Skip to content

A Summer Job at GTE in 1974 / Part 2

Doug and Cletis:

Doug and Cletis were a real pair… and it was my job to assist them wiring houses for telephones during the framing stage of construction. My introduction to their antics was Doug’s love of forcing the company truck to backfire.

The valley below the San Grabriel mountains rests largely on a sizable alluvial fan coming down from Mount Baldy at a pretty constant slope. Doug’s favorite backfire road was Haven Avenue, which runs due south in a perfectly straight line down from the mountains. He would bring the truck up to 40 mph and turn off the engine letting gasoline vapor build up in the exhaust system. The rest heat would eventually ignite the vapors and boom! came the backfire. Doug and Cletis really laughed it up. I’m sure it did the truck no good.

Sometimes, it can be fun to be included in somebody else’s stupidity when you have no stake in any punishment resulting from it’s discovery. Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I had a constant fear that the truck might really explode.

Doug and Cletis were a sort of Laurel and Hardy pair. Doug was solidly built, a little overweight with slightly longish straight brown hair and a big brown beard. Cletis was about two inches taller than Doug at about 6′ 1″. Cletis looked like your typical mid thirties family man. He had a thin build and thinning mousy brown hair.

A problem with Doug was that he would be laughing one minute and absolutely grumpy the next. Doug had no home telephone. This fact totally amazed me. Everybody had a home phone… but not Doug! He eventually told me that GTE had disconnected his service because he would always leave the phone off the hook (so he couldn’t be called into work on emergencies). He seemed to be having an ongoing fight with GTE. I remember one hot afternoon, in a fit of anger, he kicked out a stud in a house. After cooling down a bit, he placed the stud back… now held only by friction. Later that day, he and Cletis decided to have a water balloon fight. I kept thinking “What if the boss comes by to check how we’re doing?”. That worry hung in the background a lot that summer.

Another favorite pastime for Doug and Cletis was the obligatory daily visit to the coffee shop. There was a whole world of coffee shoppery that I had been totally unaware of. Service people of all types converged on the establishments around 10:00 am. The best time to commit a crime must have been at that time, because the booths and tables were full of cops. It was during these coffee breaks, which sometimes lasted an hour, that I found out about the nasty old stick-in-the-mud straight-arrow old Frank. Old Frank was, well, old… nearing retirement age. He was also an all work, no play type of man. Funny… one would think that when one is at work that one would… well… work. I bet old Frank never once caused his truck to backfire.

Another topic of conversation was David Joy, the blond-haired, red cap wearing homosexual who was always smiling and never took off his sunglasses. David worked alone. Doug and Cletis told me stories about how the boss, Bill Shively, had to put up bail for David because of some issues related to public restrooms. I kept my distance from David. With this in mind, I was jolted by a sudden change of scheduling one morning. Doug and Cletis had the day off. I would be spending the whole day, alone, with David. Oh joy!

A Summer Job at GTE in 1974 / Part 1

I was 21 years old in June of 1974. My mother was nagging me about getting a job. The summer before, I worked at a paper factory operating a giant pulp beater. That job entailed dumping bales of old paper into the beater, adding just enough water and holding down a dead-man switch to operate the machine. My boss was Tom. He was about 3 years older than me with longish curly blond hair. Tom had a girlfriend. Yes, he made sure I knew he had a girlfriend… and Tom liked to wrap his arm around my shoulder pulling me close while regaling me with stories that only an older person should have had time to experience. Well, this buddy-boss Tom told a story about the reason for the dead-man switch. Years before, a machine operator slipped on the slick, wet metal platform and fell into the pulp beater… and out came red pulp. Red pulp was on my mind. And I really didn’t want to work in another factory.

Around Christmas of 1973, I filed for unemployment (even though I had quit the paper mill job months before and was going to college). My hope was that I would receive a little bit of money during Christmas vacation. A requirement for approval demanded I apply for work. So I went around to several companies applying for a job and hoping nobody would hire me. The idea was to receive two weeks worth of unemployment compensation. Thankfully, there was no job offer. But my little scheme still didn’t work… so there was no money either. I thought the whole thing was a stupid idea and a complete waste of time.

So… here it was… June 1974 and my mother was nagging me about getting a job. I didn’t want to work in a hot and dusty and stuffy factory. I didn’t want to become the product. Another day came (along with the obligatory maternal reminder). No job. But… one evening around 9 pm, I received a telephone call. The caller asked me if I had a job. “No”, I said, unsure of what scheme the stranger was going to try to pull on me (and suspecting a glorious career selling encyclopedias was about to be offered). The caller then mentioned they had a job application I had submitted the previous December and asked me if I would like a summer job with GTE prewiring houses at $4.05/hour (well over twice the minimum wage of $1.65). “Yes!” was my exuberant reply… and so started an adventure working with two goof-balls named Doug and Cletis, their nemesis, old Frank and David Joy, a blonde-haired, red cap wearing homosexual who never stopped smiling and never took off his sunglasses.