Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. It’s the end of summer and a good reason to drag your BBQ grill to the back of the garage.
It’s also a day we honor those of you who schlep your way to a job you might not even like. If you’re lucky, you love your job, but how many of us can say that? I’ve had more than 400 jobs and hated most of them. I lasted three hours at a Denver rendering plant and would have quit sooner but I didn’t have a ride home. My boss said I would get used to the smell but I heard the same thing while hosing out dog kennels and it’s just not true.
I was 19 when I hitchhiked to Denver and got a job at the “Shoe Circus,” where they had Bonzo, the chimpanzee, and a myna bird. Every morning, before opening, the manager would let Bonzo out of his cage just as I started to vacuum. He ran straight towards me, screaming and flailing his long arms in the air. Have you ever had an angry chimpanzee running towards you? After a couple of days I started to bring an extra pair of clean underwear to work. My boss eventually let me in on the joke. It turned out Bonzo had nothing against me but hated the sound of the vacuum cleaner. People sure can be cruel to teenagers.
You learn a lot about people as a shoe salesman. Some women lie about their feet. They insist they’re smaller — the opposite of male vanity. Do you have any idea how hard it is to fit a size 9 foot into a 6 shoe? You’d have better luck cramming a watermelon into your wallet. Then there were the feet that looked like they had been beaten with a mallet. To this day I can’t look at Italian shoes without nightmares of bunions.
My best job was in 1980 as a cabaret DJ in Fort St. John, British Columbia, an oil boom town a thousand miles north of Coeur d’Alene. It was like a John Wayne movie every night, with fights breaking out between drunken roughnecks. The manager decided to cash in on the new disco craze. Guys would threaten me if I didn’t play their favorite Doors songs. Who dances to “Crystal Ship?” Yet those same roughnecks would fill the dance floor to Donna Summer or the Bee Gees. Go figure.
When you hear about celebrities like Jim Morrison sleeping on roof tops it sounds adventurous. I’ve slept on roof tops and Oliver Stone never made a movie about me. I started cross country hitchhiking and hopping freight trains four days after graduating from high school. My favorite train ride was in 1971 with a “hotshot” (non-stop) freight train from Toronto to Montreal. As the train slowed to pass through small towns, my legs dangling out from an open boxcar, I gazed out at people stopped at the railroad crossing and imagined they envied my freedom. I was young and an idiot. They were the smart ones.
Most of you stuck with a job, even if you hated it and were able to one day buy a home and build up a comfortable retirement fund. Labor Day is to honor great Americans like you. Jumping from job to job like a flea on a hot plate gets you nowhere. Look at me. Twice a week I walk to the Mobil station to buy my lottery tickets, hoping if I win I might be able to afford a Subaru.
If you have a good work ethic you are far wiser than I ever was. If there is reincarnation, I want to come back as either a bald eagle or one of you. Happy Labor Day!
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Tom Neuhoff is a Hollywood comedy writer whose heart is in Coeur d’Alene, his home long ago.