From the full version of Sunnysides Lousy Book.
The Recession of
the Early Eighties
During the late seventies, I was trying to be independent and my own boss. I was partying quit a bit. Rent was $135.00, my truck payment was $75.00, insurance was $ 50.00 and at $7.50 an hour which added up to $207 a week take home pay. Since I had an airless for side jobs on weekends, money was quite easy to come by; at least during the summer months. I remember working two weekends and five nights at five hours each to mask off just the windows and the side job amounted to $750 in cash. I still wonder what I did with all the money I made back then.
I'll be the first to admit, if I could go back I would have definitely spent less money on beer. At one time I was up to buying at a time a half case a day when Shelly was living with me, but usually drank about a six pack a day when I was by myself. A half case was only about 5 or 6 bucks in those days, $4 when on sale. Now days, I don't know how people can afford to put that burden on top of the bills you've got to maintain.
During the early eighties, the recession was on and many construction companies were filing bankruptcy. The company I was working for became a victim of it and the time my boss was decided to quit the business, he was owed about $350,000.00. After almost three years of working for him, I found myself out of a job and the others who worked over five years for the company, found themselves out of a job within six months later.
Trying to find a job was not the easiest thing to do back then; especially for a painter in the winter. I landed a job in a plastic manufacturing plant where I found the highest paid job in the plant was the person who sprays the texture onto computer covers, Kenworth, and Freightliner truck dashes. Of course I mastered it quite well.
I was hired for a new graveyard shift and it was quite different from any other painting job I'd ever had. I stood in one place in front of a waterfall paint booth all night and spray parts as they came down on a conveyor track suspended from the ceiling. The parts were hung on wires as they moved past each spray-man. The parts were hung on the line by one person and then a guy would spray a primer coat on them before the track raised up towards the ceiling where the temperature was warm enough to dry the primer fast. Then the parts came down in front of a couple guys that scuffed them down by hand with sand paper to smooth the surfaces. From there they rounded a corner and passed in front of next waterfall spray booth where two guys sprayed on the finish coat. Then up to the ceiling they'd go to dry for about forty five minutes before they’d drop down in front of me where I would use a low air pressure and spray on a texture to match a sample piece of what it was suppose to look like. It was quite boring at first and I'd even read a paragraph out of a news paper, then spray a part, then read a paragraph, then spray a part. But once the other guys who the company got out of the Voc. Tech. learned to spray half ass decent; the line speed was cranked up. The parts would normally move ten feet per minute and six feet apart. Needless to say, it was one part after another and I felt like a robot. Since there was no time to read, I had to do something to take the boredom away.
Back in those days, the walkman hadn't been on the market yet and if they were, they wouldn't have been allowed in a paint room for fear of spark.
At the time: the under dash "Pioneer, Supertuners,”® were the car stereo to have. And if you wanted to keep them very long, you'd have to have a slide out bracket for one as well. The slide out bracket also allowed people to use them in more than one car. Well this gave me an idea.....
When I was younger I had bought a 120 volt AC to 12 Volt DC converter from Niles, for my eight track player. I took the power supply and mounted it in a box with an opening in front for my Supertuner. I added a slide out mount under the top of the box and put a handle on top to carry it. I painted the box black and textured it to match the small pair of bracket mounted two way speakers which I mounted to the sides. I also mounted a double pole double pole switch and wired a headphone jack adapter into it.
By now you've figured out that I'd invented the ghetto blaster at the age of twenty. (1970)
With a 30 or 40 foot headphone cord with a male plug on one end and a female jack on the other, I was able to set my ghetto blaster in the storeroom and ran the cord over to my booth. I hung the cord next to the lines for my paint gun and used a clip to fasten it to the belt loop on my pants. I plugged in my head phones and rock & rolled all night long. No exhaust fan noise, just me and my rock-n-roll.
Unlike the day shift when they trained me for the job and they kept the garage door open keeping the room filled with fresh air; at night I would open the door to the storage room so the exhaust fans would suck in fresh air and it would blow over to my booth which was of the water fall kind.
Unfortunately I didn't realize when I started the job that there was a leadsman position up for the grabs and a retired army guy from the Voc. Tech. brown nosed himself into the position. The problem with him being lead man was that he had nothing to do. He’d come up to me at the same time every night and say the same thing as he had said before, night after night. When someone didn't make it to work, he was suppose to step in and take the guy’s position, but he'd just fuck up the parts and eventually if someone didn't make it they would just go with only one base coater and slow the line down. Then the big wigs started complaining and since I'd make the army guy feel insecure at times, he’d try to make it look like I was the problem. While the grave yard shift manager company sat at his desk in the corner of the paint room, nipping on his bottle, the army guy would brown nose him all night. I would look over and be amazed that the two would sit there sniffing the fumes all night, night after night.
Off to the side of the room from where I stood, there was a door to the store room. I’d keep it open so that the exhaust fan would pull fresh air in towards me. But when the winter set in, the grave yard shift manager and lead man didn't like the cold air that would come in and eventually made me keep the door closed. Although I had no overspray flying back at me because I was using low air pressure; (8-15 psi) I began to use up 4 to 6 charcoal cartages on my respirator every night. I had to stand there knowing that the polyurethane type paints we were using have isosienate solvents which could not be removed with the use of charcoal respirators. When they decided they wanted me to keep the storage room’s door closed, you can bet I wanted out of there.
The company I was working for had a gimmick. They would hire low paid non union labor to sand the plastic parts and lay them off in less than a month so that they wouldn’t have to have the sanders join the union. But the guys in the paint shop had to join the union after 30 days which meant they couldn't just fire me. I knew the rules and their limits. I punched in five minutes late as many times as I could every month. ( 5 times.)
They would want me to be ready to spray at the end of every ten minute break we had, I felt I deserved to be out of the paint fumes for the whole ten minutes we had for each break, so I put on my gloves and respirator on their time and not mine. They started riding my ass every way possible and began to pink slip me for everything they could.
Get this: When I started the job, grave yard shift manager was new to the area from Spokane. He didn’t have a car and found out I lived in Parkland. He asked me if I could give him a ride home to the south Spanaway shit whole he lived in. I got tired of going out of my way ten to twenty miles every day, and to the whinny kid’s voice he had, especially when he began to let the lead man army dude ride my ass at work. So I told him to find another ride. (He had to take the bus.)
One morning we had a meeting with the big-wig day manager. He said, "Dennis, this is a little game here and we have to follow the rules."
I said, “You bet we have a little game here and the rules are the only reason I'm still around! They've pinked slipped me for every little thing they can get me for and I know the limits of each and every one of those infractions. They can't get enough of them on me and you all know it. No shit it's a game we are playing here." The manager wasn't prepared to hear that from me and all he could do was try to call some kind of truce between the graveyard shift manager and his lead butt-hole and me.
About four or five months into the little game I learned that we couldn’t have radios any more. Since I felt listening to the radio was about the only good thing about the job, I was ready to get out of there.
One night I felt so sick; I laid down on some cardboard during break. I'd forgotten that they did a part change at my station, flushed out the paint in my pressure pot and changed the paint to another mixture. When I got up and the line assembly line start to move, I pulled the trigger and blew washout thinner all over a computer cover that was hanging in front of my booth. I just hosed it down with the thinner to run the paint off the part and left it on the line as a reject, the adjusted my fan for the next part.
The next day, the day manager told me that the big wigs were mad about the washed down part and about the performance of the night shift. He said that the graveyard shift had the highest reject factor and 90% of those rejects were texture and the big wigs wanted to get rid of me.
Basically we did about 1,000 parts each night and my position as a texture person was allowed a 10% reject factor. Everyone else in the shop was able to get away with a 20%. I found it hard to believe I could have any more than just a couple rejects per night, so that night I went next door into the quality control room where the parts came down off the line and were packaged. The QC guy didn't appreciate the fact that I helped myself to the record book while he was at lunch. He said I wasn't allowed to look in it, but what I discovered was that every time a piece of dirt fell off the track and landed on a part, it was written down as dirt, but listed as a texture reject. As you can imagine, 3 or 4 true texture rejects is way off from anything like 100. Indeed they were way out of line.
The fun started when the manager and his lead butt hole stood down line from my booth where the parts went back up to the ceiling. They’d check the parts as they would leave me. I'd spin them around and do every one with a different systematic approach and rhythm to it so they would be even more worried that I might screw one up.
Well as you can guess, I had enough of their crap and I set myself up with a job at an autobody shop owned by my sister’s boy-friend. However, I felt the right thing to do was to give them a two week notice before I quite.
The assembly line was lead up to the high ceiling so the heat trapped above the room would dry the parts faster. One of the following nights, we had a problem with the heaters above the paint shop not working. The parts were coming down to my booth still too tacky and I had a difficult time making the texture match the sample piece. I told the lead butt hole to turn down the line speed so the parts could dry more. But he and the manager didn't want to lose production numbers for the night so they refused my request. It wasn't long before the guys over in QC came in to the paint shop complaining about the parts coming down at the end of the line because they were too soft to package, so the line had to be shut down.
Sure they found a job for me to do. It was scuffing parts that had been electro statically coated with a zinc substance. Apparently it was too ruff and they wanted the zinc surfaces smoothed out. They gave me an abrasive pad to scuff the parts with and when I asked for a dust cup so I wouldn't have to breathe the zinc dust, they said they didn't have any. I said the job isn't work breathing the substance so I got up and walked out for good.
I learned the auto body trade a bit because when the weather gets bad in Washington, you can’t paint outside very well and if it snow, the body shops fill up. It also helped if the guy your sister is dating owns a couple body shops. The funny thing about it was that he didn’t have me work on cars until about a month later because he took advantage of my talents in the carpentry and electrician field. He had me build a paint-booth and oven in a building he'd leased from a guy who got out of the auto body business because his auto body paint supply business was doing pretty well.
Dana’s boy friend was into the low cost production oriented type paint jobs and I got to prepping, which was sanding the cars before they were masked off by my sister. He said I used too much sand paper and took too long. But he liked my work and sometimes had me do bodywork too. We settled on a piece work deal. Cars with door jams I got $25 for and 15-20 without and I had to supply the sand paper. It ended up with me costing him about $5-10 per car more by having me do it my way, but I provided a better prep job than if one of the other guys did them by the hour.
Though the guy who owned the building was getting out of the auto body business, but he had kept a spot in the shop for one of his customer’s 64 XKE Jaguar he was in the process of restoring. He’d heard of my good work and decided to get me in on the project. It got down to the only parts of the car that hadn’t been restored was the varnish on the steering wheel and shift lever. Get this: the first car show he put the car in, he got second place. The reason for it was that the steering wheel and shift lever was off a 65 XKE.
The owner of the Jaguar later hired me to work on a second Jaguar project he had going on. He also had me paint his house and do whatever errand or labor type project he had to have done. He paid me $9.00 per hour at about 20 hours per week. He said if I had a college education he’d pay me more.
Me and the stockbroker who owned the Jaguars had some tuff times coping with each other like an odd couple, he the picky one and I the rebel he was reluctant to trust. Our lives were on separate paths but somehow we got along great on a personal level. I could understand him but he couldn’t understand me. Regardless, he said that I had an eye for detail and that was why he had me working for him. On a personal level; it would be like on a Saturday, he’d drop by my place and say, “Let’s go out and do touchup my airplane.”
Well as might imagine, this kind of last minute, at the drop of the hat; having your boss showing up at the spur of the moment to take you somewhere doesn’t go over very well with a girlfriend. But I needed the hours of work and she knew I had to make money when I could. It wasn’t only that, but she also never liked the fluctuation of the feast of famine roller coaster ride of the construction trade such as painting.
It became hard for me to bounce between a friend whom happened to be my boss and the girl I was in love with. It became difficult to deal with both of their expectations and both of the relationships suffered because of the conflict of interest.
There was a time when the stockbroker fired me. It lasted about a month before I was back working for him. He said he missed my companionship and his son said he was going nuts without me around. Apparently, I was one of few with an eye for detail that could handle his pickiness.
Eventually the relationship with me girlfriend and the other with him was too much for me and I began to take it out on him. After I finished restoring an engine compartment in his daily driven Jag, the job of working for the stockbroker were just days in my past.
During the time I was working for the stockbroker, I was involve in a car accident. A girl in a GI’s sports car pulled out on another girl driving a compact pickup. The impact in the right front fender of the pickup sent it across the centerline and I was hit head on. I figure the truck was doing about 35 and I was doing about 30. Not good on the back I say.
At first I didn’t realize the damage that was done to my back, but soon it was obvious with all the pain I would experience whenever I tried to do something that was physically demanding. I had to cut back on my work load and tried to get by with working as little as possible. After consulting with my doctor about my future with my bad back, I decided to enroll into collage as an effort to change my career. Since I was a high school drop out, I decided to take a short course at the local vocational technical school that was available for getting a GED.
I got a call from a band called Footloose. Don’t laugh because the original name for the band was Riff Raff, but that was before I came along. The singer sounded just like Brian Adams therefore you can imagine what kind of turns we did a lot of. The bass and lead guitar player had long black hair and looked like a couple heavy metal guys whoreing out to a top forty band. The lead guitarist would always play barefooted and Mat the bassist sang a mean Kiss song called _________.
Foot Loose hired me not only to operate lights but to work as a soundman also. They had the sound system and had some rented lights.
At first they thought I would be able to set up the sound system and the light system, but once they found out how many lights I packed into the place, they realized the rented lights were a waste of money because once they saw that double the amount in smaller lights did a better job. I could pack in twice as many lights and with my light board, I’d perform a better show. The found out my lights were enough work for me to do so they decided that they would set up the sound system and just have me operate it. Unlike when I only worked lights, the lights had to become secondary. It was hard for me from a lightman’s perspective because I had to learn that for the first few seconds of a song, I’d have to just get some lights on the band and just let them stay as they were for a few moments while I got the sound dialed in. At first I was a little shakey with my sound, but after awhile I learned the material and got things under control.
I gained more respect and insight for the things that sound-men do. One of the first things I learned to do was set the equalizer to the room, and the best way I found to do that was by using a quality pre-recorded tape I had made for the band breaks between sets. It was a tape I’d made of a large variety of music I had in my music collection. I’d set the EQ to the tape so the PA would be set to the conditions of the room. Then the controls on the sound board were set to make the individual channels handling the instrument or vocal microphone sound right for the acoustics of the room or song.
The thing about doing sound is that there are several different approaches to accomplish certain things to achieve the same goal, but if you take the wrong approach – the trouble starts on the following song. That’s when you find out how out of whack you’ve adjusted the soundboard for the prior song and you’ll have to readjust things back to ground zero. After a while one will learn what needs to be done for each song. After I had it down to a routine, I’d get to operate my lights that much sooner lights. That’s when a set list would come in handy, because it enabled me to be more efficient and I’d pick up the lights that much sooner.
One of our gigs was a local tavern were we worked Wednesday, Friday, and Saturdays, but the others were just two night weekends that revolved about once every month added about $500.00 to my income every month It wasn’t much money but it was all the beer I could drink too. After a few nights I had to make a rule for myself. It was that I couldn’t allow myself to drink any alcohol until after the second set, or else my quality control would get out of control. After one of those nights, the leader of the band had it in for me. He got pissed of and felt like expressing his disappointment to Joan over the phone.
Well to put it lightly, Joan appreciated it about as much as she did when my sister Disco called up and bitch to Joan about the fact that I didn’t return my dad’s truck to her place right after I barrowed it. Joan couldn’t tolerate that kind of shit because she had done no wrong and felt she didn’t deserve to here that kind of shit from anyone.
The next time the leader of the band called me on the phone to rag about something, he said that he had no complains about my lights, but it was the sound that sucked. He didn’t know what he was talking about so I told him, “Then why don’t you fire your soundman.”
By then, Joan decided she would rather not go to my gigs and sit in a bar we’d played in the month before. She’d usually sit at home at either her parents place or at mine waiting for me to get home. Or at least she wanted me to think she was sitting at her parent’s home, I should say, but after calling there her parents house one morning, I found out that she wasn’t there at all. She said I wasn’t there for her so she found someone else that was.
We decided to try to make our relationship work after that but I never quite regained trust in her again and it only brought on jealousy which only made matters worse. In the following months it only amounted to more bad water under the bridge and a waste of time and energy and emotions it was. .
The next chapter of Sunnyside's Lousy Book is:
Back to School - Not available yet.
Have you seen the otherBook Excerpts?
Featured chapter prior to
The Recession of the Early Eighties is-
The World's Greatest Guitar Player
My Synchro-link truck
is a whole fleet of trucks in one
Check it out at MiniRollOffTrucks.com