What follows are notes taken during my brief employ as a furniture mover. I didn’t edit these, so my writing is probably a little stunted. (Incidentally, we prefer the term “relocation specialist” – it makes us feel smarter than we really are.)
17JUN99 — At the sound of the tone, it will be 1020 AM. We’re jolting along in a cab-over truck few miles outside of Toledo, Ohio. Riding in the dog box is uncomfortable. There’s no padding under this thin, stained mattress and I’m propped up one on elbow reading the paper, perusing reviews of ‘Hannibal’, the sequel to ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Looks pretty good. The movie based on ‘Red Dragon’ failed to please. Michael Mann had too many fingers in the pie, and the powerful tale of a compelling, complex character came across as just another episode of Miami Vice.
We’re headed to pick up some guy at a site just outside of Detroit to help with the load. I hope he feels like working. Sometimes they show up, cart a few boxes, take off on break and don’t come back.
Getting paid 42 bones a day for expenses,
17JUN99 — 1910. Finished off-loading 15,000 pounds of household goods for a nervous young couple in Detroit. He sells cars and laughs on cue. She’s got a nervous housewife grin on her face, like she’s waiting for the flash of the bulb or a slap on the nose from a rolled-up newspaper. Reminds me of a Mexican hairless. They were a skittish pair.
I catch myself feeling jealous when I move people, measuring myself against their position and possessions. Yeah, I‘ve done a lot in my time, and I’ve been a lot of places, but I have so little to show for it. I don’t exactly keep proof of high adventure in my wallet. I try to remind myself that I want very little anyway, but it’s OK to want, isn’t it? I used to live for cash-and-carry, but I can’t go on like this forever. When doubt seeps in like water through the bottom of the boat, I find it difficult to rise past that sinking feeling.
This couple had so much shit they didn’t know what to do with it! Gadgets of every make, shape and model; six fucking bags full of gear for different sports. But by the look of them, they and the gear have ever been formally introduced. The equipment was brand-new, covered in dust, and you could tell they’d eaten all the pies.
At the end of the day, when I’d finished humping their worldly possessions up two flights of stairs, I began pulling up the tape and folding tarps while the driver filled out the paperwork. As we walked out, they were sitting in the middle of a tiny room crowded floor to ceiling with furniture and boxes. It was in their eyes, that ‘Oh, Christ’ feeling of being totally overwhelmed. Being the last man out, I paused: “That which you posses also possesses you.” Then I closed the door. I guess that was a crappy thing to do. I couldn’t help it, I was feeling smug.
I suppose I’d just settle for being out of debt, having some sort of health insurance, a nice place to live, a full refrigerator. I’m afraid of starving, of not paying my bills.
I’ll stop here. It’s a pain in the ass trying to write while lying on my stomach in the back of a truck, when the driver seems intent upon hitting every pothole.
19JUN99 — 0840 AM, Saturday morning. I got up this morning and headed into work, but no one had any runs going out. I hitched a ride home with a distant relative who also works here. Hadn’t seen him in awhile, to the point that I’d forgotten who he was. Also in the car, my not-so-distant-cousin Michael. I haven’t seen him in years, either. Strange to talk of the old days, dissecting the mayhem of our youth.
Now on the front porch, a ringside seat to the Arena Suburbia. I have my keys but I like the idea of just sitting out here, watching my fellow Earthlings stretch wide their arms to the sunlight, taking in the day like a newborn’s first breath, not a care in the world. It’s a cool morning, so I dig an old windbreaker out of my bag and shrug it on. Maybe I’ll walk down to Stauf’s at the top of the block and see what’s going on there.
I could call A., or J., who is in town drying out, trying to shake the monkey off her back. I keep making small promises to see them when I can, passed through the grapevine of mutual friends. Like I really know when that’s gonna be. Things have changed, circumstances being what they are.
I filled out a job application yesterday at OSU for a position as a lab technician. Wonder if I’ll ever hear back from them. I doubt it. I lack the right kind of paper. Man, I’m so anxious to get my head out of my ass and get on with my life… I keep stopping and starting, red light, green light.
I guess I should start with today. See ya.
21JUN99 — The word of the day is ‘apt’. Short for apartment, I passed it no less than one hundred times traveling up and down a flight up steps while carrying what must have been half the Library of Congress out of the basement of a home in the middle of East Moses. It was a bright orange tag, meaning the box it had fallen from was destined for the apartment the couple was moving to, and not the storage facility.
Apt. I kept saying it over and over, trying to use it in a different sentence each time I passed it, like a game. Something to keep my mind off the weight of the boxes.
Yesterday’s word was ‘tomorrow’. It was stuck on the back of a chair, written on a big bright bold sticker like the future itself. I sat down in that chair during my break, hoping it would take me there.
I’m getting paid nine bucks an hour to sweat like a motherfucker. I’m dirty, and the tips of my fingers are dried out, rough, and chewed to holy hell. I’m not long for this job, really. I like being outside, but I despise being subservient to everyone; bowing my head and acting like a dumb fuck, a piece of white trash just good enough to carry your furniture and household goods. I’d rather have something I can get my brain into, and give my back a break. Want in one hand, shit in the other.
Tack the hide of this monster on the wall of ‘Lost Causes’ with your sharpest knife, and ask me if I’m a tree.
21JUN99 — Later that evening, took my bike for a spin toward campus. Rode towards the OSU employment office, still hoping for a better job and a lucky break. It felt really weird to be on that campus again, my old battlefield. I rode slowly, with no particular direction. I looked at the buildings and the streets I used to know like the back of my hand. It was almost three years ago that I just got fed up with my declining progress, my failing grades, and my apparent lack of ability to do anything more than fuck off, get high, and write about myself.
I’d taken 050—Basic Algebra three semesters in a row, failing like a champion in every sense of the word. The real slap in the face came from watching the rich troglodytes that I made fun of pass the course without breaking a sweat. They’d never seen the sunrise over 5th century ruins, never made love to a woman in an ancient graveyard, never played stickball with explosive detonators in the hot Sicilian sun, or swam in the salty lap of the Mediterranean but they sure as hell knew how to pass basic Algebra. I couldn’t take another class without first passing 050, and I couldn’t take the 050 a fourth time. Checkmate, asshole. Pity, because I’d planned to take basic astronomy next quarter. So I stood up during the middle of the class after failing yet another quiz, quietly packed my bags, and left the campus. Never went back. I folded like a card table, and it eats at me to this day.
And here I am now, sprawled out on my favorite slab of concrete in the Oval where I used to eat my brown rice and nap with my headphones on, waiting for my afternoon classes to begin. I ate nothing but $1.00 rice from Mark Pi’s, and drank all the free caffeine I could stand from my job at a local coffee house. My biggest concern was having enough money to drink on that night. Now I’ve got mouths to feed, and the biggest responsibility of my life still on the way.
You can never come home again. You have to call it something else.
22JUN99 — High noon. I’m in a warehouse in B.F.E. We just finished building nine 5 X 6 shipping crates, and now we’re waiting for the phone to ring. White guys in thin ties and mullets sit in the office drinking Diet Pepsi, and tell these poor old black men what to do, and when to jump. I had a can of Mountain Dew for lunch, and now I’m picking splinters out of my hands. Being a peon at this job rubs salt deep into my veins, pressing me further and further into humility. Maybe I need this. Maybe I’m not such hot shit after all. Maybe this will help me to make something of myself in this life. I’m capable of a lot more than this. I’m certain of it.
It’s like the man said: “I can’t be a rock star, so I’ll just have to go out and be awesome.”
22JUN99 — Finished another long day. Built those nine crates on an empty stomach, and got a ride back to the main warehouse in co-worker’s filthy mini-van with filth smeared windows, up to my ankles in — I shit you not — dirty diapers, soiled clothing and toys. The windows wouldn’t open and I was suffocating in the lukewarm fumes of human waste. Got back to the freight yard and cleaned out a trailer full of old furniture pads, assorted debris and empty boxes. It was a haphazard mess.
The task itself wasn’t that important, I just really wanted to use the word ‘haphazard’ in a sentence. I’ve been itching to do it all day. See? I’m still smart! At one point, I could hear the faint stains of a favorite song drift into the trailer from the stale echoes of the warehouse, and it spurred me to work a little harder.
I’m exhausted. I’ve got a raging sun-squint fucker of a headache, a sore back, and I’m wearing a cloak made of sweat.
Iron Maiden saved my life,
23JUN99 – Had a strange dream this morning. My cousin Michael and I stole a white Rolls Royce. At least I have taste in my dreams, yes? Anyway, we ditched it in a parking garage, and I wiped the car for prints. What a low-down dirty feeling that was…
The two other people in the car with us were Phil, Michael’s burned out stoner buddy and the first person I ever knew with epilepsy, and Quinn (not his real name), the family disgrace. A piece of trash so low that, rumor has it, he fucked his own grandmother for a cheap gold bracelet. This is the same kid who stole the car I got busted in a few years back. Don’t ask me why he was in my dream.
They were at the top of the ramp and I was a few paces behind. Suddenly, the cops came out of nowhere, cutting off our exit. Michael and I bolted back down the ramp, leaving those guys as bait. We ran until we thought it was safe.
At this point I was almost naked, wearing only a dark-blue parka around my waist like a diaper. We were starving, so we stole a set of antique dishes and hatched a plan. One of them dropped in the middle of the street and exploded everywhere. We decided to sign the rest of them, hoping to pass them off as collector’s items and turn a profit. The lady at the pawn shop asked me my name, politely ignoring the fact that I was now buck-ass naked, having lost my parka somewhere. I told her my name was Tom Machine.
Then I woke up, and took a shower. When I finally turned the water off, the air raid siren of noon was wailing.
Welcome to Wednesday,