Six Weeks

October 30, 2010 at 3:56 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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November 1989

I had been out of work for six weeks.  The longest period of unemployment in my life so far, and in fact since then–knock on wood.
Six weeks is a long time for someone used to working.  I had been fired from the warehouse job, due to my inability to look behind me when I back up–what am I, an owl?  It had less to do with what I did than when I did it–we had moved to a new facility and they needed to set a standard, and I was made an example.
Or possibly the owner’s wife had cast my horoscope and decided it was time for me to move on…
Either way, I was SOL.
A week later, I went by the warehouse to pick up my last check.  My wife and I were down to one car, which worked well when I was working third shift.  It worked even better when I didn’t have a job.  On this day, I took her to work so I could have the car.
I walked in, said hi to a few of the people, but I didn’t know these guys.  I worked thirds, and rarely saw these people.  On the way out, I happened to cross paths with Bill Henry–owner, operator, and CEO of Henry’s transportation.
We chatted briefly, and I tried to remain calm.  There was something I wanted to ask him, if he gave me an opening.
“Can you give me my job back?”
He looked away, averted his eyes, and made some answer that was essentially a no.  But he couldn’t look me in the eye when he said it.
Not when I had my 18-month old infant son asleep on my shoulder.

I had applied for unemployment, and I did receive some.  But then there was a hearing, because I had been fired.  Henry’s wanted to deny my claim.  I didn’t go to the hearing.  I received four weeks of 138 dollar payments, and then had to pay back about two or three hundred dollars.
We were hurting for money, and I was looking for work…but I don’t think I was looking very hard.  I don’t know what happened.  But we did call our bishop from church, and he hooked us up with the storehouse, so that we were able to get food.
I didn’t have to do anything when I went there, but of course I felt obligated.  I would help out for a few hours, packing up other orders, helping load a truck, and things like that. After that I load up my own order in the car, about half a dozen paper bags full of groceries and staples.
It was into November, and still no work.  I talked to people I knew–no leads.  Well, I had done pizza before, I can do it again, I thought.  While we lived in Jennings, we would frequent Florissant because that’s where my parents lived, and I could mooch a few things from them.  On Lindbergh there was a Domino’s–but I had done that before, so why would I want to do that again?  Across the street was a Pizza Hut and also a small chain place called E’s Pizza.
The manager at Pizza Hut was almost hostile.  “Sorry, not hiring right now.”  He brusquely turned away to other matters.
At E’s, I asked for an application and got one.  Okay, that’s a start.  I was hopeful.  I turned it in a few days later.  I let it go a couple of days, then called, asking for the manager.  He’s not in.  Click.  Fuck me.  I’ll try again tomorrow.
The next day was Friday, and I called E’s again.  Can I talk to whomever is in charge?  I got an assistant manager on the phone.  I explained that I had put in an application a few days ago, and was there any prospect–
“Yeah, I don’t really know.  I don’t think we’re really looking for anyone right now.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have put all my hopes and expectations in one basket, because they just got crushed.  I had my head in my hands, sitting on the couch.  Baby Mitchell sat on the floor playing with something I probably shouldn’t have let him have.  On the coffee table in front of me was the Yellow Pages, opened to the page with E’s Pizza on it, because I had to look up the number to call them.
I looked at it, and saw the ad for Domino’s Pizza.  I don’t want to go back there, I don’t.  And would they take me back?  But…the process started to roll through my brain…the franchise I had worked for didn’t own ALL the Domino’s.  That one in Florissant, for instance, was owned by another company.  What could it hurt?
I got the number, but I wasn’t hopeful about the prospects.  It was about 1 pm on a Friday, and I didn’t expect the manager to be working dayshift.  Hesitantly, I made the call.
“Domino’s Pizza–”
“Yeah..hi.  I was hoping to maybe talk to a manager, or–”
“This is Keith, I’m the manager.”
I perked up.  “Oh, great.  I was wondering if you might be hiring.  I was an MIT for A&M before, but I was looking to drive, or something like that.”  I tightened up, expecting to get the big blow off.
He said, “We had back to back 75 pie hours last night, and we expect to be even busier tonight.  You could work inside for the weekend, and drive when your MVR comes back in a few days.  Wanna do that?”
Holy shit, do I ever!  “Yeah!  That’d be great!  When do you want me to be there?”
“Between 4 and 430, so we can get your paperwork started.  What’s your name?”
“Bryan.”
“Alright, Bryan, we’ll see you around four.”
“Terrific!  Thanks, I’ll see you then.”
Holy shitfuck, I just got hired.  Over the phone, no less.
Of course, I had just been hired for a driving job.  And we had one car.  How am I–Never mind.  I got a job.  I’ll work out the details later.  For now, I had to make some calls.
The wife was excited, too, and happy that her shiftless, directionless, lazy husband had found a job.  I was going to have to go pick her up, bring her and the baby home, and then head off to work.  I needed to–
Geez, I needed to take a shower.  And shave–I looked like I was preparing for deer season.  How do you do this with a baby?
Mitchell was happy–I was happy, and he responded to my enthusiasm with baby laughter and a big smile.  I swooped him up and put him in his high chair that I brought into the bathroom, playing and talking with him as I did.  I gave him some cereal to eat or play with, his choice, as I talked to him about my new job in an excited voice while I shaved and took a shower, and kept an eye on him.  I thought I was pretty ingenious for figuring out how to do this.  I got dressed, got him changed and cleaned up, and we were ready to go.
I believe this was about two weeks before Thanksgiving.  I still had my khaki pants that I wore when I worked at Domino’s before.

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Three Blind Mice

October 26, 2010 at 9:02 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I’d hate to think it was just me, and luckily, it’s not.
A week or so ago, Don came up to me.  “Can you do me a favor?  Can you tell me where this is?”
He needed my help finding something on the map?  But he’s been here longer than me.  Obviously, he recognized the skills that I–
Looking at the map, he continued, “I left my damn glasses at home, and I can’t see if that’s the street I need.”
Oh.  Okay, then.  I get closer to the map, peer in, then drop my glasses because these damn no-line bifocals are only good for telling me that I can’t see something.  Close in, the map is a rendered in beautiful detail.  From a distance of three feet, it might as well be a plate of spaghetti.
I confirmed for him that it was indeed the street he wanted.
It’s a Monday night, so it’s a little slow and it’s a bit quiet, the way us older folk like it.  Not as many people here, and the ones that are working are more subdued, more low-key.  Courtney, for one–Courtney is not here.  She’s a loud, brash, energetic, peppy, perky 17-year old.  We don’t need that.  Not on a Monday.
I grab my run and amble to the van.  The van is easier to get in and out of than the car was–no bending down, no climbing out.  I just grunt and slide right over.  Nice.  In the dark, clear evening, against the backdrop of glare from porch lights, streetlights, and passing cars, I can’t make out a street sign to save my life, much less a number on the house.  Well, I know I’m close.  That sign–I can’t read it, but it doesn’t look long enough to be “Reddington.”  Keep going.
I should have used my old trick that I use to make sure I can find a street that is directly off of a busy drag–counting.  If I expect traffic to be heavy and I don’t want to slow down every ten feet and try to read a sign, I just count on the map:  “Elm is one, two, three, four streets past this light at Hurst.  Four.  If I get to William I went too far.”  But this was the middle of a subdivision; normally it’s not a problem.
The next street up could be the street I need.  The stop sign is obscured by a tree–on purpose, I’m sure–and when I pull around to see the side of it I need, I find it glowing with the light of the streetlight making a perfect back light.
So of course I can’t read it.  As I sit awkwardly in the middle of an intersection in this subdivision, a car cruises past me.  They slow down to see me squinting and looking up at a tree, from their perspective.  I can’t read the sign, but I think I see an “R.”  And the sign is long enough that it’s either Reddington or Remington.  Either way, I’m close.
I roll down the street and catch sight of a house number.  Or part of one.  I see a “53” and then a line.  Probably a 537.  Okay, good, I’m close, because what I’m looking for is 3556, and that was probably 3537.  Down about four or five houses on the other side.  Of course, that house has no light and no number that I can see.  But the house just past it I catch sight of a six and something that could be zero–either an O or a zero or possibly the letter Q, or even the Greek letter theta would be close at this point.
Confidently, I walk to the door.
And I walk away with a five dollar tip.  I’ve heard that when one of your senses is diminished, the others improve.  We already know that I’m going deaf.  I can’t hear about 80% of anything–and the rest I just ignore.  Since I’ve become a smoker, I feel like my sense of taste and smell are covered in a fine gray soot.  And now the eyes–
The eyes have always been bad.  I’ve been near-sighted since puberty.  Growing older has actually helped, because you become far-sighted.  These two-counter-acting energies have balanced each other out, and my eyes have stopped getting worse.  I think.  Well, there’s no change in acuity, but I can’t focus like I used to.  The ol’ eyeballs used to be able to change and change back, focus and refocus again, instantly, in split second, adjusting it’s size to the needed task and then snapping back quickly, like a sorority girl’s vagina.
Now my eyes are more like an old woman’s vagina.  They’re dry all the time, for one thing.  And there is no “snapping back” quickly.  Imagine rubber band that’s not a rubber band any more.  It’s just a string.  Tied in a knot.  Bottom line: whether it’s an old woman’s vagina or my eyes, you can’t see shit with either one.
So what sense have I gained, then?  I feel an increase in my sense of irony, ironically.  But what gets me by when my other senses have failed me is my sense of direction (it’s a real sense) and my audacity.  And my instincts.  I don’t have any other explanation for it, but man, can I ever find my way around like a Jedi.  And I might as well be driving around with one of the helmets on like Luke did.

Back at the store, my eyes adjust to the harsh indirect fluorescent light.  I have trouble seeing my way around, but I can feel, and I can smell.  I smell…
I smell pizza.
Okay, it’s not that bad, really.  But this is the part of growing old that bugs me.  I don’t like to have to–I don’t want to just accept it.  I don’t want to acquiesce, dammit.  I’m 45 years old, and I still feel–up here, in my head–like a kid.  How can my body be getting old when my brain is still teenager?
I was distracted from my temporary dementia by The Dude.  “Hey, man, can you show me where this street is?  I’ve been there before but I keep forgetting…”

Don’t Worry, Baby

October 19, 2010 at 9:54 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment

I was thinking recently that Detroit and I needed to have “our song.”
We do want to get married, but there are obstacles, not the least of which is her current husband.  As soon as we can take care of that–
As soon as we can, I want to marry her.  God–pathetic little needy me.  I do need her.
So I sent her a short list of some songs, some ideas I had.  Then she sent back her suggestion, and it was one that I had previously turned her on to.
“Born For Me,” by Paul Westerberg.  Although the version we most often listen to is one on a tribute album by UnKevin and Madison–Madison being his six year old daughter.  It’s beautiful, I think.  And sweet.
But in the last twenty-four hours I’ve had a different song in my head, or at least a few lines from it.  I’m not sure what album it was from but I remember that I had it on vinyl.  It was a Beach Boys record, and the song I remember now is “Don’t Worry, Baby.”
It has a soothing melody.

Detroit is in the hospital.  Again.  I don’t believe I wrote about the first time, and I’m not sure why.  Let’s go with “busy.”
A few weeks ago, she had stomach craps, then vomiting.  Everything came back up.  We thought–or I thought–that it might just be the flu, or food poisoning.  However, with food poisoning, once you throw up, although you are still sick you do feel remarkably better…usually.
Hers was not the case.  Of course we waited until about 11pm that night to go the hospital, which she blames on me.  Fine.  But from now on–
She went in, they did a CAT scan, they admitted her.  She was in from Tuesday night until Saturday afternoon.  They never really explained–and maybe they didn’t know–if it was an intestinal blockage, an infection, or a combination thereof, or something else entirely.
My own theory is that she got some kind of virus that had been going around, and because of her Crohn’s disease, it exacerbated, she got an infection in her intestines, and that caused it to swell up, causing the blockage.  The fact that the antibiotics they put her on cleared it up seems to back up my theory.  I’m not a doctor, but I do play one on TV.
The other night before I got home, she started to feel sick.  Hard cramping, and by the time I got home she started vomiting.  This is not good.  We took her to the hospital.
Of course, taking her is one thing.  Getting her seen is quite another.  We left the house about 830, so we’re at the hospital about a quarter till–it’s not far.  Okay, this is the ER.  First, she checks in–whatever that entails.  I went to park and by the time I came in, her and her mom were sitting in the waiting room.
I was always under the impression that the waiting room of the ER was for people that weren’t sick waiting for people that were being seen.  She was obviously in pain, and occasionally hacking into a plastic vomit bag they had conveniently given her.
Presently they called her name, and we all walked up.  But this wasn’t to go in.  No, the receptionist or whatever the hell she is just had her sign a form, and then put a wristband on her.  We all sat down.
Detroit sat whimpering in pain, trying to lean back and close her eyes, but she kept doubling over from the cramping.  When she threw up, she held my hand and squeezed.
Finally they called her name again–the triage nurse.  It’s past 930, we’ve been here almost an hour–this is the emergency room, isn’t it?  She goes in the small room with the triage nurse, and comes back out about 7 or 8 minutes later.  We wait.
We continue to wait.
She’s in pain, trying to keep quiet, sitting next to me.  Since we’ve been there, she’s thrown up into her little plastic bag about three times.  Each time, someone else in the waiting room would get up and leave.  I don’t know where they went.
I got up, though, and went to the front desk.  Two chunky-looking orderly/nurse/whatever (and that’s something that bugs me about hospitals–everyone wearing scrubs, how the hell do you know who is who?  Is the young guy and orderly, or a Doogie-Howser-like genius doctor?  Is the chick shaving you a nurse, an orderly, or just another patient with a fetish?  I just don’t know whom I am addressing and whether or not I should tip–
Maybe people perceive me to be large and intimidating–and that has come in handy on occasion–but I’m in no mood to be tazered by security right now.  I put on my friendly face–which even under the best of circumstances can be disconcerting–and approach the desk.  “Hi!”
Chunky #1 seemed taken aback.  She said, “Can I help you?”
I went with the cheerful and bright, but slightly naive approach.  They don’t know what I know.  “Well I was just wondering–we’ve been here for quite a while, and my fiance is obviously in pain.  And vomiting.  Throwing up in the waiting room.  And no one has told us anything–”
Chunky #2 at her keyboard said, “And her name?”
I told her and she looked it up.  Meanwhile, Chunky #1 tried to maintain some level of control.  It’s important, according to her training, to diffuse these situations and not let them spiral out of control.  You also want to maintain an air of authority.  Either that or call over the security team, who was sitting 20 feet away in their office, itching to take down a buckin’ bronc.
Chunky #1 said, “I am sorry about your wait.  We are calling people up in order, as soon as there is room.  It will be soon, I promise.”  She said all this in a stern but begrudgingly polite tone.
“Okay.  That’s good.  No one had given us any indication before, you see?”  And by “no one,” I meant her pathetic, non-communicating ass.  Don’t just point and grunt towards the waiting room, bitch.  Tell us something.
“Fuck off over there.”
I mean, tell us something comforting.
“Fuck off over there, please.  It’ll be a few minutes.”
…I suppose that’s better.
I sat back down.  Now maybe it was just a coincidence, and maybe I should have just waited a little longer.  But in less than three minutes after I conversed with the lovely Chunky ladies, Chunky #1 called Detroit’s name and led us through to the ER proper.
A gruff linebacker-type orderly came in and gave her a gown to put on, then he left.  He came back in a few minutes and stabbed her with a plastic spork to get her IV started and draw some blood.  Detroit winced in pain at first, but it escalated to a quiet yelp as she levitated off the gurney.  Conan the orderly scoffed and said, “Pussy.”
Eventually some normal humans came in and took care of her.  I dozed off and on in the chair.  The nurse–who looked like all the nurses on TV shows–said they wanted to do a CAT scan.  She had one the last time she was in, so she knew the drill.  It was now about midnight.  Detroit told me to go home, and take her mom with.  If they let her out, she’ll call.
We went home.
As we said goodbye, Detroit repeated to me what she had said to me earlier.  Apparently I wear my heart on my sleeve, and my emotions right on top of my face.  She said, “Don’t worry, baby.”  Everything will turn out all right–
Or maybe that’s just the line from the song.  I said, “I will if if I want to.”
Again she said it, holding my hand when I left, “Don’t worry, baby.  I’m going to be okay.”

I hope so.  This almost more than I can take right now.  I don’t even want to talk about all the bizarre thoughts I’ve been having.  It’s too much, I tell ya–Too much.  I can’t spend this much time in head.

Well, Never Mind, Then

October 14, 2010 at 8:20 PM | Posted in Personal | 1 Comment
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Well, I’ve been writing this ridiculous blog for about five years now, so maybe it’s time I started to track it right–
I started to say, “Do it properly,” but that maybe a bit much to ask at this late stage of the game. I yam what I yam.
But here’s the thing: I was on MSN spaces for all that time, and I liked it, for the most part. Lately it seemed to get bothersome, and some of the changes I didn’t like. I decided to move to wordpress, and leave the old MSN page up as an archive.
Then along comes MSN and says, yo, that’s a good idea you had, moving to wordpress. We’re going to make everyone do it. Well, it is exactly what I would have done, and they helped me do it. Last night I decided to take the plunge and migrate everything to wordpress. It was a fairly simple process. And everything came over, except my lists and things–but I had already saved those.
Even the comments on my blog came over, and as a consequence I stayed up way too late reading them, and reminiscing.
It seems that back in the day, I had a pack–a gaggle–a band of loyal readers. What happened to them all? One by one, they dropped of, dropped out, and lost interest–or realized they had lost. Detroit had explained to me that many of them were women who–perhaps much like herself–had been searching for someone. Someone to save them, take them away from their dreary, unhappy lives. They had been searching for a knight in shining armor…
Yeah, that would be me.
After she had captured my heart and reigned victorious over the intarweb’s elusive butterfly of love, the others congratulated us, said they were happy for us…and stopped coming around.
To be fair, there was a period there where I wasn’t writing on the blog as much, because I was busy being stupid in love. I know how annoying that is to see, so I can sympathize with those who saw it and said, “Ugh, no thanks.”
I know that I’m gullible, naive, innocent, and ever so slightly retarded, but I didn’t think that ALL of them were after my body and my shirt–both of which I am too sexy for, by the way. Some of them were genuinely friends, it seemed. And notwithstanding the flirting and the offers for everything from a hug and a kiss to participation in the threesome of my choosing, I did receive many compliments on my writing.
The theme running through them was that I was honest (truthfully, I don’t see it) and able to bring them into my world and my life with my words. The best example is one woman–not even a regular, but a casual reader–said that she didn’t even know me, but felt that she knew me, because of what I had written.
When I go back and look at it now, all I see is the occasional misspelled word and a propensity for horrible sentence structure. Over the past five years I’ve become a better writer (I hope), but hardly anyone reads me now.
I feel like I have Hair Band Syndrome. This is a new one, so let me explain:
Back in the 80s–the golden age of Pop music that was also the dark ages for Rock–lots of these no-talent hair bands were really popular. Loverboy, Def Leppard, White Snake, Poison, et cetera. Okay, I won’t say “no-talent.” But low. Or talented, but definitely not experienced, practiced, accomplished. Through luck and studio magic, they had some hits.
Twenty years later, after their rise and fall and individual internal crisis, they decide to learn how to play their instruments. Also, the age and experience has turned them into better performers, better musicians, better songwriters. They are better now than they ever were during their peak of fame.
And no one wants to see them. They can’t fill a bar, much less an amphitheater. A stadium? You’ve *got* to be kidding! Where did all the fans go? They grew up, and now they listen to Nirvana. Well, shit. Where did all the groupies go? You only had one, and you married her.

I’m now a better writer, technically speaking, than I ever was. I’ve also been through some serious shit, the flames of which have forged the steel that is my soul. Aged with experience and carved with cynicism, my failing eyes see the world through a bitter lens, and everything is grey and ashen to my jaded taste buds. I’ve also learned how to use a thesaurus.
Compared to the hack I was before, I’m Ernest Fucking Hemingway now. Where at go all my readers?
On one hoof, I’d like to recapture the glory and have readers again: The huddled masses, the hoi polloi, waiting desperately for my next post to give their pathetic lives meaning.
On the other hoof, we all know it’s not a good idea to encourage me too much, because it’ll just go to my head.

First Day

October 11, 2010 at 11:05 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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September, 1986

There I was, fired.
The warehouse job I had was a good time, and so obviously it couldn’t last forever. I would return at some point, and that wouldn’t last forever, either.
I was out of work and young, and consequently not too worried about it. But I did have a car payment. I needed to do something. I guess. I didn’t have a clear indication of what, but I knew I needed money, because cash is the lube that greases the wheels that make the world go around.
At the time I was living with my old girlfriend–and she is old, too! Ba-dum, ching!
I was twenty-one, living with a forty year old manic depressive alcoholic. It was an interesting year. My very own “Year of Living Dangerously.”
Coasting as I was through life, I didn’t pay attention to most things. Like this poisonous relationship I was in, or what I was going to do with my life, or what I was doing now.
And so on one of our several trips we would make to the local small grocery store to buy beer for my girlfriend and our underage friends, it was actually one of them that noticed the sign in the Domino’s Pizza next to the Riverview Dairy.
“Check that out,” someone said from the tiny backseat of my Escort.
“What?” I was busy driving, navigating the decaying parking lot. All I saw was people walking in empty-handed and other people walking out with beer. It was really little more than a glorified liquor store that also sold some groceries. But this was the clientele they served: Lower middle class stiffs that weren’t quite rednecks, living just north of the city in a quiet, out of the way satellite town. Right on the river–hence the name–and not a cut-through to anywhere, so it was a low traffic area and it had the isolated feel of a small town with all the crime of the big city…sort of the best of both worlds.
The Domino’s Pizza in the small plaza had a sign that said “Now Hiring.” I believe it was meant for me personally.
Still I put it off for a few days, talked with my dad about it, and weighed the pros and cons. He told me something that just hadn’t occurred to me before: “You’re going to put a lot of miles on your car.”
Hmmm. That fact had completely eluded me before. Still, with the choice being between working and not working, I leaned slightly towards working. The next time we made a trip to the Dairy, I stopped in.

Had I never before been in a pizza place before? It’s very likely. I grew up in a rural area where these places didn’t exist, and once we moved to town, ordering for delivery meant I didn’t have to set foot in the place.
I didn’t notice much, however, when I walked in. I was too nervous and excited, and not really sure what to do. The few jobs I’ve had prior to this someone else got for me–like the warehouse job, where my dad worked as a truck driver.
Obviously I walked in when they were busy, because I was clueless about these things. People were bustling about–making pizzas, answering phones, and other things I couldn’t describe. It seemed like chaos.
Out of the madness, a young girl behind the counter said, “Hi, can I help you?”
“Uh, yeah…I saw the sign that says ‘now-‘”
“Hold on,” she said, interrupting me. Over her shoulder she called out, “Joel!”
Someone appeared from behind some apparatus and came up to the front. Smiling and cheerful, but obviously harried, he said, “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I saw the sign that says–”
“Terrific. Here, Guy, take this application and fill it out and bring it back. Have you ever delivered before?”
“No–”
“That’s fine. You need to have proof of insurance, and we run an MVR on your license. You can’t have more than three moving violations in the last three years. Okay, Guy?”
Cautiously, I took the paper. “Just bring that back when you have that done.” He disappeared into the chaos again.
And I disappeared back into mine.
A few days later I brought it back, filled out as neatly as I could manage. There seemed to be a lull in the business this time, so the manager had time to talk to me. This was a different person than last time. I think his name was Dave. He seemed to be just on the peeved side of disinterested, but we talked for about three minutes and he said, “Okay, as soon as your MVR comes back good, I’ll give you a call and we’ll start you. Takes about three days.”
His demeanor was so low-key and monotone that it took a moment to sink in: I got the job!
Dave called me on a Saturday, my MVR was good. He said to come in on Wednesday to start training, told me what to wear, and told me to make sure I had shaved.

The Riverview store, Store #1591, was a night-time only store, so it opened at 4:30. I showed up a little after four, and the door was locked. One person inside–
A different person. I think. He saw me and unlocked the door and stuck his head out. “Sorry, we don’t open till 4:30.”
“I’m…I’m supposed to start today.”
His eyebrows went up slowly. “Really?” He let me in. Just then someone else came up from the back of the store, and stayed in the background watching out of curiosity. “Do you know who hired you? Who did you talk to?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really know–”
“What did he look like?”
“Well, he had on a red and white shirt, and a hat, and a mustache.”
The guy just looked at me. “You’ve just described all of us.”
He went back in the office and looked, and my story was confirmed. It seems that this was the new manager, Tom. The old manager had been moved to another store. As I would discover is often the case, no one knew until Monday morning. I thought I was about to fall through the cracks.
“Okay, no problem. Let me get you set up here, and when Joel gets here, I’ll have him train you.” I was in. I was on my way. That was October 1st. That was my first day. I had no idea what was going to be in store for me–for the next twenty years.
But there is a memory I have, a sense memory–whenever I smell a certain combination of pizza smells, it reminds me of the first day I walked in. A little black olive, a hint of green pepper, and fresh-baked dough–to me they smell like the promise of an exciting future.
I must have been high.

The Girl With The Red-Brown Hair

October 8, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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January, 1984.
I had just returned to SIU-Carbondale for my second semester, after a pathetic first try and an awkward winter break with my parents wherein I tried to explain.
Explain what, exactly? Explain how I was smart but completely undisciplined, how I had turned into a pothead and had no motivation? How I was wasting their money and embarrassing them in our small community?
One of the few classes I had passed the previous semester was Composition, so here I was in the next step up for engineering majors: technical report writing.
I hadn’t been as lucky with some of the other classes. FORTRAN I passed with a D, so I don’t think that really counts as passing. Engineering physics had been as hard as Chinese Calculus. I flunked that, as well as Calculus, ironically.
Luckily I have a distorted perception of how I view myself, otherwise it would have been embarrassing when the dean of the math department came to my Calc II class–where I was sitting in the front row!–and escorted me to a new Calc I class.
But in writing I had excelled–at least relatively speaking–and so I was excited to be in tech report writing. I remember our instructor was a young woman, and cute, which was guaranteed to get me to go to class in much the same way that the very hot lab TA for my biology class got me to an 8 am lab on a Friday morning.
In addition to the instructor, there were a few other chicks in the class. And there was one very hot little blond chick. I sat casually behind her and to the left, so I could more easily check out the shape of her ass in those jeans.
And so it was a complete shock to me about two weeks later when some girl that I had never seen before flagged me down in the cafeteria. She was cute, but at first she seemed somewhat plain, at least in comparison to the overly-made up chicks in the 80s. She had an easy smile and a wide grin, and her chin seemed to crinkle devilishly when she laughed. She didn’t wear make up, which is what gave me the impression of her plain look. To her, however, it was a statement of honesty and simple living. I would have expected her to have a flower in her should-length, wavy, reddish-brown hair…it reminded me of that Zeppelin song.
We talked, and became friends quickly.
Of course I wanted to have sex with her; I’m a guy. But she had a boyfriend. I never really saw him, except maybe once–she kept her many lives separate. I was her school-friend. Her boyfriend was in the campus-approved campus-adjacent housing for sophomores.
I felt like I was finally living the college life. I had a few friends now that I hadn’t glommed from my roommate, and I had a hip girl as a friend as well.
We were really good friends, and fit well together. Meaning, she listened to me ramble on endlessly about random bullshit and seemed to be entertained. She was eccentric, and I guess she detected in me a kindred spirit.
And so it went that semester, and then I was out of that school–I had flunked out. Would I see her again?

During the summer, I had occasion to drive down to school–about 2 hours away–and hang with my old roommate and his friends. Heather had gone back home for the summer.
We did talk on the phone–oh, the long distance charges!–and wrote to each other. By the time school had started back up, my family was living in St Louis. I kept in touch with my friends, and two of them were getting married.
And let me tell that story. My roommate John knew a lot of people. Gail and Susan were roommates on the third floor of the same building in which Heather lived on the first floor.
Susan had a boyfriend named Scott. They had broken up, and John had quit his girlfriend for a while. I don’t remember her name, but she was cute. John and Susan hooked up. They were together for quite a while, in college terms (almost a semester).
Towards the end of the spring semester, Scott was in an accident. Actually, an accident happened in front of him and he got caught in it. He and his friends were standing on the street corner because parties often fall out of the house and into the yard. A drunk driver came barreling down, hit a car, caromed off of it, and hit Scott, somehow dragging him between two cars.
He ended up having to have part of one leg amputated below the knee, and some serious metal installed in the other. Susan went running back to him.
Since this was college, they were all able to still remain friends. Susan and Scott were going to get married. John wasn’t the best man or anything like that, but he was invited. It was in the fall, I think in October.
I coming down about every weekend to hang out (and also buy pot), and I would crash on someone’s couch. The weekend before the wedding was the bachelor/bachelorette party. We had turned into a large group of friends–mostly women. There was me and John and Mike, and now Scott, and half a dozen or more girls. The party ended up at a blues bar, and after I ended up driving…shit, what was her name? Mary? That sounds right. I drove Mary’s Mustang, because she was completely plastered, and she crashed in the back seat. Cindy rode in the front, with me. John, Gail, and Cindy had all gone in together to rent a house, so that’s where I headed. Cindy was pretty drunk, too. I was just a little drunk, but not out of it, which made me the designated driver. We placed Mary into Cindy’s bed, and Cindy came out and sat on the couch. I sat next to her. Drunkenly, she makes a move on me, and we started making out. Then she passed out.
It was a special moment, one that I would see replayed a more than a few times in my lifetime: the moment when you realize you are not getting laid. I covered her up, and lay on the floor next to the couch, and went to sleep.

Several weeks later, I called ahead to make sure I could crash at Scott and Susan’s. I didn’t know (and still don’t, to this day) if Cindy had ever told anyone what we did, or almost did. Hell, I didn’t know if she even remembered. But I didn’t want to just invite myself over to their house. I remember some part of this conversation with Susan, where I told her that where I really wanted to stay was at Heather’s, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
I did stop by and see John, and we went to the Hanger 9, one of the college bars. We were groovin’ to the live band, and during a break in the music, it happened.
This was such a subtle thing–little thing–a sudden twist of fate, the most exact of timing, that I believe if things had been off by just a few seconds, my life for at least the following several years would have been different.
It was killing me to know what Cindy knew, and how she felt, and if there was an “us”–a future. I liked Cindy. She was a few years older than me and way more mature, and pretty, if not a bit chunky. And she thought I was interesting.
John was her roommate, privileged to all information, and confidant to many. He would know, and could advise me. I could scope this situation out.
At the exact–exact–same moment that I tapped John on the shoulder in this noisy little bar to get his attention to ask him about Cindy, I felt a tap on MY shoulder. Just as John turned around to me, I turned around.
To Heather. Having been my roommate, John knew I was in love with her. He turned back around and ignored us.
Heather! She was surprised, shocked, and happy to see me. She had broken up with her boyfriend a few weeks prior, and of course I had been right there to comfort her. Yeah. It comforted me. I listened to her as she talked and bitched and got it out of her system, I was her sounding board. Then I left. I knew that it was not a good time to profess my love, or lust.
While we were talking, John came to us and said, “There’s a party at my house tonight. You guys should come.” So we did. It was your typical small off-campus rental house, and there were about 50 people there, all over the place. Several stereos going at once, including one in John’s room. Heather and I ended up sitting in there; she on a stool, a little higher than me, and I was on a chair. John popped in once or twice, gave me a knowing smirk, and closed the door behind him as he left.
It was loud in there, so I had to lean over to her to tell her anything. I did, and she would lean in too. I did this two or three times. Then, the last time, I leaned in, she leaned in expectantly, and I kissed her.
She drew back slowly, and looked at me. She had the look on her face as though she were making a decision. She may have even had a hand on her chin, I don’t know. This was mid-November, 1984. I was 19. Three months away from being 20.
She stood up, took my hand, and led me to a different chair, a bigger one. She sat me down, then slowly she straddled me and sat on my lap, put her arms around me. We began to make out.
We left the party, and we drove back to her dorm room. I was shaky and a little nervous, but mostly excited. We get to her dorm room, and she hangs a little flowered thing on the doorknob. The signal, I guess, for her roommate.
Afterwards, as we lay in each others arms, I was aching to tell her something. I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. I turned to her and, “Before this–before tonight–I was a virgin.”
Don’t you just love this reaction from a woman? She rolled her eyes and groaned, and turned over.

And from there I proceeded to ruin it.
At first it was wonderful, of course. That fresh romance thing, and young love. Although it was November in a college town, through my love-colored glasses it was April in Paris. It really was just lots and lots of sex, which I equated with lots and lots of love. Through the end of that semester and the following spring semester, I went down to see her every weekend.
I liked her roommate–I forget her name–but she started to not like me. Of course. I made her dorm room a hostile environment for her. I had school and work Monday through Thursday. Friday–and sometimes Thursday–I would drive down. I crashed in their room Friday and Saturday night (and sometimes Thursday night) and drive home Sunday afternoon. I was *always* there. And we were either having sex, about to have sex, or just finished having sex. How is she supposed to live in her room?
We did go out of the room a lot, so she was able to get in there. But I remember a few comical times…
Early on, we were in bed, under the cover. Just got done, maybe? A knock on the door. She pauses, then comes in, averts her eyes and puts her hand up as a blinder. “Sorry-didn’t-mean-to-bug-you-I-just-have-to-grab-something-real-quick-and-then-I’ll-be-out-of-here.” She said it all as one word.
Two of her friends were standing in the door. I guess they had heard about us and wanted to see. One of them said to us, “Did you two know you still have your socks on?”
“…We were in a hurry.”
Actually, the truth would have been funnier. I should have said, “We’re going to go out later.”
I told Heather that I loved her once. Maybe a few times. For my birthday, she gave me a card where she had written down everything she felt. “Love” is not the right word, the right emotion, for what we have. It’s like, it’s infatuation, it’s lust. Not love.
Maybe she was right.
Every weekend I went down there to see her. Funny, if I had just gotten there before 5pm, I could have gone to the security office and gotten a visitor’s parking pass for free. But I never did. And so, every weekend, I got a parking ticket. Sixteen weeks, sixteen tickets. Of course, 13 of them were on the Maverick, which was technically in my dad’s name. But the last three were on my Chevette, which was in my name. The next year when I needed my transcript transferred, I had to pay them. All three of them, five bucks each.
For the summer, she went home to the Quad Cities. I went up to visit her once–
I went up to “see” her, but it was pretty transparent that I just wanted to have sex. She wanted to “take a break” from sex for the summer. I thought that was silly, and also thought that paradigm would change if I came up to see her. Right? But actually it did not. Eventually she relented–was I forcing myself on her? What the hell kind of relationship was this?
At home, by myself, I had too much time to think about it and not enough data or experience to process; in essence, I was spinning my wheels.
But school was starting soon–
The first weekend–hell, it might have been the weekend BEFORE school starts, when people show up early to get acclimated or just get away from their parents–I showed up at her doorstep.
There were no words, but there were looks. At that time I was still socially retarded, but even I was able to pick up on the look of surprise and subtle distancing on Heather’s face, and the stern disapproval on her roommate’s. And I felt the warm flush come over my own. It was actually late at night when I showed up. I recall saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll just sleep on the floor, and leave in the morning. I lay down, used my little backpack for a pillow, faced the wall, and brooded myself to sleep.
I think I began to piece some of it together that night, but it wasn’t until years later that it all finally clicked for me. I had no idea what love was, most likely. I was using her for sex. Of course, no one “gets used” without their permission–but she was seeing it get out of control. It was affecting her school work, probably, as well as obviously her other relationships (like that of with her roommate), and my insensitivity was reflected in how we were treating her. And where was this going? I was just clingy, and wanted sex.
And in my moody, self-pitying introversion, I reasoned that if she didn’t want to have sex with me, she didn’t love me. And she had already said this wasn’t love. I didn’t think about what it was doing to her, or her reasons; my only thought was how much she hurt me.
In the morning, I got up and left without waking either of them.

Sometime later we had the awkward in-person conversation, the break-up. The closure. The whatever. She was passive-aggressively trying to get me to take a hint, and I was stubbornly looking past it for any kind of sign that there was still hope. Finally, I guess, I got it.
“So…I guess…this is it, then…”
“Yeah…”
“Well, maybe…maybe we can…you know, maybe we can be friends still…”
“Friends. I’d like that.”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah.”
“…”
“So, I guess I’ll see you around, then. Next time I come down, or whatever–”
“Yeah–”
“Or if I see you in town, or something.”
“Okay. That’d be great. Or good. That’d be good.” She gave me a weak, thin smile as she let the door close on me.

The Raven

October 4, 2010 at 6:39 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I thought there was an underground railroad, for cars. If you get upside down on your loan and can’t pay it, and to keep the finance company from repossessing it, I thought you and your car could escape through the financial underground railroad and escape, and be free, and live forever in happiness, and freedom, and open roads. I thought there was a place you could go where you didn’t have to fear having your car taken from you in the middle of the night by The Men in Black. The Repo Men. The Raven…
I also thought that having a luxury car was supposed to be a joy, a thrill. A never-ending automotive orgasm where I furtively spurt 5W-20 motor oil as I take a hard right turn and say, “Wheeee!”
I reminded myself just the other day, when I was missing Nigel and wishing I had kept him–and I do wish that–that Nigel was getting a bit long in the tooth. He was getting older and had some miles on him. He was still quick and spry, but you could tell that when you weren’t looking, he was nursing his aching joints.
We put him out to pasture–quite unexpectedly, I think–and I miss him.
Having the Mercedes was exactly like having a love affair with a younger, exotic, foreign woman. At first–at first it is exciting and fulfilling: The the adventure, the night life, and the jealous glances of lesser men all added to the thrill of wrapping myself in this expensive, luxurious beauty.
But there is always a price to pay.
And often, that price is actually money. I have recounted my financial problems with the Mercedes–how I couldn’t even afford to pay the personal property tax on it to license it, for starters.
Even working on the car was like being with an exotic foreign woman. I didna understand the language she spake; and when I puzzled it out, I had a hard time relating it to what I needed to do to please her.
Just figuring out how to change the windshield wipers was an adventure. Changing the oil for the first time was an epic tale of misunderstanding, stupidity, and frustration.
But that may be all in the past. This torrid love affair, this scandalous experiment in European couture is over. If one can no longer pay for the services of madame escort, then madame escort shall bid you adieu.
Like a poorly-done spy thriller, her people tried to blackmail me, and then they double-crossed me, see? I ignored (or perhaps forgot) their demand for payment, and as their patience wore thin they just took it! They took my money! They absconded like common criminals with money from my account! Extortioners!
As Bugs Bunny famously said, “Of course you realize–dis means war.”
But I guess I am glad they did that, because what it did was brought to my attention the fact that I could no longer afford this sordid affair with German engineering. Maybe if she didn’t insist that we go to the most expensive restaurants and hotels…
I couldn’t afford her, and I started to resent her for it, and it showed. The sweet Fraulein got a taste of what middle-class America is like: fast food trash, mud, and the wrappers of cheap cigars. She was starting to feel used. Vindictively, I felt she deserved it for what she had put me through. Talk about high maintenance.
I held off the calls for about a month and a half. They were really starting to sweat, I think, wondering what I was doing to their little Germanic princess I was holding hostage. Finally, I answered the phone.
Tactically, of course, she measures her words. But the question was, did I want to continue this game, this charade, this cat-and-mouse chase? No. I was done.
The woman was still trying to leverage me when I told her that I am ready and willing to give up my hostage. Where do you want me to make the drop?
Her tone changed from stern but friendly to hostile and accusatory. “You knew what you were doing! You knew!”
“Indeed,” said I.
But it was a game of he said-bitch said. I say they didn’t have authorization to withdraw funds. She said I did approve it, and she herself handled the transaction, because she told me if I couldn’t make the payment by the end of the month to give her a call back.
So now she’s my holla-back girl? Even if that is true…I don’t explicitly recall saying, “Yes, take money out of my account.” On the recommendation of my personal banker (and everyone should have one), I closed the old account and opened a new one. Instead of needing a new debit card, they simply attached the card to my new account.
And not just because I work at the bank at which I bank. My personal banker (You know, he’s just a glorified teller that has a wood grain cubicle off to the side instead of standing behind the counter. And he was the next one available when I went down to see him. Still, that makes him “my” personal banker.) said that whenever there is an issue like this–some breach of security or private information–they recommend closing the account and opening a new one.
That happened back in August. The week I was on my useless vacation, they withdrew the money from my account on Wednesday. That just happened to be the day *before* I got paid, which was Thursday. So they put me in the hole.
I didn’t check my account until the next week, and by then it was too late. Since I’m petty, vindictive, and passive-aggressive, I approached this with a new, calculated strategy. I refused to answer the phone when they called. And they called often. A few times per week. The funny thing–the odd thing–is that right after they would call my work phone and it went to voice mail, my cell phone would ring. My brand new cell phone with a new carrier and new contract and new phone number that I had not given out to ANYONE. How did they find my number? Oh, I know how they did it. I’ve watched Veronica Mars; I know how this works.
But the man leaving me messages on my phone was different and had a different tone than the woman calling my work phone. It made me wonder, really, was it just a coincidence?
In a very stern tone that was meant to indicate “You’re in trouble,” the man would say this: “Today is September 27th. A file has come across my desk with YOUR name on it. A decision must be made concerning this matter. It would be better for all parties involved if you were a part of that decision that needs to be made. Call my office at blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah, extension blah-blah, before 4pm Pacific time today, September 27th.”
Yeah. Notice how they never *said my name*. It’s a new phone number for me. I don’t identify myself by my full name on my voice mail–hell, I might not use my name at all, I need to check–so am I supposed to presume the message is for me? Not on your life. Hell, for all I know, it could be one of those identity theft-phishing scams.
But during that time it also gave me time to assess my financial situation. I have pages of budget spreadsheets figuring shit six ways to Sunday, color charts, bar graphs, pie charts–and all they do is tell me in a variety of interesting and colorful ways how broke I am.
No matter how I did it, the number that I was in the red every month…was curiously similar to the amount of my car payment. There was just a point where it clicked with me. I had been looking for ways to make more money–sell blood, sell semen, sell my body–and looking for ways to cut my bills, but *that* bill I never conceived of being able to reduce.
But I could eliminate it completely.
By eliminating the car payment, reducing my car insurance, and going from a big phone plan down to a cheaper one (I’ll explain that in a moment), that puts me in the realm of not being in the red every month. Maybe not “in the green,” but out of the hazard.
We also changed the phone plan. Again. Out of desperation. We had been with–let’s start at the beginning. I was with Sprint when Detroit and I first met. We got together and went with Verizon. Last year, I think, we switched from Verizon to Sprint…for two weeks. Then we went to AT&T. I thought we were getting a good deal–but Christ. Detroit and her son and I, unlimited data and text, and 700 shared minutes *should* have been about $120 per month. But it ended up being about 184 per month, when you add on late fees and all this other stuff. Taxes. Things like that.
So I owe them money now, because we just dropped them like a bad transmission, and went to Cricket. Alex joined his Grandmother’s plan, so we don’t hasta worry about him. Detroit pays her Cricket and I pay mine. Thirty-five bones per month, unlimited text, unlimited voice. And nothing else.
I could get data and web and other crap for another 10 bucks a month, but fuck it. I never used the internet on the phone before. The only thing I can’t do is text photos. I think I’ll live. So our phone bill went from 180 to 70, and *mine* went from 180 to 35. Fucking sweet. Even if it was just the right amount, call it 120 bucks. The car payment was about 275. Four hundred, easily. When I redo my insurance, it’ll be less as well.
I wonder–should I get full coverage on my truck? It is paid for. Regardless, insurance for a ten-year old truck should be cheaper than the insurance on a 10 year old Mercedes.

When my handler finally transferred me to a repo case worker, he was more polite. He explained some of the particulars, and offered me some other options, but that only served to firm up my resolve. First of all, I paid 10 grand for the car. I know I overpaid right there-I bet the car was worth only 8, maybe less at the time. But then factor in my bad credit and what they chose to ream me for on the interest rate–
And by the way–a year later I was able to refinance my house, so how bad was my credit *truly*? But the ganked me on that as well. So, Juan tells me that I’ve made 23 payments–that’s over 6300 dollars–and I still owe over nine thousand. Based on the year and miles of the car, it’s probably worth about 4 grand, he tells me.
It’s the beginning of October, so the car would probably be sold at the end of the month. At an auction, they aren’t going to get anywhere near the four grand it is supposedly worth.
And good luck getting that out of it with a cracked windshield, a trashed interior, body damage, needing engine work and a tune up…oh, and surprise!–A big honking computer monitor rolling around in the trunk.
So by January I would hear from their lawyers, and be responsible for the balance due, which they could garnish my wages or put a lien on my house. Hmmm.
Is it the truth or is it a tactic?
Don’t know, not sure, and I’m a little concerned. Juan did ask me about my bills. I said, with my house payment and child support, I can’t afford the car. That’s the whole point. Can’t afford it. “How much do you bring home a month?”
“About 2 grand,” I answer.
“How much is your house payment and your child support?”
“Eleven hundred and five hundred.”
“How much are your utilities?”
“About four hundred.”
Yeah, cowboy, that adds up to two thousand. Not much there to garnish, is there?
Here’s hoping.
Juan faxes me a form to sign and fax back, for voluntary surrender. But I wanted to make sure, so I emailed my lawyer-friend, and I haven’t heard back from him yet.
Last night–or this morning, at 215 AM–I hear a knocking, gentle knocking, at my chamber door. Actually, first I heard the dog bark. Then I heard someone talk to the dog. Then I heard some other muffled voices. Then someone knocked on my bedroom door. “Someone is here to take the car.”
Really? Really? At 2 am you want to do this? Really?
He was a smallish, short guy in overalls. He seemed slightly taken aback to see my large frame come through the door in the middle of this cool October night wearing only knit shorts and nothing else. I mumbled something about why they couldn’t do this in the daytime. His excuse–echoed by the unseen guy in the truck–was that they tried to call and leave a message. Sure they did. Sure.
I trodded out to the car and grabbed my Pizzarama Hat from the back seat and my lighter from the dash in front. Damn luxury car–the cigarette lighter never worked. I looked for my sunglasses…but shit, it was dark and I was half asleep. I’ll have to buy another pair for ten bucks.
I handed over the key and walked back in the house. I wonder if I was supposed to sign something? Oh, well. As I snuggled back into bed, I heard the truck drive off, followed by the car.
Quoth the Mercedes, “Nevermore.”

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