When I married Marlene McDonald in 1967 she was teaching art and English at North High School in Bakersfield, CA, on a provisional teaching credential, and I got a job as a social worker with the Kern County Welfare Department. The provisional credential was only good for three years and this was her third year. With her three years teaching experience she only needed one year of postgraduate study to obtain a lifetime secondary teaching credential. We agreed that she would go to art school in L.A. for a year, then she could teach while I attended veterinary school. The art school she applied to in Los Angeles didn’t like her transcripts. They said they wouldn’t accept her in their regular graduate program but would take her for a probationary year and then decide whether to accept her in their graduate program. She managed to upset the teacher in charge of admissions and never did get into their graduate program, but the one year still got her a teaching credential.
I knew a social worker in Los Angeles who assured me that L.A. was just as desperate for social workers as Bakersfield, but when I applied I was turned down. When I asked why I was told that was privileged information, meaning they wouldn’t tell me. I started a long search for a job and every time I got turned down I got more depressed. This made the next interview even worse. When both of us worked in Bakersfield we managed to save one paycheck a month and had enough to live on in L.A.for at least a year. In hindsight I should have just relaxed and concentrated on the two courses I still needed for veterinary school, analytical chemistry and physics 1B. But all those rejections were making me feel worthless. Poultry slaughter house worker, livestock inspector, nursery worker, pharmaceutical representative, encyclopedia salesman – that’s just a partial list of the jobs I was turned down on.
I finally got a job as a gas station attendant with Standard Stations. They sent me for two weeks training at a gas station in West L.A. where they taught me how to check oil, clean windshields, repair tires, etc. They still did that back then. A highlight came when Charlton Heston drove up in his Rolls Royce and I pumped his gas and checked his oil
I was then assigned to the station in downtown L.A. on Spring Street just a few blocks from where we were living. I was on the night shift from 12 midnight to 8 A.M. Business peaked every night at 2 A.M. when the bars all closed, then quieted down and we spent the rest of the night cleaning up and getting ready for the next day. Cleaning the bathrooms was the worst – somebody usually managed to plug up the toilet and there was water, paper and excrement everywhere.
At the end of the shift the manager added up all the money in the safe and compared it with the cash register record. It was coming up short almost daily. I wasn’t there three days before someone got fired for it, but the shortages kept coming. Then someone else was fired. I figured it must be the assistant manager who was doing it, but realized it was just a matter of time before they would be blaming me. I found another job in a medical laboratory and made my exit.
My new job paid the same minimum wage $2.50 an hour as the gas station job, but it was a lot more interesting. The laboratory had expanded into a variety of non-medical testing and hired me for the non-medical part. We analyzed drugs for the Vernon police department, hamburger for the State of California, tested catheters for sterility. A research scientist at Redi-Whip periodically sent us his new concoctions for analysis for protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc., but when he called for the results he invariably said, “No, that can’t be right. Do it over again.” I did it over and got the same results, and he kept sending new stuff to test.
About half of my work was for Mattel Toy Company, testing all their toys for toxicity, flammability and color-fastness. We fed Barbie Dolls to rats, rubbed bubble soap on the backs of rabbits, burned dolls. There were federal government protocols for all of these tests prescribing what animal to use, how much to give, and how long to run the test. There was a special machine for measuring flammability that timed the rate it took the product to burn. The dolls all passed the test, even though they produced copious amounts of thick black smoke. The smoke was so bad they moved me to a separate room with a ventilator and closed the door. Mattel was interested in finding out if their doll clothes were color fast. They sent me hundreds of different doll clothes to test. I boiled them in water and measured the color on an atomic absorption spectrophotometer. Not many people can say they boiled doll clothes for a living. I saved the doll clothes and later gave them to my daughter.
You should be glad to hear that it’s safe to eat Barbie Dolls, but I wouldn’t recommend burning them. The only real problem we found was that some of the labels were printed with lead ink, and Mattel was swift to correct that.
I got lucky and was accepted for veterinary school on my first try, and that was the end of my doll clothes boiling career.