Before we knew the dangers of lead, or, at least it wasn’t radioactive!

A brief stint at a lamp factory [read: garage] trampolined my fear of the bus to my fear of public transportation in general. I took a bus to work at six a.m. and the Florida heat would already be converting the pavement to gummy bears. Stepping on a piece of chewing gum might have been less hazardous. I thought I would go to work to support my creative writing habit, it not occurring to me that maybe it should work the other way around.

Something about an advertisement in the paper spoke to me. I used to cut the ads out and tape them into that day’s planner page, looking through them now reminds me that on any given day, there would only be ONE job that had the hours on the bus route, no OSHA standards, no career path (after all, I was an artist!), and no benefits (which would have signaled I “sold out”). The lamp factory gig offered all this plus cash (actual green money) when they paid me, sporadically, with checks that didn’t always clear the bank. I think I was there a couple of months. It may have been weeks.

The first thing I saw when I walked into the garage-like structure was the bird painting ladies. Watching them paint faces on bisque-fired ceramics, I remember thinking “this seems creative” [read: this smells like asthma]. Then they took me to my work area and gave me a particle mask and strapped me to a massive spray gun the size of a backpack leaf blower. Using a particle mask in a gas mask situation seemed a little iffy to me, but I was still gung-ho. It kept me out of the front room, where the ladies painting eyes on the birds chain-smoked, and kept their eyes on me.

The cool part of the whole experience was the lamps themselves, situated in ceramic planters, popping on when you touched a leaf on the plant. This was 1981, and this was technology! Only the owner connected the hand-painted wired-up lamps to the plants, the guy was pretty nutty about all these old lady bird-beak painters (and me) stealing his invention.

If you watch A&E’s Storage Wars, you have seen these retro lamps. They’re worth about a hundred billion dollars now. The owner was never there on payday, problematic when you needed bus fare. In the end, it didn’t matter, because right around the corner was my dream job. And it wasn’t even listed in the paper.

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