Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Labor Day - L_A_B_O_R - Jobs of Yesteryear...

RE Labor - I worked at Waunakee Canning Co canning corn in late summer of 1970 when I first moved to Madison. I had transferred down to UW-Madison, had been a student at Eau Claire for two years. A school bus picked us up around town and we went 30 min out of town to the Waunakee Canning Factory. My shift was 6 or 7 pm until 1 or 2am. Lunch 30 minutes at 10:30 or 11. My job was standing pulling de-husked corn off the conveyor belt and feeding it into a decerneling machine - zip, zip, zip. I was the relief person, going repeatedly down the row so each woman sequentially could get an 10 minute break. I got a break when I got to the end of our row of about 10 people. The workers in this part of production were all women. Mostly young "kids" and quite a few farm wives. Federal minimum wage, of course - maybe $1.60 hr.(Amazing!) When there was a mechanical problem somewhere production was shut down everyone went up on the roof to relax and enjoy the stars in the cool summer night. Our happy paid breaks lasted from about 20 min to an hour or more. While working on the line I mentally reviewed every life experience I'd had in my 20 years and remembered every dream I could. After 3 weeks, at the point of * mental numbness,* went to lunch then just walked off the job without notice. I couldn't handle * one more minute *. I started hitchhiking back to town and a county policeman picked me up on Highway 113. He said - What are you doing out here? He took me to the Madison city line where a city squad car met us and that cop drove me home to the coop where I lived. I went back a week later to pick up my check that was ordinarily passed out at the end of the shift on payday. So my little brush with labor/factory work was - an education. After that I got a job at Yee's Cafe, one of just two Asian restaurants in town, in the old Capitol Hotel on King St (now a site of a big state office building). It was a big improvement. Business was great and I made good money in tips. Federal/state pay rate for this kind of work was around $.75 an hour for tipped employee, we did get an included meal. ************* After 4 years of working various jobs and not being able to save money for school, the Pell Grants / loans started (in '74) and I was able to go back to school in Jan of '75 with matching grants. I went to school full time and worked 3 part time jobs. One job was school bus driver on the morning shift, did sign painting in the graphics dept of the Memorial Union in the late afternoons (maybe $3.50 an hour) and did life modeling in the Art Dept($7.00 an hour?) where I was also a student. Both were work study jobs. In the summers I got some pick up work waitressing. I went all 3 semesters each year for 5 years total. I took one summer off - in '78 I finished my BS in Art Ed and I went to Europe with my "rich" Jewish boyfriend. We were there for 9 weeks. We travelled around most of western Europe on Eurail passes, did some camping and stayed at penosionies. My backpack was 35 pounds with the sleeping bag. It was a glorious summer and long way from the canning job! I started grad school that fall I finished in two years with one MA and one MFA degree working the same 3+ jobs. Finally a "professional!" I got job teaching art in the fall at McFarland Middle and High School. Was paid the entry level rate (:-( ) because it was a semester long sub job, but I designed and taught the whole art curriculum 7th - 12 grades with 5 classes (100 students) a day... ********** The long and winding road of - W-O-R-K!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Date With Fate - flash (not quite) fiction

A Date With Fate? As two mid 20-something art students in 1975, we took off to Northern California for winter break. Yes, hitchhiking - the only way to travel. Speeding across Nevada (or was it Wyoming?) on the Interstate Highway we surveyed the stars. A tiny light moved faster than possible in the middle heavens witnessed by two. My first UFO. The driver missed it with his eyes on the road. With pretty good luck, after three days and singing "every song that driver knew" to several kind strangers we finally arrived in Mendocino. Molly, Tom's old girlfriend, and her honey bun were house sitting just outside of town in large furnished redwood home. It had a full-wall stone fireplace and a bank of windows along the length of the house with a view of the Pacific. A spindly catwalk stretched 20 feet from the yard to a rocky out cropping 40 feet above the crashing waves. It was a cool windy day, the sun glinting on the water. A narrow cliffside footpath led in either direction on grassy low hills studded with scrub oak and dwarf cypress trees. We thought we could see the curve of the earth. Pausing to to drink in the view, I stood right on the cliff edge then looked down at mighty waves smashing into the rocks below. A little of the weather-worn sandstone started to give way, and as quick as a cat could wink its eye, it collapsed beneath my feet. Instinctively I grasped a scraggly little cypress tree. Tom grabbed my other arm and pulled me back.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Time To Jump In (Jamaica/Madison, WI)

Time To Jump In by Brandy Larson A white brahma bull stands alone on a high hillside - red earth and tufted green grass. We drive past with meadow and acacia trees on either side. The small fruit stand is next to a rocky outcropping on the edge of the road. Stopping for a cold coconut our vendor deftly hacks off the top of the green husk with a few strikes of his machete and offers a straw - cool and not too sweet - coconut wata. Down to the last drop he wacks the shell in half and we scoop out the jelly lining with a wedge of green husk for a spoon. Food of the Goddess. (Time to turn on the space heater in the basement to prevent the pipes from freezing...). A roadside restaurant trails fragrant smoke. My driver Jefta pulls in and we place our order as we watch the smoke rising from the wood fire coals roasting half jerk chickens. Sitting at a picnic table beneath a thachroof we sip from sweating bottles of ginger beer and Red Stripe. The pretty young woman who took our order calls us up to the tall counter as she chops the roasted meat into irregular pieces with a cleaver, crunch crunch, on a thick round of wood. She has prepared plates with chopped cabbage and carrot salad and a stack of white bread and butter in a basket. We nibble the meat off the bones, eating with our hands. (Put on some layers and insulated boots to brave the morning air. I brush off snow here and there to set out some seeds out mostly for sparrows, my flock of over 30 birds. I put out peanuts in the shell for a couple of crows that have also been hanging around. The suit is frozen, so they can't get at any of the much needed tallow). On the back veranda the sea is visible about 75 yards down our yard and a slope above purple flowering lignum vitae. The narrow path is footworn. A goat enclosure is on the left on the gentler side of the hill. The humble gate is tied closed with a bit of fraying rope. In the morning Miss B (79 and not counting), staff in hand, heads down to let them out to free range for the day. They come up behind her single file with a big nanny in the lead. The kids, many recently born, frisk about exploring, hopping everywhere and butting each other. They are tan and white, spotted tri-colors, some black, some grey and two white ones. Last trip I named her Milk and her kid Milky. Some are smaller African goats suited to this semi arid land, but recently some larger goats have come into the herd, the big nanny produces triplets instead of twins. Up in the yard they drink from buckets and nose around for tossed out kitchen scraps. (Clearing off the snow off the car again. There is a light crust on the top. I check the food I put out for the rabbit and the opossum last night. It has been covered in snow). I walk down the footpath to the bay thinking how long feet have smoothed the way, many bare feet even today. First the Taino people nearly wiped out by disease sometime after Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1503; the pirates starting around 1655; the Africans, freed in the British Empire by law in 1834, they (the men?) were eligible to vote as of 1838; and more recently the local folks, some descended more than several generations ago from shipwrecked Scottish sailors who stayed, became fishermen with last names of Elliott, Gordon and Strachan, who bought large tracts of land. Billy's Bay, named after a pirate, stretches for a mile to the north ending in tall sedimentary cliffs and below sharp reef rocks above the water level. I wander down the beachfront, one of only a hand full of people, wading knee deep in the surf and plan to go to Frenchman Bay Beach with bigger waves for body surfing and people to hang out with. Pelicans reel and dive for their dinner. I see someone out on the reef with a spear gun, maybe he'll stop by B's later and sell me some fish. (School cancelled again today, on Monday for snow and now for the bitter cold and brutal winds. The weather guy said it's colder here now than in Alaska or even in the Antarctic! Lowest temperature here in 20 years. Even my cat Alsan is getting cabin fever). I'm packing my shoulder bag with journal, book and swim suit. Coated in sunscreen I put on my sunhat. First I'll walk to the bakery (called the coffee shop by the locals) to hang out with some resident tourists and tourists. The bouganvilla riots over barbed wire fences and privacy walls of homes and villas. Tiny lizards dart here and there. There are cacti of many sizes and shapes, huge blue agave plants and flowering poincianas. Later at Frenchman I hope the surf is up. Time to jump in.