Déjà vu all over again

My last blog post ended with a job offer from York University, thanks to the recommended of a Kittitian. I was really looking forward to it. The university was in the process of upgrading the central library system and my computer programming training would come in handy. Unfortunately I had to give them a start date of two weeks later although I was just sitting around not doing anything. I had a schedule medical operation pending.

 When I was a baby my parents thought I was too beautiful to be circumcised, they did not want to ‘hurt’ me.  For years I thought I was special because of it, you know my parents favourite. When you are 11 of 13 siblings you take what you can get.  As I found out later, they were actually tired of all the bawling by my older sister, she was a cryer and needed a brake.  I took one for the team.

Oh by the way getting circumcised at that age is like being kicked in your private over and over for 3 days.

I was home for a week and a half enjoying my rent-to-own TV that I had purchased (see 3 postings ago) for the first time. I told everyone I had a bad cold so that I could be alone, it was really hard to explain the exaggerated limp. I took the time to think about my future.  I had one visitor though, my cousin Annette, I sat on the couch the entire time.

As a kid growing up in St Kitts I had lots of family tradition from which to pattern my life.  My mom’s dad was an electrician and she had brothers who followed that path. For two summers in a row she sent me to work at the electric company hoping I would like it. My days involved stringing wire to homes in the rural area and holding ladders. The only good thing I got from it was not having to spend the days working with my dad.

One of her brothers was George Ward who I was very close to, he was an economist and held an important position in the Bradshaw government.  My uncle, the Honourable JNF would ask me about my future plans every time we had a conversation, although my contact with him was limited. My dad came from a long line of successful Anguillan boat builders and fishermen. All admirable but you know how it is; you have to follow your own path.

In the 1970’s, computers were playing a larger role in everyday business and I thought it would be a good place to be, career wise.

Although I have a bit of shyness in me and do tend to stutter when flustered, I can walk up to total strangers and have a long conversation with them before they realize they have told me too much about themselves. I don’t do it to be nosy, well maybe a little but mostly because I like to know about people. I am a very friendly person and quite often I get in trouble because of it.

I remember shortly after I arrived in Calgary the first people I met was this couple that lived just behind us across the pathway. They were out walking one afternoon and I stopped them to say hi. There was something about them that said ‘we are pregnant’. So after about 5 minutes of chip chat, I had to ask, ‘when is the baby due?’ It freaked the lady out but the man started talking about his unborn baby. It was quite interesting. It has been five years, they have a toddler and a new baby, and she totally avoids me.

No I am not psychic, just observant.

I decided that since I was so good with people I was going to be a psychologist. Yaaaaaa.

In 1973 I started my job at York University. I can’t remember the rules but I was not allowed to register for courses right away. It was really inexpensive for employees to take courses.  My plan was to take some part time courses while I worked full time then after a while switch to a full time student and work part time. Good plan eh.

Because I had to wait before I was allowed to register for the subsidized courses and not wanting to waste time I continued taking computer courses. I had switched from CDC to York University night program where I took a course in Assembler computer language.

 It was fun working there, met lots of students my age from every corner of the earth. Still I kept close to my two homies, Jay Franks and Joseph Esdaille. During the week I would hang out with JF and on the weekend JE.  JF was really cool. He had this really nice apartment downtown with a bar, beautiful car and nice lifestyle, he even smoked a cigar, the things a young man dream about. I liked being with him.  We had gone to Grammar school together, even back then he was cool.

Once the weekend came around JE and I were inseparable. He is a Trafalgar man like me. We would get together and look at wrestling, often while eating some soup with lots of provisions that his older brother cooked, I cannot cook. At night we would go to the clubs.

Clubbing had its limitations for us as we did not drive. We relied completely on the transportation system that pretty much shut down its north/south routes at 1AM in the morning.  I recalled one night I caught the last bus at Dufferin St subway in Toronto going north. What I did not know was that the last bus did not go the full length of the route. I was dropped off at Lawrence Ave, which is approximately 6 or 7 km from my house and it was winter time.  I had to walk the rest of the way. When I got home my hands were completely frozen with no feeling in my fingers, I was unable to open the door. To get attention I had to knock on the door with my head, it was a good thing that my roommate was home. Bet you always wondered why my head is so hard.

Sometime in 1973, JE had gotten his driver’s license. It was on his 3rd attempt and being the competitive person I am, I made a bet that I can do it on my first try. I was 22 years old and had no previous interest in driving a car. Now for the first time I am thinking of getting a license.

I could not afford to pay too much for a driving course plus I did not think I needed them.  I had seen my dad drive a thousand times. I contacted a driving school and made two appointments, total of 4 hours then booked my test.  I bet I made some parents with teenage children cringe after reading that; I made my kids take full driving courses. Remember I had a bet with JE.

Test day, I showed up at the testing center at Wilson and Keele in Toronto. My test included a very short road test and driving around pylons in the parking lot. I did quite well in the road test but ploughed down every pylon in the parking lot. Not good at all.

Sometime during the road test, the tester had asked me where I was from and I told him St Kitts. He replied that he had honeymooned a couple years ago in St Kitts and how he totally enjoyed it, ‘really nice people’, he said. We were now best friends.  He wrote up his report, advising me that although he had given me a pass, I should get some additional driving lessons before I decide to go out on the road alone. He then added with a smirk of his face, that I was a really bad driver. I bet he enjoyed saying that.

I won the bet. Being a Kittitian has its privileges.

And, I went out and ‘bought’ a car a few weeks later, I needed to learn to drive. Zero down, and no payments for 60 days, can’t get any easier. It’s funny how you think that 60 days will never end.

This was quite a unique car, it was a Ford Something, and on the front of the car it says Falcon, on the back, Torino. It was probably in an accident and they replace the back or the front and forgot to change the name on the part. Also it was quite a big car, someone actually took the time to write and tell my mom that I must have been selling drugs to afford to buy such a big car. It was the cheapest one on the lot.

A few weeks later I took a few days vacation and drove for 12 hours to New York City alone, don’t ask. I had youth on my side.

My job was going really well, the boss saw a lot of potential and one day asked me to go in the copying area and recommend ways to improve the processes that were in place. After I couple of days I went back to him with my recommendations. I was then told to go ahead and make the changes.

I did. I simply moved the point at which money was changing hands from the copy centre to the front desk. The students would then get a receipt and presented it to the copy center. It sped up the process and made it more transparent.  I was expecting a raise.

I forgot to mention that the lady who ran the copy centre was on vacation when I implemented the improvements. I was expecting her to be so happy when she returned.

I was wrong, she was not.

I found out that my boss was afraid of her and had made several failed attempts in the past to get her to improve the system.

I also found out that she was the wife of the Big Guy upstairs. No, not that big guy, just a few floors up from me.

I was used.  

 I was not thinking when I was given the task other than here is an opportunity to prove myself. Sometimes you have to ask questions. I recalled as a teenager living in St Kitts, I once got involved in a conflict between two people that lived together just across the alley way. He was beating up on her and she was screaming for help, so I did the right thing. Well as you might have guessed, they both turned on me. I was running for my life screaming for help with these two lunatics behind me throwing bottles at my head. My dad heard my cry for help and came out in the yard, I ran right past him and hid. He later gave me a life lesson lecture about when to intervene.

 How could I know that this lady and my boss had a contentious past?

The fallout out was not pretty and yes I was looking for a new job and no I did not start on my path to becoming  a psychologist and yes I cried like a baby. I was getting good at that.

My buddy at the University suggested that I hire a lawyer, he would be my witness, in hindsight I should have. Back then the Workers Union at York was just getting a foot in the door, but that is a whole other story.

Déjà vu all over again as I drifted around. I found a part time job delivering laundry for this old guy who owned a small laundry store on the corner of Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. He told me that his sons had abandoned him. Sounds like what I did with my dad. He was getting old and wanted to stop working.  After some time he asked me if I was interested in buying the business. I would often go back in the production area and my thoughts were always, ‘how can they stand this heat’, plus I had no money.

Years later I read a story in the Toronto Star where his kids had sold the tiny building that housed the Laundromat to developers for millions of dollars, it was in the way of progress.

About 6 months after getting fired, I received a call from the hiring manager of a computer manufacturing company (MAI) in Markham ON. I had applied for an entry position. I wanted to get close to the computers.

During the interview, the manager told me that they had a Kittitian working as a programmer there and since I was from St Kitts I would probably have a great work ethic like him. I was hired as an inventory clerk.

The programmer was a very good friend of mine,  Ivan Brookes.

As I said, being Kittitian has its privileges.

The only Kittitian Couch potato in Calgary.

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