JAIMIE VERNON – JOB: SECURITY

Contrary to popular belief I haven’t always been in the music business. I’ve been playing music since 1978 (now retired), but my actual years working in the music industry – that is, getting paid for what I did – was 12 ½ years from November 1998 when I was hired as content editor for Sam The Record Man.com (see last week’s column) through June 2011 when my contract ended with dB Promotions doing radio promotion. I also ran my record label full-time simultaneously for 10 of those years. So, from the summer of 1979 until November 1998 I worked in both the private and public sector – that’s right, kids, I was a union man for awhile. But my work experience goes back even farther.

My first real “job” was a paper route delivering the Scarboro Mirror (yes, that’s how it used to be spelled once upon a time) from the Fall of 1975 until the Fall of 1977 when my first year of high school interfered with my ability to deliver papers AND catch the bus to school. I worked the bedroom community of Malvern – before gang warfare turned it into a very unsafe place for children to deliver papers. I was 12. My parents told me if I wanted to have my own money I’d need to earn it. So they called up the Mirror and a sales rep came over to put me through the paces. 122 newspapers needed to be assembled and delivered between 6 AM and 8PM. I would also have to collect the money from the clients as well…not an easy feat when you’re 12; the current generation of paper deliverers are usually adults and the money is paid in advance by credit card to the newspaper. So every Wednesday morning I had to get up at 5.30 AM and trundle in the dark ½ a mile with a shopping cart down to Neilson Road and locate my papers. The hope was that delivery had been on time. Sometimes I had to wait until 6.30 in the brutal weather conditions until they were dropped off, use my Dad’s pocket knife to saw through the plastic tie-wraps, insert the flyers into the body of the paper, count them (noting shortfalls or extra papers…cause I had to either pay or get credited for either), drop ‘em into the cart and make the deliveries. My route was four streets north and south of Wickson Trail east of Neilson. Almost all of these houses were single residence dwellings with the exception of my last eight stops which were a mini-townhouse cluster. It was drudgery in bad weather especially being alone, tired and in a hurry. But it was only four days a month and the pay was between $60 and $80 a month depending on what tips were. To date there’s still a guy out there who owed me a year’s worth of unpaid papers…I think the Mirror finally rolled him for it. Not much happened in those years. People would occasionally invite me in for something to eat for breakfast – which was great in the summer when I wasn’t expected at school at the end of my deliveries. Someone tried stealing my papers one time, and I was bitten by dog at a house where there was a recent newborn. The best thing was always Christmas when the gifts and year-end tips were plentiful (I got $50 from one customer one year!). The greatest memory, though, was meeting a very young little girl who would, one day, grow up to marry my best friend.

Having to let the job go put a crimp in my comic book buying habit. I pushed my parents after that to increase my allowance. It meant doing more around the house, including cutting the lawn, emptying the dishwasher, etc. It wasn’t enough. In the Spring of 1979 my mother saw an advert for part-time warehouse help at Consumers Distributing at Midland and Lawrence Avenues in Scarborough. For those not from around these parts, Consumers Distributing was a catalog shopping retail outlet that looked and functioned about as well as the DMV. You entered the foyer of the building, picked items out of seasonal catalogs, wrote your choices on specialized forms and then handed them to the counter staff – usually nubile high school cheerleaders trying to make their way through beauty school. The ladies would then send the orders into the warehouse where us ‘pickers’ ran around locating the items from miles of disorganized shelves full of, mostly, broken and previously returned product that had been ‘repurposed’ with nothing more than some Scotch tape; Ultimately, those packages would also be returned by the customers in lieu of an exchange or a refund. So, aside from getting product for the customers, we’d also have to re-shelve the broken & returned items. We already knew what was broken when it was sent out front, leaving the ladies to deal with disgruntled customers over and over again. Occasionally they’d get something new from the intermittent 18 wheeler shipments that came in on weekends – which would take 8 of us to unload and stick on the shelves. Then, and only then, could we throw away the old items that were damaged. Unfortunately, boys being boys, a lot of the new stuff coming in would become damaged before the first customer ever got to see it as stuff had a habit of falling off shelves or were smashed INTO the shelves or missed the shelves altogether. I recall 30 toaster ovens being stacked at the end of a shelving row because we were overstocked only to be taken out by a forklift by someone not qualified to drive one. We also played with the toys and then put them back in the boxes…again, with Scotch tape…or harassed the ladies out front by sending fully loaded muscle “massagers” out front with the vibrating settings set on full. Someone complained and the vibrators-that-weren’t-vibrators were eventually taken out of the catalog. I did the job for about 8 months but when the work started cramping my style during the summer hanging with my friends, I started taking less and less shifts. When I did agree to take one, they sent me to another location – the worst one in Scarborough – at the Elaine Plaza as punishment. After awhile I just stopped taking calls. The pay had been good. Enough to buy all the comic books I wanted. My timing had sucked though, as I took up guitar AFTER I’d left the job. The money would have come in handy for an amp.

The following summer I worked at the Canadian National Exhibition as a janitor (see here for the full story). I was still juggling high school but also had my new band Swindled occupying my time and budget. I needed to get more work so I could get guitar accessories. My girlfriend in 1981 had dropped out of high school at this point and lived in Pickering – not far from where my band was rehearsing. She worked night shifts at Durham Metals where she made those little handles used to make car seats go back and forth for General Motors’ vehicles. Across the street from the factory was a British Petroleum (BP) gas station looking for a car wash attendant. I applied and immediately got the job – having done work for Consumers Distributing and The CNE. My job was to collect money from people that wanted car washes, direct them safely into the giant conveyer belt glass house (which looked suspiciously like the one used in that ‘Batman’ / ‘Green Hornet’ crossover episode where everyone’s turned into giant postage stamps), push “GO” and let the perpetual motion machine take over. I also had to grease and oil the machines as well, clean the bathrooms and hose down the hand wash. It was an easy job but it meant leaving school in Scarborough everyday, catching a train out to Pickering and walking from the train station to the gas station all before 4.15 so I could start my shift at 4.30. As the months wore on and I wore out, I got lazier and lazier until such time as I was no longer doing the maintenance; I’d sit in the office hanging with my girlfriend before her night shift. And I would have gotten away with it too had an albino kid in the back of a massive four door sedan not noticed the disrepair after his parents’ car jumped the conveyer tracks and barreled through all the safety barriers and done $10,000 in damage to the washing apparatus and their car. Believe it or not I wasn’t fired after this…the liability was on the car driver who disobeyed the rules and hit the gas while in the glass house. Cars weren’t even supposed to be turned on while going through the car wash. No, I got fired fired after my boss watched me from across the street for an hour at the beginning of my shift as I sat in my seat talking on the phone to my band mates. I was sent packing. It was a relief actually and I’d managed to get two green shirts a pair of green pants and a fire-engine red maintenance jump suit out of the deal. All of which I wore as stage gear in my band over the next year.

I graduated high school with a Grade 13 diploma and spent the summer of 1982 staying up late, playing gigs and going to bed when I damn well pleased. My parents weren’t amused. I spent as much time as I could at my girlfriend’s place so I didn’t have to listen to them barking at me about not having a job. My band fell apart around the exact same time. I went into a deep funk. Fortunately, a new band was born from the ashes and one of the band members got me a job at his work – as the janitor at Mid-Scarborough Hockey Arena (now Don Montgomery Arena) which was located next door to Kennedy subway station. The job was pretty menial – it was a 7am to 3pm affair where I had to mop floors and sweep locker rooms in the rink area with the two other day janitors – a mentally challenged man-child and a barely functioning alcoholic ex-sailor. They were frick and frack and usually made it difficult to get work done because they spent all their time arguing with each other. I just want to put in my time so I could go home and sleep. The facility didn’t take that long to clean – there was a foyer, a vaulted ceiling full of windows, a senior’s craft room and dance studio, the Scarborough Gun Club rifle range (where I often scooped up the paper targets and re-used them years later in my next band Moving Targetz as posters), a gymnasium featuring an easy to mop rubber floor, and the ice rink’s locker rooms. If you were lucky you’d find cash and half-cases of beer that we’d pass around to the other cleaning staff. If you were unlucky, you’d accidently walk in on members of the Toronto Catholic Hockey League performing blow jobs or sodomizing each other in one of the bathroom stalls. And it was always fucking cold. I had to get out. My work partners were approaching life sentences in the place and everyone was riddled with arthritis. I stuck it out as long as I could because the pay was great – I was covering rent for my room at my parents’ place, I was covering rent at my girlfriends’ mother’s place, affording food, band stuff and even spending nights on the town with my gal (she liked dancing, I fucking hated it).

In November 1983 my mother had intervened and gotten me an interview at HER work – Seiko Time Canada Inc. My aunt Linda and my mother worked together at 285 Yorkland Boulevard in North York and it wasn’t long before I was working in the after-user parts department. My job was on the order desk taking phone calls from the occasional Joe Consumer and jewelers at jewelry stores from across Canada who needed Seiko watch parts to effect repairs. I stayed for about a year which included the company’s expansion to a new facility at Steeles and Victoria Park across the road from IBM. But the fun had worn off. The company was pushing for better and faster output from all the staff. My aunt took indefinite stress leave – eventually becoming life-long disability – and my mother was battling with her boss and her boss’s boss. One day they pushed her a little too far and she snapped and quit in a rather public display that made her bosses look the assholes they were. Within a week they were riding me. Without mother hawk protecting the nest, they assumed they could wage war on me as well. I put my head down and tried to ride it out. However, my own boss was a mild-mannered Pakistani gentleman who was soon being made to play the bad guy and spent most days standing right behind me listening to my calls with clients. Had I actually been bad at my job I could see them trying to extract me, but I was fucking GREAT at what I did. There was no call for the way I was being treated – which included being docked for pee breaks, coffee breaks and spending too much time talking to THEIR clients. I decided to make my exit the following Friday. I spent the remainder of the week calling every client in my contact book and letting them know how and why Seiko was screwing them on pricing (my boss was rigging the prices when converting from Yen to Canadian dollar).  On Friday morning I handed the president’s secretary my resignation letter. In it, I named every asshole staff member, what they were doing to the employees (and the things they were stealing from the company) and called him the biggest asshole in the corporation for lording over such morons. I barely made it back to my desk before being escorted, physically, from the property. They were immediately removed from my resume as a reference.

My girlfriend and I were planning to get married at this point and so, it was imperative I find employment post-haste. It took me a week to get a new gig – in November 1984. There was something about November of any given year that made me itchy to move on and this time was no exception. I answered an ad in the newspaper and landed an administrative job with Electro Rubber at Eglinton and Dufferin in Toronto. It was a long way from Scarborough. But for the longest time I made the commute. And it was here that I grew up…a lot. The man that hired me, Robert Ottman, was an American tasked with running the daily operation of a factory that was staffed by 120 Greek, Italian and Portuguese women whose job it was to assemble wiring harnesses for machine equipment. We had a contract to build mother board harnesses for the first batch of personal IBM desktop computers in North America. We were also building harnesses for a new brand of Xerox photocopiers and the last production runs of AMC Eagle car dashboard assemblies out of Brampton. I was the parts and equipment expeditor – basically, when the factory ran out of parts I was to ensure prompt deliver so there was no one downtime for the ladies making the harnesses. This didn’t always work out. Especially when someone as big as IBM failed to make enough of the parts and had to order them for us from the US. One of the coolest days on the job was taking a tour of the IBM facility that used to be at the corner of Don Mills Road and Eglinton across from the Ontario Science Centre. The facility had been built in the 1950s to house military aircraft secrets. IBM had bought it in the 1960s and by the 1980s had converted it into an automated warehousing system. Giant pool-table sized automated robots roamed the massive storage facility picking products from shelves and delivering them to loading bays where trucks would whisk the items off to exotic destinations. My boss and I witnessed two unmanned devices deliver 100 computer monitors to one of their Indiana Jones secret storage areas…they flew faster than we could walk. It was very cool. A not very cool part of my job was getting send to the Xerox factory near Toronto International Airport (it was called Lester B. Pearson yet) to install TEN wiring harnesses into the last ten photocopiers where they belonged. We’d have normally just shipped the harnesses and Xerox would do the work but the assembly line people were on strike. They brought me in accompanied by armed guards to cross the picket line, do the installation and get out again before anyone noticed. Someone did. There was nearly a riot as the strikers thought that management was bringing in scab labour. I was hauled in front of management and union bosses to explain that I wasn’t there to replace anyone – I was there to “replace” defective harnesses necessary for the last 10 machines to be completed. They bought the story. I got out of there with the skin of my teeth.

Alas, by early 1986 AMC had already gone bankrupt and IBM diverted its personal computer manufacturing to Scotland (and eventually stopped making them altogether). Electro Rubber – now rebranded Electro Canada to attract new clients – began laying people off which included yours truly as I was the last person hired. As an administrative lacky there wasn’t much for me to do – the expediting of parts dwindle to nothing and so was redundant. My boss sat me down and had worked out a deal where I could get out three weeks early, with full pay, to give me a leg up on finding a new job without pay interruption. I was truly grateful for that consideration. I was back on the street pounding the pavement with my resume the following Monday. I got about half a dozen job offers – the best being Heart & Stroke Foundation who wanted me as a campaign solicitor. I was all set to start work for them when Electro called back saying there’d been a mistake. I wasn’t the last employee hired after all. There had been a woman hired after me in the accounting department at their head office and if I wanted the job it was mine – at a higher pay than before and a higher pay than Heart & Stroke were offering. I had a momentary pang of conscience as I’d be putting someone else out of a job. That pang lasted about as long as it took me to find my new desk at Dupont and Spadina. But I wasn’t stupid. If they could lay me off because of a down turn in business once, they’d most certainly do it again. I kept looking for a new job mainly because I had no accounting experience which was painful to have to struggle through the hands of a dry and humorless senior accountant. I did make friends there though, when a young guy named Yurko Mychaluk was brought in as a summer work intern. We hit it off well as he was eager to learn how to play guitar. I let him have my beat up first guitar for free and he got it back together and working so I showed him the basics. Eventually, I got a job interview with the City of Scarborough Civic Centre government offices at 150 Borough Drive through the drummer in my latest band – in, wait for it, November 1986. I was hired into the City of Scarborough mail room two weeks before my 23rd birthday. Yurko went on to be Nelly Furtado’s guitar player.

I worked in the mailroom for exactly 6 months to the day. There were seven of us on the shift plus a supervisor and manager. It was the most fun I ever had in a job. It was like getting paid to be a member of a frat house. The stories from these six months will be written about in a book all on their own one day as I wrote down every insane moment while I was there. But brighter lights in the big City were calling. The mailroom was a gateway to better opportunities and I was transferred to the records division of the City of Scarborough Works Department as their mail clerk because of my previous office experience.

The City was, if nothing else, fair to those who wanted to work their way up the office ladder.  Ethel Farrell was my boss and she was considered the Nurse Ratched of the Works Department. She was a hard-assed divorcee with a man-sized chip on her shoulder. She was despised by everyone. I liked her. She reminded me of my Mom. I was used to the angry outbursts and verbal abuse. It was like moving back home. My loyalty to Ethel became a wedge between myself and many of the other staff but it paid of in spades following a tragic mishap for a fellow staff member. A gal underneath Ethel’s supervision was the frontline customer service rep and records clerk. It was her job to get files, maps and other important documents for our team of engineers, draftsmen and division managers for Street Operations, Economic Development, and Waste Management amongst other Works Department sections. On the way to work one morning, and after just dropping her newborn off at the babysitters her car was struck and flattened by a dump truck. She survived but spent nearly a year in the hospital. Her job was left vacant for a little while until the union allowed Ethel to search for a replacement. She wanted me in the job. I didn’t qualify because I didn’t have records training. Union procedure dictated that the position had to be opened up to a competition amongst inside union workers. She made me apply for the job even though she knew I didn’t qualify. She had a despicable plan up her sleeve that I didn’t know about until many years later. Two women applied for the job – both with more seniority and more experience than me. She reluctantly approved the first gal and so I was stuck training the woman who was my senior. Then Ethel attacked. She jumped down this woman’s throat and destroyed her self-confidence in about 10 days. This poor woman quit in tears and filed a complaint about my boss. Ethel didn’t care. She had to deal with the next person in the hiring chain. The second girl started on a Monday and Ethel had her fired by Thursday the same week. I was the last man standing – literally. But I still didn’t qualify for the job so it was no victory for me. What I wasn’t aware of was a provision in the union rules that allowed staff to be hired without full experience if there were no other able-bodied applicants for the position. The vacancy had to be filled – by somebody. Ethel had seen to it that I was that person with the understanding that I would have to go back to school to get my Record Clerk’s Management certificate – after which time I was qualified for a full salary bump to the new title of Records Clerk. So, I did. The entire course took 2 years but I completed it in 1989 and was bumped TWO full pay scales because we’d gone through a contract re-negotiation by then.

The job was busy and there was never a dull moment as we had to deal with many issues in the City. In June 1990 University of Toronto student Elizabeth Bain went missing from the school’s Scarborough campus under mysterious circumstances. Her boyfriend was ultimately charged but her body was never found. Bain’s father called me at least once a month to reserve use of our aerial, sewer and street furniture maps so he and their extended family could continue searching for her remains in parks, ravines, etc. It was a heart-breaking day in and every time he came into the office; In April 1991 a severe rain storm caused the southern portion of Brimley Road leading to the Scarborough Bluffs to slide down the hill toward Lake Ontario. When I got to work that Monday morning it was DEFCON 1. Every City manager and field supervisor was standing around Ethel’s work station trying to get a handle on elevation and geographic information to determine how they were going to put the road back together. I got home around midnight for the next 3 days. Not long after this event, Ethel’s big boss dropped dead of a heart-attack in the middle of the night. Tom Galley had been in charge of not only spearheading the world’s first multi-city cooperative plan to centralize a digital Geographic Information System, but to patent it (the world now knows this system as Google Maps). I worked in the program off-site with a dozen consulting firms for about 6 months which netted triple overtime and learned more about the world we live in than most people know in a lifetime.

By 1994 my personal life at gone into a tailspin and rather that put up with the close-knit rumour mill at the Works Dept. where nothing was secret (or sacred), I applied for a transfer and was shipped back to the Civic Centre basement. This time it wasn’t the mailroom, but the City Records Division where I would do the same job maintaining maps and files and all manner of government but for the entire City, not just the Works department. We had over 2300 cubic feet of storage to maintain and secure. My first six months on the job were a blur as my marriage fell apart and me along with it. My boss, Danny Omoto, took me aside and gave me some man to man advice as he’d been through the same thing once upon a time. Myself and Danny and the microfilm gal, Sharon, got along handsomely. We were a work family and kept the machine running smoothly. I learned a lot there and took that knowledge into the ‘real’ world when I left the City in November 1998 (there’s that month again!) to chase the rock and roll dream as a record label weasel.

The 12 ½ years that followed were a roller coaster ride of highs and lows (but mostly highs). The economy went into the shitter in 2008 and I struggled to keep a foot in the music business. It got the better of me. My wife and I lost everything we held dear. We’re still suffering the accumulated affects of debt, stress and, well, hunger. I’ve had enough of this. And my family deserves a better life. I’ve written the epitaph to my career and my years waving the Canadian music flag with the two volumes of ‘The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia’. It’s time to pull up the boot straps, dust myself off and pursue an exciting new career. I wonder what it would be like to be a furniture salesman or, maybe, a security guard?

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

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