Labor Day, and Me Not Getting Killed By a Dealer/Pimp
If you think Labor Day is about commemorating all the women who have ever had babies, you're wrong. That's Interdependence Day. (Thankya---thangyaverymuch. I'll be here all post.) Labor Day is where none of us go to our jobs as a way of celebrating how great it is that we have a job.
I personally don't have a job. I write for a living. Which means I don't have to shave. And if you don't have to shave you're not really employed, no matter what G. Everett Koop says. I have had regular, Must Shave jobs, though. In fact I've had over 60 full-time jobs, which I know is Beyond Bonkers. But it's been my confounding experience that people who hire you to do something expect you to do that thing---and that when you don't, they come find you. And then I have to put out my cigarette, or stop eating, or whatever. (I used to smoke. But I quit once I realized how rewarding it was to overeat.)
The first real job I ever had was Recreation Leader. It was summer; I was 15 years old; and the City of Cupertino, California thought they should pay me $3.50 an hour to play in the park, which I would have done for free. The only catch was that I had to wear a whistle---which, again, I would have blown for free. Being a recreation leader is the greatest job I ever had. I don't enjoy knowing that the best job I ever had is one when I was 15, but what can I do? I got paid to eat popsicles. Can it go anywhere but down from there?
The worst job I ever had was selling encyclopedias door to door in the ghettoes of East Oakland. People who live in ghettoes, as it turns out, are not overly interested in acquiring one new volume of knowledge each month for two years at $50 a pop. Instead, what they're interested in is popping you on the side of your head for being so stupid as to suggest that they have $2500 lying around to spend on an encyclopedia.
Actually, I found that selling encyclopedias in ghettos doesn't make people want to beat you up. It makes people feel sorry for you---which makes them invite you into their house, which makes you spend hours hanging out with them and enjoying their refreshments and listening to their awesome music and totally giving up on going back out in the terrible heat and trying to sell encyclopedias.
The Oakland apartment I lived in at the time was below the building's penthouse, which was occupied by a guy who supplied half the cocaine to East Oakland. Half. To all of East Oakland. This was in 1975. I was the only white guy in my building. One day I got stuck in the elevator alone with Leon, the dealer from upstairs. He was, as always, working the full-on Disco Pimp outfit: outsized fur-trimmed hat, shades, shiny blue silk suit, cape, walking stick, Giant Shoes. Now it's kitschy; then, it was Actual Fashion. Leon was about five foot six. I was pretty wholly terrified of him; he had serious power. There never weren't ten Cadillacs in our parking area, driven by some of the endless numbers of people who'd come to see him. Leon, the dealer and pimp in town, was pretty much King of East Oakland.
The job I then had was selling shoes at a Kinney's shoe store, where I got paid in cash every Friday.
When the elevator we were in jerked to a stop, Leon didn't move. He didn't flinch; he didn't wonder why the elevator had stopped or when it might start again; he didn't say a word. He just stayed leaning against the wall, as inscrutable as ever, quiet behind his sunglasses.
I, meanwhile, immediately got involved with trying not to have a heart attack.
At some point Leon slowly turned his head to regard me.
I was seventeen.
I began nodding at him frantically---in the way a parrot might signal a greeting.
"Nice shoes," I said.
Very slowly, and with a maximum lack of expression, Leon brought one finger up to the nose of his sunglasses. He pulled them down a little, the better to see me. He stared at me for what seemed like an eternity.
"You know you white, right?" he said.
I looked down with shock at my arm. "Am I?! My God! I am! What the heck am I doing in this neighborhood?Ha, ha, ha. Please don't kill me."
He didn't. He ended up inviting me up to his place. Which turned out to be the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen.
Anyway, right. Labor Day. When none of us has to work. But reading is a lot like work. So let's just stop this right now.