I’d guess it’s a theme that’s pursued me most of my life, even though all would seem to be “in order.”
By 1978, I’d been a paperboy for the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune, a busboy at the swanky Lafayette Club; I’d schlepped fast food at Ridgedale mall and, that June, was a janitor for Triangle Maintenance Services in Golden Valley. I would’ve included my co-editor-in-chief duties at the school paper, but since that was part of “finishing high school” it didn’t seem to count. That’s really a shame because I learned skills I still use today: writing and editing, typing, typesetting and layout, selecting stories for print, and working with staff and printers.
It was like a full-time job, but never felt like it because I loved every minute of it.
Classmates who didn’t have in-school skills had to make do with whatever the outside world threw at them once they’d graduated. Fellow grad Mike Morrison worked at the Mound bakery, Kim answered phones for a real estate agency, Skeeze washed dishes at the Soda Fountain, our old high school hangout, and Mark McCurdy was slinging plastic-wrapped clothing at his parents’ dry cleaners until he started janitorial with Steve and me on June 26, 1978. I would’ve preferred waiting out the time before college with an assembly job at Tonka Toys, but that was hard to get.
On Tuesday, June 27, I mailed off a letter to Jill Paradis in Marshall, Minn., and waited anxiously to hear back. Things around home seem to have eased after returning from Koronis, with working and all (the above photo likely taken on Thanksgiving 1978 or ’79, with Mom in the Casco Point dining room), but knowing big changes were in play for autumn, I was determined to make the most of what would be “the last summer of my childhood.”
Jill’s first letter, postmarked June 30, arrived on pink butterfly stationery with the motto “Jive from Jill.” She was a farm girl, working for her father “picking rock” in the fields, surrounded by dogs, horses and rabbits. In the letter she requested a copy of my graduation picture and responded to my remark about acting like a fool at camp: “I thought it was kind of funny. I think you’re neat in the way you think of things. You think in your own way & it really makes a lot of sense & means alot.”
Long-distance relationships are hard to maintain in adulthood, much less at 18. Jill and I were willing to give it a try, even after she’d mentioned in a second letter she had a guy she saw regularly. She wasn’t too enthused about him and urged that we stay in touch.
That was the last letter I ever received from her.
Meanwhile at the janitor gig, a storm was brewing the night of Friday, June 30—literally. I was up on the sixth floor of Shelard Plaza when, in the middle of a big thunderstorm, the power went out. “Some guy, a few floors up, got stuck in the elevator and was yelling his head off all the while. The kid I was working with, Steve, and I dragged the trash bags and my vacuum cleaner downstairs; everyone … communed in the main lobby … talking in the dark and smoking cigarettes. We were finally told that we could punch out at 9:00.”
It’s funny, because the night before I’d had an odd and “lengthy conversation” with a businessman working late in his office. His name was “Mr. Mike Miles,” the diary reports, “He called me a very ‘unique’ person, interesting, we talked about working, life, social levels, generations, and impressed each other with [a] bit of truth. I was very glad to meet him.”
I’d nearly forgotten that incident. Likely I was emptying his trashcans and he struck up the conversation. And while I don’t recall the details, it was rare to find an adult who didn’t “just look past” a teenager like me. Similar to the graduation party conversation with Greg Hartmann’s father, I was already looking forward to interacting with the adult world.
I just needed to figure out what my eventual “job” would be.