Does Big Hair Make You Resilient?

Since losing my job recently I have been thinking about all the times I’ve been broke and how I survived. If you lived through the 80’s, you really have survived worse. And I’m not just talking about the hair! (Read about how I was fired: Vaccination: the 24/7 Helmet You Can Never Remove)

What was it like in the 80’s? Inflation, sky-high interest rates, no one hiring and if they were, it was usually part time so they wouldn’t have to pay any benefits.

Part of the problem was demographic. I am at the tail end of the biggest population boom in history. For me, this meant that every school was full to bursting by the time I got there, all the way through. Line ups and waiting lists for every art class or volunteer position…every entry-level job filled. Getting a good paying union job was for those who had connections or a parent already working there.

When you did get a job, you kept your head down, tried not to cause any problems, and worked your butt off. The only hope I had was to outwork anyone else because I knew there were thousands of people who would walk in and take my job in a heartbeat. The boss would tell us that, too.

Hustle it up for $2/hr

The first job I got was through a friend at school as a bus girl at a Greek restaurant. The work was fast-paced with a manic quality to it, made more difficult because the owner would bark orders in a thick Greek accent. On one of my first shifts on a Friday night the house was packed and as I came out of the back, Mr. Tangas yelled something and pointed. I took off at a run towards the direction he’d sent me and then realized I had no idea what he wanted me to do. Didn’t understand a word he’d said. In a panic, I turned around and ran back to him. I can still see him rolling his eyes.

It turned out that $2 an hour was below minimum wage. My friend found out and went to the labour board. I got a raise and she got fired.

How DARE You Ask for a Loan!

Throughout the 80’s I remember applying for credit cards over and over again, even though the interest rates were well over 20%. I couldn’t get one! Banks were stingy and wouldn’t lend money either, citing your lack of credit history.

I was refused a $1,200 car loan after I’d been working at a full time job for nearly a year. Of course, I was only making $4.00 an hour. I dressed up in my best clothes, went in at the appointed time, and sat across from someone who grilled me about why I wanted the money. They frowned at my work record and wages and, after an hour or so of intense questioning, told me they would call in a few days. I was turned down. Women often were.

Luckily, the guy who was selling the car let me make payments directly to him so we worked it out privately. It was a ’79 Camaro – my first car.

People traded all kinds of things to bypass taxes or punitive interest rates on loans. There is always a way to get what you need if you’re creative.

Still, it left its mark on a whole generation of us.

Expo ’86 – Wasn’t That a Party!

In the mid-80’s, I found myself living in the biggest city in our province and completely broke. I’d quit two part time jobs and moved to the city after my cousin had called me and said, “Kathy! Get your ass down here! I can get you a job at Expo. It’s one great big party!” So I packed up my ’71 Mazda station wagon with everything I owned and left town. I couldn’t count change like my cousin so slinging beer was out. I had to work in a kiosk without many tips. She was right, though – what a party! Note: it’s ok to be broke if you’re surrounded by friends who are also broke. Kind of evens the playing field and you don’t feel left out.

No Shoes, No Job

After Expo ended, thousands of kids were looking for work so the competition for even the measliest job was fierce. Same with places to live.

I managed to luck into a place because the landlord’s answering machine broke and I was the first call he answered when he got home. His name was Haagan and the rental was in a house he’d carved into several apartments. Mine was the smallest space and didn’t have a bedroom but that was ok because I slept on a blanket folded in half. The rent was a decent $340 a month.

Sadly, my ’71 Mazda had packed it in shortly after I arrived during an ill-fated sight-seeing trip through Stanley Park. Because I couldn’t afford bus fare, I found part time work within walking distance of my new apartment as a waitress. I walked home alone through those dark streets, often in the rain, late at night.

Paying for food was a struggle. Luckily, one of the cooks had a crush on me and when he was working there’d often be a “mistake” sent back to the kitchen. These he would give to me. Usually this was a huge sundae with whipped cream!

After a couple weeks of working I was sent home in the middle of a shift because the manager noticed that I wasn’t wearing the regulation brown leather shoes. Haagan drove me downtown to the Army and Navy and lent me $20 to buy shoes to save my job. I am still grateful for his kindness.

Three Broke Friends

Eventually, I met two friends to hang out with. How we met is a story in itself but suffice to say, neither of these guys were any good with money. One was a philosophy undergrad who would get a student loan every now and then and blow through it within the first week. The other was a poet who didn’t make any money at all so was on welfare. After paying the rent for his room in a dank, downtown building filled with old opium smokers, he was left with almost nothing to live on.

We used to walk around the city and talk about where we’d come from, the meaning of life, and what we wanted out of it. That’s when I learned that unless you were rich, you really couldn’t enjoy all the things a big city offers.

We had some friends in bands and when they were playing we’d scrounge up the cover charge and enough money to share a pint of beer. Walking several hours there and back was its own adventure.

Often we found ourselves hungry and broke, usually after blowing our money on a cheap bottle of wine the night before. Hey! A kid’s gotta live!

Unemployment Soup

One day we went grocery shopping with 54 cents. We had gone through every coat pocket to get that 54 cents and I said, “Good! Now we can eat!” They were skeptical but we made the trek to the local discount supermarket. I picked up an onion, two potatoes, a handful of barley, and an oxo cube from the bulk bins and we went through the checkout. We kept buying small amounts and going through the checkout. Finally, we managed to spend 52 cents. Then we walked back home and made a delicious soup.

As tough as things were, the three of us were horrified when we visited our friends in the band one day and found out they’d gone to a local food bank. They were thrilled to just be given all that food. They were worse with money than we were, yet always had cigarettes and plenty of booze and drugs, too. In fact, I think we were there bumming smokes and tickets to one of their upcoming gigs. Still, the three of us were in agreement that the foodbank was for people who really needed it.

What Comes Around

I read recently that a bank loan was like an umbrella – the bank is happy to give you one when it isn’t raining but if it even looks like it might rain, they will quickly take it back and won’t give any more out. It’s an economic irony that when interest rates are high and the banks would be making more money off of you, they won’t lend you any.

Now everyone and their dog have several credit cards. If interest rates shoot up somewhere into the 20 percents like they did in the 80’s, many people will get a lesson in compounding interest.

I hope that this time around there will be more jobs so that no one is forced to keep quiet about unsafe work or to put up with sleazy bosses for substandard wages.

Torture Lecture the Kids

I tell my son these stories as he’s worried that the government will tie the new passports to bank accounts and debit cards. The underground economy flourishes when governments and banks get too heavy-handed. I’ve seen it.

We will all need to get creative and find others who are in a similar place. Resilience and imagination will carry us through tough times. If nothing else, we’ll have even more stories to torture the kids with!


  1. Anonymous.

    I pray we see the day this hypocrisy is publicly laughable – not just for myself but you everyone out there like you. Yesterday the new matrix movie came to theaters, showing your health passport to see the movie the matrix, c’mon don’t even buddy you chose the blue pill!!!

    “When life closes a door a window opens” I’m not sure if that’s how the quote goes but there will be a silver lining we just have not found it yet. I know in my heart we will look back on these tough times one day and say “thanks to the BS we went through it ended up pushing us to do _______! “

    “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire!” -Charles Bukowski

    • Thank you for the comment! We are in some strange-ass times, that’s for sure…
      Stay strong and have FUN!

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