Monday, September 5, 2011

A Labor Day Tradition

Happy Labor Day, everyone. I hope you all are able to enjoy this great American holiday with family and friends. Today is the day honor the nation's working people. Most Americans consider Labor Day the end of the summer, for many students it marks the opening of the school year. For me it brings back memories of my first Labor Day.

Being a creature of habit, I have decided to continue a tradition. This marks the 3rd annual posting of the blog that chronicled “My first Labor Day.”  

My first Labor Day was June 9, 1975, four short days after I graduated from Tremper High School. This was my first grown-up job. Sure, I had worked at Howard Johnson’s and Burger King while I was in school, but those were high school jobs.

I had a job as a laborer at the infamous Koos Inc. fertilizer/ice melter plant. This was a bona fide, real-life job where I went to work each morning five days a week and for this I received a paycheck for $91.18 each and every Friday afternoon.

The amount of $91.18 was after taxes were taken out. My gross pay was $120.00 for forty hours. Insert your own joke here.

Hey, I said it was a real-life job, I didn’t say it paid a lot. For my $3.00 an hour I got to lift 40-pound bags of fertilizer in a hot, sloppy plant with slippery mud covered floors. In the winter we were treated to 50-pound bags of ice melter in a building that had no heat whatsoever. Although we were freezing, at least the floors weren’t muddy. Now they were covered with a toxic dust that you inhaled all day long.

Did I mention that Koos Inc. featured no running water? Most guys simply stepped to the nearest open dock door to relieve themselves. Otherwise, if you wanted to use an actual restroom you had to maneuver through the entire plant, walk down a long flight of stairs and go across the yard to the “Jap Shack”.

The “Jap Shack” was nothing more than an old storage shed with a few beat-up lockers, a couple of picnic tables, a number of rats and a toilet with a sink. This venerable structure received its colorful name because it allegedly held Japanese war prisoners during World War II.

Don’t ask me, I just worked there.

And so did a multitude of fascinating characters. People like Virgil Tucker, Dead Man, Bone Head, Stretch Babic, Munk Ekern, Tyrone Walker and Ziggy Gutowski. Each one possessed unique characteristics. They obviously had to, with monikers like those. They all left a lasting impression on yours truly.

But none like the legendary Arno Schubert. I could easily write a story about Arno each day for a month. This ornery “old” German was well known in every drinking establishment between here and Paddock Lake. I say old because he was about 36 and I was only eighteen years old at the time.

The only problem about sharing stories about Arno is that it would take so long to clean up the language. With Arno, cursing was an art form. He made Dice Clay, Earl Weaver and other high-profile foul mouths look like choirboys. Let me give you an example.

Because of his propensity for filthy phraseology, he was often asked to “watch his mouth”. One classic moment is when a burnout named Lanny challenged Arno that he couldn’t go the whole day without cursing. Arno’s response? Cover your ears mother.

“F*ck you, you stupid motherf*ckin’ c*cks*cker.”

That was one of the things that I learned on my first Labor Day. How not to talk! Koos Inc. made me realize why Emil and Milly Vagnoni had been drilling that stuff into my head throughout my childhood. Now I was experiencing why in my first real-life job.

On that first Labor Day, I honestly considered making a run for it during first break. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had. Do I regret not quitting Koos Inc. on my first Labor Day?

Probably, because I ended up working there for over sixteen years. Things would have definitely been different. Maybe better, perhaps not. Who knows? One thing that I am sure of, staying at Koos Inc. on my first Labor Day has provided me with a mountain of material for future columns. Until next time…from the booth.


Sue said...

Hope you had a good Labor Day 2011 and I am sure koos Inc just made you ready for the 'real' world. Who knows if you had not gone to Koos and met the 'colourful' Arno you might never have written.

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Thank you, Sue. I don't know how much Koos prepared me for the "real" world, bit Arno certainly was "colorful"! Have a wonderful day!