Jobs: Part 2
(chastity belt).....I thought it was a hat.
(1967) Waxing poetic chez Mme Tousseau
The World’s Fair was in Montreal, and lots of summer jobs were available. I was hired at a Mme Tousseau’s Wax Museum franchise, on Peel and St-Catherine streets, underneath Montreal’s first topless disco: Chez Pierre LeGrande. In an upstairs/downstairs scenario, a live ‘go-go’ dancer gyrated - her nude silhouette visible in a big opaque window, meanwhile at street level, I was clothed in dark purple tights, and purple jester’s uniform with a pointy hat(the kind of straight out-of-the-tube purple used to suggest distant hills in formulaic landscape paintings). I and four other women my age ran the cash register, sold cheap souvenirs, gave tours of the museum and Chamber of Horrors, cleaned floors and displays, and fed and watered the ants. I gave the English tours.
The franchise’s big draw was Sleeping Beauty, her mechanically-driven chest, heaving noisily with air. As Beauty lay asleep in the street-level window, the ‘go-go’ dancer danced in the window above. It was a potent eye-full, especially from the opposite side of St-Catherine St., attracting office workers, shoppers, tourists and drunks. Oh yes, one more task - mopping up vomit in front of Beauty’s display, spewed by overwhelmed imbibers watching her breathe.
Curious Montrealers and busloads of tourists lined up to get inside, where famous people and events were displayed - such as the grieving Kennedys standing next to a casket, Fidel Castro’s bust with individually inserted hair and beard follicles, Marilyn Monroe in a bath towel*, the Mad Hatter at his tea party - you get the idea. The pièce de resistance at the mid-point of the waxy experience was the Last Supper. Jesus and associates were all there at a long table, but, due to bad acoustics, the sombre spread feast was accompanied by thrumming rock music from Chez Pierre upstairs.
* Marilyn was stolen by U of Montreal students, who dressed her in a trench coat and walked right out with her. She was returned by the police after a couple of days.
In the basement, the Chamber of Horrors had a looped soundtrack of loud groans, shrieks, chain-rattles, creaks and screams to provide a mood for various Medieval torture scenarios: be-headings by a guillotine(pre-terrorist), a rat-in-a-metal-container-strapped-onto-human-stomach event, a resentful-looking woman wearing a chastity belt, a few bodies dangling from meat-hooks, and a live animal show behind glass, featuring an unhappy-head sticking out of desert sand with ants crawling all over it. Sugar and water a day,
Make the ants want to stay.
For entertainment(a must for a tedious, repetitive job) we rubbed white flour on our arms, stuck them out of a blackened cell door and remained immobile. If a hapless tourist touched an arm, we grabbed their wrist and yelled: don’t touch the displays(screams followed, babies cried and the sensitive ran). At the alleyway exit, we stood with hands out, shamelessly collecting tips. By telling innocent American tourists their money was 25% lower than Canadian, I earned about 1/3 over my weekly salary.
During the late shift(4 pm-midnight), the upstairs music got louder competing with the horror soundtrack, while our security guard sat near the cash register humming and caressing his gun(during a two-month period he smiled at me but never spoke). At closing time, we got to ‘sweep’ the inside of the museum, often finding drunks retired behind the Kennedy casket or under the last supper table. By September I’d earned enough to cover Uni tuition and developed a life-long crush on Fidel Castro and his amazing hair.
(1968) Michael London (Blues) Blouses
My foray into the ‘schmatte’ business occurred after I graduated from Uni with a job-friendly degree in painting. The ad read: Assistant to the designer, so I applied and got the position. Assisting the designer entailed: getting his coffee and wiping it up if he spilled it; replacing the receptionist when she went out for long lunches with the boss; helping the accountant count, and during my lunch hour, answering the phone and inventing excuses for the boss’s absences when his wife called to check up on him.
All female employees were required to wear the blouses = stretchy,
”popcorn” textured, synthetic novelty fabric, that stuck tightly to our skin causing extreme itching and profuse sweating. The blouses snagged when gently handled, developed a fetid smell after being worn twice, and as an added bonus, stretched out after a few washings.
Since the designer copied samples of blouses from European fashion shows, there was no designing for me to assist with. After my first week, I realized this job was a brain-shrinker, so I approached the woman who packed the blouses for shipping - we both earned $80/week, and she considered my job a career advancement. After speaking to the boss who didn’t care what we did, we exchanged jobs, and I took over her position as packer/shipper. For eight months I honed my skills and became really proficient at looking at a stack of folded synthetic blouses and assessing the size of box they could fit into. Additionally, I got to tape and seal it, address it and stack the box for another university graduate to load onto a truck.
When I gave notice, the boss tried to convince me to stay - apparently, I had a future in shipping, and was good at handling his wife’s phone calls at noon when he and the receptionist were out ‘having lunch’.
B.A. major in killing spiders...
(1968): The Academic Bookshop: a ‘one-day-only-job’
The shop was in a basement completely filled with books - on shelves, on the floor, on the main desk and cash register and, in tall shuddering towers reaching to the ceiling. The proprietor, Mr. Glass, knew the location of every book and if/when they were sold.
He explained my duties to me:
1. I was to stand next to his desk until needed; and from that position, I was to answer the phone and repeat everything to him that the caller stated, then he would tell me what to answer, which I would then repeat back to the caller;
2. if a book was requested, Mr. Glass gave me precise directions to go and find it(3-10 minutes, depending upon obstacles to the location), and I was to bring it to him, so he could assess the price, which I would then repeat to the client;
3. if a student entered the shop, I was to follow closely behind them, because, he said: they steal.
4. if Mr. Glass spotted a spider, I was to chase it and kill it, and bring him the corpse for inspection. Do they dislike reading? I joked. No, he explained, they eat paper (Mr.G did not appreciate my humour).
5. at noon, I was to pick up lunches for him and his sister Natalie*
*I discovered Natalie, after an intensive search. She was hidden from view, surrounded by books, at a small desk in the middle of the shop - still breathing and possibly doing the accounting.
At 5 pm I told Mr. Glass that I wouldn’t be taking the job, and he seemed surprised and asked me why. I told him I had a serious health issue, and the book dust could trigger lethal convulsions in me. I left him with his mouth open(hopefully no spider entered those gates). I lied to him because it is difficult to tell someone that they appear totally unhinged - but now, years later, I realize that one can say anything if one says it politely…
Stay tuned for the September blog…