As a second-year college student in the 1970s, I found myself unemployed one summer. But I was determined to find something to earn some income. I scanned the newspapers trying to figure out how to make money.
I saw an ad for “plasma donation.” It paid $25. I called, made an appointment and drove there. But when I saw the place, I became alarmed by several intimidating-looking characters walking in. I quickly lost my resolve to follow through. I went to plan B.
I asked my brother to drive me to a day-labor provider in downtown Los Angeles. It was a typical staffing agency supplying day-labor jobs to local businesses. The agency paid at the end of the day.
I was dropped off at the curb in a rundown part of downtown. There was no one outside the gray building, but inside was a vast room full of men who were sitting at tables, filling the air with streams of cigarette smoke. I headed to the front counter and took my place in line. I completed an application and a W-4.
By 8 a.m., I joined a carful of other hard-pressed souls also looking for a fast buck. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to sit on the front passenger seat or to enter first into the back seat so I could claim a window. I was consigned to the middle back seat. It was my mistake. So much for being college educated. The other guys were smarter than me, as I learned once we pulled away for the ride to our destination.
Our driver was a chain smoker. Once we were underway, he lit up. Soon the car was filled with a haze of smoke. No one opened the window and I sat there in silence. To make matters worse, one of the fellows stunk. It made me question my decision to not sell my plasma, which must have been better than this malodorous indignity. But it was too late. My eyes were burning and I was glassy-eyed from cigarette smoke, body odor and holding my breath. I became light-headed for what seemed an interminable ride.
Finally we arrived at our destination: a newspaper publishing plant. I was relieved. I stepped outside and took a deep breath of fresh air.
We walked in and met our supervisor. The assignment I was given was simple enough, or so I thought. A conveyor belt transported newspaper circulars from a printing press to a work station. My job was to retrieve the sorted circulars from the conveyor and pass them through a stapling machine. Then I would hand the stapled circular to one of my day-labor coworkers to box.
My task was to make sure that, one, the machine did not jam, and, two, my hand did not get caught in the contraption. I failed on both counts! I ended up with a nasty gash in my hand that required several stitches. Of course, my boss was not pleased at all by my stupidity and the resulting hapless condition I found myself in. He uttered several choice four-letter words not fit to print.
His rant was unnerving. Once more, I regretted my decision to forego the plasma donation, especially upon seeing my blood dripping to the floor. It was literal blood money going down the drain!
I was driven to the company clinic by the smoker who drove us to the job site. I only had a little bit of money for lunch. But I felt obliged to give my driver my lunch money to compensate him for gas.
After being stitched up, we returned to the publishing plant.
I naively thought that I was going to continue working boxing the circulars, but the shift supervisor was still peeved and wanted nothing to do with me. I was not allowed back inside. I was told to wait outside until the shift ended. He threw me out on the street. I was miffed but I had no recourse. Since I needed a ride back to the agency office, I had no choice but to sit on the curb, watching traffic and counting cars. It made for a long day at the curb.
The afternoon ride back was no different than the morning ride. The car still stank like a smoking chamber. What made it even worse was my throbbing hand, a headache from not eating, body odor and the constant chatter about my mishap. I guess it made their day.
My brother was supposed to pick me up around 5 p.m. He was there waiting for me. I walked toward his car and saw his surprised expression when he noticed my bandaged hand. Of course I had to explain what had happened. He found it quite amusing and laughed heartily at my misfortune. After he composed himself, he asked how much I had gotten paid. With my bandaged fingers I showed him a miserly check for $6.
He laughed even harder than before, gasping for breath. I gave him an annoyed smirk but said nothing. I was just glad the day was over. If anything, I learned that a dollar does not come easy.
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