I tightened the perfectly-made Windsor knot until it pressed the sharp, heavily-starched collar of my white shirt into my fleshy teenage neck.
It was a scratchy wool tie. Mostly because my father was too cheap to spring for anything silk.
But the tie was mandatory, especially if I was going to work in his office at Brownell Electro, the nation's 3,829th leading distributor of electric motors and industrial wire cable.
Grinding out a living since 1887.
With the garrote secured to my neck, my father led me like a puppy to the Suffern Shortline Bus Station where we climbed aboard the 6:32 AM to the Big Apple. Most teenagers don't know from 6:32 AM. Particularly those who had just discovered the joys of Acapulco Gold.
But then my life, and my summer, hardly resembled the life of most teenagers.
The working men, mostly in their late 30s and early 40s, though they walked slowly as if they were in their 60s, filed onto the bus, stored their briefcases, settled in to their seats and lit up their cigarettes. I pressed my head against the plexiglass window and tried to draw oxygen from the half-inch-wide vent that pumped in clean carbon monoxide from the nearby exhaust pipe.
It was already 97 degrees outside. And more humid than Fiji. The windows on the air conditioned Shortline began to sweat.
I was wet, half awake, suffocating and smelt like a carton of Lucky Strikes. And it wasn't even seven o'clock yet.
At the office, just south of Chelsea in a shabby area of the city that hadn't been gentrified or Disneyfied, I sat in my wooden banker's chair. This was long before the era of Herman Miller. There was no height adjustments. No lumbar support. And no Kevlar backing to increase maximum ventilation and optimal comfort.
This chair had a gimp wheel. And one of the rear railings sported a small knotty oak protuberance. That protuberance was small at 7:30 in the morning. But by three o'clock it felt like Excalibur was impaled in my kidney.
Monday through Friday was the same routine.
Peggy, the unusually buxom chief of accounts receivable, came by at 7:45 and placed a boxful of checks on my desk. My job was to match each check with the accounts payable invoice and then post the amount to the ledger. I had to keep a running tab of all the incoming money. At the end of the day, the checks had to be deposited. So the tally, the invoices and the checks all had to balance.
They rarely did. It never phased my busty boss, Peggy. She knew all the tricks of bank reconciliation. If the amount was off by nine cents, I had transposed some numbers. If the amount was off by a dollar or 11 dollars, I had forgotten to carry the one. And if the amount were off by anything more than $500, I had simply fucked up.
Then I'd be treated to a full-chested tantrum by my hot-tempered Puerto Rican supervisor.
"Pinche hijo de jeffe!"
The memory of Peggy, sloppy bank slips, torturous bus rides and hours spent waiting at the Port Authority Building came flooding back to me while driving home from the office and stumbling across Bachman Turner Overdrive's, "Taking Care of Business", a song that had vaulted to the top of the pop charts that August.
I took care of business that summer. And the following summer when I worked as a pot washer at Good Samaritan Hospital. And the subsequent summers, when I was a line cook, a landscaper and a forklift driver in lovely Gardena, California, where the 110 meets the 405 and forms the ninth Gate of Hell.
Each of these character building experiences changed the vector of my life.
And each serve to remind me that since I became a copywriter in the ad industry, I haven't worked a day in my life.
-- See more at: RoundSeventeen