When the unemployment checks cease coming, along with the possible offers of meaningful employment, it’s time to keep the wolves at bay with part time employment.

I scanned the classified ads in the newspaper after reading the business page (which carried an article about record low levels of unemployment – apparently they weren’t aware of the spike in the statistics regarding males in their late 40s). I got in the car to look for part time employment. Picking up applications at several large home building supply companies and learning that the wages offered were barely above federally mandated minimums, I headed for home to fill in the necessary information to return to the world of the wage-earner. On my way I noticed a billboard which fairly shouted “We want you to become a member of our team!” They were also offering twelve bucks an hour for what seemed to be mental midget work.

Wheeling into the parking lot of this major truck carrier of packages, I had visions of doing a degree of physical work, for better than average compensation, with no commitment to a career. I parked the car and walked through the security gate, which had large signs stating that all employees were subject to “pat down” upon leaving the premises. I went to the personnel office (yes, they do call it “personnel” and not “human resources”) and filled out an application. I was asked to prove that I could pick up a sixty pound box (which I did) and was told that I would be notified when I could come to work. Wow, somebody actually wanted to hire me, and they were offering a hundred dollar bonus if you stayed with the company for the first forty hours of work!

The people in the security office made me empty my pockets and “patted me down” (yet another “first” in life experiences) before I could go into the parking lot to get my car.

I agreed to take the “sunrise” shift which started at 4:30 a.m. and ran until they were out of packages to unload or 10:00 a.m. – whichever came first. And, after a brief training session which consisted primarily of videos showing how to correctly pick up cardboard cartons in a tractor-trailer and place them on a conveyor belt, I was sent out to try my hand at unloading trucks.

My first clue regarding the nature of the work was written faintly in white crayon at the edge of the loading dock door. “Welcome to Hell” had been inscribed for posterity by another hapless soul who apparently thought they were going to get the big bucks for a little physical effort. I had no idea how prophetic that simple phrase was to prove over the next few hours. My experience with package delivery prior to this point had consisted of taking a cardboard carton from some nice person in a clean delivery truck and signing my name on a proffered clipboard.

These damn trucks had cardboard cartons of all sizes jammed in them floor-to-ceiling, as well as tires, wooden pallets, truck hitches, rolled carpets, bags of envelopes, plastic pails, containers labeled with hazardous materials warnings, eight foot-long mini-blinds, bicycles, chain saws, and large boxes with yellow warning tape on them which indicated that the contents weighed 100+ pounds. Whatever happened to that nice box in the personnel office which was about a foot square and weighed sixty pounds? It sure wasn’t on this trailer.

After performing my duties for several hours on the docks (where the temperature was approximately 90 degrees) and losing about five pounds through sweating, I was told by the supervisor that I was “done for the day” and could “clock out” (again, another “first” in my life experience portfolio). I have always prided myself on being in pretty good physical condition but, after this episode, I began to have doubts about it. I dragged myself, soaking wet with sweat, to the security building where I emptied my pockets and was “patted down” by the security guy (I found out later that if a woman was on duty she simply waved one of those electronic wands, like they have at airport gates, over my physique) and was sent on my less-than-merry way.

Subsequent days were carbon copies of the first, and some were even worse, but I was employed and making twelve bucks an hour!

An amusing phase of the job, which lasted nearly six months before my wife insisted that I cease working there (due to the resemblance I had to a zombie after the first three months) occurred in the first few days. As I unloaded trucks in the sweltering atmosphere a supervisor would stop by occasionally and ask, “How are you doing?” I, in my naïvete, assumed that he was really concerned about my progress until I looked around at the other employees and realized that I was the oldest guy working there. It wasn’t that he was being solicitous, but rather, was concerned that the gray haired guy was going to drop dead on his shift.


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