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My Two Jobs

Unionville, Connecticut was the other side of the tracks - the sleazy, working-class end of Farmington, so disreputable it had to have a different name, lest Farmington proper be embarrassed. And it wasn't just a saying, there was literally a railroad freight line running north and south down the middle of it all. Farmington is a suburb of Hartford, whose claim to fame was the insurance industry. The Travelers Building was Hartford's skyscraper, topped with a ring that looked like fluorescent lights. Returning travelers knew they were almost home when those lights appeared in the distance.

Farmington proper was where the "better" people lived. It is the home of Miss Porter's School for girls, where Jacqueline Bouvier and others like her were sent to learn how to behave, for instance, like the First Lady of the United States. If you've seen the film of Jackie Kennedy showing off the White House dishes, her mannerisms and speech affectations were learned at Miss Porter's. Most kids from this end of town were college-bound. The class difference was painfully obvious at the public high school. Boys from Farmington generally sported the "prep" look, with the JFK sort of haircut, khaki pants, blue button-down or madras plaid shirts, blue blazers, penny loafers, etc. The Unionville kids were more the "greaser" types, either that or no style at all, and presumably headed for the workaday world after high school.

One the biggest employers in the area was Pratt & Whitney, the aircraft engine manufacturer, and many of the kids from Farmington High School went to work there. Another option was "working tobacco," plantation labor, picking tobacco leaves used to wrap cigars. You were paid by lot, the bins you were able to fill in a day. A lot of kids did this, and found themselves, for the first time, in the company of black and hispanic people from the north end ghetto of Hartford. One local company, right in Unionville, that was always hiring, was Chas. W House & Sons, a textile factory still using 19th century technology.

While still scheming to get out of town with my rock & roll band, two fellow musicians and I hired on at the textile factory. We worked 1st shift, from 7 am to 4 pm. My job involved changing large spools and spindles of thread as they emptied and filled. It was brutal work for $1.75/hr., always a race and the machines always won. At the end of the first day I was too exhausted to do anything but eat and go to sleep. I dreaded going back the next day, this hardly seemed like it would be any kind of life. At noon, I ate my bag lunch on the second floor fire escape, fell asleep and was promptly fired. The relief I felt was almost as much as when I left the army induction center in New Haven with a card declaring me 4-F, unsuitable for military service.

My next and final stab at the job world was as a stock boy in a cheesy department store called Bradlees. For $1.25/hr., my duties were picking up large boxes of ladies' lingerie at the loading dock, wheeling them back on a big cart, and placing the various items in the display bins - the bras here, the panties there and so on. Lunch was at the store restaurant, burgers or hot dogs were the choices. This was not as physically demanding as the factory job and I got by without problems until the end of the second week. My band had a gig some 40 miles away in Holyoke, Mass., and I would have to get off work an hour early. When I informed the boss of this, he said it was out of the question. There was no choice but to quit. At that moment I had made the decision forego the "security" of a regular job and take my chances. I've never regretted it.

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