working for a living: building maintenance man
In my time of unemployment, I've gotten a lot of yard work done. While I'm pulling weeds, I often think about all the glamorous jobs I've had. At one company, I even worked my way up from the mailroom. For real. Share your fun/not-so-fun / interesting job stories in the comments. And if you need a writer / editor, a Penguinologist, or Rasputin Impersonator, I'm your guy. Look me up on LinkedIn and let's talk.
Once high school was in the rear view mirror and I had a year or so under my belt as a (community) college man, I decided to "take a break" from my classes in order to...I can't remember. Be 19 and foolish? Instead of continuing my education I took a job as a "re-lamper". This is not the best educational / vocational decision I've ever made.
Basically, it was my job to wear scratchy light blue coveralls and change each and every light bulb at a large downtown law firm. The sheer volume and variety of light bulbs in an average commercial workplace is astounding. This is not a sexy as it sounds.
To this day, the Light Bulb Changer-Upper gig may be the only job I've acquired without the help of a friend hook up (i.e. every job I've ever had came through a friend's recommendation) but before I explain the job, I should back up.
My buddy Aaron and I interviewed at a local building maintenance company that placed their employees into jobs as janitors, junk haulers, and--ta, da!--light bulb changers!
We both got scheduled for interviews at the same time. I crashed at his place the night before--since the offices for the interview were in the city and he lived down the street. We woke up early, got gussied up in clothing with buttons and groomed our hair. The career seminar advice I'd acquired had paid off. We were dressed for success.
The American Building Maintenance offices were located in a not-so-nice part of town between China Town and the Central District. We walked into a cramped, dimly lit room with low, stained popcorn ceilings and bad, striped curtains. The room was packed with a dozen other prospective employees half of which looked to be homeless and or about to be homeless. We were clearly overdressed. There wasn't enough seating in the office and the mood was awkward. People bumping into each other, not sure what to do with their hands.
Then out came a short-ish, loud Asian woman that began barking like a drill seargant. She explained what kind of employees American Building Maintenance was looking for and that most of the people in attendance were not those people. She ordered us to sit back down (or stand around awkwardly due to insufficient seating) and advised that our names would be called for an interview.
Aaron went first and disappeared into a small office before exiting not five minutes later. He was wide eyed and silent which was a signal that he'd just had a weird experience. I was called in next and the little Asian lady spent the bulk of the interview time talking loudly on the phone whilst using F-word profanity. Not knowing quite what to do, I stared at the floor. She chain smoked throughout the entire "interview." I don't ever recall answering interview type questions.
Both Aaron and I were hired on the spot (must have been that clean pressed shirt!) and told that work assignments were forthcoming within the week. We requested that, if it were possible, we be placed in a job together. Thinking back, that's a pretty ridiculous request, to ask to be placed in a job with your best buddy. For some reason, they went for it.
Prior to the above mentioned "re-lamp" gig, our first job was moving furniture from a vacated office building down into the basement. All of it. The offices were located in a red brick, turn of the century charmer called the Jones Building on 3rd Ave. The Jones has since been leveled and is now the home of Benaroya Hall.
The building was falling apart. The plaster on the walls was cracked and the hallways were thick with a hundred years of dust accrual. The bathrooms smelled of years old piss and the huge porcelain sinks and ancient toilets were stained with rust.
We worked alone without supervision while the boss from a couple buildings down kept tabs on our progress via walkie talkie. One set-back to the job was that the radiator heaters in the building were broken and stuck "on". And the windows were all boarded up. We worked in 90 + degree heat all day long. It was miserable.
We lifted ratty old office furniture into a cramped elevator and took everything down into the basement. We'd last about 45 minutes at a time till exhaustion from the heat set in and we'd crash out on a crusty couch in a back room. The heat was so oppressive that it lulled us asleep on occasion during breaks. It was tough sustaining a work ethic on the brutal heat, and my body couldn't keep up. Musta been that vegetarian diet--imposed by the meat market job-coming to haunt me with muscle atrophy.
After a week of heavy lifting we were promoted to a "re-lamp" gig at the Washington Mutual Tower down the street. We started our shift after regular work hours and worked into the night changing hundreds upon thousands of light bulbs in an empty law firm. Florescent tube bulbs, desk lamp bulbs, the bulbs in the restroom, bulbs at the elevator, bulbs upon bulbs.
One perk to the job, extended to us by the boss, was an open invitation to use the soda machines in the cafeteria as often as we wanted. So we did. I must have ingested a gallon of soda each workshift. Every night was a Carbonation Inspiration Celebration. This newly found beverage fetish unwittingly hooked me into a six-pack per day Coca-Cola habit for years afterward. My teeth enamel and adrenal gland function will never be the same.
The law firm was up 40 floors and had a spectacular view of the city and Puget Sound. We'd be in the middle of a relamp, standing on a desk in an executive suite, oblong florescent bulb in my hand, my head bumping the ceiling, asbestos tile dust falling into my face when a hypnotic reflection from off the water would catch my eye. The view was amazing. Mid re-lamp we'd plop down into plush leather chairs, turn off the lights and soak in the Seattle skyline sipping on our Cokes.
Eventually, I was assigned to another random janitorial job, and Aaron finished the relamp without me. I missed Aaron, and the free cokes at the next job, but had become all light-bulbed out.
To this day, I have light bulb aversion syndrome and bad teeth.