“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” Rudyard Kipling.
Woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’. Or maybe shouldn’t. Maybe shouldn’t, EVER. Sometimes life will lay out for you, things you should NEVER do. I had a part time job that was like that. It illustrated plain and simple what some things would look like in real life, played out in slow motion.
It was an old-fashioned print shop, the kind that were around before digital became a thing. Hence, people could not do their own graphics, they were obliged to go to a print store if they wanted something like wedding invitations, or flyers to advertise an event or business cards. The presses were of the pedestrian sort, used to churning out four-colour jobs with paper plates made up on the fly. In the front of the shop was the cash cow, that is the photo copier. Photocopying dealt in swaths of spare-change kind of business. Every time someone had to copy an essay, or have a paper notarized, or copy legal documents et cetera, they were beholden to a photo copier. No scans. They did not exist. That cash register drawer was just getting loaded up all week on small change.
The person most happy about the photocopier was the absentee owner. He was an older guy whose son Rob was running the store. The dad would come by about once a week and bust open that piggy bank. It generated all his pin money for the week from those cash-over-the-counter dealings that never went on the books. It was a big moneymaker.
Rob who ran the place, did not have it so good. He had to deal with all the things on-premise. Rob might be the original injunction that nice guys do not fare well. Rob liked to keep people happy, and that was a problem. He was too soft. He had a quite cranky wife at home who was not so easily pleased. At the shop, he had two press men, a cashier, an old Hungarian printer who burned all the more complicated plates and did the darkroom work downstairs. And there was me, generating the graphic artwork that would be burned as plates, running an old fashioned typositer where one of the twelve fonts would be mounted on a decrepit machine where it would spin as you generated the type. The font strips were literally, held together with elastic bands, as was the print shop itself.
There are times in life where you look at a situation and think “this is going to blow up” but it is rare that you would have half a dozen such circumstances all fermenting under one roof. Such was the print shop, a heady brew of a lot of things going off the rails all at once, with me as silent witness.
The guys who ran the presses were gangsters. Never happy. Always thinking they needed another raise. They ran Rob, who was already getting run at home. He couldn’t deal with it and he couldn’t pay them what they complained they were worth. Hence, he paid them off in another way. He would come into the store with a huge knob of hash and they would all go into the darkroom to smoke up so that everybody would be mellow for the day. A print shop does not run so well with everyone stoned.
Stephen, the old Hungarian guy did not like this. He was old-fashioned in all the die-hard ways. A solid guy, built square and hard with a bald head and little sympathy for excuses. He cussed a lot in Hungarian at all the goings on, and would disappear again into the darkroom, where he was busy working on posters and flyers for his own clients in the Hungarian community.
At the cash, it can also be a problem if the cashier is too good looking. It makes them run hot, and above their pay grade. This cashier liked the easy flow of uncharted cash that flew back and forth. She also liked to flirt. She had a boyfriend with whom she lived, but it did not stop her from giving me a back rub one day while I was working and whispering a suggestion in my ear that I never followed up on. Rob was more easily enticed by such wares laid out for the offering. The cashier’s hotness meant that she had Rob on a short rope such to the extent that he co-signed a car loan for her and her boyfriend. Things got a bit dangerous when she began to supply Rob with cocaine. She was a puppet master in a very short skirt.
Cocaine can be an interesting trajectory. It looks all good up front, optimistic, full of life with blank cheques of promise as yet uncashed at the bank. It can be deceptive that way. And this is where things began a slow unwind.
If you get that this shop was the old fashioned kind, which had not been updated in fifty years, and never would be, it would be silly to think that great plans were being made ahead into the future. But that is what Rob imagined, with the help of the cocaine. He began to show up with thousand dollar suits and expensive leather briefcases, convinced he was going to take this shop and make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. He began to take his cranky wife to expensive jaunts at downtown hotels in an effort to re-invigorate his flagging marriage. Squeezed to the max, he almost did not notice when the cashier defaulted on her car loan and he had to pay. She just kept on bringing in that expensive cocaine to grease the wheels of this big machine that was spinning faster than the presses and shaking the very foundations of the universe.
Things got even more weird. The solid guy, the old Hungarian was a single dad with a twelve year old daughter at home. He was doting and grandfatherly. He would rail against the problems of modernity and sing about how people had things straight in the old country, not like Canada which was overall too soft. He was perhaps beyond his best-before date but there was nevertheless something that women liked about him, and he was charming and endearing. It seems he liked women too. Or so we came to gather when he called Rob one morning to bail him out of jail. He had been caught up under the John’s laws, where the police had done a big scoop and gathered up all the men found soliciting prostitutes by the side of the road.
Stephen came clean. He was a single man after all. He paid his dues in life and was entitled to a bit of stress relief. A little fun for him, was ‘date night’. It seems he was so popular with the hookers that he was a favourite among them, he was fatherly, a good client and he was not dangerous. He was wise to the ways of the world and liked to have a good laugh. It seems that the hookers liked him so much they invited him to their weekend parties on yachts where they would presumably have their fun with no money changing hands. Stephen was enthusiastic. He offered to set me up with some of his favourites.
And so it is with life, that there are things trotted out that make you say “Why not? Just try one. I’ll do it this one time only just to see what it is like. I’ll never get addicted. All my friends are doing it.” There are a lot of stock excuses. It seems to come back to that vision in the Garden of a snake who told a naked couple, “Hey, just try the apple. Don’t believe all that stuff you heard. Apples are good. Any medical journal will tell you so.”
Sometimes it is good to be on spectator status only, because you learn those hard lessons on someone else’s dime. Some things look good up front, but do not play out so well as life unfolds. The print shop was a living example of all this.
The cocaine went its full course. By that time I had moved on to other things in life, but I did go to visit Rob at the psych ward. He had lost the business, and his wife… and pretty much everything else. His days were spent in a drug-induced stupor, wandering around like an inmate from One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest, half dressed in one of those robes that never ties up on the back the way it should.
He looked happy. At least in his state of suspended reality. I wondered how it would all look when he came down. Still, when life trots out its wares, you have to choose. You come to learn sooner or later that there are things that are unwise to do, and some things you should never, NEVER do… at least, If you have a brain.
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