Wednesday, March 31, 2010

College Days and Beyond

Besides working every summer and during holiday breaks to secure money for my college education, I worked a number of jobs while on campus.

I ran track and cross country for two years hoping to secure an athletic scholarship but I gradually found out that such a thing was not going to happen. Scholarship were given only for football, basketball and wrestling at Iowa State with rare exceptions that my talent couldn’t meet.

But my track coach would occasionally find work for me cleaning up the grandstands after a home football game. So myself and several other jocks showed up on a few Sunday mornings, gathered up large sweeping brooms and climbed to the top of the grandstands and started to push all the peanut shells, popcorn boxes and various contra-banded empty liquor bottles and beer cans downward. Then the garbage was centralized and scooped up into trucks and hauled away. The problem was that there were so many of us, the job didn’t last very long, minimizing our actual take away pay.

I waited tables, first at Theta Delta Chi, my fraternity, then later at a sorority. I learned to always serve from the left, serve the women first when they were guests, and how to carry three plates at a time. Actually, I could carry five plates but the limit was 3 for the sake of proper waiter etiquette. But certain on rare days when the house mother was away, 5 plates it was. Of course most of the work was done after the meal was over. The job of dishwasher was rotated and while he was washing, the other two would help the cook put food away, dry the dishes, pots, and pans, and ret up the dining room.

I considered it an upgrade to secure a job with the wait staff at the Sigma Kappa sorority, even though my job was washing the pots and pans and the sorority was 3 blocks away from my fraternity. Usually there were only about 25 sisters and pledges to feed compared to about 40 at my fraternity. The difference made the job quicker and easier.

Considering that females at Iowa State were only 40 % of the student body, working at a sorority had some fringe benefits. At this particular time, the Sig Kaps were known to have many members that were less than beautiful and/or overweight. In fact the house mother was always trying to have her menu reflect small servings and healthy food. The result was that four guys in the kitchen ate about 30% of the food and 30 gals ate the other 70%. I was a good job all in all. Two of us were from the same fraternity and the other two were Phi Psis and we all got along very well.

A class mate and I worked in our department one summer on various projects. I remember one job was to eliminate the central belt driven motor for all the various machines used in the Ceramic Engineering department and add a motor for each machine. The machines had to have its individual concrete base poured for each motor and hook up the motor to the machine.

Later I did library research from one of my professor’s research project. I spent hours trying to find information about phase equilibriums of various materials.

One Fall I took part in the annual United Fund drive called the “The Ugliest Man on Campus” or UMOC. This was not a paying job, but it was associated with raising money. I put a silk stocking on my head and made a face and my photo was taken. Then 2000 flyers with my ugly face were printed up and distributed on bulletin boards across the campus. Voting is done by contributing to the United Fund, designating the person who is the ugliest as you gave. I had no hope of winning because large fraternities make sure one of their members wins by working hard to secure donations. But I finished a respectable 5th.
One of the worst jobs I ever had at college was setting bowling pins at the student union. I got paid $.35 a line, so if 4 persons bowled a set, I made $1.40. This was before automatic pin setters. Myself and my fellow pin setters would work two alleys at a time. We positioned ourselves between the alleys and when a ball and pins would come into a pit, we would move there, pick up the ball first and set it on the return rail and give it a little top spin so it would reach the collection stop. We would drop the hydraulic operated reset tray, pick up four pins at a time, two in each hand, and drop them into position. After a strike or second ball on a spare came through, the tray was dropped and a new 10-pin pattern was presented.

It was dangerous and dirty work. One pin-setter next to me lost a tooth, when a pin went flying and hit him in the face. The pit was extremely dusty due to the constant abrasion of pins against pins, and pins against bowling ball combined with neglectful janitorial service.

I developed calluses on both hand between my third and fourth fingers where I grabbed the second pin. And my back was sore from the constant bending down and raising up. So the job was physically demanding, environmentally unpleasant, and dangerous.

I do remember a few incidents that while embarrassing at the time, cause me to smile every time I recall them. One time I hurried too quickly to return the ball to the return track by applying top spin before the ball was securely on the track, causing the ball to jump off the track, bounce unto the lane, and cause a collusion with a ball just delivered by a bowler hoping for a strike. “Bonk” resounded very loudly and could be heard several alleys away.

Another time I got out of sync, thinking the bowler already had thrown two balls, and I lowered the re-set tray prematurely just in time for the ball to smack the tray. The two make an interesting clanging sound when they meet. And the bowler let out a roar, probably because he thought the ball would have been a strike. And perhaps he was right.

Believe me when it came time to graduate, I looked forward to a life as a professional engineer and a nice income. That worked out pretty well, until 30 years later when I was out of a job and started to work at Jewel supermarket, stocking grocery shelves while I sought employment in engineering.

After 18 months not being employed in the engineering field, I was able to reinvent myself as an Environmental Engineer, a field I worked in for my remaining professional life. As it turned out, it was a thoroughly interesting second career.

I have had many different jobs in my life and to use one of my favorite mantras to close this saga, “everything counts in life”. Without all these experiences, I would be a different person than I am now.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

Ah yes, one of my favorite photos. I used to have that flyer up in my cube at work and it always got a lot of intriguing comments.