Fort McMurray, alberta -- "Welcome to the dark side." That was one of my bosses, upon hearing I had issued my first-ever suspension.He was amused; I was just mortified.
It's not exactly what I had in mind when I left my relatively comfortable, albeit monotonous previous life in Windsor punching a clock at DaimlerChrysler, with a hefty leavening of unionism on the side.
Miraculously, I escaped the huge paycheques and mind-numbing labour to begin a two-year-long career change as a reporter.
Let me give you the score on Boom Town, aka Fort McMurray. The living is expensive here. Really expensive. And that means if you don't make big bucks operating a heavy hauler in the oil sands, you do whatever it takes to stretch out your fair-to-middling income to keep that grossly overpriced roof over your head.
In my case, that means moonlighting Wednesdays and Thursdays in my newspaper's collating department.
It's vaguely reminiscent of my previous incarnation. Mosey on over to a table, pile up some stock and switch off the brain, putting out a thousand or so stuffed Saturday papers, stacked just so.
There's just one twist: now I'm supervising a crew of nearly a dozen teenagers. Remember the scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey applies for the job at the fast food joint? "I want the least amount of responsibility possible."
I have to watch my little brood like a hawk. They don't want to work, and I can't really blame them.
There are plenty of other things to do on a weeknight that I'd much rather be doing, not the least of which is sleeping. (After nearly two years in the north, I've discovered that temperatures in the -40° range don't faze me one bit, but dawn at 3:30 pm and full darkness by 4 kill me.)
Boredom kills them. They're not worrying about whether they're going to be able to make rent or car payments, so this is mad money for the bulk of my young charges.
My employees have all kinds of nifty little work-evading rackets they like to employ.
The day-shift supervisor clears out at 5. I start at 5:30, so invariably, I summon them from hacky sack at the appointed time. Then one of them goes off to McDonald's with another in tow.
"I'll just be five minutes," he says.
I make a point of asking kid number two if his watch broke when both of them saunter in 40 minutes later. "There wasn't any clock there," he smirks.
"Does 40 minutes feel like five to you? Because that's how long you've been gone," I bark. I can almost feel them thinking I'm an asshole while I continue stuffing papers. The next day, I tell the morning supervisor I want their pay docked.
The ironies abound, not the least of which is the fact that I now have the power to issue suspensions, dock pay, the whole shooting match. It's hardly what I had in mind when I packed up my old blue-collar life and went west to pursue my dream.
Stuffing flyers into tabloids is easy. Making sure the crew actually does it isn't. Nor is it fun.
To my dismay, I've finally gotten well and truly in touch with my inner asshole.
I'm still not sure what happened to that union activist, the scourge of management everywhere. Simply distilled, I'm doing what I feel I have to do to keep body together. Souls have no nutritional value whatsoever.
There's no doubt in my mind that somewhere my long-retired and long-afflicted foreman, Walt, is laughing. He had to have felt the disturbance in the force.