William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

11. tales from a time when people had 'careers'


“Alec, he works at a gas station, doesn't he?”

Only three days out of high school, Grampy started working for an automobile dealership. He loved to swim and he thought that after high school he'd go swimming every day, but it didn't turn out that way. And as soon as he returned from the War, the dealership asked him to come back. He'd do their books, and would pump gas when the mechanics were busy. (Things he told me later: In those days (and for a long time afterward), that also meant popping the hood and checking the oil. Grampy figures the gas was about 17¢ a gallon (3.7¢ a litre if we're talking Imperial gallons). This would be around 1938-39. He says he was making $7 per week while his older brother Bill made $3 per week working at the drug store.)

Automobile dealerships sold gas in those days, and the gas pumps were different from what they are today – imagine a high-mounted transparent pre-tank that the attendant pumps up to a certain notch, indicating the gallons you're purchasing. Then that gas is drained into your car.

Grampy was one of only four from North Sydney in his school year to go to Sydney Mines to get his Grade 12. He surmises that people at the dealership would have noticed him walking to Sydney Mines and asked among themselves who he was. There was a bus - the fare was 7 cents. But his allowance was only 25 cents per week.

He got into selling auto parts and did quite well, becoming the first person in the Sydney area to conduct more than $100,000 in annual business. He ended up 1/3 owning a car dealership ("MLM Motors" (Mercury, Lincoln, Meteor)), borrowing the $10,000 he needed. But the two brothers he was partnered with brought it down – one or both stealing money, one participating in extramarital activity with the secretary – and it fell to Grampy to liquidate the whole thing (cars, parts, everything) and pay off all the debts. He did.

(Details of the time: At MLM Motors, a new Lincoln went for about $3400 dollars. Grampy remembered a dentist who bought a new Mercury for something like $3000. The dealership got new Meteors for $1700 and sold them for $2400.)

He was asked to become sales supervisor at another dealership, Steel City Sales. He initially said no. The fellow who sought him started to cry. Well, okay, he'd go. So he became sales supervisor... and again found an owner stealing money. So he laid it out on the line and walked away.

He got into the insurance industry: Industrial Acceptance had been financing most of the dealerships, so they knew about him and asked him to work for them. As a claims adjuster, he ended up selling more insurance than the person they had hired to sell. He was going to be a sales supervisor again, and he went to Halifax to train for that. His work had him driving all around the Maritimes - some weeks he would leave Monday morning and come back Friday evening. Eventually he was to be promoted to a position in Saint John, but the city was too polluted at that time, and he wouldn't take his family there. So now what?

He went to the Teachers College in Truro. The family was in Bedford, near the top of Meadowbrook Drive. The dorms at NSTC were so bad that he almost immediately started driving from Bedford every day for two years.

He eyed a teaching position in Baddeck, an opportunity to return to Cape Breton. But a principal from Sherbrooke came to the college looking for someone to teach World Problems. Well, we have just the fellow – he's been through the War. So he did that for a while, then he was asked to become the principal of a nearby elementary school. Meanwhile, Nanny was teaching music in the schools, driving to hither and yon and back again.

The one thing was, he was never unemployed. This was the moral of the story, directed at me. But he acknowledges times have changed. (Looking at a Ford brochure on Friday, he pointed at a car with a $17,029 “employee price” and exclaimed, “Do you know what we got a Ford for? $1,700! And we sold it for $2,300.”)


We finally went to Antigonish. At the mall, I saw an autistic teenage girl walk out of the dollar store with what looked like her parents or grandparents. She had red spots all over her face, like I used to have, and she had her fingers in her ears, like I used to do (though my threshold for doing this might have been somewhat higher).

I was overwhelmed with pity. I wanted to comfort her. Okay, maybe more than just comfort. Honestly, I think I should date™ someone with “Asperger's Syndrome” because I get it. Or I get that we don't get it. Or we mutually don't get it, and so it all doesn't matter.

On the other hand, I once sat for an interview for a “caregiver / companion” position for a non-verbal autistic male. You'd think that maybe I'd 'get it', right? No! I wanted to crawl up the walls and out of there! All I saw was everything I hated about myself, carried to incomprehensible extremes. I told the male's domineering mother that she'd make a good writer of instructions (there was a 10-page handout, and she proceeded to read it to us candidates point-by-point), and I escaped. I was the second-last to escape – others got out with statements like “This is a lot of responsibility for a part-time job.”

At the liquor store in Antigonish, Andy found a 12-box of Pump House Premium Lager. I say “12-box” because it wasn't a standard beer case - it was 6x2, not 3x4. Anyway, it was very tasty stuff.

Back at the studio, we watched A Clockwork Orange. The language is amazing; I'll have to watch it again with subtitles on my own (and after Grampy has gone to bed!). What an amazing movie. What a clash of themes (old / young, new / traditional). What twists and turns you believe but never anticipate.

The cinematography is painstakingly brilliant. So many shots could be their own works of art – not in some pretentious way, just in a really careful, everything matters way. They'll be burned into you forever.

One of my favourite parts is in a certain institution with an over-the-top British authoritarian flavour. It's almost like Full Metal Jacket* with tea and cakes.

The story of the movie is gripping, but I can't talk about it much without spoiling it. Just “trust me”, though be warned that most of you won't want to watch this with your parents or your children, and there are scenes of sexual violence. An easy 9.5. Only not 10 because I was left with a few questions at the end that I might have to read the novella to figure out.

* - Never seen it, but I've heard what it's like.


I forgot to get Keurig cups when I was in Antigonish, so I ended up trying to have a nap instead of having a cup of coffee while watching the golf.

I felt really, really frustrated over some things that have (not) happened, sexy-time wise. I recalled episodes where I felt deliberately marginalized. One in particular caused me to smash my pillow repeatedly.

After a long while, I came around to the idea that it's not hopeless. I haven't been in a fruitful environment for a sustained period for a long time. Get that going again, and I might be alright. I think my peak was in the spring and summer of 2004 – even though I was working at an awful dead-end job, I was starting to make some interesting connections, and I collected lots of phone numbers compared to my usual rate. And just as it seemed like maybe I'd pull something out of the ether, I went on Canada World Youth. Though I'd say my life would have been a lot less interesting had I not done that.

As Paul Lutus would say, you can't steer a boat that isn't moving.
Tags: sherbrooke 2013

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