I’m Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today

June 27, 2011 at 11:14 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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Maybe it is over, as far as pizza deliver goes.
For now, anyway.
I left Pizza Hut in March, I think.  The anti-climax of all anticlimaxes, I just told them I couldn’t afford to drive to work, and then drive.  Not for what gas prices were–and are still, even though they’ve come down a bit, but not nearly enough.
These are trying times indeed.
But maybe that’s a good place to stop the book, if I were writing one.  Which I am.  At least it’s a good demarcation.  If I’m not currently working in pizza, I can concentrate on going back and filling in the holes in my story.  Sliding back and forth through time like Donnie Darko rattles the senses.  I need to be firmly rooted…in the past.
Speaking of the past, I have a new part time job.  I work in a little mom-and-pop liquor store.  It doesn’t pay much, but it’s not exceptionally demanding, either.  And it reminds me of another job I had oh so long ago.

In 19-
Wait, let me get my time line right.  In 83 I graduated, and went to college in the fall.  In 84 I flunked out.  In the fall of 84 we moved to St Louis.  I think that’s when I got the job.
There was this small chain of convenience stores in the area called “Majik Market.”  The company is long gone, but many of the buildings are still around, still being used by Asians as convenience stores.  The one I used to work at is actually an insurance office now.
I was fairly new here, going to school, and wanted to have money of my own.  My Aunt Gloria (who passed away this last December) was the one that gave me a line on this job.  “Majik Market is hiring,” she said.  “I talked to the manager up there.  You should go apply.”
So I did.
Of course, I didn’t know the reason *why* they were hiring.  At the store on Bellefontaine Road just a few weeks ago, the young woman working the register was shot in the face and killed.  It turned out that the robbery was supposed to be a setup between her and the robber, but he panicked.  Or maybe they were dating.
Either way, suddenly there were openings, and not just there.  A few people got cold feet and quit.  Enter me:  bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and gullible as shit.
I met the supervisor at the store on Bellefontaine for what I thought was going to be an interview.  Instead he took me down one of the back aisles near the cooler, and essentially had this conversation:
Him:  This job is pretty easy.  You check people out, make coffee, and keep the place clean.  Think you can handle that?
Me:  Sure.  I can do that.
Him:  Good.  Okay.  You need to call this number and set up a time to go to this address for a lie detector test.  Once that’s taken care of, we’ll call when we’re going to have you start.

I didn’t have an interview.  I had a lie detector test.  They may or may not have been illegal then, but they definitely are now, as a condition of employment.
The place was somewhere near the Arena, which isn’t there anymore.  It was late November, and we had a good snow…like 10 inches.  I didn’t let a little thing like that stop me; I made it to my test.
When they do a lie detector test, there is a pre-interview, where they screen some information in order to set up the questions they are going to ask.  That’s where I lied my balls off.  No, I don’t smoke pot.  No, I’ve never been arrested.  Yes, I promise not to masturbate in the bathroom on the overnight shift.
So I got the job.  I wasn’t going to work at the one on Bellefontaine, but rather the one nearer to my house.  The current staff was the manager–some 60-year old woman, and two other guys.  The black guy worked mostly 3rds and a few second shifts.  Let’s call him Ron.
The other guy was a middle-aged white dude.  Ken.  He was skinny and nerdy, and had a chip on his shoulder.  He had been promoted to “assistant manager.”  With four people, I’m not sure what that means.  We all worked by ourselves.  When I was there at 3am, I might as well have been the fucking manager.
This was my first job that didn’t involve bales of hay or fields of beans.  I figured out how to do it–I’m pretty smart–but there was no motivation to work very hard.  I usually had several hours in the middle of the night to do nothing whatsoever.  Not bad for 2.85 an hour.
After a week or so our manager got transfered to another location, and we got a new manager.  Nancy was younger–early 30s–and pretty cute.
We hired another guy after that who was about my age, but he didn’t last very long.  He was there long enough to cover for me (kinda) when I was going to a concert.  I still had to come in, but I could be an hour or so late.  Of course, this was Bruce Springsteen, the Born in the USA tour.  We had to leave before the show was over because he plays so goddamn long.  I’ve only left one other concert early.
I had this other thing going on that was a minor inconvenience, and I didn’t wonder until much later if it was the cause of other problems.  These two dudes I sort of knew would come up there and hang out–just hang out–in the middle of the night.  Like after 1 am until about 2 or 3.  My friends at the time revolved around my cousins and their friends, and these guys were friends of *those* friends.  So it wasn’t even a direct relationship.
They would come up and hang out and try to mooch shit for free off of me.  At first I did let them have some shit, but if you give an inch, they want a sixpack.  I had to start saying no and being a dick about it.  We would get high up there, too.  I think they were just helping me smoke *my* weed.  What the fuck?
Late at night when no one is around it does get boring and a little lonely.  But after a while, I craved to be alone.  They were pests.
Of course you have some regulars.  I learned the hard way that I actually do need to make fresh coffee before 5am, or I have a bunch of pissed off people.  There were also some Section-8 ghetto apartments behind us, so I had people trying to use food stamps for shit you can’t get with food stamps–but they have to try it on the new guy.
My worst times there were the holidays, and I had nightmares about it for a while after that.  We didn’t even HAVE gas pumps, but in my dreams we did.  Thanksgiving was a taste of what Christmas and New Years’ was going to be like.
Remember, this is the mid-80s, and there were not as many convenience stores around then.  And none whatsoever near us.  You decide on Thanksgiving morning you need milk and eggs?  Yeah, so did 140 other assholes in the last hour.
We–or I–got screwed on the holidays.  Thanksgiving was a holiday, but not until 7am that morning.  Working from 11pm the night before until then doesn’t count.  But don’t worry:  everyone has to come in and work about 4 hours so that it’s “fair” and so that everyone gets some home time.  I got off at 7am, and then come back and work from 2pm to 6pm.  That was time and half, that four hours.  If only I could come back again that night–but no, somebody else got the night of the holiday, with the holiday pay.
The same thing happened again for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years’ Eve, and New Years’ Day.  Fucked, I was.
After the holidays things settled down somewhat.  I worked some thirds and some seconds.  Ron worked all thirds.
Here it was towards the end of February.  There was a crisis at the store.  Also, there was a pretty rough snow storm.  I think all this went down right around my birthday.  When I showed up at 3 for second shift, Nancy said that there was a major shortage at the store.  Not money, but product.  Like ten grand worth.  I think maybe they should count again.  But I had to go down for another lie detector test–everyone did.  Oh, crap.
You know what?  I don’t think there was snow the first time.  I think that was early November.  No snow.  But there was snow this time.  I remember.  This was the big snow.
The next day I drive down, and it had started snowing.  It was late morning.  I get down there for the lie detector test, and the guy giving the test talks to me, so I have to fess up about something.  You know, I’m going to eat in the middle of the night.  I told him that occasionally I would eat something, but that I kept a running total of it, and when I got paid I paid it back.  I showed him the register tape, where I had about 14 dollars worth of stuff on it.  He was totally fine with that, and we did the test.
And then he wanted to make sure–can I get a money order for the amount that I owe, and bring it in?
Uh, sure.  Okay.  I hadn’t done anything else wrong.  This seemed minor, but I was taking care of it.  I went back–I actually had to work that night–I got a money order and I went into to work at 3pm.
With the snow, we were a bit slow.  Which was good, because every time some asshole came in for a pack of smokes I had to mop the floor behind them.
Long about 1030, I get a call from Ron.  I don’t know where he lives, no idea–but he says he can’t make it in.  There is 10 inches of snow, and it’s still falling.  Okay.
So I make the call I have to make.  I guess I called Nancy, but after I told her what happened, Don the supervisor called me, so I could repeat the story for him.  About 1130, Don comes in.
When the supervisor has to come in and work, it’s never a good thing.  When they have to come in and work a third shift, I imagine they aren’t very happy.  But he was the one who was going to relieve me.
He said that Ron no longer worked for us.  Don offered to get Ron a cab, and pay for it, to have him come in.  I guess Ron refused this generous offer.  Okay, then.
So without Ron, I worked third shift.  I worked ALL the third shifts.  For two weeks straight I worked third shift and did not have a night off.  That 14th morning, Nancy came in like always, but she was visibly upset.  Why?
Well, she had to fire me.  She got the call yesterday and was simply told to not put me on the schedule anymore.  Why, she wanted to know.  The fact that I took items without paying for them was theft, a violation of company policy, blah blah blah.  At least I wasn’t responsible for the grand theft–which was still a mystery–and she was relieved about that because we were getting along in a friendly way.  She was cute and I worked harder to try to please her.
So, I violated company policy, and I had to be fired.  But that came to light two weeks ago.  Why wasn’t I fired then?
Oh, because they had just fired Ron, and didn’t have anyone for third shift.  They kept me and strung me along until they could hire my replacement.
Am I bitter?  No.  I was then.  I’m not now.  I learned some things.  Besides, I’m still here, and I doubt Majik Market would turn up anything on a Google search.  Which is the lesson to be learned here, kids.  Don’t fuck with me.  You’ll go out of business.
Eventually.

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Why I Make the Big Bucks

April 26, 2011 at 10:09 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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November 1986

Jonathan’s wife is hot.  Too hot for him.  He’s a short, chubby, slightly Mexican-looking dude.  She looks like a model.  I’m a tall, chubby, basically Caucasian-looking dude.  What gives?
Ah, well.  I already have a girlfriend.  She’s not young and hot, though.  She’s old but still pretty.  The lesson I’m sure that I need to learn in life is to not always let my dick do the driving.  But there’s still time—I’m young.
I’m finally able to put some names to the faces, and remember the faces.  I thought two of them were the same guy, but it turns out they are brothers, Ricky and…the other one.  Ironically, they have a Latina last name but don’t look it, while Jonathan doesn’t, but does look it.  There’s also Marty and his brother as well–didn’t catch his name.  There are others, like this cocky football player-looking dude, some tall guy I hear people calling “Mabes,” and a random assortment of others.
Oh, and Thomas just rolled onto the scene.  He’s new here but he’s done this before, he said.  After a fashion he kind of latched onto me, so I guess I have a friend.  Thomas is a good guy, a little insecure, and a loud talker.  Don’t tell him I said that.
During one conversation with him, he said that from some source (I wasn’t really paying attention) he learned that the secret to making more money—getting a raise or what-have-you—was to act like you were already earning that money, and worth it.  “If I want to make 3.60 an hour,” he said while we were both sweeping the floor, “I need to work like I’m already making 3.60 an hour.”
Minimum is 3.35 an hour.  I couldn’t see much difference in the effort for 3.35 and 3.60.
Besides, that was a quarter.  Nobody got a quarter raise.  He might get a dime or fifteen cents.  Not a quarter.  I kept quiet; my personal belief was that with delivery, you made your own raise by getting better and more efficient at it, taking more runs and kissing the customers’ ass more.
I had no idea how to do that.  Man, I wish I did.  That jackoff football player-looking dude—Jeff—always made out really good in tips, or at least he claimed to.  If so, he was much nicer to the customers than he was to anyone here in the store.  I had to make up for what I lacked in social skills by driving fast, and running hard.
We all run.  We run to the car.  We run to the door.  We run back to the car.  We run back into the store.  When the phone rings, we run to it.  Two rings, max.  Always.
So I run.  I’m not built for running, so much, but I do it.  Plus I like to get high while I deliver.  I didn’t do that so much at first because I wanted to get used to the job and learn the area.  But after a few months of driving up and down these streets all over the place, I rarely look at the map, except to figure out the right hundred-block.
Getting high kind of slows you down, but I have a solution.  I take some mini-thins.  For those of you not hip to the drug lingo, that’s speed.  Actually, they’re just caffeine pills.  But three minis will get me through a close, and I can still get high.
I was having a pretty good Saturday night—I was closing.  It was just after dinner rush and a few drivers were cut.  It would start to open up for me.  I came back from a run, and Tom grabbed me and said, “Hey, come in here a minute.”  The office.  He closed the door.  Hell, I didn’t even think this broom closet-sized office had a door.
We had a quick meeting.  “Bubba, I just wanted to tell you, that you’ve been doing a really good job, and I’m impressed.  I really didn’t think you were going to make it—“
Which is always nice to hear.  Did I suck that bad when I started?  I guess so.
“—but you’ve proven yourself, and you have integrity.”
“Aw, well, hey—thanks.  I appreciate that—“
“Starting Monday you get a raise.  Three-fifty.”  He raised his furry eyebrow, letting it sink in, because 15 cents is the highest increment raises came in.  I had only been there a few months.
“Awesome!  Thanks, Tom!”
“And Bubba—listen:  don’t tell anyone about it, okay?  Not everyone is getting a raise right now.  Just keep it to yourself.”
I nodded.  But I had a question.  “Why you calling me ‘Bubba’?”
He was taken aback.  “I thought—“  He grabbed a clipboard and flipped back a couple of pages.  “Every time you sign the daily—see there?  You’re signing ‘Bubba.’  I thought it was your nickname.”
“That’s just my initials.  BB.  I didn’t really want a nickname.”
Tom looked down sheepishly.  “Yeah…it might be too late for that.”
Fuck me.  But I got a raise, so what the hell.  We exited the office.  Joel caught my eye.  “Bubba, you’re up.”  That fast?  It happened that fast?  Christ in a—

So I continued to have a good night, and I was happy about my raise.  It wasn’t the money, really.  Fifteen cents over thirty hours, or sixty, on a biweekly paycheck—was going to be…a couple of bucks.  The difference between a couple of decent tips and a couple of good tips.  But it was a marker, like proof that I got a pat on the back.  Recognition for a job well done and all my hard work.
In the course of having a good night I may have celebrated a bit, like taking a few hits from my bat—my one-hitter.  The mistake, of course, was that this was some serious skunk weed, and had an odor to it.  An odor that lingered, and clung to me.  Imagine my surprise when later, about 930, Tom caught me and had me come into his office again.  He had a somber expression on his face.
“What’s up?”
“Bubba, I need to ask you to not get high anymore while you’re working.”
Fuu…
You know pot makes you paranoid, right?  Getting busted doesn’t make it better.  I was shaking on the inside, so I froze, held completely still.  I may have held my breath.  Tom continued.  “We can smell it on you, and a customer called—“
“Oh…”
“Yeah.  So don’t—don’t do that anymore on the clock.  When you’re off I don’t care what you do.  But I don’t want to catch you high on the clock anymore.”
I nodded.  “Okay.  No more.  I promise.”
And I meant it, too.  He would never catch me.

Things That Go Bump In the Night

April 26, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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The 80s…

Uhm…
Maybe if I wait long enough to tell this, the statute of limitations on any alleged crime might have expired.
I hope.
It was just another typical night in the spring, and I was working.  I may have gotten high, too.  But it was a nice night, I was having a good night, I was in the groove, and things were clicking for me.
Maybe I like to take a hit or two off the one-hitter during a long Saturday night close.  But I also took a couple of mini-thins—caffeine pills—to get me through the night as well.  A nice buzz and a loud stereo—now what could be better?
I don’t know.  Maybe a mirror.  I have a mirror.  Maybe I just need to use it once in a while.
I’m on this run…I’m not going to say where.  It’s pretty late.  It’s past 10 pm.  I park on the street.  My e-brake is a little weak and there isn’t much of a curb, so I shut the car off.  I had parked right in front of another car.  It looked like a classic, like an early 60s Rambler or something like that.  It wasn’t mint, but it looked pretty good.  Okay.
I get up to the door before I see that this is not the house.  Fives and sixes look similar in some typefaces.  This was actually an eight.  At least I didn’t bang on their door and wake someone up like I did last week.
Well I’m not going to get back in the car to go down three houses.  I walk.  I deliver the pies and walk back to my car.
When you do what I do—take a lot of deliveries in the course of a night—that’s a lot of times in and out of the car.  You get into a routine, and much of it is automatic.  Of course, sometimes you unknowingly take shortcuts in your routine.
I got in, toss the bag over, and write the tip down on my pad.  I had turned the key and stepped on the clutch first, however.
And I had ever so slowly rolled backward.
I heard as well as felt the dull thud.  I looked up, and behind my panicked face in the rear view mirror I saw the Rambler, right behind me.  Oh, fuck.
Oh, and panic I did.  I looked around quickly, I unplugged my cartop from my lighter, I started the car and took off.  And I did not turn on the lights until I was two blocks away.
I kept looking behind me.  Yeah, I chose that time to start using my mirrors.  In it, all I saw was me.  Man, did I look guilty.
I never heard anything about it; I never got in trouble for it.  I got away clean, except for my conscious.  Luckily I have a short attention span and a bad memory.
But it feels good to confess, as long as I don’t have to make up for it.

Scream

April 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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October, 1986

I’ve been here at Domino’s about a month now.  I really feel like I’m starting to get the hang of it all.  I must be doing a good enough job because I’m working more hours.  Not quite forty—maybe thirty—but the money is good.
I get cash every night, my tips and mileage.  I was so used to just that—
Imagine my surprise when I got a paycheck also.  Hell yeah.
And I was now getting to close two nights per week.  I come in sometimes at 430 and sometimes at five.  You never know when you are going to get off unless you are scheduled to close.  It could be two hours, it could be four hours.  Whenever we slowed down, people were off.
If I closed, I stayed until we were done.  We closed at 1am during the week, and 2 on Friday and Saturday.  We want to get out as soon as we can after close.  The manager deals with the money and paperwork, and the last two drivers do the cleaning.  Usually one does the dishes and one does the front, and they both sweep and mop.
This is my first experience with time management, I guess.  In between runs and when we are slow, we try to do what we can without interrupting the flow of business.  Maybe this is obvious to all of you, but I’m new to this.
The first couple of times, closing seemed…hard.  Now, after a couple of weeks, I’m a real pro.  Okay, not a real pro.  But I am getting the hang of it.  I’ve learned all kinds of important tricks, like what I learned the other night.  I learned that you can’t pull the mop bucket along by the mop, because the wheels don’t roll well and you’ll tip the mop bucket over.
And spend an extra fifteen minutes mopping up the water while the manager and the other driver bitch about it.
And after close, one driver follows the manager to the bank while me makes a deposit in the night drop.  The first time, Joel just said, “Follow me to the bank, okay, Guy?”
Sure, okay.  I follow him, pull up along side of him while he makes the drop, and I just sit there.  Now what?  I feel silly now, because he had to get out of the car and come over to me and explain that it was procedure, for security, and I’m supposed to hang back in the parking lot to keep an eye out, not stick to close to him, and now that he made the drop, he would just wave me off as he was done and we would go our separate ways.
Ya know, I’m from the country.  Security is as alien a concept to me as paved roads.  But he only had to tell me once, and I got it.
The same went for most things:  the first time, I am out of my element and struggling to understand it while I follow along blindly trying to grasp the situation.  After I go through it once and I get it and see the purpose, I have no problem.

For instance, what is the deal with this “borrowing drivers from another store” thing?  What gives?
Well, Snidely, I’ll tell you what gives.  We have the thirty-minute guarantee, right?
Right—30-or-free.
And we want to avoid giving away free shit, because we aren’t a charity.  We schedule to anticipate business, but sometimes shit happens, and who ya gonna call?
Not Ghostbusters.  But you can call another store in the franchise.  I was unclear on this at first, but the company I work for is Domino’s Pizza, yes—but it is not a corporate store.  There are no corporate stores in the whole metropolitan area.  They are all franchises, and the franchise I work for—A&M Pizza—owns about seven or eight stores, something like that.  Who owns the rest?  Other franchises.
A&M also owns the stores in the Springfield, Missouri region.  Art, the A in A&M, is here in St Louis over these stores, and Marty, the M, is in Springfield.  I have yet to meet Art.  I don’t understand the hierarchy…I guess there are managers, and then there is a supervisor, Scott Wilson, whom I have seen.  And then there is Art.  Okay, I guess I do get the hierarchy.
Anywho, what with this being an urban-suburban area, the stores are fairly close, and if one gets busy they can call another one for help that is usually only ten or fifteen minutes away.  If you look at the map here, you see our area outlined in marker.  To the north is written the phone number to the store that covers that area.  To the west and south, the same thing.  To the east is the Mississippi River, and generally we don’t deliver there.
So it’s not mandatory…but we are strongly encouraged.  I’m always up for some excitement, so I have gone to both Spanish Lake, to the north, and Ferguson, which has a monstrously large area to the west.  To the south is Baden (technically the City of St Louis) and that store is owned by another company, so we don’t have to go there.  Thank God; Baden is a shithole.  North St Louis?  You don’t want to be there, brother.  Not as a white boy after dark with a brightly lit sign on the roof of your car that says “I have money and food, come and get it.”
There are details and protocol to the whole idea of lending and borrowing drivers.  A store gets busy, they assess the situation and realize they need help, even for a brief period of time.  They make a call or two.  If a store has someone, they’ll send them.  Or they will ask:  “Want to go to Ferguson and take a few runs?”
Sure.  What the hell.  I wasn’t sophisticated enough to know there was much of a difference between these neighborhoods.  I would clock out here, at my home store, and drive to the other store.  I would take some runs, or sometimes one run, and then go back.  Then I would clock back in.  The stores would communicate—that’s what we have all these five-line phones for—and the borrowing store would pay my labor for the travel time as well.
And the time clock is weird, but it makes it easy to do the math.  If you leave your store at 606 and come back at 654, the time clock says 6.1 and 6.9.  You were gone for .8 of an hour, and the math is easy.  Is this metric time?
There isn’t someone available all the time to make the trek.  Sometimes everyone is busy—and sometimes no one wants to go, especially if it’s to a shithole like Normandy.  In that case, sometimes the drivers are coerced, bribed, blackmailed, or just forced to go, and take one for the team.
I think I just learned my first adult lesson about working in the corporate world:  Being a team player means taking turns getting fucked in the ass.  Coming up next—it’s mine turn to bend over.

Training Day

January 17, 2011 at 11:00 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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October 1986

The Great Experiment at Domino’s Pizza was in full swing.  I was to learn that it shaped everything, from how we did business to how we arranged our priorities, to how we handled problems–
To how we judged a person’s worthiness.
The infamous 30-minute guarantee.
When others practice warfare with paint guns and rubber bullets, we used live ammo.  Joel trained me my first night.  He made a time card for me and I clocked in.  I gave it a passing glance and didn’t understand it–and that was going to set the stage for my evening.
“Okay, Guy, let’s get you set up with a cartop and a hotbox.”  I followed him and he showed me the drill.  In the backroom stacked randomly were both pieces of equipment.  The cartop was a big heavy plastic box with the logo on the outside and a couple of lightbulbs on the inside.  Suction cups on the bottom so it would stick to the roof of your car, and a cord to plug into your cigarette lighter.  I was informed that whoever wore the cartops got an extra 15 cents per delivery for advertising for the company.  Woo-hoo!  This is in addition to the 48 cents we got for “mileage” or “reimbursement,” or whatever they called it.  The terms seemed interchangeable.
Plus we got minimum wage–3.35 per hour–and we got tips.  I was told that most drivers make up to seven or eight dollars per hour.
Then Joel got me the hotbox.  This is a crucial piece of equipment, as I understand it.  A big aluminum box, big enough to hold six pizzas, probably, with a perfectly safe asbestos blanket connected to it with a stiff wire.  We needed the blanket because first I had to light a small can of Sterno and put it in the box.  This all gets strapped into my front seat.  I’m ready to go.
But first, I’m going to shadow Joel for most of the night.  He drove a little Volkswagen Golf, and his hotbox was in the backseat so I could ride shotgun.  “Ready, Guy?”  I learned that was his thing–calling everyone “Guy.”  Good thing–I thought it was going to be my nickname.  I really didn’t want a nickname.
While we were setting up, business started picking up.  Phones were ringing, people were coming in at the start of their shift, and Tom was right on it, directing people and events to make things go smoothly.  “Here, Guy, here’s your bank.  This is fifteen bucks, you use it to make change with.” It was a five, 8 ones, and two bucks in coins.  It was always that much.  Small plastic containers with the banks made up were tossed to drivers as the clocked in and got set up.
“Joel, you’re up!”  Tom yelled out.
Joel went, and I followed.  We went over to the heatrack, and Joel was moving fast and explaining as he went; I tried to keep up and pay attention.  I caught bits and pieces of the information.
“Okay, we’re going here…and here.  We take the yellow off the box–follow me–and we come around back here.  I’m number seven, so I clip them here.  You need to pick a number that isn’t taken–”
“Twelve?”
“Taken.  Here, take twenty-three.”
“Uh–”
“Okay, the streets are Green Acres and Saint Cyr.  So we go to the map, here.  Here’s the guide, and the grid matches up with the map coordinates.  See?  But I know where these are.  Here.  And down here.  Got it?  Okay.”
We went to the rack, and he put the pizzas–sorry, “pies”–let’s get into the lingo.  He put the pies in a hotbag.  “Make sure you check for all the items.  Right here, in this corner, is going to be a number if there’s more than one.  Right here–see this–always check for sodas.  This one has two Cokes.  Grab them.  There.  Okay, Guy, we’re set.  Time is important here.  The big clock up there is the official time.  Always call out the times when you leave, and when you come back.  Always.”
He looked at the clock, then at the labels on the boxes, and did some quick math.  As he heads out the door he says, “Let’s roll.  Twelve and fourteen, two Cokes!” He yelled the last part to the store as I followed him at a trot out the door.
As I get in the passenger side, he opens his back door, pulls the pies out of the bag and puts them in the hotbox, throws the hotbag on top of it, and hops in the front.  Not wasting any time, he started the car, shifted and gunned it out the parking lot and up the street.  He never stopped talking the whole time.
I learned a lot that first night.  I was shown a lot that night.  Christ, I hope I remember it.
Everything was a blur.  When we came back from the first run, Joel yelled, “Seventeen, twenty!” as soon as he opened the door.  One of the things that I did catch was that I was supposed to pay attention to how old the pie was when I delivered it and repeat that time when I came back.
But the rest?  Something about checks–get some information on them.  Yeah.  Makes sense.  He would show me the address, but I would have only time to look at the coordinates and as I would turn toward the map, he would say, “Let’s go, Guy!”
I technically lived in Florissant, and this was Bellefontaine Neighbors.  My girlfriend lived here, and I stayed with her.  I had a rudimentary knowledge of the area at best:  main roads, the way to the highway, and the way to the store.  Everything else was a mystery…
But as we drove around, I could sense some of the mystery unlocking for me.  I was making connections, and the roads were beginning to make sense for me.  I could *get* this.  I could do this.
“Well?”
“Huh?  What?”
“I said, ‘I think you’re ready to go solo.’ Do you?”
“Yeah.  I’m ready.”
I took six deliveries that first night, and made about ten bucks in tips.  And that was just driving for a about an hour and a half.  Of course they were all singles; I was the newest of the new.  I was a real FNG.  But on my own I was able to figure things out on my own terms.  It was coming together for me.
And then it was time to go.  I brought my shit in and “checked out.”  Tom grabbed the keys and unlocked the drop box for me, and I got out my money.  After every delivery, I’m supposed to drop my cash.  It says right on my nametag “Driver does not leave store with more than $20.”  So it must be true.
I straightened out my money standing up while Tom sat in the one chair in the office and filled out the sheet, called the daily.  Tom wrote down my name, and added up my slips, then counted them.  Forty-eight cents times six in one column, and six times fifteen cents in another.  He wrote the totals down, and quickly his stubby fingers ran over the ten-key, then handed me my money.  Fourteen bucks.  Wow.  I can see this working out for quite a while.

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.

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.

First Car

May 28, 2010 at 10:40 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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  In keeping with the theme for the blog–and as I was reminded of because I’m attempting to write a damn book–I wanted to write about the individual cars I’ve had.  Also, I heard on a radio show that one of their sponsors (NAPA Auto Parts) wanted people to call in with stories about their first car.  Here is mine…

  I actually had three first cars, so it’s hard to remember which was the "first" first.  My parents had lots of cars sitting around–none of them on blocks, oddly enough.  My first three were the 70 GMC pickup, the 74 Ford Galaxy, and the 73 Ford Maverick.
  But the first one that was mine-mine, my dad got for me.  It was the Maverick.  It was two-tone:  sky blue on top, and rust below the trim line.  Dad bought it from an old man down the road that was a friend of his, old man Heberer.  He wanted to give it to Dad for free, but dad gave him a hundred dollars for it, out of friendship.
  It was a three on the tree–a three speed manual with the shifter on the column, with a 250 straight-six engine.  It had a vinyl interior, of course.  It was a two-door with a bench seat, so the whole bench-back leaned forward to get in the backseat.
  It was my first car that was mine, so I wanted to customize it, and fix it up.  The dream of the car was much more shiny and sparkly than the reality of the car.  I bought bucket seats from some dude I knew at school.  They were dirty and a little torn, but they were in better shape than the bench was.
  After that Dad found me a floor shifter kit.  It was used, so it looked like someone handed me a piece of rusted metallic intestines.  My friend’s dad put it in for me.  Of course, it wasn’t made for that car, so it didn’t line up correctly.  Instead, it did this:
  A three speed shift pattern is an H.  With the shift kit, it translated differently on the floor.  It was…distorted.  It was a tall, skinny H.  Reverse has the shifter knob all the way up to the dash, grazing the left knob on the AM/FM in-dash stereo.
  For first gear, simply drop the shifter straight back, and it traveled in a wide arc almost all the way to the floor, or the hump.  It stopped near the driver’s side seat belt buckle.  If it weren’t for the bucket seats, you couldn’t shift into first.
  Now for second.  Pull it straight up, and somewhere in the middle of the path–near your knee–push it an inch to your right, and continue to raise it.  Second gear has the knob grazing the stereo knob on the right, the one for tuning in stations.
  For third gear, just drop it straight down, where it stops near the passenger seat belt buckle.  Shifting through the gears was much like operating a rowing machine, and anytime I happened to experience some traffic I got a real workout, similar to being on a rowing machine.

  I had my first experience being stranded with a break down in that car.  It was on a very hot day in July or August, back in 81 or 82.  I got on the highway and drove to the mall, 20 miles away.  On the way back, I was only a few minutes out when the car mysteriously died on me. 
  I say "Mysteriously" because I was 17 and didn’t know jack shit about cars.  It had something to do with the engine, I know that.  I pulled over, popped the hood, and looked at, wondering what the hell I was looking at and what the hell I was going to do.
  Lordy, it was hot.  It was really hot.  This was 1982, so it was before Al Gore invented Global Warming, yet it was close to 100 degrees that day.
  I stood there waiting and hoping for a car to give me a ride.  I wasn’t ready to walk, not yet.  After about twenty minutes, a car pull over.
  I wish I could say that the person who pulled over was a hot chick and this was the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter, but it wasn’t.  It was a guy, a middle aged guy.
  Luckily, this wasn’t the start of some other kind of letter, either.  The man was a project manager at Chrysler–from the Chrysler plant in the St Louis area, in Fenton.  He was on his way to a family reunion in Kentucky, or something like that.  And–what he was driving was the very First Chrysler Lazer off the assembly line.
  Back in 82, this thing was modern.  It was cool as hell, very sleek.  He showed it off to me briefly before we got in.  I wasn’t a prospective sale; he just wanted to brag about his baby.  This was one of the first talking cars:  the origination off the ol’ "The door is ajar" thing.
  He gave me a ride to an exit of my choosing.  In retrospect, I should have chosen a different exit.  But since I was new to driving, I didn’t get the distortion of space-time between driving distance  and walking distance.  I was picked up near the 14 mile marker, heading west.  I should have had him let me off at exit 41, which would have put me a few hundred yards from the truck stop that my brother worked.
  Instead I did the very brilliant thing of having him drop me at the 27 marker, which is the New Baden exit.
  It’s the New Baden exit, but New Baden isn’t right there at the exit.  There, in a heatwave the likes of which we would not see again until Al Gore sets the planet on fire, I walked a good three or four miles.  I walked the distance to town.  I continued, and walked all the way through town.  Then, once I was on the other side of town, I continued to walk towards the tracks, and near there was a house that belonged to a friend of my dad’s.
  They took my pathetic ass in, and from there I was able to get some water, cool off, and finally get a ride.  The guy towed my car–and charged my dad.  What are friends for?  It ended up just needing a thermostat.  I didn’t do the work; I didn’t know anything about it.  It just magically came back to me fixed, and I have no idea how that happened.  I just continued to drive it.
  One day–sometime after that–I started having the oddest problem with the car.  Whenever I would give it some gas and try to take off, it would start to go, but then it would suddenly slow down, almost like it wasn’t getting any gas.
  We looked a couple of different possibilities, Dad and I did.  Finally he decided that it must be the fuel filter or something like that.  We trace the line from the gas tank to the fuel filter, but we never made it to the filter.  The gas line came from the gas tank and went under the trunk.  It was pinched between the leaf spring and the rusted body of the trunk that the leaf spring had broken through.  The forward momentum of acceleration pushes the back end of the car down and pinches the rusted opening against the line and cut off the fuel.  Well, at least we know what the problem is.
  Now, how to fix it?
  This is what we did:  We jacked up the back of the car, pried the leaf spring back through the hole where it belonged, and then got a piece of wood and put it between the hole and the spring, and the got the drill and some screws, and screwed the piece of wood to the floor of the trunk, and put some screws from the spring into the wood, to hold it all together.  It worked for as long as we had the car, until we finally sold it at an auction for 225 dollars. 
  We actually made money on it.

JUST LEE

November 4, 2005 at 10:07 PM | Posted in Journal | 4 Comments
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  In 1988, I got married.  Many significant events surround that story, but I had an urge, a yearning, to tell my friend’s story.  I hadn’t seen Lee in a while, but after I got engaged I looked him up.  I wanted him to be my best man.  He was thrilled, and honored, and humbled.  Amazed, I guess, that I picked him.  I think to him I seemed more popular, and had more friends, but I never really felt that way.  Most of my time was spent alone or with him.  He was my best friend growing up, him and his brother. But at different times, because one would be their his dad, who lived in my town, and one would be with their mom, who lived in southern Missouri.  So I had alternating brothers.

  He was living in the town next to the one we grew up in, a bigger town, and I lived in St. Louis, an hour and a half away.  When I went to go see him, he was living with some girl.  He had already been in the Army and given a general discharge.  Not honorable.  Not dishonorable, either, because it has become unconstitutional to tell someone the truth, apparently.  Pee dirty a few too many times, and you are out.

 

  Some girl–some woman.  Some bizarre, controlling nut-freak creature with more emotional baggage than the small mobile home they were renting could hold.  To be fair, maybe she knew what HE was like, and that’s why she was the way she was.  I mean, he was my friend, but I’m not going to make excuses for him.  He very possibly might be a loser.

  Now, I did only meet her the one time, but that combined with what I picked up about her later gave me a pretty insightful look (I thought) into her character.  She was a possessive, jealous, moody, vindictive, hard-to-please bitch.  Since he was getting laid on a semi-regular basis he could overlook these few small foibles.  I brought my fiancé with me to see him, ask him, and give the invitation.  Since I did not know that he had a girlfriend, the invitation that I had carefully made out in advance obviously neglected to contain the name of Lee’s current true love.  Linda, my fiancé, said, well of course you are invited, please do come!

  I thought the matter was settled, but like Mexican food, it came back to haunt me with a vengeance at only the most critical time.  When the time came to get suited for tuxedos, he came into town without her (she was working) and I sported him the money for the tuxedo.  Mine was paid for with a certain size wedding party, after all, so it was no problem to cover him.

  I never actually had a bachelor party, which was okay, and Lee was not in the financial position to provide that type of support.  Not that it would have taken much, but he was dead broke, not working, and living off the girlfriend.  I had hoped he would have shown up the night before the wedding, which was the rehearsal and so forth, but such was not the case. 

  The day of the wedding, and several thousand things going on, which was when I realized that having the wedding at noon was one of the top fifteen stupidest things I have ever done.  Everyone and everything was pressed for time.  Early in the morning, I called Lee.  No answer.  Being ever the optimist, I took it as a good sign.  Obviously they were on their way.

  At the church, family and friends assembled.  Eleven o’clock.  No Lee.  My dad says, I need to consider alternatives.  This, I mused in later years, is why there is such a large wedding party.  Besides the bride and groom, there is best man, maid of honor, four groomsmen, four bridesmaids, ring bearer, flower girl, and maybe a few that I forgot.

  So I have several groomsmen to choose from:  my brother, my cousin, my soon-to-be son, and a young Vietnamese guy that rented a room from us.  All that was missing was elephants and a trapeze.

  11:15.  Just as my dad was about to insist again that I need to pick a stand-in, Lee shows up.  Plenty of time?  No, we had to go get his tux.  The church was by the interstate, and so was the tux place, so it was about a ten minute round trip.  No sweat.  We bolted.

  On the way, Lee told me what had happened.  His girlfriend–and honest, I cannot re- member her name–got exceptionally pissy that she was not named specifically on the invitation.  She took this as a personal affront to her dignity and her fine name and also,
apparently, as the last straw.  Lee didn’t care, I didn’t care, nobody, obviously, cared.  She was hell-bent on the destruction of any and all of Lee’s life that did not rise and set on her and her over-priced piece of ass.

  Never mind that she was going to ruin a wedding. 

  This was about her.  She wasn’t going.
  "Will you take me and drop me off, then?"  Under normal circumstances, for a guy, a perfectly logical question.  The next step is the last straw, when you are out of options.  So to reach that point, you HAVE to explore all those options.
 
Obviously, the wrong question to ask a woman scorned.  He left hurriedly, and walked three miles to the truck stop, and his sad story eventually got him a ride to this exit, over forty miles.  Then he walked to the church.
  He says, as he finishes his tale and we are walking into the tuxedo rental store, "It’s a real bitch not having a car."  That pretty much sums it up. 

  We get the tux, get him dressed, and get back, and its 11:40.  No sweat.  I worked in pizza delivery, with a 30 minute time limit over my head constantly.  We had made it with time to spare.  Meanwhile, it’s lucky there is no history of heat disease in my family, otherwise my dad would have had a coronary.  Others thought I had left for good and was not coming back–and were very reluctant to explain this to my fiancé.  In fact, she did not know all of this happened until about six months later.

  The music starts, Lee and I are getting last minute touch ups on the tuxes by my dad, who shakes his head in disbelieve that I put all my chips on this bet, and actually won.  His parting advice before he takes his seat, “You used up all of your luck.  Now you have nothing.”

  As Lee and I take our places in front, scarcely anyone noticed, because they were all looking behind them, at the main doors, for us.  We slipped in through the side door.  The reverend stopped sweating.

  One of my groomsmen, my cousin Kevin says to me quietly, "Are you going to be late to your funeral, too?"

  "I certainly hope so." 

 

Post script to the story:  I had scarcely seen Lee after the wedding, either.  He stayed at our house for a day, and then we took him home on the way out of town for a brief getaway that my wife refuses to call a honeymoon.  I heard that he stole a bunch of tools and things from his dad, whom he had lived with, sold them, and went to southern Missouri to live with his mom.  Really don’t know what happened after that.  His younger sister got a degree and got married, she was always very bright.  His older brother Charles was my friend also, he stayed in the army.  He may even be retired now, I should look him up.  Their dad is one of the absolute smartest people I know.  I have no theories on how that affects child-rearing.

 

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