I was a skinny kid with a pitchfork filling bait barrels with fish and salt at the co-op when one February evening I received a telephone call from a high school friend who had recently moved to Connecticut.
The call was from a guy I’ll call Dave and it went something like this:
Dave: “You gotta come down here!”
Dave: “There’s this gigantic factory making jet engine parts. They’re hiring EVERYBODY! Guess what they are paying?”
Me: “Uh, I give up.”
Dave: “$2.37 an hour! Plus time and a half over 40!”
I did some quick arithmetic (we still learned that stuff in the ’60s) and realized that I could make almost a hundred bucks a week.
Then Dave, his real name, said something I should have paid more attention to.
“Most guys are getting about 15 hours of overtime, so you could be making way more than you are now and you won’t smell like bait juice after work!”
A little more 1960s math suggested a potential $150 per week, twice what I was making sliding around in slimy bait juice-scented girl repellant. But Dave hadn’t mentioned that they were only hiring for the second shift.
I left my hip boots and the pitchfork, packed my stuff into the lovely Samsonite suitcase my parents had happily given me as a gift for my unexpected high school graduation, grabbed my guitar and hitchhiked to town.
In Brunswick, I found a pristine 1962 Ford Galaxie with a trunk roughly the size of a two-bedroom single-wide. The car was basically the same color and size as the Lincoln Memorial and my new suitcase, my guitar and a case of Schlitz easily fit in the cavernous trunk with plenty of room to spare.
Over the previous couple of years, I had worked shoveling bait, buying and shipping lobsters, and servicing the boats for Bob Waddle at the co-op; harvesting rockweed; clamming; working as a sternman (there was a more descriptive name for this position back in that day) for a nice old fisherman who deserved far better performance than I gave him; and working at a general store (then known as Ambrose’s) pumping gas, making Italian sandwiches, selling clams, quahogs, lobsters, groceries and beer. So with the money I had not spent on beer, cigarettes and gas, that gigantic hunk of Detroit iron became my new home and in it I headed for Connecticut.
But here’s the rub: a 19-year-old kid looking for fun and friends in a new town away from home is not going to flourish on some second-shift machining job. Working a 3-to-11 shift pretty much takes a guy out of the social circle. Evenings with friends? No can do. By the time I got out of work, all my friends had gone home to bed. And, with mandatory overtime schedules, evenings got later and Saturday nights became work nights. My social activity was midnight cups of coffee and chocolate cream-filled doughnuts among midnight strangers — the exhausted, the totally wasted and the insomniacs at Dunkin’ Donuts.
I lasted six months and had to call it quits. Now, almost 60 years, eight careers, 14 homes and countless blessings later, I find myself back where I started, but without the bait smell. Curiously, to me that smell remains a pleasant one with fond connections to a time long ago when the town was smaller and we knew our neighbors. Heck, in most cases, they were relatives.
So thanks, Dave. Thanks for getting my wheels rolling on what has been a pretty good ride, and thanks for the use of your couch when I arrived at the starting line.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.