Maybe you worked at the local grocery store or another retail location stocking shelves, bagging groceries, or even running the register.
Maybe you worked in an office as part of a business program, learning all of the facets of life in the business world.
Maybe you worked at a fast food restaurant, taking orders from lines of customers, or maybe even running the fry cooker.
Well, for me, my first job was working for a custom carpet artist. That's right. The man I worked for created custom rugs and carpets. He would take multiple cuts of carpets, of all textures and colors, and turning them into masterpieces that were sold to his customers.
Let me give you an example of what I mean:
Six pictures are not enough to display the work he did over the years.
His name was Steve Hanson. Honestly, he was not the easiest man to work for. He smoked...a lot. I have enough second-hand smoke in my lungs to last a lifetime. There were times that he was extremely mean to me when we were working together. He'd insult my taste in music and movies (and as a high school kid...that was ego-deflating). He swore...a lot. He made fun of me because I tried not to curse in public (he'd be proud of me now). If I couldn't do something right, it was in his opinion that I did not and could not do the job at all. My pay depended on how well or how poorly I did that week. This was a lot of pressure for an 17-year-old for his first job ever.
And those were his good qualities...
He was also very serious about the business. He worked every day, refused to take vacations, and would work long hours at the shop. I always said that he was married to his work. He was anti-social long before the term was coined. His only past time outside of work was fishing. I remember seeing the tackle box in the back of his truck. But he was also willing to share his passion with others. He even created a workshop where for one week, budding entrepreneurs would learn everything there was to know about carpet carving - from how to make these rugs to all of the business aspects that were required. He would even make sure that if he already had one of his "pupils" in a metropolitan area that he would not teach another person from that same area so that his students would not have any "competition" that he trained. I think I was around for two of these workshops.
Steve was of the (and this is probably the only time...maybe...that I've used this word on this humble, little blog), "Bust Ass-Take Break" philosophy. The idea was that you work full speed ahead for a good amount of time...then take a well deserved (some times extremely long) break. To wit, there would be days that we may have done actual work for about an hour, and spent the rest of the day watching movies (he was an addict and Blockbuster was his favorite place) or playing backgammon. Yes, folks, I got payed to play backgammon. While we wouldn't bet on the outcome of the games, there would be times he'd pay me if I beat him (and that wasn't often). I learned a lot of strategy and can hold my own in games, whether it be in person or online.
In his past life (before the carpet business), he worked in theatre. Which is probably why he thought I'd be a good hire. I was in HS Theatre at the time and was focused then on going into Business Management for the Performing Arts. He showed support, in his own way of course. He'd tell me stories about his days in theatre (some too graphic to even talk about here), but he did mention the time that he gained respect for a guy he was working with installing electrical wiring inside a tube and just kept on going, even if his arms were bleeding from the electrical wires and the tools.
When I first met Steve, it was to interview for the job. I had seen a post on the bulletin board at my high school about a job opportunity to work for a packaging company. It was misleading at best as the job wasn't for that, but for the carpet business at the back of the building, but I digress. After talking about the job, and the fact that I was in theatre, he took a shot at hiring me. From that point on, it was a two-plus year emotional roller coaster ride. There were a lot of good days. A lot of hard days too. He could be pleasant some days, arrogant, mean-spirited, and just outright angry the next. Sometimes, the emotions switched back and forth rapidly. We could be working on a border rug, with me brushing and fluffing the carpet seams so he could carve behind me and things would be just fine. Then, he'd stop, and just start berating me about something totally unrelated to the project at hand. I couldn't understand why, and even though he encouraged it, at 17, I had no intentions of arguing back.
Besides the backgammon sessions, he was adamant about trying to get me to create a 401K retirement account, with the idea that I could be a millionaire before the age of 30 if I started at 17-18. I had no money, and certainly my family didn't. And besides, as a teenager heading for college, I had other things in mind regarding on how to spend the money. Yes, looking back, I regret not taking the advice when I had the chance, but a stubborn young adult mentality had set in, and I thought I knew better. Based on what happened in the economy in the last 20 years, it's a toss-up as to whether or not things would have been the way he had described. He also tried to instill a sense of professionalism. Wearing a collared polo shirt to a jobsite was something he insisted, even going to the point of buying me a couple of shirts to keep at the shop. I wore t-shirts and didn't like the short-sleeved polos. Ironically, for the rest of my professional career, I would always wear long-sleeved collared shirts (most of the times with a tie). But I still refuse to wear short-sleeved, collared shirts...unless I'm at home or with family...and that's still sparingly at best.
He claimed to be a ladies man, and insisted that I try to be one myself. I was definitely not that kind of person, and as I was still getting over a breakup, a relationship was not something I was focusing on. He had the printing company next door create business cards for me with the intent of passing out to girls in college. Supposedly the intent was to impress them. Of the 250 cards that I was gifted, I passed out only 5. Three went to my parents and grandmother, one I kept in my wallet, and the other...let's just say that I did give one to a girl at school...and I've been married to her for more than 19 years. Boy was he ticked that I wasn't just handing them out to random strangers.
Thanks to Steve, I have a deep appreciation for the movie Full Metal Jacket. It was probably the movie we watched the most in my two years there. I could probably recite the entire opening scene, with Gunnery Sgt. Hartman introducing himself to his recruits. He had two VCR's, with the sole intent of copying the movies onto a second tape. Pirating at it's best. I don't know if he moved on to DVD's or whatever once VHS tapes were being phased out.
I was there when Steve and the printing company that made my business cards bought the unit between them. Steve would take the front half with intentions of making a showroom. The printer would take the back half to use as an extended workroom. I spent a good year helping Steve create that showroom, complete with three large cabinets (or was it four...) to hold carpet samples. I learned how to install hardwood flooring (as he was trying to expand outside of carpets), track lighting (okay, watched how to install them), and help to create the huge carpet that would run through the room. I just remember having to help haul the behemoth rug from the back end of the workshop, around the full length of the building, and then in through the front of the show room. It was probably the most brutal three minute stretch of my life (at that time). As soon as we dropped the carpet onto the floor, even he had to admit he was spent, and tiredly told me that I could take the rest of the afternoon off.
I mentioned earlier that he smoked...A LOT!!! He would have ashtrays everywhere in the workroom. My job was to clean them off, putting the ash and cigarette butts into the trash. I would clean one of them located in one side of the room, and come back less than thirty minutes later to find at least three or four cigarettes on them...all smoked through. He would have cigarettes working on every corner. Yes, the place reeked of cigarette smoke, but amazingly none of it hit the carpets we were working on. It could have been because of all of the cleaning products he'd make me use on them, or the constant vacuuming. I know I'd come home every night smelling like I smoked a couple of packs myself and would make sure to shower just to get the stuff off me.
He knew I collected baseball cards, and in his youth, he did the same with football cards. He showed me this cigar box, which he kept at the shop for some reason, and inside were NM-MT cards of Mike Ditka and others. I think the Ditka card was from 1968, there were other names too. Regardless, they were all in great condition, no dinged corners, no crumples, no wear, nothing. They literally looked like they just came out of the pack. Not bad for something almost 30 years old (at the time). He asked for help and info about possibly selling them. I gave him the names of a couple of shops in the area that he could check out and see if they'd be interested in buying.
(So ends the sports card-related part of the program).
After two years, I had enough. I was tired of the routine of the mood swings, the constant belittlement of my work, the insults about what classes I was taking at school. It was time to move on, even if I didn't know what lay ahead, and even if I didn't have any job prospects in mind. On my last day, I said I felt, "free as a bird" and wished him well. That was 21 years ago.
So since I am still on the hunt for work, I decided to look up my past work history, and check out the carpet place. Steve, keeping up with the times, had a website that showed off his work. I would go on it occasionally, impressed what he had done over the years. But this time...it was gone.
Everything. The images, the information...all gone.
I thought it was a bit weird, so I decided to dig a bit deeper. I went onto his company's Facebook page, and there was a post from someone who said he was his sister. It read:
I was shocked. I didn't remember having a sister, although he may have mentioned it once or twice. I think I recall seeing a picture of him and his sister when they were much younger. Not sure how or why though. Anyway, I had to check it out for myself.
I drove by the old shop to find that, yes, the carpet store was gone. Thanks to the printing shop next door, I was allowed to go inside what was once Steve's shop. The large table was gone. The vaccuum was gone. Everything that I remembered about the place was gone. Except for the little stubs that he set up to hold the binding ribbons. The guy at the printing shop did not know what those were for, nor why they were built the way they were, but he believed that there was no good reason to take them down. He explained that Steve did indeed die, but the details were sketchy. With so little information, but with the reality of my old boss having died setting in, I wanted to know more.
I reached out to the lady who wrote that Steve had died via Messenger. I just wanted to ask for more details, and wrote that if she didn't want to talk about it, that was fine. Steve was a private guy, and I didn't see any obits about his passing. To my surprise, she responded. She said that Steve had died on November 16, 2016 from congestive heart failure. His father had died the same way, so it may have been a family pattern. He was 60 years old. There was no public funeral, nor an obituary announcing that he had passed. After sending my condolences to her, I asked about her mom, who had worked at the postal store at the front of the shop. She said that her mom is still very much alive, although in her 90's now. The postal place did close for good once she retired, and it was gutted to become part of the showroom.
I started writing this post two weeks ago, shortly after I went to visit the old place. A lot of memories came flooding back to me since I heard that he had died. Many were good, others not so much to be honest. He once said that no matter what I do in life, I will still hear his voice. Boy was he right. Not in a dream. But I would hear things in my head while working. Things like:
- "Boy I love doing the job twice!" ever so sarcastically
- "Bust ass, take a break!"
- "BREAK TIME!!! Get the backgammon board."
- "You see, this is all part of the master plan..." referring to a quote from one of his other former employees
- "It's Full Metal Jacket time!!!"
- "Kool-Aid, Kool-Aid," in a singsong way.