Commerce House

During the period from 1982 to 1985, I was unemployed and underemployed.  For over a year, I worked as a security guard at a ten-storey office building downtown.  Technically, I didn’t.  I had applied for work with a cleaning service.  They had the contract for the owners’ common areas, as well as several of the clients located in the building.

Building management wanted someone to answer the phone and watch the front lobby and underground parking area, keep the wrong ones out, let the right ones in and out, from when the building officially closed at 5 PM, till it reopened at 7 AM.  Only licensed Security Guard companies may legally do that, so I was on the books as a cleaner.  The only *cleaning* I ever did, was take the power buffer to the marble floor of the entranceway, and use paper towels and vinegar to remove handprints from the glass doors, left by people too stunned or lazy to use the push-bars.

At first I worked from 5 to 11 PM, but that didn’t give enough hours to support the family.  The old guy who did the eight-hour midnight shift was on Workman’s Compensation.  They guaranteed him a given sum each week, and topped up his earnings, to reach that figure.  I convinced him to take the six-hour evening shift and sleep with his wife, while I stayed awake all night.

The building sat sideways into a hill.  There were ten steps up to a landing, then ten more up to the front door.  The entrance to the underground garage was even further down, and invisible from the lobby.  Authorised parkers had swipe cards which would roll up the gate.  Unless you were listening carefully, you weren’t aware of folks entering or leaving that way.

People came into the building at the oddest times.  I was shocked several times making a walk through the three underground levels at four in the morning, and suddenly running into someone.  There was a group of six or eight teenagers who used to hang around the church property directly across the street.  If someone used their card to enter, it was easy to dash across the street and get in before the door rolled back down.

The old guy told me that he had found some of them a few times, drinking, smoking dope and screwing downstairs.  He carried a two-foot length of lead pipe and suggested I do the same.  He was older than me and lead piping had been outlawed, so I got 20 inches off the top of a broken, solid ash, rake handle.  I still have that little billy-club at the house, *just in case*.

There was a bank on one half of the main floor, and the Employment Office on the other.  Even working the midnight shift, I got to meet some interesting people.  The Employment Office didn’t open till nine, but there was one lady who came in before I left at seven.  Other than getting the coffee started, I’m not sure what she did for those two hours.

We often talked, and I got to know about her husband and teenage daughter.  One day she told me, “I bought a horse, and didn’t tell my husband.”  You what?!  Her daughter loved to ride, so, instead of paying rental fees, she bought a damned horse.  Where are you going to keep it, in your garage?  Oh no, she had a stable all picked out.  All she had to do was pay the monthly stall fee without the husband noticing.

My son was still going to high school.  A couple of times he accompanied me for a Friday night shift, to have some father/son time.  The first time he did, he found that staying up 24 hours was a bit much.  At about six-thirty AM, he curled up on the marble floor behind the guard’s desk, and went to sleep.  It was on one of these nights that he *won* a radio DJ’s contest, and got to meet him in person for breakfast.

A ten-storey building, at the top of one of the higher hills in town gave a grand view from the roof.  We used to go up in the middle of the night and look around.  You could see almost five miles in all directions.  We used to watch all the little people, the drunks going home from the clubs, and the taxis, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.  A clear day would bring a magnificent dawn, first the false dawn, as the sky began to brighten.  Then the sun would peek over the eastern horizon and wash everything with a lush golden glow.

If you’ve read my *water guns and pony bikes* story, you already know I’m still just a big kid.  We had to know what happens when you drop stuff from over a hundred feet up.  We didn’t want a safety hazard, so no glass.  An empty plastic water bottle just whirls away in the inevitable wind currents.  A full one splits and spews rewardingly.  A pop can, filled with water and carefully dropped vertically, crushes the bottom a bit and just sits there.

One time, we found a ball of string.  The building is sealed.  None of the windows open.  We filled a Coke can with water, threaded the string through the tab, and lowered it on a big loop, down to the eighth floor.  There was about a two-inch ledge outside the windows.  We carefully swung it in and dropped it on the ledge, and even more carefully pulled the loop of string back though the tab.  Let the office workers figure how a Coke can got outside their office, eight stories up.  Eventually the water would evaporate, and the can blow away.  Ah, the cerebral adventures.

Since I’ve had this post in my drafts file for a while, I’d just like to add a wish for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the lovely people who have visited, followed, read and commented on my site in the last year.

What Time Is It?

Savor made me think about another basic difference between people, last night, when she remarked about me responding to a comment in the middle of the night.  Diurnal vs. Nocturnal.  There are day people, and there are night people.  The two don’t normally hang out in the same groups, but sometimes a day person marries a night person….and then the fun begins.

My parents and my younger brother were all day people, impatiently tapping their fingers, waiting for the sun to rise.  My sister and I were both night people.  Our parents, especially Mom, just never seemed to get it.  My sister married young and had five kids.  They learned early in life to get themselves fed and off to school.

Her schedule was much like mine is now, go to bed about four AM, crawl back out around noon, to feed the kids lunch.  Their family moved into a house across the corner from ours.  Mom said it was not unusual to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and see lights still on.  She bitched at my sister one time, “You should be up early, doing laundry, or scrubbing floors.”  My sister replied, “What do you think I’m doing at three AM, without the kids in the way?”

My dad got me a summer job, two successive years, at the plant where he worked.  Lord knows how early he got up.  He’d haul my ass out of bed at five-thirty.  I’d dress and have tea with him.  I couldn’t face food that early.  We started work at seven AM, and had a half-hour commute, but left around six, “just in case.”

He sometimes praised the glories and benefits of rising early, almost like a religious experience.  One Friday evening, after the standard five-thirty rousting, I got together with a bunch of my friends.  We hit the bowling alley, then a restaurant, had a swim in the harbor, hiked a couple of miles upriver, built a campfire, cooked some canned food, wandered back into town, and one friend and I went down to the beach for another, early swim.  The sun was just coming up.

I thought I might get a bit of sleep on the beach.  I knew I’d be awakened when the tourist hordes descended, but, it wasn’t to be, so I headed home.  I decided to fry myself some bacon and eggs for a final snack.  As I was doing this, my Dad came out of the bedroom.  “See what I told you about getting up in time to watch the sun rise?”  “I just saw it from the other end.  It happens every day, no big deal.  I’m going to bed now.  I’ll skip lunch.  Wake me about two, and I’ll mow the lawn.”  He did, and I did, and sunrise was never mentioned again.

As I’ve worked, I’ve had to put in a variety of scheduled shifts.  The first four years at the metal fab. shop, I was supposed to work from eight-thirty to five, with an hour for lunch, but my department was undermanned.  I came in at seven, and found that I actually got as much accomplished in the first hour and a half, before the rest of the office arrived, as I did the rest of the day.

My next job, as a purchasing agent, I worked under the plant manager, rather than the office manager.  The rest of the office came in at eight-thirty.  This nasty old square-head demanded that I start at eight.  Having put in the four years starting at seven, it was no big deal.  Usually I was there ten to fifteen minutes before eight.  I came in one day at twenty to eight, and found him just fuming.  “Where the hell have you been?  I want to place a rush order with XYZ Co.!”  “I don’t start till eight.  I’m here early, and it wouldn’t matter if I was here at six, XYZ’s sales desk doesn’t open till nine.”  Facts and logic do not trump emotion.  Despite asking four times, I left after 18 months without even the three-month probationary raise he’d promised.

I worked two years straight nights in security.  I’ve worked from four to twelve, four to twelve-thirty, four till one, and, at three places, including my retirement job, from four to one-thirty.  Two of those were supposed to be four night weeks, but one of them regularly scheduled a Friday night four to nine shift, at regular pay, of course.

I put in almost twenty years at the auto plant, rotating through successive weeks of midnights, afternoons, and days.  I could work them all, but afternoons was my favorite.  It was being half asleep on my motorcycle, going in for a day shift, that caused me to misgauge pulling in behind a bus for a turn, dropped me on the street and broke my shoulder.  Workers used to bitch about having to change shifts every week.  I brought it up with the union president one day, and suggested that we rotate every two weeks.  He told me that they had tried it before I arrived, and it failed, dismally.  It’s hard enough to change after one week.  After two weeks, it becomes ingrained and it’s almost impossible.

My last two years before retirement, I worked the four to one-thirty shift.  With the occasional need to finish a specific task, there was a bit of overtime.  Regular pay, of course, but a night or maybe two, per week, of leaving around two AM.  By the time I got home, had something to eat and drink, and wound down, it was often four in the morning.  That’s the schedule I’ve stuck with.

I don’t watch much TV, and morning shows bore and distress me.  We schedule medical appointments for late morning or afternoons.  My son is almost finished five years of straight midnights.  He sleeps from ten till six.  Our schedule meshes with his fairly well, so I’m going to keep going to bed and getting up late until I have to go to a retirement home.  By then, I hope I don’t care.