Category Archives: Writing

Stuff I’ve written. Fiction, mostly.

Up To Now

I didn’t make it to 20 posts. I did, however, make it to 38. The days leaked by and work beckoned, along with the waning Scouting year and my desire to play on a soccer team. My need and desire to live my life has always superseded my need and desire to chronicle it, so I dropped the project until things calmed down a little bit.
By now, I’m assuming, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ve picked up on a theme for this blog series: Jobs that I’ve had. I’ll summarize what’s left that got me to where I am and close things out properly.
The year was 2008. I’d had two fantastic, productive, instructive, and relevant years at Intuit. I’d transformed from a Comp Sci graduate to a professional programmer. i’d also had six very disheartening, deflating, and irrelevant months after BCM/HBM/PFW was scrapped. My business unit in Canada had, by and large, disintegrated. My boss had moved on. His boss had moved on. Suddenly, I was the only programmer on the team in Edmonton who hadn’t either left or found another job. It became clear very quickly that if I didn’t find something soon, I was going to be the asshole standing when the music stopped. So, I found something new with Vlad’s help.
I did well at the new job at Haemonetics. There was a lot of work to be done. There was a motivated and enthusiastic team that welcomed me. The work was exactly what I’d been missing the previous six months.
However, when that project was cut, I had to find something else. Which was an eight-week refactoring and bug-fixing blitz. When that whirlwind of a contract ended after a couple of weeks of 16-hour days, I found myself cast adrift. I didn’t find anything for just about a month. In the end, I worked with my old boss from Intuit, using Ruby on Rails in a very small team setting. That was about a 65% employment. It was awesome because I was getting paid to learn Ruby but it didn’t last.
Weeks after that work ended, but fortunately, shortly before money ran out, I ended up back at Haemonetics. I worked there for two very good years before they decided the project was done enough that they didn’t need contractors anymore. Nervous because of that lean summer two years before, I found work well in advance of teh end of my contract. Infact, I found two positions. I took the job at Intuit and worked there until after tax season, when I went to work for POSP.
I have a lot of uncompleted thoughts about POSP: the work I did there, the amount of time that things took, how I felt about my work there. But eventually, it was time to move on, and I went to Telus to work on their TV applications. I’d only been there a couple of weeks before Intuit called me again. they wanted me to start in August, a month short of the end of my contract. I managed to split the difference and rejoined Intuit on my ninth anniversary.
I’m just over 8 months into my contract with Intuit. And now we’re where I expected to find myself in time for the final 20 to 38 post.
So, as I said, this blog serios has been on the theme of jobs I’ve had. Jobs are like relationships in that they all end. So, if we’re talking about jobs I’ve had, we’re also talking about jobs I’ve had that have ended. Granted, we can only talk about jobs that have ended until we get to my current job.
Or can we?
I’m currently working at Intuit, but this job has also ended. I gave two weeks notice on April 23. On May 8, I start at another job. But it will be subtly different from the last five and a half years. It isn’t a contract. I’ve accepted an offer to join Gamesys Canada in a senior role that has a heavy focus on mentoring and leadership.
There is a lot to recommend this job. Not the least of which is getting to work with Robb again.
I worked with Robb at Haemonetics both times, and at Accenture. I have missed it.
Also, a game company. How could I pass that up?
I’m still not sure how I feel about giving up on contracting. It was a big part of my life. It put food on the table. I expected to be very broken up about shutting down Bisonweb Inc. But I find that I’m a little ambivalent. I’m moving to a good company that wants to do things the right way. In a way, I’m a little sad that I didn’t build Bisonweb up to what I had wanted it to be but this is basically my dream job, if such a thing exists.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following along this blog series. I’ve certainly appreciated the opportunity to stroll down memory lane.

Until more later on,


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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Personal, Writing



The (Paper) Pusher

An uneventful month and a half at AltaGas in Leduc was notable only for the fact that Jeff, the guy at the golf course who was solely responsible, in the first summer, for ensuring that the trees had enough water, was working an internship in the office. We laughed over old times and played crib over lunch hours. But there are more exciting times ahead. I will provide, for your edification, education, and enterntainment, a tasteful montage. It will get you through the next couple of yours until my next noteworthy job.


Scene 1 (set to the research music in CSI, Bones, House, and all those brainy shows)

Liam, returning to the basement suite, opening a computer science textbook and knuckling down to study. He reads one page, turns the page, then throws the book over his shoulder, and turns to play Madden football.

Scene 2 (the research music turns more tense, almost frantic)

Liam, sitting hunched over a test, sweat pouring from his forehead. Zoom out, and it’s a classroom full of students writing their finals.

Scene 3 (intense, emotional music, like on a show where there’s an important part and they didn’t want to write the dialogue, so they just put music in)

Liam, standing in front of a professor who is wearing a stern face. Liam is pleading his case. The professor is unmoved but Liam gets down on his knees, a supplication. The teacher shakes her head in disgust but waves Liam off his knees. She holds her hand out to shake but Liam grabs her in a hug and spins her around.

Scene 4 THE FINAL SCENE (80s music denoting victory — maybe Survivor, maybe Triumph)

Liam is driving home down Highway 2, tears streaming down his face. He is laughing and crying like Jesse on the Breaking Bad finale.

I’m very proud of this montage. It comes the closest to adequately describing how I felt about my last couple of years in university.
I’d do another montage about meeting Kim, finding true love at long last, and starting a healthy, meaningful adult relationship for the first time in my life, but I don’t want to synopsisize those early days. That’s the subject of its own blog series, some other day.
The reason Kim and I is relevant to this post is, Kim made a comment about the employment state of her previous boyfriends and how she’d never started a relationship with a guy who had a job. Granted, I could have said something witty about how her men needed to dedicate themselves to her and that they just had the right priorities, but I don’t have a suave bone in my body. Instead of going that route, I said, “I’ll have a job by Friday.” Come Friday, I had two. I only accepted one, though, and a week and a half later, I started at Halliburton.
I won’t pretend that I treated Halliburton as much more than a place to earn a pay cheque while I applied for programming jobs. Oh, I worked at the job. I did my best with the tasks that were given to me.
The timing of my graduation was a little unfortunate as far as immediately finding a programming job. I worked as a temp for six months and just about quit when they said they weren’t going to hire me as a permanent employee. I’d actually gone home and was looking for programming jobs with a growing sense of futility when they called me back into the office and offered me the permanent position.
Things went pretty smoothly after that. I worked to get all of the data moved over to the new database. The first six months of my job were spent filling up a spreadsheet that was supposed to be used to automate the data conversion, but after that time, they deemed that the spreadsheet was not sufficient to the task. The new database did not give me scripting access and the spreadsheet option was the only hope of automation. As I said, though, it was horribly broken. So, I went ahead and entered the data through the … ugh … web interface.
When I finally finished work with the data conversion, I started on a different piece. Like other jobs, this was very process-driven and I didn’t do a great job of it. But I was much more effective at it than I had been at the other jobs that were much the same. Something about a mortgage payment and a wife and kid made me work to get better at it rather than moving on.
Then my boss quit. He had his fingers in a lot of pies, and one of those pies — namely the running of the document office — got handed to me. It was on an interim basis for the first four or five months, and HR dithered and dragged their feet, but right around the time that Lily was born, my promotion went through.
I was in charge of my department and getting paid well, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to be a programmer, not a boss, so I kept applying for entry-level programming jobs. That’s not strictly true. There still were no entry-level programming jobs, so I sent out a pile of resumes, cold-calling in the hopes of landing something.
Eventually, Victor, who had invited me out to Saturday morning soccer, suggested that I apply at Intuit. I was skeptical, but I applied anyway. In the upset of the year, the best company I’d applied to, the one that I’d thought I had the least chance of landing, was the company that got back to me. I was terrified, but I read some books on job interviews, and learned how to do an interview. I did well and got a job offer.
Before I left Halliburton, though, I had a couple of “boss” things to do. One girl was far too slow at her job and I had to fire her. It was hard because she’d been my first hire. I know it was for the best and I think she knew it too, but I had nightmares about that.
On the other hand, I got to interview and hire her replacement who seemed like a really good fit and, as far as I know, she might still be there.
I got a speech from my boss, telling me that if things didn’t work out at Intuit, I could come back. It was a relief, but when I left Halliburton, I knew I wouldn’t be back.

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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Personal, Writing



Diggin’ a Hole

“This is dirty fucking work.” That was from Jim, who ran things at the construction site that would become Jagare Ridge Golf Course. I don’t think he was necessarily trying to dissuade me from taking the job. I think Jim was just incapable of not speaking his mind. Maybe he wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into, since he repeated the phrase three or four times throughout the interview.
The timing was perfect. I was on the last vestiges of what passed for a paycheque from Bikeman. I had just enough money to pay off my first student loan payment, fill up with gas until my first cheque from the golf course, and get a Slurpee on the way home.
Sean had interviewed at the golf course the week before and he’d come to the job through Hire-A-Student. Jim had also told Sean it was dirty fucking work, so we shared a laugh about that when I told him that I’d gotten the job. Sean, however, had some engagement in Lethbridge that weekend and couldn’t start on the Saturday, like I did.
That first day held its own little bits of Hell. I’d sprained my wrist playing street hockey, and it hurt to make a fist or wrap it up, and so the twenty or so handshakes I endured on introduction sent waves of pain through my right hand. I had to endure it silently, though. I hadn’t told Jim about my injury and I fully expected that it would heal on-the-job. I did figure out how to sling a shovel with one hand, by lifting it out of the ground in the crook of my wrist. But the handshakes were the worst. Except for Colin, who’d lost his right hand in a construction accident some years before. He shook my left hand and became my favourite.
I rode a shovel for what seemed like forever but probably amounted to a couple of weeks straight. That’s a couple of weeks of ten-hour days, except Saturday, which was a lighter 9-hour day, and Sunday, which was a blissful day off. We were following a trencher around, digging holes for sprinkler heads, and digging the actual trench where the hill was too steep and the trencher couldn’t do it. Once the first few holes had irrigation done up for them, Jim got us, and by us, I mean Sean and I, laying landscaping rock along the eighth hole.
I can’t really remember how many hours Sean and I sat at that spot, throwing rocks into the dry creek bed. There was a pile of dirt that came with the rocks, which prevented them just dumping the rocks into the spot. And they wanted a single layer of rocks along the ground. Enough so that you couldn’t see the landscaping fabric underneath, but not so much that it was unsightly. In Jim’s words, “Make it look natural.” In Jason’s words, “How the fuck is a flat section of rocks supposed to look natural? Is that some kind of migration pattern?”
We persevered at that job, even though it felt like it would never end. In fact, when I went back there after that first year, the job still wasn’t done, and they didn’t have plans to finish it any time soon. It could be that they finished it sometime in my third year, but I’d largely forgotten about the rock-work on hole 8 at that point.
We did landscaping rock at other spots, too, between digging holes and working on hole 8. Along with a larger group, we used bigger rocks on the creek bank under one of the bigger bridges. Colin, he of the one hand, was always passing compliments around to the workers. He’d come on as a supervisor and was always pitching in, but if he liked the work you were doing, he always let you know.
One guy, Keith, was tabbed early-on as a gold-bricker. No, we didn’t use that term. We used a different term. But they mean the same thing. He didn’t hide from the truth. I don’t think he flaunted his laziness, but he wasn’t ashamed of himself, either. When the job under the bridge was done, Colin started in with the compliments. “Good job, Liam. Good job, Seaner. Good job, Jeremy.” He looked right at Keith, turned around and walked away.
Another incident with Keith was a little later in the summer. He was by a trench, leaning on a shovel, when Jim called across the field to him. Sean and I were there and we heard Jim giving Keith crap. Keith didn’t hear, so he lazily put his hand up to his ear and leaned forward. I thought Jim was going to have an aneurysm. He got off his quad and yelled “WORK!” Sean and I shared a pretty good laugh over that one. Keith wasn’t so amused. I think he started getting a little defensive after that.
There was another guy, Rob. Early on, Jim was trying to convey the idea of “Dirty fucking work” to us. He said that we’d be digging holes manually. I think Rob was a little intimidated by Jim because he didn’t say anything until after Jim left, but once it was just us, Rob turned to us and, in a horror-filled voice, said, “Did he mean with our… hands?!” He held up his hands in front of himself as if he didn’t recognize them.
I didn’t find myself missing my social life as much at the golf course as I had at other jobs. I didn’t really go out that much, but working with Sean was fun enough that I guess I got that part out of my system. Moreso than baking donuts alone or stocking shelves alone. We lasted that whole summer and we made good progress. Sean and Jeremy planted a crap-ton of trees, I got to build a staircase with a chainsaw and sledgehammer. Jim got the tractor stuck in a hole that they dug for the pumphouse.
I stopped that first year with a couple of weeks left. I got a bad bit of heat prostration and didn’t have the energy for work anymore. But I was headed back to school, determined to make a fresh start of it.
I returned to the golf course over the next two summers. Neither of those years was as memorable as the first. I did get to make a couple of rock waterfalls that I thought were really cool, and there were definitely characters in both of those years, from Murray the stoner to Ryan the WHL goalie. And in all three cases, they were very strong motivators to get back to school. I didn’t hate the job but it was dirty fucking work and not necessarily something I wanted to be doing the rest of my life.
That last year, I had to stop after a couple of months. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog series, you’ll probably be able to guess that it was my back that let me down. It got so bad that even just walking across uneven ground was pretty much unbearable. I had two months left in the summer, so I had to find another job. Fortunately, Hire-a-Student had my back again.

NOTE: I know there are things that I’ve missed writing from the first year at the golf course. Sean knows them. And I’m sure that he’ll fill you in on things like the whiteboard, Jeff the water guy, how everyone was scared of Colin including the guy we threw into the pond, and other stories. In fact, if he’s willing, I’m calling Sean out to write about the Ridge from his point of view. I’ll host it if he writes it.

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Posted by on April 21, 2014 in Personal, Writing


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Some Assembly Required — or — World’s Worst Superhero

With my mind made up about going back to school, all that remained was to find work to last me the summer. An ad in the paper caught my eye. MUST HAVE TRANSPORTATION and MUST HAVE OWN TOOLS. Heck, I had both of those.
Bikeman wasn’t very picky about the people they hired. In fact, those two items, I think, were the only requirements. But they were demanding. A bike was to be assembled in twenty minutes at the absolute longest. They had started out by paying piece-work, something like two bucks a bike, but they’d lost most of their workers with that. So, they’d offered a $7.50/hour rate and rode you until you produced at the rate they expected.
I won’t pretend that I understand the reasoning but they never rode me. I was not a good bike-builder. Sure, once I built a bike, I was confident that it would go, it would stop, and it would shift. But the fastest I ever got a bike together was twenty-four minutes. And that was a rare day. They never gave me any grief over it. In fact, one of the owners, who would drive site to site, used to sit sometimes half a day and shoot the breeze while I worked. I started off thinking that he maybe thought I was slacking and he wanted to keep his eye on me, but eventually, I just accepted that he was probably bored, lonely, and just passing the time.
Bikeman took me to a lot of locations — Wal-Marts, Zellers stores, but none as frequently as the Leduc Canadian Tire. Yes, the same Canadian Tire I’d quit in dramatic fashion just the year before. I still have a hard time believing that it had only been a year. Maybe that time in purgatory had made it seem a lot longer.
Here I was, thought, stuck again in a job that I sucked at. Others were much faster than I was. I just couldn’t find the rhythm or something. Salvation came in the form of a sprained wrist. I was playing a Sunday game of street hockey in late April when I ran up behind Alain. He wound up for a shot. I put my hand up to avoid taking an elbow to the face. fortunately, he didn’t break my wrist. It was sprained, though, and that was enough to push me to quit. They weren’t too broken up about it. I’m sure there was a pretty high turn-over and people were leaving all the time.
Toward the end of that summer, when I was firmly ensconced in another job, I ran into a former Canadian Tire co-worker. She mentioned that Steve, the manager of the Leduc Canadian Tire, had taken a particular interest in me while I’d been there for Bikeman. He’d set someone watching me every time I was there, convinced that I was going to try to rip him off and determined to catch me at it. I was more than happy to hear that I was so memorable and even happier to disappoint him yet again.
Anyway, with Bikeman getting smaller in my rear-view mirror, and with my first student loan payment coming due, I had to find something relatively quickly. Fortunately, salvation came in the form of Sean Woods and the Jagare Ridge Golf Course.

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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Personal, Writing



The Reset Button

Nothing substantial had changed about the reasons I had left the bleach factory the first time around: My back hadn’t magically repaired itself, I still knew that this wasn’t something I wanted to be doing twenty years from now, even if I could have kidded myself into believing that I *could* last that long. One thing had changed, though. I needed this job.
It wasn’t the meagre pay. It wasn’t the people, who had, except for a couple of exceptions, been turned over. It wasn’t even the fact that they accepted me. It was a raw, almost visceral need for the physical exhaustion that I knew I could count on from this job that drew me.
I’ll explain. University had shown me a mental exhaustion that I hadn’t previously known. That fatigue had intimidated me in a way I wasn’t ready for. I’d by and large gotten past that by the time I started working at the university but, once the mindless work of transcription had ended, I’d gone back to work that was more process-oriented, where I had to remember steps that I didn’t entirely understand. It was like the donut shop or the leather plant, and I was not doing a good job. I wanted to do a job that I knew I was good at. That’s part one.
Part two was the emotional tightrope walking I’d been doing with the girl from the university job. Fact is, I’d been jumping through hoops trying to win the girl for four years and, just as it seemed I’d broken through, things blew up and it ended. So, I wanted something to take my mind off of that.
The simplicity of the work at the bleach factory, combined with the chance to work myself num was incredibly attractive to me and kept me busy for another five months. They didn’t look at me to take over making bleach. they didn’t ask me to head up a night crew. They didn’t really ask anything of me or, really, talk to me at all. I knew what I was there to do and they understood that I knew, and I think they mostly understood that I wanted to be left alone. Though, a couple of weeks into my stint, Wayne, the boss, did confide in me his rotary-line dreams of one hundred pallets every day. He also asked me what I was doing for the next thirty years.
I’ll admit that Wayne and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but I know that he appreciated that I was there to do a job and I appreciated the fact that he left me to do it.
In the end, I just couldn’t keep going. Maybe if I’d had a chiropractor at that point, I would have kept going, but I didn’t and I quit sometime in the spring. The job had served its purpose. I’d done my time in its purgatory and I was ready to get back to school. Now to find work until summer was over.

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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Personal, Writing



All in the Fingers

After my dramatic and exultant exit from Canadian Tire, I had a stint with Venger Electrostatic Paint co. It was completely unremarkable. I ended with them when summer ended. It was a summer-student job and it ended. I felt the pull to the south and university, but I’d decided I was done with that, so I started looking for work.
Thing is, there was this girl. This girl and I had a history. Not a good history, but a long one, all the way back to 1995. When I’d gotten back from my first year of university, I’d reconnected with her, and we hung out. She ended up getting me a job at the University of Alberta, where her mom ran a division of the Department of Extensions.
The job started out fairly casual, and it played to a couple of my strengths. They needed someone to help out transcribing interviews. Their regular transcriptionist was unable to keep up with the backlog of work and they needed the interviews in much more quickly than they were getting them. I had two things going for me on that work. I am a pretty good typist. That obviously helps when typing. Also, though, I had a high capacity for brainless work. And beyond looking up the occasional word — platelets? WTF? — that’s what that transcription was. Just turn your brain off and go.
I don’t know just how much the other transcriptionist was sand-bagging, because I caught up and ran out of interviews in a couple of weeks. After the transcribing was over, they had me process rejections for academic papers, and format abstracts that were sent in for a conference that was going to take place.
They seemed to appreciate the work I was doing and they wanted me to keep working, so they kept throwing work at me. But the tone of the work had changed. I’d been happily typing away, then I had to remember process and follow established steps. And do it quick. I fell behind, but they kept giving me work. I think it’s because of the girl. I think she wanted me to do well and so she pestered her mom.
Completely swamped under by work, I was putting in a lot of overtime but I still had time to start dating the girl. Things on that front ended disastrously, though, and all the history between us came up, and I blew up. The next morning, I went into the office, packed up my keyboard, and quit. On the way home, I stopped at the bleach factory and asked for my old job back. The boss there said he’d have to get back to me. By the time I got home, I learned that he’d called, and that I started on Monday.
I learned later that there was some blame passed around the office about my leaving. I never really explained why I was leaving, and I did leave them with a mountain of work to be done leading up to an important conference they were hosting, but I was done. I didn’t see any way I could stay there.

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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Personal, Writing



Taking a Stand

My first year was a mixed bag. I had some big successes, but toward the end of the year, I lost my way a little bit. After that year, I actually quit school.
Without plans to return to school in the fall, I returned to Hire-A-Student in the hopes that I’d recapture a little bit more of the magic I’d found the previous summer. They hooked me up with Canadian Tire as a part of the fill crew, stocking shelves from 5 am to 1 in the afternoon.
I’ve learned, in the interim, that taking jobs with hours like this doesn’t generally work out for me. I had a little bit of trouble with this job, trying to juggle sleeping, working, and a social life. Eventually, I got that sorted out, I figured out the work involved, and even got some time in, breaking stuff.
Breaking stuff was the best part of any job that I’ve ever had. With a sledge hammer, I got to render things that were moderately unsellable completely busted to discourage people from dumpster diving. After all, they might go in for a planter that was cracked on one side, but it was a desperate person indeed who would jump in for ceramic shards. That jack-all that probably would drop a car on you because the hydraulics were faulty? Well, if it was just random dented metal pipes? Nobody would be suing Canadian Tire for damages caused by those. This isn’t the States, after all. My favourite breaking stuff story comes from the time I was breaking a leaf-blower. I don’t honestly know what was wrong with it, but they needed it broken, so they called on me.
With my trusty sledge hammer, I started in, but a stray bit flew up and hit me in the forehead. I’d taken off my work shirt and worked in a sleeveless t-shirt. It was hot in the back in the middle of summer. This bit of the leaf-blower, Canadian Tire’s last attempt at revenge, busted open the middle of my forehead. I didn’t realize it right away, and went out onto the floor to help with something that needed carrying. I can only imagine the sight some people had of me, sledgehammer over my shoulder, breathing heavily, drenched in sweat, with blood trickling down my face. Yeah, that’s a customer service agent right there.
I spent more time in the back than the rest of the fill crew. I helped the warehouse crew when they needed a hand. They’d hired someone but he wasn’t working out, so I emptied trucks onto rollers. I had a little experience with that at Sears, and they seemed to appreciate the help.
I didn’t know that it would be the end for me, but the boss asked if I could stay an extra five or six hours that day to help unload a truck. The whole fill crew had cut their hours and I asked if they could help out too, so we could get done sooner and I wouldn’t be the only one getting more hours. You wouldn’t think it, but this prompted a very angry reaction from the boss who yelled at us that he was the one who made the decisions, and if we thought that we could make decisions like this, we could just think again. It pissed me off. Granted, I wasn’t sleeping as well at that point as I could have been, and I’m a bit of a bastard when I’m tired. The rest of the crew helped out, and we finished in about an hour, and after the shift, I told the boss that I quit. I told him that I didn’t think that he had treated us very well and I didn’t want to work for a boss like that.
It felt good, taking a stand, but it felt even better reclaiming my evenings and having a social life again.

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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Personal, Writing



End of the Line

If Tim Horton’s and Kuny’s were deflating to my ego, because of insufficient training or inflated expectations, or whether it was just something wrong with me and the way I went about my work, FloPak was the perfect cure for that.
On the first day of yet another job my dad had gotten me, I guess I distinguished myself enough. Wayne, the boss, came to me partway through the day and said that he’d decided to pay me more than some of the other people on the floor. The reason being that I was going to be working the end of the main line — basically the most physically-demanding job in the plant. Toward the end of that day, I was tired and ready to go home, but the people there were very welcoming and easy to get along with. They needed someone to stay twenty or so minutes late, and I volunteered. I was always willing to put in a little bit more work at the end of the day.
It struck a chord with me, at the end of the day, when one of the supervisors asked me if I’d be coming in the next day. Apparently, that was a bit of a problem there. People would come the first day, see that there was actual work going on, and never come back again. I said that of course I’d be back. It wasn’t as if I had any better prospects on the horizon.
The next couple of weeks exhausted me. I mean, I went home and I went to bed. I got up and I came to work. It was very cathartic. I’d been a bit of an emotional wreck over a girl for about a year previous, and it was good to just shut all that off and get down to work.
There was a lot of work to be done, too. I honestly don’t know who was buying that much bleach, but we shipped something like 30 pallets of bleach every day — and that only because that was as much as we could bottle in a day.
Eventually, I figured out how to do the job right, I got in shape — better shape than I’d been in before or than I’ve been in since — and I was having a good time.
There was as little mental expenditure on that job as you could have and still be alive, I think now. The bottles came through the fill station, the capper, and the torque machine. I tested them by tipping them over and pushing on the sides to make sure there was no leak and did a quick eyeball test on the cap to make sure it wasn’t cross-threaded. After that, I shoved the bottles in the box. When the box was full, I closed it and shoved it through the taper. When there were three boxes on the rollers, I left and threw the boxes on the pallet. I had to hurry in order to get back before the bottles backed the torque machine up and bottles got crushed. When the pallet was full, the shipper would swing by on his forklift and take the pallet away. Then, when I went out to palletize the next set of boxes, I would drop a new pallet on the floor from a stack beside my work area.
There was a lot to the job, I suppose, when I look at that, but after a week or so, it became wash, rinse, repeat. There was so much going into the work physically that I had nearly no time for self-pity.
Sometime before October, they decided that they liked me and that someone with my certain something was wasted on the end of the line or something. They threw me in a lab and gave me beakers. I blended the industrial-strength bleach with water and tested it for strength. Let me tell you, I sucked at that job. I tried for three months at that crap. I flooded the floor more than once by overflowing the tanks. People were always waiting on me for bleach. And then there was night shift.
Night shift sucked for so many reasons. I was blending. I was working the end of the line. I was driving forklift to get the finished pallets off the floor. I was even working the fill area, another part that I really struggled at. And yet I loved night shift. It was my first half-assed supervisory assignment and it didn’t go especially well, considering we were half-staffed, but I was working with Dan, a guy I’d gone to high school with, and Angela, a girl I got along with. We didn’t do great work, but we did good enough work and had a good time.
Night shift ended when Dan quit. I went back to blending during the day. Dale, the guy who was training me on blending, was planning on leaving. He wanted to go to school. I think, mostly, he wanted not to be at the bleach factory anymore, but I told him and I told Wayne, as catastrophe continued to strike, that I wasn’t up for the job of blending bleach. I didn’t want it anymore and, if it was okay with them, I wanted to go back to the end of the line.
Wayne wasn’t happy with it. Dale, I think, thought of it as a rejection of him personally. I didn’t want him to think it was that. I just wanted the job to be fun again, even if it was way more physically demanding. Sometime around Christmas, I went back to the main line.
It was while I was working at Flo Pak that I decided I was going to go to university. I don’t know exactly what the thing was that flipped the switch. I’d been talking to my friend Sean. My back had been giving me problems and I guess I was starting to get more time to think. I didn’t think that the job I was doing at the bleach factory was sustainable — not from a physical standpoint and not from a mental stimulation standpoint. I didn’t want to be thirty, making eight bucks an hour at a bleach factory, with no marketable skills beyond “turn brain off” and “lift things.”
Toward the end of April, Sean came back to town. I’d talked to Wayne about bringing him on for the summer. He knew I was done at the end of the summer and, while I don’t like to think negatively of people too much, I’m pretty sure that was why, when Sean made it back, there was nothing for him.
I said, at the time, that Sean was the reason that I quit. I doubt it was only that. As I said, my back hurt bad a lot of the time. I’d go home every night and fill the tub on all hot. I’d soak in that tub and thank my lucky stars that that removed most of the knots. I’d wake up every morning just as sore as I’d been before the bath and I wouldn’t loosen up until I’d been working an hour or more. Beyond that, I don’t even want to go into what that job did to my hands. I’d had blisters, weakened by the sweat from inside my gloves, broken so many times that the skin on my hands and fingers was like the heels of a marathon runner. Opening my hands too far, stretching my fingers back, could break my skin and start my hands bleeding.
I quit in May and had no intention of looking for another full-time job. I was going to school in the fall, after all. I took odd jobs for the rest of the summer, through hire-a-student, and even managed to get my name in the paper as Hire-a-Student’s Student of the Month. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t technically a student yet.

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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Personal, Writing


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A Real Cut-Up

Leaving Tim Horton’s wasn’t particularly traumatic. It had had some of the same problems that the Sears Warehouse had, in that the hours sucked, and I wasn’t very good at my job. It sucked in divergent ways, as well. For example, it wasn’t as hard on my body as the Sears job had been, but it paid less. It wasn’t as long a commute as the Sears job, but I had to stick around longer because I had to be there until the bake was done. I didn’t have to clean the dust from the cardboard boxes out of my nose, but I had to clean the grease from the fryer out of there.
I was ready to settle down with another job at this point. Something that didn’t involve food, and had reasonably good hours, to boot. Enter Kuny’s Leather manufacturing.
I don’t want to call Kuny’s a sweatshop. I really don’t. But it felt like one. I worked my ass off there, using a press-cutter to make forms that others would assemble using rivet guns. I tried hard, and I felt like I was making good progress, but the boss didn’t think so. Or at least, that’s what he told me. He told me I was going about half as fast as was required. I tried harder, and I paid special attention to using up as much of the leather as I could. But I still wasn’t fast enough. That was what the boss said, but other workers told me that he said that about everyone. All I knew was that I wasn’t happy there. But it was a job. And it had the distinction of ending at 3:00 every day. That was better than 9AM after an all-nighter, and it was even better than the 5:00 that Miller offered. I had two more hours added to the end of my day after work and that was sweet.
I don’t know what I did with that time. I don’t think I actually did anything. I was pretty heavily into BBSes at the time, so I’d imagine I did that.
In the end, though, the job just sucked. I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve stuck through a couple of real stinkers. Was it the worst job I’ve ever had? I don’t know. It wasn’t dirty, it didn’t make me feel like I was ripped off, and the pay was better than some, but there wasn’t really anything that made me want to stay.
Yes, yes, this was another short stay. At this point, I’d learned how to identify a crappy job pretty quickly and move on without any sort of remorse. My metre went off within the first couple of weeks and I hit the pavement in search of another job at that point.
This was also the time that my friend, Sean, was starting out at University. I don’t think I was convinced, by this time, to give it a shot. I was still pretty interested in just working — carpentry was a goal of mine throughout my childhood — but I think Sean leaving made me start thinking it was possible to do something else.
Anyway, I don’t think the boss at Kuny’s held it against me too much, leaving. They had really high turnover. And if you’re disappointed that the job at Kuny’s ended so quickly, don’t worry. The next job went on far too long.

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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in Personal, Writing



Master of the 80-pound Bake (I Wasn’t)

Coming off the job at Miller Oilfield Hauling, I spent three or four months on EI while my ankle healed up. I moved out of my house and in with Jake. But when they said that my disability-style EI was over and my ankle was feeling better, it was time to start looking for a job again. Especially since I had to pay rent.
Eventually, and funny enough, since I was now living in the city, I found a job at the Tim Horton’s in Leduc. No, don’t ask me which one. In my day, they only had one Tim Horton’s in Leduc. THE Tim Horton’s. Pardon me while I pull my pants up to my armpits and swap out my teeth.
I don’t know what the work demand was in that Tim Horton’s. I knew that my brother and my friend Rob had worked there. They hadn’t liked their boss. I didn’t have a problem with mine. It was a different guy, though.
Still, my brother, when he worked there, had had training for something like two weeks before he was baking on his own. I got two shifts and then was left to my own less-than-stellar devices.
Now, when I tell you I only worked there for a month, you’ll probably roll your eyes and say, “Liam, we already knew that. It’s a job you had.” And that’s deserved. But let me tell you, in that time, I dumped the grease out of the fryer all over the floor twice. And that’s not what you’d call a pleasurable thing to clean up.
In fact, it wasn’t pleasant to even stand over it for a day. That stuff was nasty and got into everything. My ears, my nose, and under my fingernails. I don’t like slimy things, and my hands were constantly greasy. I think I probably washed my hands more while working there than I did between the ages of eight and ten.
Still, I persisted. But I never got any better. I could make all the excuses you’d want to hear about it, but the fact of the matter is, I was a bad baker. I followed the required steps, I ended up with decent donuts, but it took me probably twice as long as it should have. And I didn’t get paid by the hour. I got paid by the pound. So, if we were to take my rate for a bake and extrapolate it over the time it took me, I was making $3.75 an hour.
I came in one Sunday morning, and my boss, Frank, told me that the over-night shift had covered the bakes for the day, and that I only had to clean the kitchen. I didn’t see the writing on the wall. I don’t even know if it was there. But I knew that I was tired. I was tired of working overnight shifts, I was tired of wiping gunk out of my ears, and I was tired of sucking so bad at a job that I didn’t even really want to do. So, I quit. He didn’t cry, I didn’t cry. It was two men, recognizing that one of them didn’t have what it took. Whether that can be blamed on my lack of training or my own inability, I don’t care.
I did care. I cared for a long time. I didn’t like quitting that job because I felt like, if I’d just kept at it, some secret would have made itself known to me and I would have become a decent baker. It haunted me so much that I almost stuck around Lethbridge after the first year to work at Tim Horton’s. But that time in Leduc, it taught me that sometimes it’s all right to give up. When the money’s not good, the work isn’t rewarding, and you’re not good at the job, it’s all right to leave.
I also learned that it’s all right to leave a bad living situation. By the time I quit at Tim Horton’s I’d already moved out of Jake’s apartment and back in with my parents. I’d paid two months of rent, since Jake had “lost” his job when I moved in. I felt like a second-class citizen in that place, and moving back home felt like the right decision. It’s hard to believe just how far off the decision to go to university still was at this point, but I was unemployed, living at home, and not sure what I was going to do next.

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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in Personal, Writing


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