The Jobs: Part 1
At 16, I considered becoming a private detective or painter, but because I couldn’t find summer work in either field, I chose to be a ‘candy striper’ at the Royal Victoria Hospital(not to be confused with Candy-Strips, who also worked downtown). It should have gone well for my 12 co-workers and me - a standard summer job paying 25/week, wearing striped pink and white uniforms, and being of kind but dubious assistance to nurses aides and patients.
Unexpectedly, however, the first-ever strike of unionized non-medical workers occurred that summer, and nurses aides, orderlies, cleaners, kitchen and laundry staff etc. were off the job. ‘Day One’ involved crossing a picket line of angry employees, while escorted by police. I was assigned to 7 West Oncology, and when I arrived at the busy ward a man pushing a trolly(a doctor I think), asked me to take it to a lab and gave me vague directions to the basement. I went there and immediately got lost in a labyrinth of corridors, pushing the trolley through dimly lit hallways, and after peering into a room filled with hospital beds with sheet-covered shapes, I found the lab. Whew, all this was quite an eye-opener for a teenager on her first day at work.
On my way back, I stopped to help a nurse turn an obese patient over in his bed, I helped start a big floor waxing machine with a mechanically- challenged psychiatrist and directed someone in a hospital gown to the nearest exit(an escapee perhaps?). In 7 West, the energy was buzzing with volunteers delivering food, sweeping floors, and distributing ice water and magazines to patients. All the nurses and doctors needed assistance and treated me like a nurse’s aide, so I emptied bedpans, made beds, logged patient’s input and output of liquids, washed the very ill, passed equipment to those taking specimens (then delivered the latter to labs), pushed patients in beds or wheelchairs to other locations, and, tried to calm those in distress as they waited the interminable minutes for their carefully administered pain killers. My job ended in mid-August. I learned a lot and definitely matured, but I knew a medical career was not for me. I also stopped watching Dr. Kildare.
"NURSE, OR WHATEVER YOU ARE, WHERE IS THE EXIT"?
(1966) “Beat the Clock”
I was seventeen, in my first year of Uni, and very excited by the job prospect….They pay five dollars an hour and the work is fun, said a fellow student. I went to a television studio on Park Avenue and was introduced to the show’s producer. He was about forty, casually dressed, with a walnut-coloured suntan. He exposed reddish chest hairs, a set of uniform white teeth, weighty gold neck chains, rings, and a big watch. He rested his bejewelled hand on my arm and whispered: I’m so very glad to meet you.
He flashed his brilliant Cheshire-cat teeth and murmured: in our “Beat the Clock” we’re looking for average people to test the stunts before the show contestants try them out. I replied: I’m very average and don’t excel at anything. Goldy was impressed with my self-assessment of average height, average intelligence, and average skills, and after looking me up and down, I got a wink and the job. I was told to come in the next morning, wear a skirt, flat shoes, and I would meet my partner.
When I arrived, three people my age were seated in the studio - average Danny my designated ‘husband’ and another average couple. We were stand-ins representing the real public, and by pre-testing the difficulty of the stunts, they could be adjusted if found too hard or too easy for the ‘real’ contestants.
The 1960s roles were designated: we average ‘gals’ sat in average chairs while the average ‘guys’ stood about twelve feet away and tried to throw orange segments into our open mouths. The mouth that caught the most orange pieces was the winner. Dan turned out to be a below-average shot; he repeatedly hit my face and mostly missed my mouth. After a few minutes, they moved him closer to me, but the other ‘couple’ completed the stunt with better results - the ‘wife’ retained her makeup, while I was awash in orange juice.
Once I towelled off, our next challenge was a two-way race, with the ‘gals’ crawling through fabric tunnels while the ‘guys’ ran alongside with eggs balanced in small spoons. Each couple had to get back to the starting point first, to win. Crawling through the tunnel, I felt like a doggy in obedience school - but less happy, and, halfway through I heard an egg hit the floor. Shit, I thought, my below-average ‘husband’ can’t even carry an egg. After this brain-shrinking stunt, I wanted to divorce Danny.
We broke for lunch and Dan told me to stop trying so hard because we’d be paid anyway - so I moved away from my hubby for the rest of the break thinking he was a real loser. During the afternoon, Dan stabbed me with a stick and tripped me as I walked backwards blindfolded, guided only by his voice. Then, on his own time, he spilled coffee on me during the afternoon break. Apparently, all tasks were challenging for him, and Danny was soon replaced by hubby Michael.
I worked two more weeks, then the receptionist telephoned me to say my services were curtailed. I asked why? and was told I was an over-achiever who tried too hard. Hmm, so much for my average tv career, what will I do next?
Image by Ann Pearson.
Stay tuned for Part 2.