During our junior year in high school, Stan and I worked as busboys at the Twin Coaches, a club outside Pittsburgh that billed itself as “one of the nation’s largest and most beautiful supper clubs.” Large it was, seating 1,200 and booking the biggest national acts; beautiful, not so much. Rose, the hard-nosed and connected owner, paid us fifty cents an hour while the waitresses pooled their tips and gave us a cut according to some undefined formula. On a good night wages and tips would get us close to1963’s minimum wage of $1.25, not enough for a college fund but enough to put gas in the car and cruise with the guys or take a date to the movies, maybe even splurge on a burger afterward. As the year drifted into summer, when we had more time and ways to spend our money, we found our hours at the club dwindling, summer being the low season there. Grass cutting jobs were scarce because those damn 13-year olds were happy to underbid us. So we were always on the lookout for temporary work, which we found from time to time. I remember selling tickets door-to-door for a pro wrestling match coming to our town featuring Bruno Sammartino, the world champion at the time, at least in the world within the range of the Pittsburgh TV channel. I loaded and unloaded beer trucks for the local beer distributor; it didn’t pay much but had some nice perks.
“Twenty-eight dollars!” I screamed. “We put in 100 hours between us and we split twenty-eight dollars?”
With the work we got, we were able to remain reasonably active in the social scene. One of our regular stops was Bill’s Dairy, which sold the fast food and real ice cream of the day. Bill’s employed young women who were as happy to talk to us, as we were to them. They were all from another school district, lending an air of exotic mystery to the discussions. Stan was the most outgoing member of our group, a natural stand-up comedian who could make anyone laugh. He and one Sara Jones [not her real name] fell under each other’s spell and began dating fairly regularly. It was all about love, or properly, desires. You can probably guess what Stan’s short-term desire was but it seemed he could never get past second base before Sara Jones’s defense would retire the side.
Sara finally came through financially if not romantically when she told us her dad, who managed a horse farm for a Pittsburgh lawyer, needed two helpers for a week. We were both bigger than average guys but Mr. Jones towered over us as he told us in his no-nonsense manner what he expected of us. Bring in the hay and then lay out a fence for the new racetrack; sounded pretty simple, right? Well, that week on the farm made us yearn for the smoke-filled but air-conditioned Twin Coaches. The bales were still semi-green and weighed close to 100 lb. each, a bit more than a tub of dirty dinner plates. We had to pick them up, hoist them onto the wagon, and then stack them on the wagon in a ten-high pyramid. Then, unload and re-stack in the barn. Simple, yes but easy, no. While the sun cooked us, the hay bales broke our backs and rubbed us raw. By the second morning everything hurt and by afternoon our blisters had blisters. I think we finished on day four whereupon Mr. Jones put us on fence duty. God, how I longed to fill salt and pepper shakers again. Those fence posts put splinters in my blisters as I dragged them to their anointed positions. Mercifully, we finished Saturday and Mr. Jones gave Stan a check, saying, “Share this with your partner.” [He never bothered to learn my name.] Stan thanked him, looked at the check, folded it and put it in his shirt pocket, and said goodbye.
We jumped into Stan’s car and left the farm for the last time. Stan had a big grin as I badgered him about our paycheck. “How much? How much did we make? Let me see it!” Stan didn’t say a word as he pulled the check out of his pocket and handed it to me. I was psyched, with visions of the good times beginning to roll as I unfolded the check.
Stan’s grin turned into a giggly laugh, as he looked me in the eye. All he said was, “ I guess so, Dave.” I wanted to be angry, very angry, but I could do nothing but join him in his now roaring laugh.
We laughed until we cried until finally I howled, “ Well, Stan, you finally got screwed by a Jones, just not the one you wanted.” Then we laughed some more. Stan and I still tell this story to each other every year and I’m reminded again that life’s lessons don’t all come from books.