by Andrew Kolasinski
“If the pilot light on this gas heater blows out, don’t try to re-light it.” Gil warned. The crusty purple scar tissue that claimed half his face re-enforced his cautionary tone. “Anyway, you’re not even supposed to be in the trailer unless it’s your coffee break.” With that, he traded his guard’s cap for a toque, bundled up in scarves, sweaters and mitts, and left me to work my first shift.
Outside the trailer, it was minus twenty degrees, not counting the wind-chill. The light of a half moon transformed the banks of dirty snow into alpine peaks. An endless procession of dump trucks roared past my guard post. Compounding the din was the sound of bulldozers, molding the snow into tidy fifteen foot mounds. Like an outpost of human industry on a hostile planet, the site had only one purpose, to store the snow that was scraped off the city streets all winter.
Gil had shared the dregs of his coffee thermos while explaining my duties. “We’re not here to guard against thieves,” He said, “No siree, we’re here to keep the snow out.” The city has only this patch of land to store all the tons of salty, grimy snow that the plows gather. Gil said that if we didn’t check on them the truckers would try to reuse their expired snow dump passes, or else they’d trade one pass among several drivers.
My additional duty was to caution the drivers whenever they slammed the tailgates of their dump trucks. This cleaned all the gunk from a truck’s cargo box. It also made a sound like a bomb blast loud enough to wake people two miles away. I was empowered by Gloucester Township to issue fines after giving three warnings.
It would be twelve hours before Gil came back to relieve me of my shift. In my clip-on polyester necktie, rented guard’s uniform and nylon parka, I shivered as I took up my post outside the trailer. The drivers, responding to my authoritative uniform, slowed to allow inspection of the passes taped onto their windshields. But, after I began to warn them about tailgate slamming, they no longer slowed down for me. Instead, they drove a little faster, and more in my direction.
Guarding the snow dump was one of many lousy jobs I took when I was younger. I have been a construction worker, house mover, demolition technician, door-to-door salesman, warehouse man, kitchen helper, and farm labourer, to name a few.
After the snow dump, I found work in a factory. The first day, a co-worker suckered me into doing all his heavy lifting, claiming he had a back injury, and couldn’t lift anything heavier than silk panties. When I saw the size of his lunch pail I knew I’d been had.
I worked selling discount coupons, door-to-door. A particularly tough customer let me into his elegant courtyard and politely listened to my sales pitch. “If you can sell a coupon to him, I’ll buy three of them,” he said, releasing a snarling Doberman pinscher who didn’t listen to my well-rehearsed spiel.
My next job was demolishing a burnt out building. When the roof collapsed on my head, splitting my hardhat in two, I realized it was time for a big change. I walked away from the site without stopping to collect my pay. The next morning I enrolled in the local college. Though I never finished the diploma, I did decide on a less hazardous and more satisfying occupation - I would become a writer.
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