Friday, July 13, 2018

Geezering Out

A more superstitious man might have thought better than to retire on Friday the 13th.  But triskaidekaphobia and general mystictristic bullshit be damned, the Old Man is throwing caution to the wind and doing it anyway!   It’s about time.  I turned 69 last St. Patrick’s Day and have been working one way or another since my first part time job as a dishwasher at the old Howard Johnson’s in Skokie, Illinois back in 1967.
Since then, with a couple of bouts of unemployment and time off as a guest of the Federal Government for draft resistance during the Vietnam War, I have worked pretty steadily at a wide variety of jobs since then and during my 30 + years as pater familias her in Crystal Lake, almost always worked two, sometimes three jobs.
My first factory gig came in the summer of 1968 at Kold-Wave/Heat Exchangers, and air conditioning plant in Skokie.  I subsequently worked at a number of factories, some of them very briefly, with the longest turns at Dietzgen Corp., Schwinn Bicycle, and RaySon Sports/All American where I ran an enormous industrial sewing machine and re-conditioned football shoulder pads and other athletic equipment.  I also tried my hand at being the late shift cook at the Oxford Pub on Lincoln Ave, as a clerk in an antique store/junk shop, and other assorted jobs I have forgotten.  All of this was in Chicago. 
For a while it looked like I might have a trade—as a small offset pressman.  I worked for the State of Illinois producing thick nightly reports of all job opening that were posted to the state which were then rushed to unemployment offices to aid job seekers—a clumsy and quaint procedure in those pre-internet dark ages.  I subsequently ran presses for Columbia College while I was a student there, and was a roll feeder and helper on a web press at a place that was contracted to print all sorts of income tax forms.  But for one reason or another that line of work dried up.

At an IWW social gathering about the time I was General Secretary Treasurer.

I spent some time as a radical union bureaucrat as General Secretary-Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and then as a member of the staff collective of the Chicago Seed underground newspaper writing under the name Wobbly Murf and other monikers.
It turned out my most lasting work was as a custodian.  My first taste was taking care of Columbia College’s Dance studio and theater then located on Wells Street in a decrepit building that was torn down for the Treasure Island store.  Later I worked and Coyne American Institute, a trade school, on Fullerton with my Wobbly Fellow Worker Carlos Cortez.  When we moved to Crystal Lake in 1985 my first job was working overnights cleaning the old Zayer discount store for a contractor who didn’t reliably pay me.  Then I hired on at Cary School District 26 as an elementary school custodian, where I worked first on the second shift and rose to be Head Building Custodian at Briargate Elementary School.  I worked there for twenty years—a decent job with full benefits and insurance until I was encouraged to “retire” at age 55 with a small pension rather than them finding a way to fire me.  I had become the most expensive maintenance person in the district.

One of my annual school portraits from my days as Briargate Elementary Head Custodian.

Most of my time at the School District I worked weekends on the maintenance crew at Crystal Point Mall where a lot of locals remember seeing me pushing a giant dust mop or collecting garbage in my beat-up old work hats.  The last year or so they made me security guard, complete with a pseudo police uniform and shiny badge.  I was a ludicrous mall cop.  After major anchor stores and many shops closed, the place was shut down as an enclosed mall and converted to a strip center ending my employment there after a dozen years or so.
For several years during that period I also put in a couple of early morning hours six days a week cleaning out a medical office building down the street from my house before I headed to Cary.
In 2001 with the Mall closed, I started working some second shift evening at a clerk at a Crystal Lake Mobil gas station/convenience store.  After several years there, the new owner replaced to long time clerks with family members from India who worked for cash off the books.  After a brief hiatus, I signed on as the weekend/overnight clerk at the Circle K/Shell at Route 176 and 14, just two blocks from home.
When I was involuntarily “retired” back in 2004 I learned a nasty lesson—places offering fulltime jobs with benefits were unanimously uninterested in 50 something men.  My job search was also hampered by my need as a non-driver to get work that I could walk to or get to via McHenry County’s woefully inadequate public transportation system.  For several months it was a struggle getting by on a part time job and my small pension, which I had to start drawing.
Finally, Robert S. Jackson, who I knew from the Congregational Unitarian Church of Woodstock, offered me a job working out of his home office.  My grandiose title would be Communications Manager and Non-Profit Consultant for Oaktree Capital Corp, the small, single person Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) Dr. Jackson operated.  The job was not quite full time—32 hours a week.  I could get to Woodstock via a rare Pace Route Bus that actually could pick me up and drop me off at my own home on Route 176 in Crystal Lake and deposited me a short walk from the office.

A promotional photo of the Oaktree Capital team circa 2006.  The boss, Robert S.Jackson center and his Chicago office employees Ken Darwin and Chistine Zarek.  I look suitably business like.

The pay wasn’t all that great—not much more than I got at the gas station in fact.  And I wasn’t even an employee.  Instead I was told I was an independent contractor working for myself with Oaktree as my client.  Translation—I would not be eligible for paid days off, vacations, insurance, or any other benefit associated with employment.  Technically self-employed, I had to pay double Social Security, both the employee and employer portions.  Since I was contracted to work 32 hours a week and my checks were automatically generated by a bank, if I missed a day’s work for any reason such as a holiday or illness or was otherwise short hours, I was obliged to write Oaktree a check to reimburse the company.  In addition, I had to write a check equal to 10% of my compensation each pay period to “lease the computer and other office equipment used to perform my tasks as a contractor.”   And in the 14 years I was there I received one pay increase.  Last year I was granted 5 days a year to be used for free for any reason—holiday, illness, blizzards, or personal business.
Not the greatest terms.  But at least I was working and we had a steady, reliable income patching together both jobs and the pension.  There were other advantages.  For the first time since my stints with the IWW and the Seed, I had a sit down job.   Much of the work was essentially clerical—I maintained the company’s data base of clients and prospects using specialized marketing software for financial advisors.  A big part of the job was getting out monthly mailings/e-mails to people on that data base.  Using letters or articles prepared by the marketing service or a professional organization for advisors, I edited and adapted material in collaboration with Dr. Jackson and also wrote or co-wrote many original pieces.  I would install these messages into the Document Library of the marketing system, and send out e-mail versions.  I would print, fold, collate, stuff, and seal envelopes for mail recipients.  In addition, I wrote and/or edited material for the company’s web page and uploaded it to the server.  I worked on marketing campaigns, designed advertising, brochures, business cards and other materials and did assorted other tasks as requested.
Much of the time I worked from a basement office that was prone to flooding after heavy rains and which would subsequently become a fungus farm.  The space was often cold and hard to heat in the winter.  I worked on antiquated, cantankerous, and often barely functional computers, printers, and phone systems.  As a technical incompetent frustration and blind improvisation was often the order of the day.
What I did not do was handle anyone’s money.  A good thing for our clients since my life savings were usually the bus fare coins rattling in my pockets.  Over the years I learned some about business and investment if only so I could intelligently edit material and write stuff.  But on most of that I deferred to Dr. Jackson, who is actually very good at what he does and got most of his clients through the crash of 2008 with minimal losses compared to many and helped them quickly re-build their portfolios.
Anyway, that’s the job I am retiring from today.  I will miss it in some ways—and miss coming to beautiful Woodstock.   But it is time.
And I will only be semi-retiring.  To keep a little cash flow in addition to my government rocking chair money and school pension, I will be keeping the week-end overnight job at the gas station for the foreseeable future.

My retirement will not look like this.

I don’t plan on the kind of retirement advertised on TV—endless rounds of golf, strolling on tropical beaches by the side of an adoring young looking wife, sailing, or romping with my golden retriever.  But neither do I plan to vegetate.
The main plan is to work on three book projects.  First up, because it is the easiest to assemble is a new collection of poetry, even though it is the least commercially viable.  Next is an anthology—or may be more than one—culled from the 12 years of this Blog in both its LiveJournal and Blogger versions—plenty of material there for the eclectic reader.  Finally, I would like to assemble and expand my memoir pieces into a coherent read for folks interested in an autobiography by someone they never heard of.  My heirs will breathlessly await the money that will pour in from those projects, if they ever get finished and find a publisher.
I will also have more time than ever for raising hell.  Watch out, Donald Trump—there will be a geezer stalking you.

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