The first job I had where I learned there’s a government hand between me and my employer was as lot boy at a used car dealership. I was 16. There, I learned the art of wear and tear camouflage, how to make old look new. It was back in 1960, before the hand got today’s heavy thumb.
Thereafter, I jumped from one job to the next for greater compensation, more flexible hours, temporary adventure diversions and employment experience. By college graduation, my social security record listed twenty earning sources for my eventual retirement.
I enjoyed all my jobs. Fifty years later, they percolate up in idle recollection to remind of when I was young. As the inquisitive type, I always queried employers about this and that at work while chewing the fat. Some,who hired me, stick out in my memory banks clearer than others.
Vern, now he was a employer I couldn’t forget if I’d set my mind to it.
He had a little shop in the run-down section of San Carlos Boulevard, just outside of downtown San Jose, California. It was near the railroad tracks and past the Boulevard’s crossing over them. The building, a hodgepodge of construction dates and a little dilapidated, was apt for its location.
His business was renting TVs. He bought used TVs, replaced a vacuum tube here or there, straightened the antenna, applied a little Windex and rented them out. Actually, he didn’t do any of that. He delegated it to his repairman, who, in the rear of the shop turned old TVs into “new”, like I transformed used cars as a lot boy.
The result was a shop display area filled with a menagerie of disjointed TVs from table compacts to big consoles, branded, Sylvania, Zenith, RCA, Magnavox, Motorola, Philco. There was even an Edison, an east coast refugee. Somehow, it’d migrated to the west coast and squatted in a corner as an alien outcast among the others. No one ever took it out for a look see.
The TVs were rented by the week. The customers included a few elderly still getting used to the concept of owning a TV, new arrivals not settled in yet, couples with bad credit after bankruptcy but mostly women, young women, young divorced women, young divorced women with kids.
That’s what Vern’s specialty was.
Vern was in his forties, pulling up near the big five oh, but I was a twenty-one-year-old back then. Anyone over thirty was old, so my guess could be off some. He had a bird’s nest hair do. Along the sides of his head, his dirty blond hair grew long, incredibly long. With a comb he guided it up and folded it atop. It emphasized his bald cranium top but to him, before the mirror in the morn, it cut him back below forty. He was average looking, a tad below six feet, lean and had a ready salesman’s smile. I liked him.
The shop included a knock out looking girl my age. She sat straight back with prim glasses as the up front receptionist. I referred to her as ice queen but not openly.
Vern’s black hair dyed wife sat behind the counter. She was not unattractive, filled out her dress tight with the proper curves and was still worth a second glance, even a quick lust thought. I suspected she wore a girdle to keep the curves in their proper boundaries.
My job was driving the red van which delivered and picked up TVs, a frequent occurrence when rented by the week. Like Vern, I had no permanent place to sit in the shop. I floated about, chatted with the wife, tried to joke with ice queen but mostly conversed with Vern until given TVs to deliver, addresses to pick them up, or best both. My schedule was under the direction of Vern’s wife who actually ran the place. She was always fussing to get me on the road as I earned the shop nothing when in.
When in, I got to watch Vern ply his trade. He was the friendly, non-threatening, it’s all okay type. Nothing to worry about he’d say, no matter how bad the credit was. Everyone needs a chance to prove they’re good, he’d add. It was a win-win for him. Get the deposit, first and last week’s rent and he’d covered the cost of the TV. His risk was limited to delivery and pick up costs and shop overhead. If a customer was good for a month, my cost was recouped. After another month, it was all triple net.
Renting TVs was not Vern’s vocation. There were a few times we spent alone together in the shop or on pick up and deliver in the van. As my wont to do, I’d inquire about the business mechanics of TV rentals. At first, he brushed me off with normal middle age to youth fluff but after a while he confided in my ears, probably to boast a bit, maybe to reassure himself but I suspect, lacking a son, a little adoption influence played a part.
Once on the road with me for a delivery he asked.
” Jim, you happy?”
” Well Vern, at my last job they called me smiley.”
” Why were you smiling?”
” I found it the best way to get along.”
” So, not necessarily happy, just smart.”
” Well can’t be too smart or I wouldn’t be driving this van for you. No offense, I like this job. I mean I’d be rich somehow if I was smart, no?”
” We’ll you won’t get rich renting TVs but you can be happy.”
” Oh, it’s something you like to do?”
” No, Jim, it assists my hobby. You got to have a hobby you really like to be happy.You know what my hobby is?”
” I’m gonna let you tell me Vern. I’d just guess something stupid and upset you.”
” You’re smarter than you look, Jim!”
”Ha, got you fooled, Vern.”
”Well, I’ll tell, my hobby’s women, just women, again and again, women.”
”Sounds like a fun hobby. I noticed your astute attention to some customers, you even deliver the TV yourself. It’s a dangerous hobby isn’t it?”
“Can be dangerous but you got to hone it before you bone it. Before their panties are pulled down you must know how they’re going to be pulled back up.”
” I never thought that far ahead, Vern.”
” That’s cause your young, brains in your testicles. All you think about is the beginning, never the in between or the end. I’ve learned the endings more important than the in between and the in between’s more important than the beginning.”
” Sounds complicated.”
“No, it’s not. You just need to start by planning how she’s going to dump you.”
” Dump me.?”
“Yeah, see, you know, it’s going to be three phased, getting her panties down, their down time and getting them back up when you move on to your next hobby woman.
You got to make her in control. It’s she who decides to pull them down, how long to keep them down and when to pull them up when she’s tired of you. That’s honing before boning.
If instead, you dump her, she’s going to scream, cry and bite you. You want her crying as it ends, crying cause she’s sorry she’s dumping you. She’s not angry at you, she’s sorry for you.”
” Sounds even more complicated. What happened to, wham, bam, thank you ma’am?”
” It just takes a little psychology. Don’t they teach you that stuff at school?”
” Not the advanced concepts like this but from what I’ve observed some professors know about it.”
” I suspect handing out grades they do but I’ll wager they’re not as professional as me.”
” So, Vern how’s it done?”
“You start by selecting a pretty woman to add to your collection. Then you figure how you’ll get her to eventually dump you.
Women are emotional. While you’re thinking with your balls, they’re thinking with their heart. In that heart is something they can’t abide by. You learn what that is and exhibit a little of it in you from the start. Of course, they’re gonna overlook it initially as you ply them with what they do love about you. They’re convinced they’ll change you.
Once their panties are down, you whittle down what they love about you and hone what they can’t abide by. When you’re ready, they’ll drop you at your time on the dime. All you got to do while they’re sniffling, telling you it’s over, is nod and say you understand.”
So, Vern educated me on the ways of the world in the battle of the sexes. I was a poor student and never could get the ending before the beginning. Actually, I struggled with the beginning but Vern was a master.
His prey, vulnerable, young, divorced mothers came and went as he collected and discarded them, always with a stable of a few before their dime time. The TV rental business was his means of winnowing out easy hobby conquests but his lose definition of pretty also played its part.
It all occurred in front of his wife, who I suspected, cluelessly looked askance but understood it all. He claimed the ice queen too but I figured he was boasting before panty drop. They were definitely up for me.
Another time he told me about dating daughters of divorced, older women, how it was best done openly by taking them to fancy restaurants and checking in at grand hotels with adjoining guest rooms and a door between them.
I didn’t stay working there long enough to verify his younger quests because I left shortly after New Year’s in January, 1966. I figured his youth conquest claims were hyperbole. He wasn’t the type to spread money at a restaurant with linen napkins or a hotel with a valet. I put it down as a possible sixteen-year old conquest with dinner at Denny’s ending at a Monterey Road motel.
During Christmas school holiday, I crammed in as much work as possible for a nest egg to start the Spring Semester at San Jose State. With two other jobs, this limited my TV deliver and pick-up times to every other late afternoon, three PM to five, plus. Considering client location was often in the vast Tropicana Village slum of east San Jose, it was best to do the last stop before dark and return to the shop.
On a Christmas vacation evening, I rushed from another employer to the shop. Vern’s wife gave me my schedule, two drop offs and a pick up. The latter was in East San Jose. It was for lack of two weeks rental payments, a big $10 a week rental console with stereo speakers. I threw in the big dolly in the red van to haul it.
Things went smoothly despite a little heavier traffic than typical. Three stops in two hours was pushing it a bit but by 4:30 I was in front of my last stop.
Oh crap, it’s a four-story apartment complex. It’s gotta be first floor! Nope, it's unit 408.
Collecting TVs for unpaid rent is a little tricky. There’s legal issues to waltzing in, grabbing the TV and parading out with it, a reason I suspect Vern used a clueless college student with no assets to sue.
In east San Jose, some of the hombres didn’t take kindly to your TV recovery claim. It was best to be in and out before any male figure retuned from work. The biggest difficulty was getting them to open the door. Surprise was the best tactic, knock, move out of range of the peep hole viewer and get them to open the door was the trick.
It was four flights of stairs up, over exposed concrete steps in iron casements, heavy dolly banging behind me. I attempted to be quiet on the last stretch up as I dragged the dolly over the steps to ensure a surprise visit. On the top landing, dolly wheel squeaking, I tiptoed to unit 408. After a short hard rap on the door, I stepped aside, out of peep hole view. After another rap, a window curtain moved. A kid’s face looked out. The door cracked open.
I moved quick, past the threshold and got in, dolly dragged behind me. Standing before me, taking up an inordinate amount of space in the little living room was the prize, a big Sylvania console TV, cartoons playing on it in black and white.
With an attempt to look official, as if the powers of the law were behind me, I proclaimed I was there to collect the TV. I don’t know if any spoke English but suspected the oldest of the four kids huddled before me had a smattering in perhaps kindergarten. He at least acted as interperter and explained the purpose of my quest to the distraught senora.
While she looked the other way, a tear in an eye, I unplugged the TV, put the dangling cord on top, threw my receiving blanket around it, tilted it on its end, jammed the dolly under and crimped it down with the holding belt. With the oldest chico holding the door, a tilt of my dolly, a couple of strong pulls, I was up and over the door’s threshold hump and on the concrete landing.
I turned back to look as I got ready to descend the steps. Eight young dark brown eyes were following my retreat. The youngest was about two. Well, life’s tough kids, might as well learn it young, I thought. Thump, thump, thump I eased the dolly down one step at a time trying to stay in the center, my load tilted back to avoid a cluttered crash of glass and wood meeting concrete and iron.
I got to the next landing, made the turn and started the next stretch of steps, thump, thump, thump. At each landing, I looked back at the eight eyes watching my progress grow more distant. Finally, as dusk descended, I stood before the side door of the van.
Just tilt it, slide it in, I’m done and outta here.
I looked back up, the eyes were still watching. With darkening dusk, however, I saw not them but something else. I know, it’s hard to believe but it’s true. I finally saw the scattered Christmas tree lights among the apartment complex.
Jesus, it’s Christmas Eve!
Yes, if I’d of seen them lights before the kid moved the curtain, I’d of pretended I didn’t see him. I’d of returned to the shop and lied it was a no show, a not at home. I’d even would have unwrapped it from the dolly in the apartment or dragged it back in from the landing but the Grinch wasn’t hauling that console back up to the fourth floor.
I looked back up, didn’t know what to say. Finally, with a little high school Spanish, I yelled up, Feliz Navidad, tilted the dolly with its TV cargo, slid it in the van and tied it down. I hopped in my red sleigh and drove back to the shop.
Vern was waiting for me, ready to lock up. As we struggled to unload and reset the TV in the television menagerie display zoo, I said.
”Vern, it’s Christmas Eve. I knocked, pushed my way in and unplugged this TV with four little Mexican kids and their mom watching cartoons, I dragged it away from them on Christmas Eve, the mom unable to argue with me. She only speaks Spanish.”
”Yeah, it was her brother who rented it. Never got to see her. What’s she look like, a hot taco or a fat burrito?”
“Kinda in between, say enchilada. I felt sorry for the kids but I didn’t realize it was Christmas Eve until I got the TV to the van. I should’ve taken it back up.”
” No, you did the right thing. You’ll understand some day. It’s business. I can’t stay renting cheap entertainment without my payment. Go home. Have a good diner. By tomorrow you’ll have forgotten all about it.”
I stopped at McDonald’s on my way home and splurged on a 29-cent fish fillet plus fries.
I’m still trying to understand and I’m still thinking about it.
Author Notes: You gotta do what you gotta do but you may never forget what you did.