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James R. Stout

Monkey Blood

            The year was 1976. I’d love to tell you that it was a wonderful year for me, but I made myself a promise to always be honest and truthful in these blogs. So, it wasn’t a good year. The first few months were OK, but by the time June came around things got bad. Really bad. I apologize for disappointing you, but I simply can’t talk about that month nor most of July for that matter. It’s just too painful. But thankfully, that’s not what this blog post is about. So, get it out of your head. Oh, and don’t ask because I won’t tell.

            By the end of July, I was determined to get a full-time “permanent” job that would make enough money so that me and my girlfriend could get married. In July I was still 20 and she was 17. Way too young to even be thinking about getting married, but hey, we all get stupid sometimes. I applied at several places on my own and although I was offered a couple of jobs, none of them would allow me to earn enough to get married. As ridicules as it may seem, I determined that $4 an hour would get me where I needed to be. I wasn’t thinking about my future or my girlfriend’s future. We just had to get married. No, not that kind of had. It was the kind where you’re young, want to be together, and in those days being “together” without being married still wasn’t done.

            I applied for a job at a vending company, a steel fabrication company (those guys were NUTS – wanted me to work for $3 an hour on the midnight shift), a couple of sales jobs including selling pianos, and I even went to the government’s employment services (can’t remember the actual name of the agency) where they gave me a bunch of aptitude tests to help me figure out what I would be good at. I started feeling like Jim Croce in his song, “Working at The Car Wash”, where nobody could see how brilliant he was and offer him the executive position he deserved. The phrase that I kept hearing was, “Come back when you get more experience.” My question was, “How do I get experience if nobody will hire me without experience?” You know the drill.

            I went to an employment agency around the 17th of July and they sent me out on a job interview at a place that was looking for a route salesman. I knew what that job entailed because my girlfriend’s father was a route salesman. I thought he did alright. I was always good in interviews. At least that’s what I have been told. It must have been true that day because they offered me the job the next day at $4 an hour. I heard wedding bells ringing when the agency called to give me the news.

            I started the next Monday. My job was to drive around in a big underpowered van and deliver supplies and do minor maintenance to the machines that the company sold. The machines? Icee machines. I packed on 20 pounds in the next 5 months from drinking the product! I went from 165 pounds to 185. But to tell the truth it was as much muscle as fat. The job entailed carrying, loading, and unloading heavy boxes that had the syrup in gallon containers as well as the heavy CO2 bottles, etc. My legs and arms got pretty muscled up in that time. I like the job – for about 2 weeks. Then the reality of driving routes based in Houston to Galveston, Bryan, Freeport, Baytown, East Bernard, Brookshire, Humble, and all points in-between got old. A different route each day for two weeks and then start over again. The worst route was the downtown route. Parking was horrible and, in those days, there weren’t any handicap ramps onto the sidewalks which meant tugging and manhandling a two-wheel dolly loaded with product up some curbs that were two feet high. No wonder I was developing muscles in my arms.

            But the job did what it was supposed to do. We made the plans for the wedding and were married on September 24, 1976. A date that shall live in infamy. OK, it wasn’t that bad. But, what’s a little revisionist history? The Democrats do it all the time. Things went along OK for the next few months. While I enjoyed living with my new bride (we had both turned a year older right before the wedding) and all that goes with being young and in love, the truth of our existence started to weigh on my mind. She was still a senior in high school. Did I say we were stupid? I had the responsibility of a wife now. Rent to pay, car insurance, food, gas, phone bill, and the truth was I brought home $504 a month. Our expenses were about the same. Living pay check to pay check had a whole new meaning to me. It wasn’t just a phrase that I heard people bounce around. It was my reality. Worst of all, I felt like I was not pursuing the dreams that had been a part of my life for several years. I got up early, dropped my wife off at school, worked until 5 o’clock, got home around 6 o’clock and I was beat. On most days I was driving 200 miles a day and doing all that loading and unloading and cleaning the machines and so forth. We only had the one car (I bought it when I was 18) and that meant that in the evening’s groceries had to be bought, clothes had to be washed and dried (at a washeteria), and other errands had to be done. And, when you’re newly married you just don’t tell your new bride that you are going to work on some music instead of spending the evening with her. It was a tug of war.

            Christmas rolled around and it was fairly bleak. No extra money for presents. But we each got the other some little something or other and made up for it by putting on “The Best of Bread” and turning the lights out! Then January 3, 1977 came. It was a Monday. I went into work as usual and when I got there my friend Steve (a great guy and co-worker) sheepishly told me that the boss wanted to see me. I asked what was up and Steve just looked down at his shoes and didn’t say anything. Well, a whole flock of butterflies started to bat their wings in my stomach. What did I do? What didn’t I do? I went into the boss’s office and he promptly fired me. He had some trumped-up reasons that didn’t make any sense to me and I said, “Hey, if I can change something and do better, then I will. Just tell me what I need to do.” He told me that he had made up his mind and that was that. I would have to turn in my uniforms by the end of the week if I wanted my last paycheck. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

            I drove back to our apartment in a state of shock. What was I going to do? How was I going to tell my wife? She was still off for the Christmas break from school, so she was home when I got there. I told her and I have to give her credit here. She didn’t get mad. She didn’t start to cry. She didn’t do anything like that. She just hugged me and said, “It’ll be alright. We’ll make it.” That was perhaps one of her finest hours.

            And she was right. We would make it. We had a lean few weeks. I was offered a temporary job doing custodial work for our church. Frankly, it knocked me down more than a few pegs. Church members that I had known for years were getting to see me vacuuming the floors, dusting, cleaning the restrooms, taking out the trash, and doing minor maintenance. My first feeling was humiliation. But then I realized that God had provided me a stop-gap solution. It was low pay, but the church allowed me time off to go on interviews. It helped us to pay rent in February and buy gas etc. One week, after paying all the bills, we only had $12 left for food and gas. I told my wife that we needed $5 for gas. That gave us $7 to buy groceries. We went to the grocery store and I had one of those little red clicker things that added up as you pushed little white buttons on it. Mechanical, not electronic. We got some hot dogs, bread, cheese, and a few other items for about $6.50. We drank water that week. But we made it.

            On February 10, 1977 I interviewed for a job that I saw posted in the newspaper. I was hired and started working on Valentine’s Day. The same day that my Dad had quadruple bypass surgery. I wanted to be at the hospital, but I couldn’t be until I got off work. The job actually paid more than I had been getting paid before. $4.50 an hour! It wasn’t a great job, but it was gainful employment. Oh, and I had been told later that the reason I was fired from the other job was to make room for the boss’s nephew to have a job. I was learning some valuable lessons in life at the ripe old age of 21.

            What I learned from the whole ordeal was that I had a wife who I could count on and more importantly that God provided a way to get through it all. No, He didn’t give me a windfall. But sometimes God allows us to struggle because he knows that through struggles we learn and grow stronger. It was a lesson that God would teach me many times in the future, and I have no doubt that there’s still some teaching yet to come.

            So, when you’re going through hard times and you’re struggling and things look bleak, remember Psalm 46:10. It says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s the being still part that we’re supposed to do and sometimes it’s so very hard to do, but I’m reminded of something that happened when I was young. I was outside playing, and I stepped on a ground wasp. The stinger broke off in my foot. It hurt like the dickens and I was rolling around like a big baby and trying not to cry. My best friend’s mother was outside working in her flowerbed and heard all the commotion and came over to investigate. She knelt down and looked at my foot and then she looked at me and said, “Now, shhh! Just be still and I’ll fix it.” And she did. I didn’t even feel her pull the stinger out. She got some “monkey blood” (if you’re of a certain age, then you’ll know what that is) and put it on my foot and within 30 minutes I was back to playing dodgeball. Sometimes it just takes us being still and letting God put some “monkey blood” where it’s needed.

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