Sunday, July 24, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxvii)

No longer having the night clerical job at the Hunts Point Terminal Market wholesale firm in early June of 1971, however, did present me with an immediate economic survival problem: Where was I going to get the money I required to pay my unpaid $57 per month rent, my unpaid telephone company bills, my unpaid Con Ed electricity and gas stove bills and my food costs for June, July and August of 1971? So after I spent most of my paycheck from the week’s work on the night clerical job to pay for my next few weeks of groceries, I walked down to the local welfare department office, which was about 20 blocks south of my apartment near Fordham Road, and applied for home relief.

Before I had found my job as a special ed summer camp counselor the previous year, I had been rejected for home relief by the local welfare department’s long-haired and bearded, "liberal" white male caseworker/investigator, who seemed to be in his late 20’s. Apparently because New York City welfare department policy in the early 1970s was to pressure long-haired and bearded white able-bodied male hippies who were under 30 who applied for home relief to either move back to their parents’ apartments (even if they had been living on their own for years, as I had been)--by denying them home relief benefits—or to get haircuts, shave off their beards, start dressing up straight again and find some straight low-paying job in Manhattan.

But just over a year later in June of 1971, New York City was now in an economic recession, the Big Apple’s official unemployment rate was much higher than the previous year and I was now even more economically destitute than I had been in mid-May of 1970 when my first application for home relief had been rejected. In addition, since I had shaved off my beard and cut my hair shorter prior to being interviewed for the Hunts Point Terminal Market night clerical job from which I had been axed, I looked less like a white male hippie than I had looked when the welfare department caseworker/investigator had visited me in my slum apartment the previous year. So I thought that this time around my legal right for a home relief grant from the welfare department would not again be denied illegally.

But when a beardless, crew-cutted, white male, straight-looking welfare department caseworker/investigator in his late 20s or early 30s, with an Irish-American last name, appeared at my apartment door a few days after I had filled out my application for welfare at the local office, my heart sank. And after he interrogated me in a cop-like way for awhile and conversed with me about my current economic situation and anti-war ‘emancipated poverty” lifestyle philosophy, my impression was that he was resentful that the only job he was able to find after graduating from college was being a welfare department casework/investigator; and that he inwardly considered white male hippies under 30 (whether they had beards and long hair or not) who applied for welfare in New York City in the early 1970s to be just “lazy bums” who were trying to “cheat” the welfare department and avoid work—while “solid” right-wing white straight citizens like himself were stuck having to work 9-to-5 in jobs that they hated.

Yet he was still legally required to provide me with emergency assistance for at least one month, to prevent my possible eviction and possible starvation. So after he returned to his welfare department office following his investigation of my slum apartment (which was still much more sparsely furnished than the apartments of unemployed workers in New York City who were already on home relief in 1971), he did not stall on filling out the forms that were required to get the emergency food stamps and the emergency welfare check required to pay my rent and utility bills for June and July 1971 sent to me within a few days. But it was still unclear to me in early June 1971 whether or not my legal right to be placed on home relief on more than just an emergency, one-month, basis was going to be respected by the New York City welfare department.

However, when the emergency check from the welfare department and the emergency food stamps authorization letter arrived in my mailbox a few days later, I did feel a sense of economic relief. And I also felt so free of immediate economic survival worries once again that I started to again try to break into the New York City and Village music scene for a brief period in June 1971.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxvi)

Since the night supervisors were apparently themselves afraid to wait for the bus in the South Bronx neighborhood at the bus stop near Hunts Point Terminal Market, they assumed that I would be grateful if they gave me a lift in their car to Fordham Road—which was on the way to their own home in a more affluent Bronx neighborhood—after work each night. But in the Spring of 1971 I was used to taking buses at night in neighborhoods like the South Bronx. So rather than feeling grateful for getting a lift home from them during the first week I worked at Hunts Point Terminal Market, I felt more that my hours of work were being extended; because I was also being subtly pressured to sit in the car with these night supervisors beyond the hours I was compelled to be with them for pay.

Once the night supervisors saw, however, that I was becoming friendly during the night shift work break with the more intellectual older worker and former radio announcer that they were hoping to replace, as my first week on the night job progressed, they apparently also quickly decided that I certainly wasn’t the night clerical worker they were looking for; especially since I seemed to be quickly forming an alliance and friendship with the older worker they had wanted to dump.

So when I reported for work on the Friday evening of my first week as a night clerk at the Hunts Point Terminal Market wholesale firm, I was handed a paycheck for 5 nights of work by the woman supervisor before work began and told that I was “no longer needed” on the night shift because “I hadn’t picked up the coding and batching system fast enough.” Although I didn’t think it was very fair to dump me after only a week, without really giving me a chance to learn what I was supposed to be hired to do, I had already become ambivalent about whether it really made any sense for me to not quit the night job trap as soon as I could. So, inwardly, I actually felt more relief than surprise, shock, anger or disappointment when I was suddenly informed that I was getting the axe so quickly from this night clerical job.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxv)

The second catch and problem with the night clerical job (that I quickly discovered by the second night of work there) was that the apparent reason why the couple who were the night supervisors had requested the wholesale firm owner to hire another night clerk was that they were looking for someone to eventually replace an older white male night clerk that they also supervised, whom they were eager to fire.

Not surprisingly, however, by the end of the work break of my second night at work, I had quickly picked up on the fact that the older white guy at work--whom they were apparently hoping I would soon replace—was a lot more intellectually interesting to talk to than were the supervisors.

The older night clerk seemed to be in his early 50’s and was originally from one of the Southwestern states. Before U.S. AM radio stations mostly switched to playing rock’n’roll hit records in the mid-1950s, he apparently had been some kind of radio announcer at some small, independently-owned, non-media conglomerate-owned radio station after World War II, during his late 20’s and early 30’s. And between the late 1950s and 1971, he apparently had been forced by economic necessity to drift around from one menial clerical job to another in New York City and elsewhere in the United States; since there was no longer any need in the U.S. AM or FM radio world for the type of radio announcer that he had been. And by the Spring of 1971, he was already counting the days when he could start collecting his social security checks and finally escape from the wage slavery world that held little interest for him, intellectually.

The night shift supervisors, however, expected him to work each night as rapidly as they did and as if he was a machine. And they weren’t hip or intellectual enough to appreciate how interesting a conversationalist he was, whenever he would pause from coding and batching the orders for a few minutes, and attempt to engage them in some conversation in order to break up the monotony of the night work shift.

All the night shift supervisors could apparently think, with regard to the older guy who was an ex-radio announcer, was “he’s slowing down the work,” “he’s too slow,” or “he thinks he’s better than us;” and “we have to get somebody else who will work faster than him and never complain that we’re pressuring him to go too fast,” etc.

Of course, in the eyes of the former radio station announcer, the night supervisors were “crazy” for being so wrapped up in their coding and batching process during the night shift that they were willing to work like machines—and expected all the workers they supervised to also work like machines for the low wages the wholesale firm owner was paying them.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxiv)

The night supervisors were a married couple in their late 50’s or early 60’s who had apparently been working at this same job on the same night shift for over 20 years; and the one job skill they each possessed, that no one else in the world had, was that they could code all the orders received from stores for fruits and vegetables more rapidly each night than any other people in New York City.

Coding of all the orders by clerical hands was required, in order to enable all the blue-collar white male workers in the warehouses, located on the floor below this Hunts Point Terminal Market wholesale firm, to rapidly know which specific fruits and vegetables should be placed in bags, boxes and cartons and then onto trucks for delivery to which specific supermarkets and mom-and-pop grocery stores.

Computer technology in the Spring of 1971 had still not developed enough, so that small business wholesale firms could automatically match the phoned-in customer-store orders to a code by low-cost personal desk computers; and then automatically batch and create packing order instructions for warehouse workers without the aid of clerical worker intermediaries. So the night supervisors who could rapidly code the orders and rapidly divide the ordered fruits and vegetables into batches were still then considered indispensable by the wholesale firm’s owner.

The problem and catch with this night clerical job, however, was that the night supervisor responsible for training me to code and divide into batches the fruits and vegetables that were ordered was also an impatient, sourpuss, straight, non-intellectual workhorse who also didn’t really know how to train and break-in a new clerical worker. And when the typical newly-hired worker predictably failed to immediately learn rapidly enough the system of coding and batching that she and her husband had been doing for the last 20 years, she would push to get rid of the new hire fast—since the extra task of training a new worker was taking time away from the time she needed to keep the coding and batching that she did going forward at a rapid enough pace during the night shift.

Another incentive she had to quickly prove that any new hire couldn’t do the job was probably that it helped her create the impression in the wholesale firm owner’s mind that she was an indispensable employee; because mastering the firm’s complicated coding and batching system was so difficult a skill to develop that only she and her husband—and not any young eager beaver worker, who might be willing to do the job for a much lower hourly wage rate—were the only ones who were able to master it and do the needed night work rapidly enough year after year.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxiii)

After not getting hired for the mental health worker job at Bronx State Hospital in May 1971, I came across an ad in the New York Post for a night job clerical position at one of the fruit and vegetable distributing whole firms that was located at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the South Bronx. Although my grandfather in Chicago had worked at a night job for the Chicago Tribune, loading batches of newspapers onto delivery trucks for over 25 years from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s, and I had previously worked nights at United Parcel Service unloading trucks and in a vending machine manufacturing factory during the late 1960s, I was not that eager to get a night job in the Spring of 1971. By this time I realized that having a night job could end up isolating you politically—since most New York City anti-war and anti-imperialist left political meetings were held in the evening—and socially—since having a night job meant that you lost any chance of meeting anyone to date or to love on any night other than Saturday night and maybe Sunday night(when most of the people you might be interested in meeting were probably more likely into getting ready to start the workweek the following day than into going out after dinner).

But being nearly out of cash and desperate for any kind of a job in late May 1971, I telephoned the phone number that was listed in the New York Post want ad and arranged for an afternoon job interview for the night clerical position with the owner of the Hunts Point Terminal Market wholesale firm.

After taking the bus that passed a few blocks from my apartment near Fordham Road and then went south through the South Bronx and to the bus stop at Hunts Point Terminal Market, I soon found myself walking past the daytime office staff of the fruit and vegetable wholesale firm—that was taking phone orders from various supermarkets and mom and pop grocery stores around New York City for specific deliveries of specific fruits and vegetables and writing these delivery orders on order forms. And I was soon seated on a chair across the desk of owner of the fruit and vegetable wholesale firm inside the owner’s private office.

The owner was a white man in his mid-to-late 50’s of Jewish background who didn’t seem that intellectual and seemed to assume, in an ethnic chauvinist way, that clerical workers of Jewish background would always be smarter, quicker-learners and more hardworking and honest workers than clerical workers from other ethnic backgrounds. So when I walked into his office with my Jewish last name and dressed up in my suit and tie, the owner of the fruit and vegetable wholesale firm seemed to assume he was getting himself a good bargain if he hired me quickly for the night clerical job. And it was agreed that I would start work the following evening at 5 p.m..

After being hired so quickly, I took the bus back to my apartment and, at first, assumed that I would now be able to survive for at least another year in the Bronx, not what I had been lucky enough to land the night clerical job at Hunts Point Terminal Market, despite the increased unemployment rate that was being created by the 1971 recession in New York City and elsewhere. But by the end of my first few nights at work at the wholesale firm, I soon realized what the catch to the quick job offer was; and that the night clerical job was actually a big trap for me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxii)

It was around this same time in the Spring of 1971 that I experienced the only throbbing, intense toothache pain that I had ever had in my life. After moving out of my parents’ apartment in 1965, I had only been to see a dentist a few times between 1965 and 1971. Not being able to afford any dental care health insurance coverage during these years, I felt that spending the money I needed to pay my rent and buy food or paperback books on paying large amounts of money for regular dental check-ups, when nothing was bothering in my mouth with my teeth, was a middle-class, bourgeois luxury I couldn’t personally afford during these years.

I had vaguely remembered reading in college once that a revolutionary’s teeth were usually the first part of his or her body to break down; and that “you can tell who a professional revolutionary was by just looking at his or her teeth, since most revolutionaries couldn’t afford to go to dentists during most of their lives.” So I was not surprised that by my early 20’s my teeth were apparently starting to rot and to give me problems, despite my having gone to the dentist regularly during my pre-1965 childhood and teenage years, when my parents used to pay for my dental care.

The toothache pain in the Spring of 1971 was so intense, however, that, despite being nearly out of cash, I felt forced to make an appointment with some dentist in order to ease the pain. So I looked in the Bronx yellow pages telephone directory and called a dentist whose office was about 30 blocks south of where I lived near Fordham Road.

After getting an emergency appointment with the dentist later that day, I walked the 30 blocks south to his office, since, by that time, I couldn’t afford to take subways anymore. The dentist was a friendly white man in his late 50s whose son had decided to follow in his footsteps and also become a dentist; and who had recently graduated from dental school. After examining my teeth, the friendly dentist in his late 50s eased my pain by pulling the tooth, after I indicated that I neither had any dental insurance coverage or any pocket money to ever pay for the dental work that saving the tooth would have required.

Being sensitive to my financial situation, the dentist did not charge me anything for pulling my tooth; and he even filled a few cavities for free that he had spotted in my mouth, even without taking any x-rays. In addition, he also was even willing to set me up for a free appointment with his son, who had recently started working as a dentist in his father’s office after recently graduating from dental school, for the following week, to have my teeth cleaned.

But, ironically, when I returned the following week for my free cleaning with the newly-trained dentist’s son, the dentist’s son looked at the free work his father had done on my cavities the previous week and, in an embarrassed way, decided it was necessary to correct the dental work his father had done by refilling the cavities again before giving my teeth a cleaning.

Although I felt grateful to both the dentist and the dentist’s son for both getting rid of my toothache and providing me with some needed dental work for free when I had become nearly destitute economically, by the time I had finally found a job a few times in the 1980s that provided me with some health insurance that included dental treatment coverage, I no longer lived in the Bronx; and no longer could even remember the name or address of the dentists who had given me the free treatment in 1971. And probably, by the late 1980s, the dentist who was in his late 50’s in 1971 was probably retired; and his son was probably, by then, practicing in an office in either Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island or New Jersey, I suppose.