Well, the first boss I had was not particularly memorable. His name was Eliot something and he was the owner of the Boston Car Wash on the expressway near Boston Street. I wound up there because it was near the corner where we hung out and several of my high school friends worked there.
For a dollar an hour, I would clamber into the back seat and wash the inside rear windows as we rode through the cascading water and soap. We also took advantage of the soaped-up windows to rifle through the glove box and under the seat to see what we could find. Each of us eventually had an extensive collection of semi-expensive sun glasses, gloves and “men’s magazines”.
We also met several older employees who, for a small fee (usually a pint of muscatel) would walk to the package store for us and purchase our weekend hooch. It was always something like “pint of Bacardi, two half pints of Bacardi, half pint Smirnoff, pint of Southern Comfort and a six pack of Knick, please”.
I’m sure the counter guy at the packie never suspected a thing. We thought we were so slick in those days. Getting over on the Man.
I worked all summer and fall and only left when the constant exposure to fine mist made the winter evening walk home to the projects just unbearable. I was 16.
Later when I was a senior in high school, I needed a job to get released early for the summer. Again, I joined several of my friends and applied to Greater Boston Distributors on Albany Street in the South End. My job was to stand between a conveyor belt and a stack of various periodicals, soft cover books and magazines.
Reading from a list traveling along the belt, I would pile ten of these and twelve of those and six of this on the belt as it moved past on its way to the trucks and, eventually, to every mom and pop variety store in the city.
This was probably the most interesting job I ever had. By now, I’d developed a deep love of reading and having access to practically every popular paperback book and magazine on offer was my Disneyland. But the job was eye opening for other reasons as well.
It seemed that all the employees on the floor, except for us six or seven English High boys, were gay. Really, really gay. Now in the late sixties, this was a scary, scandalous thing to be around.
Our first day, I stood across from another employee with his own stacks of magazines and he showed me how to coordinate reading from the same list. His name was Zsa Zsa. He was a skinny, undersized, bleach blond man, maybe in his forties. He seemed OK, despite my apprehension. He was happy and cheerful and smiling. He was always smiling.
Then, about ten or so, the bell rang, the belt stopped, and we had a break. About 30 seconds or so later, the now empty belt started moving again. Somewhere a boombox started playing “The Stripper” as an employee jumped up onto the belt and rode through the line, dancing, peeling off his shirt, and tossing it into the crowd.
As hooting and hollering employees sang and danced along, we EHS boys looked at each other a bit stunned, mouthing “What the f**k?” while backing away from the belt.
After about five minutes of these hijinks, some boss guy came walking through yelling “OK girls, that’s enough. The afternoon trucks are in. Time to go back to work” and everyone went back to their stations and the belt restarted.
Later, one of my friends had to pee, so we all went to the men’s room in a protective bunch.
That afternoon, I asked Zsa Zsa if everyone at GBD was gay. He turned, looked deeply into my eyes and said something like “Oh my god, I hope so.”
Later, we were told that the mini strip show was a traditional welcome when the new high school boys arrive in the spring. Most are gone in a week, some never come back from lunch.
I worked there for about a month and a half, I think, and doubled my salary with “liberated” publications that no one in management ever seemed to miss. Zsa Zsa called it discrimination that Playboy and Penthouse were distributed on the belt, but Playgirl was kept locked up in another room. It made sense to me.
I left with the last two or three of my friends, and by then we were enjoying our days there, full of double entendre and good-natured bantering. I also heard some heart wrenching stories from the boys over lunch that inform my outlook to this day.
I sometimes still wonder whatever became of Zsa Zsa and the boys.
I took a job in the Liberty Mutual mail room that summer but that’s for another day.