Gary Rinsem

Opportunity? Foolish!
Written 1983

I tried hard to do well. I did incredible things to deserve opportunity. I had no other choice.

I got an opportunity after a year of self study at Noble library. All I had done was kid jobs in restaurants so I was excited about being the painter's helper in a high rise building. It was only temporary and nothing to impress on a resume, but it was the department in charge of boilers and more for a big building. It was a massive opportunity for me. I had to prove myself as fast as possible before being labeled a dumb worthless punk kid.

The first morning my painter buddy treated me like I had the IQ of a house cat. I took it in silence as he kept training me to do things so basic the average ten year old would need no training. He dwelled on tiny details, almost trying to teach me how to walk.

Lunch finally came to provide relief from being shown, once again, how to unscrew the cap from a bottle of Elmer's glue. No, you're wrong, I'm not making it up.

I knew where the boiler room was, I found it earlier while working a temp job in a restaurant on the second floor. I'd even seen inside by begging an operator. Entering the employee cafeteria I told the painter I wasn't hungry. I asked to spend lunch in the boiler room. He didn't flinch, didn't question, just took his ring of keys and opened the door, then went to lunch.

To learn all the systems spread out and tangled together, I'd have to draw schematics of them. I knew where to begin for my first day and imagined many lunches drawing the rest. I found a notepad and pencil. By end of lunch I'd drawn a complete schematic of the steam and water cycle. My painter returned, time to go back to my training. I left the notepad on the desk to use after work. I planned on spending hours down there if they'd let me.

Not much time passed before a man found where we were working. He brought me to the department head's office. I met the department head for a quick interview days earlier. Holding my drawing he asked if I did it. We toured the plant so I could explain what I'd drawn and the plant operator on duty joined us. After a short conversation my status went from temporary to permanent and my job went from painter's helper to plant operator. I proved myself much faster than I could have dreamed of doing.

Hired at $5 an hour was better than minimum wage, but not nearly enough to live on in 1978. In three months casually asking, I discovered the lowest paid operator was double my pay. When he changed my job on the first day he said I'd have to wait three months for a pay raise. I didn't question it, was just grateful for the new opportunity. I was soon on my own shift operating the physical plant and after three months I expected a substantial raise.

I was devastated when he said no raise. I couldn't understand. He'd put other men on shift with me to learn from me. They were all paid more than $10 an hour, livable wages. I'd done nothing but show hard work, skill and dedication at that point. It took more talk to find that none of the others ever received a raise. He didn't give raises and made up ridiculous reasons for it.

I turned twenty years old and still lived in my parents house. I had dreams of finally starting an adult life and having an adult relationship. I couldn't pay for a place to live and women weren't impressed by a boy living with his mommy. My first opportunity in life had dried up, showing itself to be a dead end.

My attitude changed and the job became nothing but a playground, a place to have sex with other disillusioned employees. I still did my job, but barely. I was waiting for enough time to pass for it to look good on my resume, nothing more. That day came after a year and a half, when he said "Raises are only for good Christians." I had never said a single word about religion. I asked what he meant by the comment and he said it was obvious I wasn't Christian because I didn't go to the maintenance department Christmas party! I pointed out that I was WORKING!

I laugh my ass off about it now, but then it was more than I could take. I understood what I'd been told about his ridiculous reasons for denying raises. I showed up early the next day and spoke with the head of personnel. With his bazaar logic working in my favor I hoped for help from her. She told me there had been similar complaints before and there was nothing she could do to help. I didn't want to give up on the job, but I was in a very difficult situation sharing an apartment with a woman I didn't like. I couldn't even get her out of my bed and into her own bedroom. I had to make a livable wage. I quit my first adult job, disappointed and desperate.

A couple years later I'd given up looking for opportunities. There were none. I enlisted in the Navy at 23 years old. My Noble Library studies paid off. I did very well. I had an understanding of the systems that was unheard of in the Navy. It was recognized and rewarded beginning on the first day of my first engineering school.