Funny Business


The joy of work

by Maka MacKenna

Freud claimed the two primary aspects of life are love and work. Easy for him to say. Professor Freud was so far removed from anything resembling real work that he had to invent a whole new profession -- psychiatry -- in order to follow his own model.

Not blessed with Freud's financial resources, I've had some fairly bizarre jobs in my time. For three months I was a bartender at Howard Johnson's in Hollywood. We made piña coladas with ice cream -- coconut ice cream -- and pineapple sundae syrup that you'd have to go fetch from the ice cream counter up front. They were basically milk shakes with rum, and they had a loyal following.

Actually, HoJo's had lots of loyal customers who were probably trying to recapture childhood memories of road trips and family outings to the familiar orange-and-blue haven. People would drive in from "The Valley" for the fried clams, raving about how good they were. They weren't bad but they were frozen, as was everything else in the place except the lettuce on the salad bar.

One day I went back to the cooler to get fruit for the bar. In one bin I discovered fresh vegetables -- long, dark green wicked-looking peppers. "Wow, what are these for?" I asked the cook. He slammed the bin shut. "Those," he hissed, "are for OUR food," meaning the Latino kitchen staff. They were eating a lot better than anyone out front.

There came a time when I knew I had to get a real, grown-up job, so I applied with the federal government. After months of negotiations, I was hired and told to report to the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles. Panic set in. What if I wasn't adequate to do the job?

I showed up my first day to discover that my new supervisor wouldn't be showing up for a week or two. I was directed to a desk in an empty office and told to start reading the three-inch thick manual. I spent all day pouring over the mind-numbing tome, although I think someone rescued me for lunch. In the afternoon I resumed my toil.

Suddenly I awoke with a start. I realized I'd fallen asleep -- fallen asleep my first day on the job. I looked at the clock. It was 3 p.m. "Hmm," I thought. "Maybe I was suited for this job after all."

After a few days, I got a boss and was set to proper work, and we did work hard. I learned a lot about what others did for a living. One of my cases involved a steward from the Santa Monica Post Office who claimed he'd been harassed for his union activity. I asked him what form the harassment had taken.

"They wrote me up," he said, "for throwing a bag of bulk mail down the garbage chute."

That's a pretty big mistake, I told him. "Wouldn't you normally get written up for that?"

"Hell, no," he replied. "The other guys do it all the time." (The Gualala Post Office workers apparently were trained at the same school.)

Speaking of jobs that make you crazy, here's another post office story. A driver at the Beverly Hills P.O. was always crashing the trucks. He'd come back with bangs and dents all over the vehicle and always said he didn't know how it happened or "It happened in a parking lot." Whatever.

The only way they ever caught up with this guy was that one day he drove into the lower-level parking lot of the old Gibraltar Savings on Wilshire, a parking lot with a very low ceiling. The ceiling height was clearly posted, and the truck was clearly too tall, but in he went, clipping off the fire sprinklers in the ceiling as he progressed through the garage. As he knocked off the sprinklers, they activated and started shooting water. As the garage flooded, he drove off, dumped the truck back at the P.O. and said nothing.

The next day, following a complaint from Gibraltar, someone checked out the truck and, sure enough, one of the sprinklers was still imbedded in its roof.

I think they wrote him up.

Maka MacKenna is a Eureka free-lance writer.

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