Summer Scum

            Though I’m sure I touched on my old days in the DPW here and there, I decided to recant my earlier testimony that the book to those old times is shut and give them an entry anyway. For those of you reading the collected version of my body of work for some reason, the preceding sentence probably makes no sense to you whatsoever and can safely be ignored, as can other references to this being a blog and not a hard bound, gold leafed tome encased in rich Corinthian leather nestled betwixt ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The DaVinci Code’ in your poor excuse for a library. So sit beneath your bust of Pallas with a bowl of brandy and corn cob pipe and enjoy the tale of some assholes who work at the village level.

            The ‘summer help’ program in Kenmore was considered to be nothing less than a golden political plum job wherein the most favored sons of the political elite were given the opportunity to make $2 an hour over minimum to supplement the DPW work force over the summer whilst the regular workers took vacations. Applications for the position required two letters of reference and it was commonly understood that at least one of them would be from the mayor himself or one of the long standing trustees. While it may be uncommon in other locals to furnish such letters for the opportunity to mow grass or pick up dog shit, that was the way they roll. My father’s role in heading up the zoning board as well as his old drinking buddy days with the mayor bought me a ticket in.

            I had my last shift ever at Denny’s on Delaware the Sunday before my first day and left the dish room of my childhood with little regret. That place deserves its own tale one day as well, unless of course you are reading the limited collector’s edition of this, sold exclusively at Walgreen’s for $29.95, wherein you already caught this telling in chapter three or something. I showed up my first day right on time and was immediately sent home for wearing sneakers instead of steel toe boots. Apparently I missed the memo that the other lads received as I was the only doofus to commit such an egregious first day faux pa. Fuck me!

            When I came back sporting my fathers old Vietnam era combat boots with steel toe and steel foot plating to guard against sneaky pungi spikes that may have been set up on Elmwood, most of the lads already got assigned crews such as garbage, trash, concrete, paving and whatnot. The dregs left over, including myself, got assigned to Howard, the retired foreman of the grass crew. Howard, described to some degree in ‘Other Oddballs’, was a happy go lucky canard with a taste for the finer things in life. Actually, he was nothing of the sort; old, foul to the eyes and nose, a brutish hulk sporting unfiltered Pall Malls continuously, and a mean Wild West temper of the kind that gets a man shot. “Git cher ass in the truck!” he barked at me, and I complied squeezing into the back of old Kenmore #3; a dilapidated mini-bus commandeered by Howard for use of the grass crew.

            The initial crew consisted of me, John B, the other Mike W, Rob B. We would eventually lost John B to a packer (garbage truck) and Mike to sewers, both situations vastly superior to working for Howard, and picked up Ken in response. The big task of that first rainy day was to travel around the village and look for storm drain receivers that got plugged up by maple helicopters and scoop them into garbage cans in the back. Really, they had Howard and four guys performing this somewhat pointless task; an inefficiency model suspected by the public at large but now revealed to me in its ugliest. We took turns getting out and doing the clean up. Over the course of the day, minus 9:00 AM coffee, 11:30 lunch and 2:00 PM coffee, we probably managed to clean off close to 20 whole receivers, each of us only having to get up and out a grand total of 5 times each. Suddenly, the labor to pay ratio was substantially greater than originally expected.

            Driving around Howard tended to wax philosophical and like some of Socrates who button hooked you by refusing to unlock the truck, would fill our heads with the pearls of wisdom he accumulated over his many long years. We would marvel loudly over the profundity of his proverbs gush admiration. “Fellas, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in bush.” Explain to us Howard! Whatever do you mean with such a wise and elusive statement? We don’t even have any birds! Howard would go on to enlighten us with a lengthy explanation of why it is better to have a sure thing than not while we with creased brows and befuddled expressions would ask countless absurd questions until tiring of the game. He never caught on. His best, in my book anyway, was his admonition to be sure to always wear high boots when sheep fucking to avoid having your footwear get filled up with shit. Priceless, but still untested; at least by me.

            Once assigned to a crew, it was difficult to become dislodged from it unless one of the others had urgent need. Grass and garage detail were the parking areas for labor overflow until demand peaked; thus it appeared as though I was stuck with his nibs for the whole gig. As mentioned we had some turnover and picked up Ken and life became much more fun. Howard hated Ken with a passion and the feelings were returned. When Ken would dance about with the push broom or when he accidentally stapled his hand to a tree putting up no parking signs, Howard would scream out, “Whater yer playin’ fuck around out there?! Git cher ass in the truck!” There was some difficulty in complying in the staple incident and in one other occasion Howard simply drove off without him, but usually Ken would get back in and we’d have a good chuckle while Howard fumed and hocked big fried egg loogies out the window.

            The other bad news is that we were one of the few crews stuck “working” right to 4, as those with limited scope like garbage, trash and recycling finished when done and got to leave at 1. The early days melted together. Come in, sit on the bench, wait for Danny to stand in front of you and tell you your crew for the day (Wolfie…. grass!), do the mooch route (more later) till coffee, go to McDonald’s for breakfast, mow a lawn or drive around till lunch, eat, drive around till coffee, fuck around at the garage for a half hour, clip hedges or something till 3:30, go back and sit at the garage and watch the clock till 4. There were some notable events.

            The mooch route was the traditional start to the day on Howard’s watch and his successor in the follow on years. This was basically driving the garbage route before the packers got there looking for treasures to abscond with. Highly sought after items included recyclable metal, specific pieces of furniture (I got 3 antique mirrors that way), whatever weird ass item Howard was looking for (git out and get me that there terlet!), but most of all, nudie magazines. The DPW had the greatest collection of porn I have ever seen, dwarfing even the inventory of Village Books and News. Piles and piles in the garage basement, in the break room, stacks under the seats of every single truck, scattered about the main garage and even the big truck and salt garage. If you see a village truck go by manned by 2 people, I can guarantee the person not driving has a Hustler on his lap.

            Finally the day came that first year that I was tapped for greatness. Danny stood in front of me as usual. “Wolfie….” I know, grass. “packer number 4” I couldn’t believe it, I was finally going to get to be one of the big boys riding proudly on the rear of the packer, the wind sailing through my hair and showing my quality as a scum to be reckoned with. Holy shit it is a hard job if you are not in shape for it! I was put on the truck known as the Todaro death march – crewed by Louie, Ed, Norm and myself. Louie and Norm were build like brick shithouses and Eddie was a wiry little sumbitch with gnarled veiny arms hard as steel. I was pooped after 2 streets but they flogged me on with an unkindness of words.

            The impetus on garbage was to finish as fast as possible, no matter what it took. No breaks, no rest, no water, no food, and no playing fuck around, as Howard would say. The pace a medium to fast run with the goal being to never let the truck truly stop. On streets that were considered narrow enough we performed the infamous ‘double-dong’; collecting both sides at once at a double time pace. The only break consisted of the brief time it took to drive from the completed street to the next, or about 20 seconds. The stated mission was always to beat those bastards in the other truck, but victory simply meant going to help them finish their route. The prize didn’t put a whole lot of wind in your sails!

            Aside from the cramping, spasming, soreness and exhaustion, one of my main problems was the sweating. This was an intense workout under the summer sun and I was generally thoroughly drenched by the end of the first street. In one instance walking to Wilson Farms after the route for a snack, another summer scum and I ran into one of his friends who asked if I got caught in a storm or something. “No dude, that’s sweat!” The counter girls would also look at me with some level of disgust, especially after taking bills drenched with perspiration and garbage juice from my pockets to pay while praying fervently for the invention of Purell to come about. Every night I would stick a 3 liter bottle a quarter full into the garage freezer and fill the iced up result with water in the morning. I’d have the whole thing gone well before the route was done and be craving more. In many cases I would get spasmodic cramping from the loss of electrolytes.

            On top of it being a physically hard job, it was actually more disgusting than you would think. The smell was obvious – plenty of left over BBQ meat garbage with close to a weeks spoil on it festering in the summer sun. This of course led to our near and dear friends, the maggots. Now add exploding bags to the mix. When the back of the truck would get full, we had to pack it. When packing, it was very common for the pressurized bags to explode sending a stream of flying debris, fetid liquid and maggots shooting from the back. It was impossible to complete a route without being showered at least once. The most horrible incident I ever witnessed, a guy was standing right behind the truck when the packing blew out the contents of a full Hefty bag full of dog shit. This poor bastard was covered head to foot and forced to seek the use of a kind strangers hose before we would even let him near the truck again. I can still see him taking his glasses off, untouched eyes only bulging in the sheer horror of it, and I throw up in my mouth a little every time. By the way, nothing, nothing smells worse than really old moldy grass.

            That first year I had a reputation for being super suck ass bad at garbage and was not requested much, and that was fine by me until faced with the alternative, the second most dread duty of all, garage duty. Garage duty meant that instead of going out with crew, you were kept back at the garage to do busy work like sweeping the floor, chipping paint or some other incredibly tedious bullshit task but in the same vicinity as the bosses. This was far worse than either Howards tongue lashings or dodging streams of maggoty sewage while Norm shouted “Double dong! Double dong!” in your ear at jet engine volume. My second week into it I dreaded going in each day as it was an exercise to keep looking busy – the real task at hand. Look busy in case someone comes by.

            I adopted a new strategy in hopes of being moved off of this wretched job. Other scum revealed that when they pulled a stretch they would sweep the floor and then go hide in the basement. There was even a convenient hidden nap area carved out amidst the stack of extraneous recycling bins. My work ethic would not allow, so I took the opposite tack. Danny would set your tasks, always starting with a good sweeping. This was supposed to take you to coffee, but I really applied myself and finished in 20 minutes. “Now what do you want me to do?” I could tell he dreaded seeing me come. No matter what pathetic, unusual or difficult task he set out for me, I would work like a banshee to finish in record time. “Done! Now what do you want me to do?” Danny wasn’t going to break that easy and I admire his tenacity especially after learning what a royal pain it is to think up work for highly efficient yet completely un-self motivated employees. It was a contest of wills that went on for three full days. I wouldn’t budge and I finally drove him to total exasperation. “Fuck! I don’t know Wolfie, just fucking find something!” The next day I was Howard’s problem again.

            Danny found a way to get my back a few weeks later and I was really to learn what tedium meant. Only thing worse than garage duty where it is hard to find something to do is barricade duty where by definition there is certainly nothing to do. Barricade duty is just as it sounds – stand at the wooden barricade at the end of a street where paving is being done. Move the barricade out of the way when a dump truck comes full of hot asphalt. That is all. Oh, and argue with residents of that street who try to force their way though the barricades citing the auspices of divine right of living there. Explaining that the village will bill them for the cost of re-paving the street to eliminate their tire tracks in the soft asphalt was an excellent and effective deterrent. A lie invented by yours truly; bored and full of stories. Due to the time sensitive nature of the work, there was no lunch break, no bathroom break, and we often worked well past quitting finishing the job. Brutal does no justice in describing the horror of this pointless task.

            The best job of all, hands down, was the fabulous Store Truck, commanded by Sam M, Kenmore’s answer to the mafia. Store Truck was the garbage truck specifically allocated to picking up the garbage of Kenmore’s many fine business establishments. While it is true that the work aspect of this detail remained heinous as regular garbage, the surrounding circumstances were much more pleasant. For one, we picked up every day so the garbage never really had time to get that extra special stank to it. In addition, it was a much shorter route with more riding around and a significantly increased emphasis on lacksadaisicality. By the way, since this blog begin not a single one of you fools has taken me to task for the many dozens of words I completely made up. You can ignore this if reading the collected edition as no doubt the boorish clown of an editor removed my masterful and creative wordsmithing and replaced it with the unimaginative and dull.

            There was a reason Store Truck was known as the Kenmore Mafia, and that is simply because Sam had the knack for shaking down any business with desirable goods to ensure services their hefty tax dollars were paying for anyway. Each morning we dined, on the house, at one of the local diners. Anything on the menu was open game and a check was never brought to the table. From Consumers cases of beer were brought out the back door and loaded into the hopper under the truck. Watson’s furnished the finest candy in the land, with little of it making it home. Sometimes when the load at a certain business exceeded the allowable tonnage, a wad of cabbage would be deftly delivered in a handshake between the manager and Sam. Sam would divide the take (never revealing the full amount, counted in secret) and pass me a fiver with the admonition, “If anyone asks you where you got it, you don’t know” Apparently in this small community flashing an inexplicable fin around town was cause for raised eyebrows.

            Sometimes the best job was being in the right place at the right time. A bunch of us drew the duty of spending the day in the hot sun down at the Wabash dump breaking down the old steel lamp posts that had been replaced. The village wished to recycle the steel and apparently thought that paying the labor of 8 guys for a day to get the hundred bucks in recycling savings was a good use of resources. The morning sucked, but things turned better later on. The recycling take was coming out to more than the village elders were expecting and it was quickly agreed upon that this was not the information going into the report and that the recycling center conveniently forgot to give us a receipt. We went to lunch at Spectators, a long gone sports bar run by a former worker, and dined like kings. Flagrant disregard for policy held the day and round after round of frothy beers were ordered along with shots of Kessler’s interspersed in between. Old steel paid the tab at the end. We didn’t make it back to site until well after 2, only to find Danny parked there. Somehow we avoided giving ourselves away though our rank breath and stumbling about, conveniently attributed to heat exhaustion!

            I survived my first year as a summer scum and apparently impressed the powers that be just enough that I was invited back the following year and thereafter. The regular workers accepted me as one of their own and I became integrated into the unique culture of hard work interspersed with tomfoolery. I managed to obtain an assortment of nicknames; most of them terribly original like ‘Wolfie’, ‘Wolfman’, ‘Wolfmeister’, ‘Wolfmeisterman’, and my least favorite, ‘Meaty Muff’. That last one was due to my intense love of slurping up Tina’s Burrito’s micro waved at the Wilson Farms and consumed at breaks. One of the jokers remarked that I was going down on it, “like a big meaty muff” and to my consternation it stuck thereafter. At times it was shortened to just ‘Meaty’, but it was assured that the full version was used whenever women were present thus negating any sexiness being on the back of a packer might have had.

            Most of my time in the follow on years was spent with Bucko, Howard’s successor. Bucko took a shine to me and personally requested me most of the time. He held to Howard’s tradition of goofing off most of the day, but at least had a far sunnier disposition. He had a real knack for finding fun projects to fill our days and make the time go faster, and some of them were even loosely affiliated with things that may have benefitted the village, even if inadvertently. We often had long breakfasts at the Hinwood, conveniently located outside the village borders, thus negating the chance of a boss type discovering our whereabouts. Bucko generally had a pat answer in his hip pocket when pointedly asked where we had been and what we had been doing. Incredible how often we all “just missed” each other!

            I am proud to say that after a lackluster first year, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and became a master packer; a description that just doesn’t sound right no matter what the interpretation. I was requested often to fill in the personnel gaps on the garbage crew and learned to power through the Todaro Death March even more efficiently than the regular guys. My motivation, you see, was that by getting on a packer and out by 1:00, I had plenty of time to take a nap on my mother’s living room floor before heading over for my 4:00 shift at Collector’s Inn. It was given that after CI I would spend a good deal of the evening partying at Comstock, so needed the sleep.

            As touched upon in ‘Other Oddballs’, each summer the village would throw a big outdoor shindig for all the workers. Kegs of beer, big bags of clams for the shucking, corn on the cob, steaks, bottles of whiskey strewn about and snacks up the ass.  It was a smorgasbord of everything hard working village workers could want and a virtual guarantee that most to all would be driving home stinking drunk around rush hour. In the early years it was a sure thing that the summer scum would be invited as well, though after the incident in which Ken tippled a few too many, the concept was re-thought. It came to pass then that only certain select scum would be invited under strict admonition that those who did not get the nod would not be informed. I was one of the chosen and kept my end of the deal in return for delicious clams on the half shell by the dozen. Plus my cousin was a regular there, not to mention Sam was willing to endorse me.

            It was after one such summer event that I had the most challenging ride home ever. Like every morning I rode my bike in to work. Usually after these parties I would wheel it over to my parents house and my father would drive me home. On one instance, however, they had alternate plans, so I decided to make the long ride back to Princeton on my own. It was an ill conceived plan as any bit of Comstockery heretofore mentioned! For one, my balance was shot causing me to tumble right over at any time for no good reason. When I was able to maintain balance, I tended to swipe the curb and send myself tumbling for that reason. When I was able to avoid the curb through intense concentration, I tended to ram into parked cars. It never occurred to me, of course, to just walk the bike until I was too banged up to even ascend the seat again.

            After putting my bike away in the living room, a habit that annoyed Aaron to no end, I collapsed on the bed and lay there as the room spun about me. One would expect that the punishment I took would have sobered me some, but that was not the case. I fell asleep at 5 in the afternoon and didn’t wake until the following morning with ripped clothes and blood staining the bed sheets. Classic!

            I’ll never forget my summers at the old DPW and will always look back on those days as instrumental in keeping me in school to reduce the risk as much as possible that I would have to do such work for the rest of my life. My hats off to those who can.

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7 Responses

  1. In all these years I never knew you worked at Denny’s. That is something I must hear about. It is odd, yet not so odd, to note that several of the visitors of this site have punched the clock at Denny’s. It would be interesting to compare stories, but alas all but you are illiterate dolts who can barely read this blog, let along write a single post.

    So we finally learn that it was the DPW that gave you all your skill in being a pain in the ass, by virtue of lots of practice.

    I assumed all your made up words where gross misspellings, as you, a former English major, seemed to have discarded your spelling skills, sending you tumbling down to my level of care for spelling )though since those days has elevated).

    I think you elevate the level of sexitude working on the back of a “packer” radiates.

    I recall a story of Ken pulling barricade duty and just sleeping on the barricade.

    This whole blog was made worth the labor to get you guys to start posting by the visuals I got reading your troublesome bike ride home.

    In closing, you scum, but not scum of the Earth.

    • I didn’t work at Denny’s but I was a “hostess” at Perkins (the one near the Amherst campus) for about 2 months. Graveyard shift. Snotty Canadian truckers telling me to accept their damn Canadian money with that damn English Queen on it. “Take your funny money and go back where you came from, ‘kay? I know all ABOOT you French fried jerkoffs.”

  2. Actually, I have already written the Denny’s story and waiting for enough people to not read and decline to comment on this post before I put it up. I guarantee entertainment, some revulsion, and a pledge never to eat there again.

    I was born a pain in the ass, but the DPW helped me hone my skills considerably!

    I have no mispellings! I write my stories in Word before I post. All spellings are delibrate, though I must admit that I have misused my made up words from time to time.

    Actually it was Rocco who slept in front of the barricade. I forgot to mention that! The supervisor, Danny, would find him laying in the street fast asleep every time he came by in his truck and lay on the horn to wake him up. Rocco was not invited back the following year.

    I’m thrilled you appreciated the segment of me being maimed by my own stubborn tenacity! You will really enjoy then a future tale in which I disclose all of the bizzare injuries I suffered (i.e caterpillar fur in the eye).

    I aspire to one day be scum of the Earth. Or slime; that works. To quote a very wise man, “Look out Earth, the slime is coming home!” Can you name him?

  3. Re: “I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and became a master packer; a description that just doesn’t sound right no matter what the interpretation.” — I laughed a lot over this line.

    And “Meat Muffer”? That is a riot.

    Love the stories about Harold. “Gitcherass over here ya dumb fart!” Everybody knows a Harold. You haven’t lived life unless you have a Harold in your life.

    I had forgotten Kenmore was a village. There was a sign, “Welcome to the Village of Kenmore.” Remember thinking it was odd at the time.

    Lived on Fayette Avenue in Kenmore for a bit; I rented a room upstairs of a large house owned by a widow. I still keep in touch with her; she was a nice lady, and her whole family became my friends. The Carmichaels.

    And I took driving lessons at some driving school in Kenmore; it was on the corner of Minnesota and Eggerts (Eggertsville?)Road, I think, near a CVS.

  4. Ha, I mean Meaty Muff. But I think Meaty Muffer is funnier, so I’m going to go with that.

    And Howard, not Harold.

    Yeah my brain cells are dying by the hour. Getting old.

    By the way, what “new words” are you talking about? I don’t see any. “Lackadaisicality” is just extension of a real world. Do point these so-called invented words out.

  5. Hmm, now I have to question myself! Maybe I didn’t make up any words after all, but simply used obscure words that actually exist … but what are the chances I used them correctly?

  6. Did you guys notice that one of the tags that was clicked on was ‘sheep-fucking’? We have a classy, classy readership here!

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