Well educated or not, my friends and I all had problems finding work. Much of this may have been that we were not well connected to hiring managers, went to the ‘Y’ Weight Room, not the country club, or perhaps attended no cocktail parties, long known as fertile ground for networking.
Regardless, we plodded along, reading the “HELP WANTED” section of the local press, responding to advertised open positions, but always coming up empty. Out of frustration, Paul Lalos, a Viet Nam vet, started his own house painting company, hired himself, and then gave the rest of us jobs, paying $3.50 an hour under the table in cash, a decent wage for most of us back in the Summer of 1976.
This house painting venture didn’t last very long. Paul had been given a decent contract to paint the Vratsenes Estate in Bedford. He told me he had accomplished this by underbidding all of the other painting contractors. Also, as a means of cutting costs and improving his profit margin, he jury rigged much of his ladders, scaffolding, and so forth. This could and would become problematic.
Paul needed to paint the coving near the apex of the main roof. Lacking an extension ladder, he had precariously balanced a ladder over the rooftop of the adjoining garage. To stabilize this ersatz platform, he had secured the top of the ladder to a large maple tree in the front yard by a long rope. This was necessary because the ladder projected well beyond the garage roof. Initially the improvised contraption worked well......until one of the other guys, while walking through the front yard, noticed the rope coming from out of nowhere attached for no apparent reason to that maple. When the rope was untied, the ladder became unsecured and in a “see-saw” action, dumped Paul off the roof into a pile of loam on the ground, and while this was happening, the can of white paint which Paul had been using on the coving, was catapulted high into the air, spattering its contents all over the black roof. The roof now looked horrible, but Paul was nonplused by this unexpectedly adverse development.
As a remedy, he drove down to Stan’s Masury Paint Store and purchased several cans of black spray paint, his intent being to cover up the evidence of the spill. By the time he had finished, the roof looked as good as he said it would......until the next day. The problem was that the spray paint had been water based. There had been torrential rain overnight which had caused the black paint to run down over the white structures below. The Vratsenes Estate now looked like a vanilla hot fudge sundae, and the owner in a very heated verbal exchange told Paul that his services were no longer needed. Tough break for Paul.
The rest of us resumed our job search with little to show for the effort put forth.
Then one of our group got lucky. It may have been Bob Todt who talked himself into a job with Servicemaster, an industrial cleaning company contracted to clean many of the downtown office buildings.
Bob found out that Servicemaster needed more crew to take on its ever expanding accounts, so in short order, he spread the word among the Goons, most getting hired on the spot to undertake a variety of janitorial roles. Making final cuts were me, Pro, Todt, The Lupa Brothers
( Don and Mike), Charley Chase and several more.
The work was evenings, Monday through Friday from 6 to midnight. Our Supervisor’s name was Harriet Ouellette, an easy going, middle-aged woman whom upper level management provided with a white lab coat to give the appearance of only God knows what. At check in time at 6, she would give us our assignments for the evening, typically cleaning the Bank East Offices, or Hampshire Plaza Tower Offices, and Merchant’s Bank. Initially Bob and I were assigned to the wife of Roger Ellison, a friend of ours from the ‘Y’, though she told Bob and I from our first encounter that she didn’t like us, something about having led her hubby astray. We never heard the particulars, but apparently our locker room conversation had spurred Roger’s desire for extramarital trysts. We were all single, while Roger was married with two children. Dumb move on his part. The other problem was that when Roger began to develop strength and muscle, he wasn’t able to handle it. Not long after he had bench pressed 200 lbs for the first time, he called his boss outside and beat him up, losing his job along with his marriage.
Regardless of the details, Roger had been thrown out of the house by his wife, and was currently staying across the street in a room at the ‘Y’. It didn’t take Harriet long to pick up on the shabby treatment Bob and I had been receiving from Roger’s soon to be ex. She quickly intervened, telling us that from now on it would be she who gave us our specific cleaning chores.
Next night, Pro and I were supposed to be buffing floors in the Plaza Tower. I had never used one of these power appliances before, but thought it would be easy to fake. As soon as I turned on the floor buffer, I began to suspect I had been badly mistaken, the floor buffer whistling off down the hallway and half way up one of the corridor walls, with me hanging on for dear life the whole time as Pro laughed so hard I thought he’d be needing a change of underwear.
I’m lying spread eagled on the floor with the floor buffer now moving in lazy circles under its own power. The elevator bell sounded, and the door opened. In a flash, The Pro had grabbed the errant buffer and, still laughing loudly, was smoothly going up and down the corridor as Harriet disembarked the elevator, impressed by what she thought was Pro’s mastery of floor cleaning while I appeared to have been checking for flaws in the job he had done, lying there as I was face to linoleum.
Neither Pro nor I were expecting what happened next. Harriet told us she was so impressed by our work ethic that he and I could leave whenever our assigned work had been completed.
“And that goes for Bob Todt and the other guys from the ‘Y’ too, ” she volunteered, explaining how she had so often had to fire help for holing up sleeping in a closet, or drinking alcohol on company time.
So for the next several months my friends and I would show up at 6, take our cleaning assignments, and go off like a gang of “White Tornadoes” for typically less than an hour, but Harriet paid us for six. It was great.
One night all of us were taking a break after work, lounging around in the break room high up in The Hampshire Plaza Tower. I happened to look down below in time to see Roger Ellison leaving the ‘Y’.
“Hey, look! There goes Roger,” I told the guys, all of us now gawking out the window, following Roger’s path up Mechanic Street to Elm, where he entered the local McDonald’s eatery there.
What stood out the most about Roger was that he was older than us, perhaps in his early 30s, and wanted, more than anything else, to develop a good build. I can recall conversations we had in which he itemized all of the dietary supplements he was taking to achieve that end. Caught in bits and pieces, it sounded as though he was taking vitamin I before E except after C, or when swallowed with A. His phosphorus intake was so high I’m surprised he hadn’t gone up in spontaneous combustion. Roger was ingesting so much calcium that we were all surprised he had not become prematurely fossilized. Talk about a revolutionary way to develop a statuesque physique!
But Roger’s trip to McDonald’s was decidedly out of character. In hindsight, it’s possible that the stress of losing his family and his job, along with lack of income, had driven him to the fast food emporium of nutritional crap.
My flare for practical jokes immediately surfaced, quickly dropping a dime into the pay phone in our break room and calling the Elm Street Mc Donald’s. When the manager answered the phone, I asked to speak with Roger Ellison.
“Who?” I was asked.
“Roger Ellison,” I explained, “The guy wearing the blue, ball cap, sweat pants, and tight tee shirt. He just entered the place.
“Are you Roger Ellison?” I heard the manager ask, and sounding alarmed, Roger replied in the affirmative, quickly taking the phone.
“Hello? Hello? This is Roger Ellison. Who’s this?”
With the other Goons surrounding me, I began the ploy.
“Rogah......Dis ist Ahnold! Vat are you doing at McDonald’s? Eef you vont to be bodybeelding champyun.....YOU STAY AVAY FROM ZAT CROP!”
I hung up before the laughter from my friends could have given me away. A moment later, Roger dashed out of McDonald’s, his head pivoting on a 180 degree swivel in an ineffective attempt to find out who had seen him and placed the call. We all laughed about that one for the next several months.
Not long after this, Don Lupa got into trouble. He had been cleaning a law office in the Hampshire Plaza Tower. When the phone rang, he answered, the caller wanting to know who he was and what he was doing there.
As a joke, Don told the caller that he was a burglar in the process of robbing the place. He hung up and resumed his cleaning chores for several more minutes until the office doors crashed open and in leaped a team of Manchester police with weapons drawn.
“FREEZE!” they screamed, weapons drawing a bead on his torso.
His hands raised in surrender, Don shouted out, “BUT I WAS ONLY JOKING!”
I think Don Lupa’s career with Servicemaster ended here abruptly.
My flair for practical jokes had not yet been assuaged. I had been assigned to clean the offices in Bank East and was in the process of cleaning the office of the Vice President. “Russell Bellemare” read the name plate. I knew Russ well, having attended school with him from kindergarten through high school. So I thought it might be funny to treat him to one of my one of a kind pranks, leaving a scary note on his desk.
“Russell Bellemare,” began the note.
“I’m watching you always, Russell. My plan is to put you under via a chloroform soaked rag. Then I will slice you open from your xyphoid sternum to pubis, remove all of your internal organs, and then sell them to the Red Chinese. I can hardly wait!
Leopold J. Calligari, M.D.”
Next night, Russ left a message on his desk.
“Leopold,” began Russ’s note, “You are in a lot of trouble!”
So I left yet another note telling him “They’ll never take me alive,” going on to make more predictions of what was in store for him, all of them as sick as the original.
Bank East held its New Year’s Eve 1977 party at a rental hall in Goffstown. I had been recruited by one of my friends on the Goffstown Police Department to serve as a bouncer at this function, and sure enough, Russ Bellemare showed up at the door with his wife.
“JIM!” he shouted out upon seeing me there, “How are ya?”
I shook his hand, wanting to know if he’d yet been approached by Dr. Calligari for his innards. Russ recoiled and took on an ashen tone.
“HEY! How’d ya find out about that?”
So I told him that it was I who had left him that twisted note. What Russ had to say went well beyond what I would have expected. He told me that the note had been turned over to the police and that the FBI was involved. Then he laughed, told me not to worry about it, and that he would still be able to diffuse the situation. Close call. Russ, always could, and apparently was still able to take a joke. Lucky for me he hadn’t changed. Not long after this, he left town to work as a banker in Plano, Texas. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.
Except for Don Lupa, all of us left Servicemaster of our own accord. Harriet told us she was sorry to see us leave. Bob Todt began his own industrial cleaning company. I took a long term substitute teaching position at Central High, Don Lupa took a job selling cars for Dobles Chevrolet, his brother Mike operated a personal effects storage company, and Charley Chase became Chief of Police for Tilton-Northfield. Roger Ellison, faced with child support and no income, fled the country for Canada. The last I heard, he was staying at the Montreal YMCA where he had a job folding
towels and got to lift weights for free.