Wednesday, January 11, 2017

SPIROCHETE—Spiralling In Union 1

Etymology: Greek, speira, coil, chaite, hair

7. Spiralling In Union

We teach ourselves Spanish with the help of Living Spanish Language Course records and manuals from the library. MJ photocopies the manual at work, while I tape the records onto Maxell cassettes. We label items around the apartment and practice speaking Spanish together at every opportunity, imitating the accents on the recordings.

The lease on my wonderful apartment expires at the end of July. The rent is not going up but we want a cheaper place and find a large 2-bedroom suite on the third floor of a walk up at Jane and Wilson in North York. It’s large windows face a park. Oak floors, arched door frames, plastered walls and hand tiled bathroom, once cared for but now rundown and crawling with cockroaches, it’s one hundred and forty-two dollars a month, utilities included. We can’t resist. A bonus for me is the fifteen-minute bus ride to work, but that doesn’t last long.

As I unpack and arrange items in the Jane Street apartment I am acutely aware that this will be my last Canadian home, that soon I will be on the road with no fixed address. This helps me to detach from material things, to unwind my social connections and focus on trip planning.

To accelerate reaching our $4000 goal, I take a proofreading position with AlphaGraphics, a union shop downtown, another long commute. It is not as hard for me to say good-bye to my Southam family as I’d expected it might be. Compugraphic EditWriters and other new technological advancements are revolutionizing pre-press and printing. Layoffs are common and my departure buys a bit more time for someone else so I feel, in a roundabout way, that I’m doing them a favour.
On a hot late-summer afternoon in 1977, in a smoky office, I am welcomed, with a handshake and the stamp of a card, into the brotherhood of the Toronto Typographical Union as a fourth year apprentice. Union wages mean a significant pay increase for me.

I tell my AlphaGraphics foreman that I will work as many hours as I can get. Quickly proving my skills I am often asked to work overtime. I prefer evening and midnight shifts because transit is less crowded and the hourly rate is higher. Shiftwork is hard on my body rhythms and sleep patterns. I never feel fully caught up on rest. Every day I feel that I'm slipping closer to collapsing but press on toward the goal. 

To achieve journeyman status, I do Lessons In Printing by correspondence from the USA offices of the International Typographical Union and for the rest of the year, attend certification courses at George Brown College in the afternoons, proofreading through the midnight shift into the low light of dawn. My final mark of 98% seals the deal to fast track my full journeyman status, thereby guaranteeing global employment opportunities within the brotherhood. There is no sisterhood, and journeywoman is not a word. I accept that. Although women have been admitted since 1869, it's a man's trade.


  1. I'm so hooked on your story. Can't wait for the next installment.

    1. Yay! I'm honoured to have you following me.