson would stroll by the game room. He was old as Methuselah and I believe he had been around when ibn Musa al-Khwarizm invented algebra in the 9th Century.

Though I never met a quadratic equation I ever liked, Mr. Nelson and I liked each other. He saw something in me that very few teachers did, and he liked hanging out with someone one or two hundred years younger than he.

Mostly we would perch around the four or five Skee-Ball machines that were in the corner of my game room. I had a small metal "trip," a coin on a stick, really, that could clear jams and give free games. And Mr. Nelson and I availed ourselves of that trip that summer.

Mr. Nelson was a huge baseball fan and much of our conversations that summer were around a game he had seen on TV the night before. We would talk about bonehead plays, or sterling pitching, or towering home runs.

Of all the grown-ups I had in my life back then, it was Mr. Nelson and an English teacher called Mrs. Chapin that did the most for me. And though I never played Skee-Ball with Mrs. Chapin, she was more the bridge with the ladies type, she'd often give me a metaphorical chop in the head when I was acting too dumb for my own good.

I lost touch with Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Chapin after I went to play ball in the Mexican League. After that, my parents moved to Chicago, and while I was in college in New York City, I never really traveled up to see either of them.

I suppose Mr. Nelson would be about 1,100 years old now, and Mrs. Chapin probably 90.

I'm sorry I never got to tell them two things.

1) Thanks for believing in me. I eventually learned to believe in myself.
2) I am not a hooligan, a neer-do-well, or a ruffian. I turned out all right.

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