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The Soundtrack of my Life

Jumpin’ Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones

In Grade 11, I got a job, one I got myself instead of having it given to me. The two years before, I had been a general labourer at the company my father worked for, a shop boy who swept up after the guys who built diesel generators, helped build a contained office for my boss, Richard, moved things around with a forklift, and generally got dirty as hell. It paid decent, but I worked my father’s longer hours, as he was my ride to and from work.

In Grade 11, my mother showed me that Black’s Camera was hiring. Black’s barely exists anymore, reduced to little more than a website doing photo reproduction work. In 1988, it was still one of the major chains that worked with film (interestingly, 1988 was also the year the first-ever digital SLR was released, though I wouldn’t know of that for over another decade), so the hour-print service in the store was usually busy.

I had gotten the job because I knew a bit about cameras and film and how they worked together to make pictures; ASA/ISOs, primarily. My father had given me my first SLR — a Minolta X370 — just prior to my SEVEC adventure a few years earlier, and I had used it as much as I could afford to (well, as must as my parents were willing to pay for my pictures, anyway — this was one reason my mother pressed me to get the job at Black’s).

Our store was perhaps one of the dumpier ones. It was in Trafalgar Village, a perpetual “death mall” where stores typically didn’t last. I never really understood why — the mall was wedged between the GO station and the QEW, had good road access, and a big parking lot. But everyone avoided it. It was an I-shaped mall, with the ends being the anchors: Food City (the grocery store) on one end, Woolco on the other. The Black’s was wedged right next to the Woolco entrance inside the mall, so we had a fair bit of foot traffic.

The anchor stores would change over time. Woolco closed down and was bought out by Walmart as it set foot in Canada. The Food City would eventually become a No Frills, a literal no-name brand food store where everything is labeled yellow with only words, as basic as it gets. The Walmart would eventually moved and be replaced by a Home Depot. After the Walmart moved, Trafalgar Village was mostly razed, the centre section of the I demolished, leaving the anchor buildings … and the Golden Griddle, a waffle house, which only recently closed.

I worked with a small group: three developers, two (other) sales people, the assistant manager, and the manager, Sue. I got along particularly well with Mark (one of the sales people) and Jessica (one of the developers), both of whom went to Sheridan College, and both of whom loved Monty Python. It was from them I got my initial education in all things British Absurdist, even to the point where I had watched Monty Python and The Holy Grail before going to the University of Waterloo, where The Holy Grail is the unofficial movie mascot.

I was the kid. The young one. I did the bulk of the intake for film, both the hourly service and the special orders. Despite Sue’s encouragement, I didn’t feel comfortable doing sales, partly because I was in an introverted period of my life, but also because Mark and the other sales staff were so much better at it. Mark did teach me a number of things, but I only ever once sold a camera during the Christmas rush.

Every day that I worked, I would trudged over after school. Oakville Trafalgar High School was a kilometre and a half from Black’s, a quick bike ride or a walk (in the only winter I worked there). On the days that I walked, I brought my portable cassette player, which regularly featured The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks album, a two-cassette compilation (my first and only double-cassette album) that stayed almost permanently in that player.

Aside from Get Off My Cloud, it had many of the Stones’ other classics, such as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter, Paint It Black, and Sympathy For The Devil. I distinctly remember walking across a cold, snow-filled parking lot to the southwest entrance of Trafalgar Village one dark evening, Mick and crew blaring in my headphones. I played all four sides constantly, but found side three (Side A of Tape 2), which started off with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a frequently-played side, often rewound and restarted. And there’s a reason.

In Hamilton, two cities to the west of Oakville, at the northwestern end of Lake Ontario, there is a television station that went by the call letters CHCH. In my youth, it was one of the few TV stations that didn’t have affiliations with CBC, CTV, Global, or CHUM, which were the major communications companies at the time. This allowed them to do pretty much whatever the hell they wanted, and what they did was produce The Hilarious House Of Frightenstein, a classic horror-esque kids show about an incompetent scientist unable to bring his Frankenstein-like monster (“Brucie”) to life, and the people who lived in his castle.

Of note in this menagerie of people (most of whom were all played by the same actor, Billy Van), the Wolfman stood out the most to me (other than Vincent Price — yes, that Vincent Price — because … well, Vincent Price). The Wolfman (modelled after “Wolfman Jack”, the real US DJ) was the host of the radio station, whose segment always opened with a brief cut of Sly and the Family Stone’s I Want To Take You Higher. He would talk a bit, then he would play his song of the day, which usually involved him and Igor (another character in the show) walking into a psychedelic background (filmed on a blue screen; the “I” on Igor’s shirt would go transparent and always show the background) and danced to the song. One frequent play of theirs was Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

I worked at Black’s until late fall of 1988. I had started a Co-operative Education stream at high school, which strived to put students into “real” jobs to get them an initial kick at life. (I would do this again in university, which paid for my education.) I was placed in a computer store downtown, for which I had the world’s shortest interview (I begged for longer one, just because I needed the credit). Although an unpaid position, I spent so much time there helping out that I ran my required 200 hours in short term, and Rob (the boss) hired me outright. I was relieved as the Black’s job no longer had the appeal, as Sue had returned to the Jackson Square location in Hamilton and her replacement was trying to make a name for himself in all the worst ways. I quit over the phone and never worked a shift there ever again.