Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Higher Power Stepping In?

We do a ton of things while we’re in college, but we hope things will just fall into place when we have all that education behind us. More often than not, I suppose, it doesn’t – fall into place.

All during my university years I’d come home to warm welcomes and since the superintendent was once my principal he was always telling me how loyal the district was and how much he was looking forward to seeing me on staff. One practicum was at the local high school. I was lucky enough (not) to work under a controlling woman who at one point stated that she was my future employer because without her good comments no one would hire me.

Interestingly enough the vindictive hag did have some impact on my career, but it was relatively short lived.

When I returned from school that summer the principal of the high school that I’d hoped to teach at was gone on holidays. I didn’t see him until he showed up to get pictures developed at the one-hour lab that I worked at as a summer job. I knew that there was an opening at the school and as far as I knew, it had not yet been filled. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when he made the announcement there and then that the job had indeed been filled and by someone I might know. (You need to understand that my majors were in theatre and geography and this job had those very needs. If there was such an opportunity to support a local boy, there would have been none better.)

Of course, I was disgruntled. I spoke with the superintendent, who informed me that he was not the one who did the hiring. Then I spoke with the principal and challenged him. He claimed that he knew what my teaching was like, though he had never been in my classroom (the jerk), and as far as he was concerned, had made the best decision. Since I had a little saved up (from an investment that I’d made from what was left of my lottery winnings, which I used to put myself through university) I decided to go to Montreal with my wife who was born there.

Off I went.

After arriving, the school board informed me that there were no teaching jobs available and there was no use applying for substitute-teaching work either, as those too, were full time positions in Quebec and were all filled up.

It didn’t take long to use up the funds I had available and as things became more and more dire, I began to worry. It didn’t help that the wife was a high-strung French woman who was more prone to yelling than helping.

And this is where the job story starts.

My wife told me about a temporary jobs from a place called Express. I didn’t know too much about such things, but the bottom line was that I could get daily work. All I had to do was show up. So at 9:00 the next morning I arrived at the door to see 50 people in line. I made my way to the office window and after some time made myself understood to the French woman behind the counter. She informed me that if I wanted to guarantee myself work each day, I’d have to be there when the office opened. I took my seat and waited along with everyone else. The hours trickled by and at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon I was called with a group of others. We were told to meet back at the office at 3:00 and a van would pick us up, where we’d go out to a work site. “Dress warm”, she said, because we’d be working in a refrigerated room.

I a drove home - a 45-minute drive – got my stuff and was back in plenty of time. Again, we waited. Finally, around 5:00 the van showed up and we were hauled across town to a vegetable packing plant where we chopped vegetables until 11:00 that night. There was no van to take us home when we were done, but we were able to catch the last bus and I arrived back home at 2:00 in the morning.

A guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. I slept a bit and then was back in the car by 4:30. I got to Express in plenty of time and was one of the first in line when the office opened. The lady could see that I was willing and ready to work, but she was disappointed at the clothes I chose to wear that day. “If only you’d brought a pair of boots”, she said with some disappointment. “If you had a pair of boots, I could put you to work all week.”

“They’re in my truck”, I replied excitedly. The idea of working for a week was mouth watering.

"You have a truck?" she stated even more impressed. Apparently she wasn't used to such high class clientelle.

An hour later I found myself at a pressed board finishing factory. It was my job to unwrap bundles of raw pressboard and keep the area clean. I was working alongside an eighteen year old.

We worked hard that day and the next. The boss came by to inform me that he was moving me up to the line – an unheard of promotion for an Express employee. He confided that usually Express employees were given jobs where they could neither hurt themselves or damage the product since most of them were druggies and drunks.

In the next few days I was advanced several more times, until one day the supervisor approached me. He broke the sad news and stated that he wasn’t allowed to promote employees hired from Express. Without further ado, the eighteen year-old took my place and I took up a broom once more. My new job was to clean the debris from around the equipment and sweep the floors of the entire complex. I got right on it.

The week passed and they requested that I work there again the following week. It would be the last week, as working any longer would mean that I would need to become a union member and since it was against the rules to hire from the Express pool, I was soon to be history.

That day, as I was working, contemplating my bleak future, but working hard nonetheless, a tall man in a dark perfectly creased suit passed by. I smiled and off he went on his way. Later that day, he returned. “You know”, he said, “these floors have been swept many times, but this may be the first time they’ve ever been swept. You know I started the way you are now. If you keep this up, one day you’ll be where I am.”

I have to admit that my thoughts were somewhat sarcastic. After all, I did have a teaching degree.

Later that day the supervisor called into the office. He wanted to know why a guy like me, with a bachelors of education, was working for Express? Well I told my story and you’ve heard it already. Then he confided, though it was policy not to hire workers from Express, there would be a job for me at the end of the week.

Now you would think that this is the perfect ending to the story, but it does get better.

I returned to work and was quickly moved along the line until finally I was running the stacker. Then one day the supervisor called me into his office once more. He said, “You know, my wife is a principal and I know for a fact that there is teaching work out there. Let me see what I can do.”

A day or two slipped by when I was interrupted to take a phone call. It was a principal from one of the local schools. “You know,” he said, “I have a job and I think it would be perfect for you.” He then went on to describe the teaching position which was a limited duration position that would start in January and end in April. It was November at the time. He paused at the end as if not knowing how to say good-bye and then went on, “Now I know I’m shooting myself in the foot, but I know of other position and it starts right now and goes to the end of the year.”

He gave me a number to call, which I did immediately. I wasn’t sure about much other than to go directly after work to the school board office downtown Montreal. I told the man that I’d be coming from work and in less than ideal attire for an interview, but it made no difference to him.
I arrived at the board office more aware than ever of my foul stench. I spoke briefly to the secretary and then was escorted to what I was soon to find out was the superintendent’s office. Asit turns out, he was most impressed with the story he’d heard. Of course, the only way he’d heard it is through the grapevine from supervisor, to wife, and so on and so on.

He invited me back for a further interview the next day; it was to meet the teacher I’d be working with. As it turns out, the teacher and I got along very well and I began my new job teaching for the Montreal public school system the next day.

Although that is the end of the story, I hope that you are amazed at the series of events that took place and the number of individual who knew nothing of me, yett helped me anyway.

The story didn’t quite end there. I did have further problems getting work in my hometown. Apparently, one of the assistant superintendents was closely involved with the hag who promised me her ill will. I returned to Vanderhoof after having applied for numerous jobs (I had gotten myself on the mailing list at the board office). I spoke with the new superintendent and she wanted to know why I waited so long to apply for work. I explained that I had applied for many jobs and had sent in my resume with each application. Hmmm. How can that possibly be...

Regardless, I was hired by summer’s end and still work in my hometown.

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