Thursday, October 23, 2014

First Job: Working for Dad

Long before I was old enough to get a job legally, I was in need of money. There were games I wanted to buy, and my weekly allowance simply wasn't cutting it.

Luckily, my dad was a self-employed shrimper at the time and could use the help of an enterprising young mercenary. So, my dad became my first boss.

The shrimping industry in south Louisiana is totally trashed now, but it used to be good money. At his height, my dad owned four boats, each sporting the same blue and white color scheme, with their names all painted on the prow in the same font. It was a uniform fleet, and three of the boats were trusted to captains while my dad ran whichever one suited his fancy at the time. He ran the business well, and my family prospered out of poverty.

The industry basically collapsed about ten years ago. Cheap shrimp imported from south Asian countries brought down the value of shrimp considerably, meaning U.S. shrimpers had to catch more shrimp to make ends meet. As a result, the shrimp population in the Gulf of Mexico has decreased dramatically. With fewer shrimp to go around, and the ones that exist being worth less, the profession has lost its allure. Today, my dad has just one shrimping boat, and what was once a way of life for him has since become a mere hobby.

It was still going alright when I started working for my dad, though. My parents have a big, blue, barn-looking shed next to the bayou in their back yard, and I used to spend hours in there working on the nets.

I can't really explain what I was doing to those nets, since I'm not entirely certain myself. I'm pretty sure I was reinforcing their position somehow, but it was never really explained to me. All I knew was that if I did this thing to those nets, I would get $10 for each net I completed. Each net took me about 2 hours to reinforce, so it amounted to about $5/hour, which was pretty close to minimum wage at the time.

There were a few difficulties with the work. It was not skilled labor nor was it terribly strenuous, but working with the thread used on the nets would eventually create calluses and blisters on my fingers.

Worst of all were the wasps, though. Most of the work was done on the second floor of the shed, and that place became lousy with wasps after a week of disuse, especially during the summer. I would often go up there armed to the teeth with fly-swatters, bug spray, and whatever else I could find to reduce the wasp population so I could work unmolested.

The other work I did with my dad was actually shrimping. My motion sickness prevented me from going out into the gulf with him, but we would sometimes take a smaller skiff into the bayous around Pointe-aux-Chenes to catch shrimp by lowering the nets and slowly navigating upstream.

These trips always happened late at night, and we would basically go up and down the waterways for hours and hours. After a while we would lift the nets, dump out what we caught onto a platform on the back of the boat, then I would sort everything out while my dad kept piloting. Shrimp were the goal, so those always stayed. Sometimes we'd catch crabs as well, which we might keep if they were in season. However, the crabs, being the only thing we'd catch with any land mobility, would simply scuttle right back into the water, given the chance. Everything else was removed and tossed back into the water: fish, eels, trash, and whatever else we happened to find. After getting everything sorted, the shrimp would be shoveled into ice chests and the process would start anew.

Mostly, I just remember spending that time trying to sleep, listening to the radio, or both while my dad took care of piloting the boat. I honestly regret not using that time to bond with my dad. But then, I feel that way about a lot of things I did with my dad back then.

Anyway, those trips were supposed to earn me a cut of the profits according to my dad, but that would require me to wait until he sold the catch, and the actual earnings would be variable. I was impatient and couldn't wrap my head around the idea of a profit split, so I usually just pushed to take $20 and be done with it. In short, I was a little turd, and not a very smart one.

Still, for some reason my dad kept giving me work, so I kept doing it until I started driving and almost immediately backed into my sister's car. To pay for the damages, I needed to get a more steady job.

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