From the fall of 1998 to the spring of 2001 I was a stay at home father. To say it was the best job I’ve ever had other than being a writer is an understatement. Having every day with my children was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Unfortunately, in 2000 we were seduced into buying a home well beyond our means, and in 2001 I was forced to seek full-time employment in order to keep our home and not have to live in a van down by the river.
My grandfather was a politician in our town. He’d been on the local city council for several years and eventually made a run at the state house of representatives. He never won the house seat, but he made a good showing in the election. In 2001 I put in an application to work in the city maintenance department as a seasonal employee. I won’t treat you like an idiot, the only reason I got the job working for the city was because my grandfather put in a word for me. But hey, I’m okay with that. I was more than qualified for the position and once I had it, there was never any complaints about my work. The complaints were because of who I was related to, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
So, how was it working for the city? Well, you know the whole thing about city employees being lazy slackers? It’s one hundred percent true in regards to the city I worked for. My assignment was a combination of the city recreation center and water park.
That fucking water park. I lived in the city when it was built and oh my gods what a cluster fuck. Built with mob labor and taxpayer money that shit show was constantly breaking down. The multimillion dollar facility stayed open for a whole seven years. Then they closed it, and it’s lain rotting on Main St. for the last nine years.
My duties working for the city during the summer were pretty straight forward. I cleaned pools, restrooms, buildings, and repaired or painted as needed. Also, I got to run those giant fucking lawnmowers and use the best weed whackers ever built by man. Did you ever see SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE? The one the main character uses at the end of the movie is a toy compared to the ones I played with.
Of course, when you work for the government everything is politics.
The first problem came from who my grandfather was. Several members of the maintenance department were convinced I was a narc being sent in to catch them fucking around and doing the things they actually did as opposed to what they were supposed to do. After that myth was dispelled, the problem came from the direction of the half dozen other seasonal employees. They knew I wanted a full-time city job and they figured I had the in. Then there was the fact that I actually did my fucking job as opposed to joining the other employees, the ones with full-time jobs, in their laziness and general shitty work ethic.
This is not me saying I’m some perfect employee. At best I’m an adequate worker. I like taking extra breaks and long lunches. I love being able to sit around and shoot the shit with my buddies. But here's the thing, we were all vying for a single $20.00 an hour full-time city job with benefits in the future. When you're doing that, maybe you should make an extra fucking effort.
At the end of summer 2001 two things happened. The twin towers fell, and I was the only seasonal employee asked to stay on until the end of the year. I was at work when the towers fell and I saw the second plane hit in real time. We were going on our first break and walking past the reception desk when we heard the Today Show cast talking on the television. The first tower had just been hit, and they were running that now iconic grainy footage of the impact. We stood around the desk watching in stunned silence when the second plane hit. We spent the rest of the day doing nothing but watching the television in our break room. I’ll never forget it and I shouldn’t.
At the end of the year, my then Maintenance Director and the Parks and Recreation Director came to me and told me I could have a job working at the rec center until the spring when I’d be back in the maintenance department. The job at the center was so boring I wanted to blow my brains out. All I did was monitor the various activity rooms for six to eight hours a day, but it kept me employed until the next spring when I returned to maintenance.
My second and final stint in the maintenance department wasn’t as good as the first. There were personality conflicts and backbiting to a degree I hadn’t experienced since my tenure with the Dayton Daily News. I also learned the dirty secret about how the city ran, it was all based on who you knew… through the church. Because apparently unless you're a member of an approved church, you're never going to advance in the city.
A new seasonal worker started with us that year. His name was Eric, and he was a former criminal who went to church to my boss. I knew then, and there I’d been cast aside for new holier employee. I worked just as hard that season and was kept on with Eric at the end. I didn’t go back to working for the rec center at the end of the year. I’d have rather been anally violated by an icecicle.
Instead, I went back to Meijer for my second stint.
I never went back to the city. When the next season started, I was hired back but never started. When I went in to fill out my paperwork my supervisor, not the director, picked a fight with me and in my anger, I told him to shove the job up his fat ass.
Interesting addendum, in 2008 a full-time job in maintenance opened up, and I took the civil service test. I scored fourth out of two hundred and interviewed with my old director. It didn’t go well and a month later Eric, who scored fifty-seventh, got the job. Of course, when the economy crashed six months later he and a dozen others were laid off.
Serves them right.