Rock Bottom

In the winter of 1962 the core of the Rolling Stones were cold, hungry and impoverished, living four to a room in an old rundown flat.  Thanks to this same group of lads I got to experience my very own brush with poverty.  I didn’t really discover their music until after they had broken up in the mid-eighties so when they announced a tour in 1989, the first in 8 years and what many assumed would be their final go around I couldn’t miss out.  The ticket, plus the two hour bus ride to Pontiac Michigan was $65  When my father found out he was incensed, already fuming from my academic failures he took it as a personal insult and cut me off financially.  What followed were some pretty lean months, I lived off hand outs and the cheapest food I could find.  I ate raw pasta, raw potatoes and a bushel of raw carrots, the later of which caused my skin to turn orange.  I tried to get a job but in a neighbourhood filled with 13,000 other unemployed students in a city mired in a perpetually recession it wasn’t that simple.  The closest I got was an interview at Tim Hortons.  I decided to see the faculty head of the Social Science to beg to be let back into school.  I didn’t have an appointment so I waited most of the day.  He was skeptical at first but after hearing me out he acquiesced and I was admitted into his program.  I rewarded his faith in me with my best semester ever:

  • Scriptwriting – B
  • English Literature – a hard earned B (great prof.)
  • The Sociology of Sex – B+ (first exam with a mark over 90%)
  • Film Studies – B+ (first time I received an ‘A’ on an essay)
  • Creative Writing – A (highest grade ever)

My creative writing class was a bit of an odd experience, I was the only one that didn’t write poetry and the classes consisted of poetry readings.  When my turn came up I read aloud a confusing out of context excerpt from the novel I was writing.  The grade was solely based on what we handed in at the end of the year and I produced such a massive volume of text that I doubt my professor, Bruce Meyer, read that much of it.  When I sat down with him to talk about my writing he gave me this bit of advice.  He said there were no rules in creating writing,  that I had to find my own voice and in doing so I would avoid being cliche.

The plan for my friends and I that summer was to stay on campus but as was typical in Windsor, finding a job was extremely difficult.  I had a one hour a week gig cleaning a deli but I left that for a one time, three day engagement working for a company that supplied graduation robes.  My friends didn’t fare much better and one by one they gave up their job searches and moved back to their home towns.  I didn’t have that option so I was reduced to the working at Zalev Brothers, doing the filthiest, most joyless job I have ever done.   I worked on the line of an auto recycler, basically a colossus that was fed crushed vehicles and then spit out twisted bits of metal.  My job was to pull out any pieces of foam and copper wiring from the never ending stream of rubble.  It was a long lonely summer although I tried my best to find some measure of comfort.  I devised a little seat out of two garbage bins that allowed me to appear standing when I was in fact reclined, it worked well enough that I actually fell asleep once.  The only break in the monotony came the day the system plugged up and I volunteered to climb up to the top of the massive funnel shaped structure above the shredder to remove the blockade.  I was offered a safety harness but I shrugged it aside, climbed down into the hopper and proceeded to jump on top of the debris pile.  It moved and I was barely able to scramble back out avoiding what would have been an excruciating death.

It was a regrettable time in my life, although I don’t regret going to the Stones concert even though their incessant touring has since made the whole fuss about them seem silly.  I don’t regret the fact that I didn’t choose English as my major.  While I proved I was much better at writing than I was at math I never got the sense that I had found my calling in life.  What I do regret is wasting an entire summer alone and miserable chasing nickels in a meaningless job that almost cost me the most valuable thing I had.


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