As Mark Twain so cleverly pointed out, the key to getting someone to work, is to make the job seem appealing. Tom Sawyer refused to allow his friends to help him paint the fence, as a means of enticing them into wanting to do just that.
Mama employed the same technique with me, when it came to washing the dishes after dinner for our family of eleven; I remember it vividly. Well, technically, at the time I was lobbying to join the work force, we were not a complete baseball team, as of yet, but the job was no less daunting for the lack of a kid or two’s plate and silverware.
|Mark, with Matt standing in front|
I was already able to set the table, correctly, even if it was like pulling teeth to get me to do it, simply because it was old hat. Yawn. Been there; done that. Now, it’s on to bigger and better things, washing dirty dishes! I watched the big boys in action, and of course, I wanted some of that action myself, as twisted as that sounds.
I suppose it was that Virgo component already kicking in: You know, out of chaos comes order. A kitchen which has just been the scene of dinner preparations for nine or ten people, is not a thing of beauty, especially if said kitchen has been accumulating dirty dishes all afternoon long, as kids got home from school, and paused to refuel.
Wanting to be part of the show, I started bugging Mama early on. Since a step stool was needed for me to even be tall enough to access the kitchen sink, I was still pretty small. However, my memory places me in the new kitchen, so that makes it at least 1959, when I would have been seven.
Mama played it like a violin, assuring me that there would come a time, but that washing dishes was only for big boys. I would have to wait my turn. But she has also written repeatedly in my spiral notebooks, that I was the biggest nag in history of the universe, so she worked it to her advantage, playing the line out with the expertise of one who had mad skills.
By the time she had me on the line, the hook was in so deep, that wriggle as I might (for the next five or six years), there was no getting free. The memory of me begging her to allow me to do the darn dishes, was just too painfully clear, so that when I tried to get out of it down the line, she didn’t even have to remind me with words that it was my idea. All she needed to do was give me that look.
Sunrize Market was exactly the same. The allure was so strong that it was palpable. It would mean no more digging weeds and having to dodge Mrs. Downen’s English bulldog, who used to terrorize me, doing the same things that now endear me to Dozer. Irony.
It would mean not having to mow lawns and rake leaves. It would mean status like nothing else could, considering sports was never part of my equation. Sunrize was only two blocks up the road so no transportation was needed; it would be a dream-come-true for a kid who knew he had to work if he wanted to get by, because money did not yet grow on trees.
If only I could go to work for Augie as a box-boy, life would never be the same.
Mama wrote, “On June 24th, 1966, Mark went to work for Augie as a bottle boy. This is a simple job and consists primarily of taking care of all the Coke and other bottles that come through at Sunrize. He takes the bottles out of the bottle bin, takes them to the back, and sorts them. It takes an hour or less every day, and pays a dollar an hour.”
|Brian in uniform|
I owed it all to Brian, of course, who blazed the trail. If I have it correctly, Eric was the one who was first in line to get the next opening at Sunrize, but because he was heading off to school in Chicago in the near future, Brian got the slot, and ran crazy with it.
Literally. When he went to work for Augie, he wore his tennis shoes, and hustled so much that he impressed Augie greatly. Though I was way too young, Augie still had his eye on me as future material, knowing that the apples did not fall far from the tree.
Mama's description of a bottle boy is accurate enough as job descriptions go, except there was so much more. Besides doing the bottles, I broke down the cardboard boxes, cleaned the back-room out of all trash, spit-shined the alley, swept the sidewalk out in front of the store, and down the line, began to sweep the parking lot every morning, while it was still dark out, a job I shared with my brother Matt.
I never charged Augie what I should have, because I considered the time spent as an investment. If I could get that much done in such a short time, he'd probably have been thinking to himself, I must be pretty good. As a curious footnote, there was a short period of time there, after I started as a box-boy, that there were five O’Neills working at Sunrise: Brian and I in the store, Matt and Tom sweeping the parking lot and most likely doing the bottles, and Noel working for Earl, in the meat department.
“If it’s a Kennedy, vote for him; if it’s an O’Neill, hire him,” was Augie’s mantra.
Like Tom Sawyer, Augie lured us into the fold. For me the process of working at the market, allowed me to blossom socially, because it was all about dealing with the public. Once I began working the cash register, I started to attract the attention of girls my age, allowing me to engage in conversation with them, as naturally as if I had been doing it all my life.
You can't buy that kind of confidence at any price, but you can get if for free if you are willing to work for it.
We had to wear white shirts and ties, and we had to wear our hair short (white-walls!), with no facial hair whatsoever. A huge act of defiance, in those days, was to come to work on a Sunday (No Augie) in a YELLOW shirt and tie, instead of a white shirt.
Take this kid out and have him shot.
As I got older, I got better at pushing buttons, resulting in the occasional blow-up. Then I got wheels so I could be shipped off to one of the other Sunrizes, where there was no Augie.
I worked for Sunrize until I got drafted, and then when I got out, Augie would not let me work part-time, and go to Cal Poly full-time. He wanted me to work forty hours. It was our last battle and he won.
I moved up to San Jose and became a hippie.