The best job I ever had
(from college journal 1980-81)
Eventually the best part of the job was out on the road.
There is freedom and driving about where there is none in the warehouse;
It got so bad at the warehouse I was constantly looking over my shoulder for Donald always wondering what kind of wisecrack he would come up with next.
For us the Christmas rush started in late August which meant I was on the road a lot starting then.
That first year it was rough because business picked up dramatically and Stanley and I had to bust to get stuff packed and sent.
Donald also had this nasty habit of not telling anyone till late that I had to go out to get something.
This left Stanley stranded in a sea of unpacked merchandise. This left me with something of a guilty feeling and caused me to learn to rush from stop to stop.
Then one day near enough Christmas for us for business to slacking Donald shouted at me telling me I have to go to New York.
It was 3 and I was supposed to meet Paulie and Hank
“I have to go New York?” I asked, as if half believing I had misheard him.
“Yeah,” Donald said, snapping open his private cabinet and unpacking several bottles of Joy perfume and Shalimar.
He told me to strip the tags off the goods he gave me, and seemed angry, making me a bit paranoid, since Donald got angry often, and sometimes over something insignificant.
I asked him if there was something wrong, taking the bottles from him. He paused seemed a little disoriented as if he couldn't figure out for himself whether he was angry or not. Then he looked at me his now gaze ran over, and he laughed harshly.
“I'm not mad at you if that's what you're worried about,” he said.
I sputtered and then turned my attention towards the boxes.
“Why would I be worried?” I said and yet deep down I was relieved.
Stanley heard some of this and came up from the back pulling a pallet jack and a pallet. He addressed Donald asking why he was sending me out now.
Donald didn't answer he didn't even look up, but his neck stiffened, and I knew that it was Stanley who Donald was angry with.
“Don't worry,” he told Stanley, “you won't have to stay late and wait for him.”
Stanley slammed back the handle to the pallet jack and swore
“That's not what it's about and you know it, I don't mind working the hours,” he said and then stuttered to a stop.
“You just don't think you're making enough money,” Donald said easing closed the doors to his special stash, his stubby hands pressing against the flat metal like he was preventing the cabinet from falling.
“No, I don't think I'm making enough for the hours I work but it was my wife who complained not me,” Stanley said putting his clipboard down on the work table.
He gripped his pencil though like a knife
“So, go home nobody's stopping you if you're damned wife can't live without her husband then I'm sorry for her,” Donald said, his hand dropped from the cabinet and he handed me the packing list to check. I counted the bottles and the items and handed it back then he walked back up towards the office.
Stanley stared down at his clipboard. But he wasn't reading the items there he was just staring then he looked up at me his hound like eyes for the first time looked mean. Then he relaxed a little when he realized he was looking at me and not Donald.
“Don't you think you'd better get going,” he said. You don't want to get back at midnight.
I nodded and sealed the box and then headed for the van
The van was a bright red Dodge with windows all around. Stanley had argued against the color when Donald first bought it, saying that it was all too obvious and that the police could pick up on it easier.
Stan was unusually aware of police speeding traps because of own experience with them he had 12 points on his license from speeding tickets and was on the verge of losing his license because of them.
And it wasn't that he was reckless. He told me stories about his younger days when he was, but he had calmed down since his marriage. He was simply the unfortunate schmuck in a line of cars doing 60 and he was the one to get caught.
I had yet to get caught speeding although I did a lot of it. My specialty was parking tickets over which Donald had a fit but then it wasn't an easy feat parking legally in New York City.
I climbed in the van and started the engine there was power under me a terrible frightening power that thrilled me in a special way. I wasn't particularly excited about the speed just freedom. The job was perfect for being on my own, using my head.
Donald waved at me from the door and I stopped he ran out with a couple of memos and stuffed them through the window.
Two more stops, he said, and I nodded as I looked at them.
It was Friday and he had me going uptown and downtown and after 3.
I might just be back at midnight, I thought. But I wasn't about to argue not then.
Some other time I might have pointed out that it would take me forever with the New York weekend traffic, but his face was tight in the lines around his nose and mouth deep; he was in no mood for argument
“Okay,” I said and backed out watching him as he turned back to go inside.
Donald was a short man, a Jewish Napoleon with blond hair and blue eyes, eyes when stern were often exaggerated by the glasses he wore.
But then everything about him was exaggerated, his clothing was rich, his haircut fine and carefully cut, and his manner was that of an executive.
He turned to watch me then vanished in the door as I drove around the end of the building heading for Bloomfield Avenue.
Once on the road again, I was gunning it. I had little patience with traffic weaving in and out of lanes like I owned them. This was quite different from my first day when I crashed into the back of a Mercedes.
I was going to New York then to and that made me laugh.
I slowed on the highway by the light only because the police had a nasty habit of hiding behind the hedges in front of the restaurant. I had seen enough other suckers fall into that. But then by Willowbrook I was gunning it again.
The secret was to sneak through the tunnel before heavy traffic started and rush up the West Side Up 11th or 10th.
I had a trick for cutting through the park too, but I wouldn't try that now. Fridays were miserable that way, so I would put up with 57th Street across town somehow traveling up and down the East Side involved extreme hardship
I sailed on to Route 3.
This wasn't the way I normally went to New York unless I was headed to see Donald’s mother, Ruth at the Kearny store -- so there was something adventurous about it.
There were still a few fluffs of dirty plowed snow along the side of the road and the air was cold and crisp and smelled of Christmas.
But pain went through me with that this Christmas, creating a kind of bittersweet spice over the fact that I would be spending another Christmas without my wife or seeing my kid.
Louise had called, but after meeting her near Scranton, I discovered that she only really wanted me to agree to a divorce.
The van rolled pass the Nevins print factory on Route 3 where Louise and I had met five years earlier. It only made the feelings more intense.
Traffic thickened and so it put Louise out of my mind for a time, but it came back, and I had to struggle with it and the bumper to bumper insanity of the helix winding down towards the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel.
I was annoyed, yet knew that traffic might lighten up once through the tunnel, after which different feelings emerged, nostalgic feelings of those days when I worked at a messenger in New York, and did largely what I did not, and returning here like this before the holiday, felt a little like me being a prodigal son returning finally to a place I felt most comfortable at.
Once the city gets into your blood, you can’t get rid of it.
The truck vibrated over the potholes and bumps and I laughed the sidewalk Santa's with their tinkling bills, the red suits wrinkled, the belts holding up padding showing through the fabric.
Yes, it was a flavor here that that I savored, a fine wine that seemed to bubble out of the air with the clouds of subway steam.
I turned uptown half humming some old Christmas carol.