My first job was working for my Uncle Johnny Scrupski. Uncle Johnny was a real piece of work. His favorite saying was, “Are you talkin’ or are you buyin’?” He said it all the time. He loved to argue and often visited our house to discourse with my father on lofty matters. He was loud and he drank. He decided that I should work for him. I was 13 at the time and the last thing I wanted to do was work during summer vacation, but Uncle Johnny’s political power with the family was great, and he managed to sway my parents. He said working would make a man out of me.
Uncle Johnny owned a florescent lighting factory downtown. He had a small warehouse and he assembled large florescent lighting fixtures there. It was tedious work that offered absolutely no mental stimulation. I hated it. He put me on the assembly line and I assembled one after another with mind-numbing monotony. There wasn’t much to assemble. I took a metal casing, screwed in the components by hand, then installed the florescent lighting tubes, and then covered it with a translucent sheet of plastic. That was it. It took about five minutes. They came in six, ten, and twelve-foot lengths. The only color was white.
The atmosphere was oppressive, it was hot and there was no fan, air conditioning, or ventilation of any kind. Upstairs in the storing area it was like a sauna and there were no windows.
But, the worst thing about the job was my Uncle Johnny. Everyday during the lunch break, he made me come into his office so he could lecture me on his philosophy of life. I didn’t get to go out and get a hamburger or a sub with the rest of guys. No, I had to hang with him and he always got the same thing for lunch- Braunschweiger sandwiches, which he bought at the Polish Delicatessen across the street. I had to eat what he ate. I hated Braunschweiger sandwiches! For those of you who don’t know, Braunschweiger is a kind of liver sausage. It was vile. Uncle Johnny liked it on Rye Bread with mustard. He said it would put hair on my balls.
Everyday I complained to my mother that working for Uncle Johnny was something out of Charles Dickens. She said it built character. Between the hair on my balls and all the character I was building, you’d think I’d be happy, but that summer working for Uncle Johnny ranks among the worst of my life.
His “Are you talkin’ or are you buyin’?” personality drove me crazy. He was a greedy old goat who enjoyed confrontations. He drove a Cadillac El Dorado and got a new one every year. He was boastful and vain. His style of dress leaned more to racetrack flash than to the stodgy business suits my father wore. He called everybody “Muvva” or “Muv.” He wore a bad hairpiece and smoked cigars. The man was a classic blowhard. He made working in that factory an ordeal. I ate a lifetime’s worth of Braunschweiger that year, and I’ve never eaten it since. When Uncle Johnny died, they should have put him in a Braunschweiger coffin. I can still taste the hideous stuff. Yuck!
In the end, I think the Braunschweiger killed him, along with all the other rich foods and personal vices he either consumed or let consume him. Uncle Johnny never looked back.
As far as his philosophy of life is concerned, the only bit I remember is “are you talkin’ or are you buyin’?” I guess I was just talkin’, because I sure wasn’t buyin’ any of that crap.