I started off working, the way most people do.
I grew up as the eldest of nine children, seven boys and two girls. There were always chores to do around the house. Some of us got to climb the ladder up into our apple tree and our pear tree and pick fruit. That was interesting. Pear pie is very tasty.
One of my first outside jobs was to help my Aunt Mary clean up her classroom. Then there were seasonal jobs. I’d make a few dollars shoveling snow or raking leaves. I used to help my brothers with their newspaper routes. I never had my own newsboy job though.
In August 1969, I got a part-time job at the Monteith Branch Library here in Detroit. This was the closest library. Yet it was still a good half an hour walk away. I worked at Monteith though part of high school and all through college. My grandmother had been a librarian there.
This was my first real job. I got a Social Security Card.
The people who I worked with were really nice. I learned a lot about library work. It was like a little family, a friendly work experience. My cousin Joe also worked there for a while. So did my brother Matt.
I’d shelve books. I’d read the shelves to make sure that the books had been shelved in the right order. Then there were special projects.
There was some trouble too, including robberies and disruptive oddballs. Then too, I lost my two front teeth in an accident, in the library basement.
It was built in 1925 and opened in May 1926. It’s a great old building and it’s the largest Detroit branch library.
There were secret rooms and odd details. I loved the break room, the little auditorium and the rooftop. The furnace rooms in the basement were unusual too. There was a wild old furnace. There was a dumb-waiter that we’d use to move books from one floor to another. It was a sort of “books only” elevator.
I got to program a film series there. I chose the films and projected them myself, mainly to audiences of children. Many years later, one of them recognized me on the bus. He told me how much he and his friends really loved those programs.
After I graduated, in 1976, I stayed on at the library for a while. My last day was in November of that year. I worked there for over seven years. It was great working at a library. I’d end up returning to library work eventually, in my late 40’s.
After that, I worked a series of odd jobs. I did a lot of landscaping. This was hard work. I remember struggling to lift a tarp full of soaking wet leaves up into a pickup truck. They’d get quite heavy. There were two or three landscaping companies that I worked for.
The one that I was at longest was with Mr. Pilorget. He was a French Canadian and a boss who worked as hard as his workers did. You had to keep up a good pace but he was fair. It was like my early gardening jobs, but much more intense.
I worked at the WCCC book store when it was on Woodward, near Wayne State.
Occasionally, I worked at Little Harry’s restaurant on Jefferson as a substitute dishwasher. They’d feed you a nice meal first, then you’d get to work. This classic Detroit restaurant was knocked off the map by a pancake chain.
At one point I had a job working at a car wash for a dollar fifty an hour.
I tried out for the post office. I went through training but the machine was going too fast for me. It seemed like a sort of high speed/ intelligent robot job. I couldn’t cut it.
The fact that I spent 1977 and 1978 doing “sporadic work” enabled me to go on two extended hitchiking trips. The 1977 trip was the longer of the two, the only time that I got out west.
At Christmastime, I’d work the all night shift at the Circus World toy store in the Eastland Mall. Some of my friends and siblings worked there too. We’d clean up, stock the shelves and so on. Sometimes we’d help unload the truck. There usually wasn’t much time to play with the toys. This went on for two or three years.
Yes, as I always say “The things people do for money!” Then “What does money do for you?”
This photo is of my brother Dennis and I back in 1979 or so. We worked at Drive-All Manufacturing. It was a smallish factory or “shop.” It was on Conner on Detroit’s east side. I started on Valentines Day 1979.
We worked the boring mills and gear shavers. We painted parts. Sometimes, I cut the cardboard boxes into sections and I did “drip paintings” on these. I made scrap metal into little sculptures as well.
It was hard work and messy work. The boring machine was the easiest. It would slowly enlarge a hole in a metal case. You just had to watch it and turn the crank ahead, to speed it up toward cutting the next section.
The gear-shaving machine had a milky liquid pouring over the gears, as the sharp edges got rounded, bit by bit. That job always ending up giving you a lot of little metal splinters. That was uncomfortable.
I was there for over two years. I believe that they closed their small Detroit shop and that’s why I had to leave and look for another job. This was in 1981 or 1982.
To be Continued/ Part One of Three.
Monteith Branch Library: