An Arguable Truth

UPS Guy

My phone went off loudly around five thirty in the morning. There’s no way for a phone to go off quietly that early. A gentle coffee warmed voice asked me if I was who I am, and asked if I was available to work that day. Foggy headed, half asleep, almost too tired to speak, I could not think of a good excuse. Yes ma’am, I said, and sealed my fate. I could expect a call from a driver within the next two hours. Shipping things for a living seems a precarious venture. It forces us to treat the mundane with a misplaced urgency.
You’re handing someone an impossible job.
Demanding they do hard work gently.

The United Parcel Service, UPS, hires what they call driver helpers, for the month of December. If you get called in for the orientation, you begin to glimpse what you’re in for etched in colorful posters advocating daily stretches. Stared into a television monitor watching all the wrong ways to lift heavy things. At least sixteen of us around the table. My manager told me maybe five worked a full day, and of those five, no one worked two. I was one of those. Not because of the work, but because of the structure. You would never know if you were needed until your phone rang sometime before six in the morning. It worked on a daily basis, you see, and so you did as well. There are particular rungs down at the base of the economic ladder where a day off is a sort of miniature death sentence. If I had an open Thursday to offer, I said yes. Even though I had no clue what I was saying yes to. Until my phone rang about an hour and a half later.
My driver was on route.

They had given us all a hat. A brown toboggan. But the driver would have the rest of my uniform. Because UPS delivery persons have special security clearances, that let them enter airports, schools, and businesses. Each of their shirts and pants and issued hats has a long tracking number associated to it, and they use it. You’re probably not going to find old UPS uniforms in Goodwill or any other consignment shop. Which also makes the dull brown a sort of symbolic color for the company. UPS has strong suggestions for how an employee should represent their self when wearing this uniform. Like the military. There is no casual piece of company clothing. Branding control. Marketing cohesion. Which trickles down to guys like me, putting on my tremendously oversized milk chocolate colored coat and pants in an Exxon bathroom, where I was asked to leave my car parked for the entire day, a potentially twelve plus hour shift. I hopped up into the cab with a guy named Jeff, and we took off exchanging introductions. All my options and freedom of movement and control sitting locked and turned off totally abandoned in a cramped gas station parking lot.

It is also important to note, I’m working and living in an area that I am entirely unfamiliar with. Having only moved to Upstate New York that November, working now for UPS in December. The man actually gave me one of their GPS and shipping information handheld tracking devices, like I had any idea what to do with the fragmented five digit house numbers and road names that may as well have been in a different country. Jeff took it back when he saw me looking up addresses on my phone. He understood. Accordingly, he had quit this job just the week before. Jeff had come down with the flu, and was forced to call in sick to his active, high energetic and technically demanding job, and his supervisor told him no. So he quit. ‘Supe’ called him back four days later, five days into December, and with no apology, simply offered him a shift. The one we were both part of at this very point in the story. He has three kids, loves to snowmobile, is good at his job, started like me as a driver helper, took that position to something basic in the warehouse, and in just a short time, they had him driving his own truck around his own hometown. He loved it. And several people on his route loved him.

Waves, conversations, playful jokes about someone’s yappy dog, bigger more dangerous animal owners came out smiling and waving and clearly knowing. One young military wife came outside with a Christmas card after I had just dropped a package off on her front stoop, with ten dollars inside, for Jeff, or as he demanded, the both of us. And he gave me a five. I learned more about the area I had moved to in those high up violently shaken and crazy chaotic scanning barcodes and staring down mailboxes than the entire month before. I learned more about reading addresses and following road signs instead of verbal commands and diagrams and actively oriented maps on my phone. I scanned the horizon for highway signs and little flat green strips hosting street names. House numbers, how they hop across the street, very rarely move along sensibly linearly.

Cat piss covered front porches and wide open mudroom doors and setting down Amazon packages in front of houses I could not fathom anyone actually lived in. Though they did. Dogs tied up in rough outside conditions. Jeff throwing his hands one over the other sliding back and forth, dangerously smiling wildly and bouncing up from his seat, as we skated left and right across a mile long, frozen sheet of ice someone calls a driveway. UPS trucks are only two wheel drive. At least most of the trucks were, Jeff attested. Made it all that much more fun to slip around in. I detested it, as I smiled politely, and gripped the base of my bucket seat, as a friend of mine would say, hard enough to pinch the vinyl.

I live for days like this, challenges like these, but that does not mean I do not get tired. Psychically, physically, empathically exhausted. I do. And that started around five thirty in the evening, twelve hours now from when my phone first started ringing. Glancing into the back of the truck, it still looked brimming with odd sized gift boxes and brown cubes and dented rectangles one big plastic eye wrapped around paperwork stared back at me. A monster in the middle, something flat and massive, a baby crib I guessed, but never said out loud. I made the rookie mistake of casually asking what we do with the packages still in the truck at the end of our shift.

Something happens to people when they work in ridiculously difficult conditions so long they get numb to them. When someone new comes through and experiences it, they can’t help but feel a twinge of resentment. Of reminder, that oh yes, what I am doing is hard, in some ways, demeaning, and in one clear instance, humbling. They see it anew in the eyes of the trainee. And the trainee, feels for the first time the same fear and exhaustion this tried and tested worker put down and submitted to a long time ago

Corporate, as Jeff called it, never communicated to a driver directly. Always through this supervisor, who was out to get him, to hear him tell it. He had for a long time suspected, but never knew to what level they truly tracked his time and movement on the job, until he was seated in his supervisor’s office, three sheets of paper on the desk in front of him, all cataloging and detailing a five minute pit stop he had taken. Not during his recorded lunch stop, which was entered into the device. He had pulled off the road at a gas station to grab a Mountain Dew. It was five minutes as the record showed. And he was told to not let it happen again, or he might be better suited to the warehouse.

Three kids. Loves to snowmobile. Appreciates he gets to raise them in his own hometown.
Defending five minutes.

Needless to say, there is no option to end the shift until the truck is empty, he told me. He had it take him over fourteen hours in a single shift, in the past. So I asked, what if I needed to leave early, could I even be dropped off at my car, just asking out of curiosity, of course. We were over forty five minutes from there. Jeff said he would gladly take me back, but I’d be setting him back just about two hours in recovery and driving time. I told him of course not. I did my breathing exercise. I also sometimes force myself to smile. I made a joke at my expense. Caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the dingy window. Hey, I see you. UPS guy.
Who else could do what you do?

Meet a stranger out in the world, change into a strange uniform in a bathroom, hop into a truck and head off into the never less known. I wasn’t home until after ten that evening, making it a nice clean twelve hour shift. I got a check for a hundred dollars, after taxes. And I got to be a UPS delivery guy for a day.

And on top of that. They let me keep the hat.

What you wish you were

Jeremy, what’s your secret weapon?

Well, after college, with nothing better to do, I went through my soul with a fine tooth comb. I named and grew well acquainted with all my least desirable traits. The real problem children. Narcissism. Misplaced ego. Enabler of my own appetite. Down to the bad knee. Up to the shimmer of ideals like distant stars, that I will never be smart enough to obtain.

Instead of sequestering them to my childhood, denying their constant, steady presence, even to this day within my adult character, I listened to their demands, we talked through their needs, walked for days and worked down on our knees pulling weeds. I remember these late summer night walks I would take with my two dogs, both stark black animals, I am back, I’m there, hearing the metal scrape and wind-chime clink of their leashes coming off, the quick thud almost hoof beaten rhythm of them chomping out into darkness. Disappeared. I’m standing there licking my lips as they are eaten by an evening. Not a single shred of doubt in my mind that the moment I take a step forward, they are at my side.

I coupled my narcissism by seeking in my friends, my dogs, my animals, the same beauty I beheld in myself. Responsibility doesn’t care how pretty or how good you are. Just consistency. And ego, ego makes a fine hammer, but a hammer makes a shit screwdriver. Ego is only as good to you as the particular job you apply it to. It’s a tool. You also need a box to keep it in. We need you to set it down a time or two and use a different problem-solver. And my hunger. Well. I do a lot of things by hand, work labor and activity and exercise into my daily plans, and always attempt to couple the movement with some function. Firewood. Gardening. Landscaping.
And I walk. A lot. All the time. Pairs exceptionally with someone who talks. A lot. All the time. Foot stomping around a piece of land is its own form of diatribe.
Walking helps settle me.
Ironic as that might seem.

So there’s my secret weapon. I interjected ideas, activities, pursuits into my life that may have not seemed so attractive to me on the surface, because of how they paired well against, or countered altogether, my most dangerous traits. Not eliminated, mind you, certainly not destroyed or even lessened. I’m still a narcissistic, ego-driven, over-eating, over-drinking, over living life and throwing it in your face, asshole. When I’m alone. On a walk through the woods. Or late into an afternoon huffing and puffing somewhere along a hike. I get it out, I say it, or write it, but I don’t fight it, I let what is in me come forward, and allow myself to take a good long look at it.

We all have this little ‘but what about me’ butthole inside of us.
We just don’t all let it speak for us out loud in public.

That’s the purpose of writing. Maybe no other purpose, than letting steam out of a kettle.
You’re not going to skip over who you really are and land on being the better person.
Can’t go around it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go through it. And you can not turn around.

We’ve got to climb.
Who you actually are.

Not what you wish you were.

Happy birthday to an incredible woman, and the love of my life

Still laughs like a little girl

Where comets come from. Yes, you are brighter than any star in the sky
and you have a magnificent tail. But I’d love to know where you dwell.
Should you choose to take me there. Until then, I know you’re a sign.
Of something. Beautiful. And terrible. All by your lonesome.
You’re a volatile couple. Ashley. Americanized Cinderella.
Do I know how you hate that. But we love you for it. Honey.
I need you. More than I have ever let you know.
This has all been for you.
In hopes you’d give some back to us. You’re American.
You’re British. You’re Scottish. And gypsy. And arrogant.
You are America.
You are the cloth high up on the mast that catches new wind first.
Before the sails that push the ship even.

You move your own direction. Respect.
Head nod. Eye contact. Embrace. Stoic face.
As streams rain down and embers soar, sparks fly.
Celebrate. Nothing more. Than more light in the sky.
Sulfur smelling air. No care.
Dressed eighteen hundreds.
Beaming in red bursts with white gold finish.
Disappeared.

Smiling steady in sporadic flashes of darkness.

One in the mind. One on the plate.

Our consciousness developed while food and environment were synonymous.

We did the same thing to ourselves that we do to animals on the farm. We built social structures between us and our food. And we’re only given access in amounts appropriate to how much we do. Now. We earn our living.

My point is, these are not the conditions consciousness developed in. That little ineffable something missing from life, well, its a long story.

We used to have so many stories along with every meal.
Every meal was a vast narrative. A novel.
And in that way, we consumed two meals at once.

One in the mind, and one on the plate.

Dry Hill – new poetry book – INTRO

Don’t read these words like you actually know me. No. Pretend I’m a stranger. Make believe these are pages you found bound together on the street. Please. I am lowkey begging you. Give me that grace. I’m asking for it, even though I know it can’t be given. An impossibility. Grace just is. By no work or deed of your own. The hated are loved. The weight of full hearts breaks others.

I just want to write my way from beginning to end, birth to death. Things I can own and those stubbed toes and stumbled steps I might in the long run rather omit. I am going to write it down. For myself. For you. Though I recognize you didn’t ask me to do it. For my son. For Ashley. For the kids two thousand years from now, for when they fight through the fray. When they ask, I don’t need to articulate what. Just, when they ask.

Is why I write.

 

 

Finished

I had done more in the two and half months prior, walking, living, writing, talking, seeking, growing, changing, than I had ever done before. But finished? Nowhere near even close to there. More than miles yet to do. I have lives yet to live, universes yet to contemplate, distances to be lost to and revelations like mountains stacked like blank pages in an empty journal. Not to flip through, but to write on, and permanently stain, and make it so that no one will call it empty again.

No matter what it contains.

Easy as a bullet

There are mountains behind those mountains. Behind those clouds.
On the other side of that rippled river. The sun is set to be delivered.
Every day not Sunday. Ironically. Ironclad igneous and soil.
Beyond a wall of water vapor. Fish in slivers still at the warm belly bottom
not feeding. Not needing. Water kneaded. In the translucent finger grips of wind.
Mountains that we know are there. Hidden, like eyes behind long hair. Obscured.
Like the tilt of the earth. Like all flying birds.
Outer space and stars and satellites shot at like skeet by shotgun eyes.
Twelve gaze. Double barrel. Vision. If I can see it, I can behold it.
Fire on distance and watch limp geese drop like slick dishes shattered to the tiled floor.

The word know.
The word no.
And mountains.
That can’t be seen.
Veiled by what morning missed and hidden behind that obstacle we call distance.
We believe. There is more left to see.
That it can be overcome.
By binoculars. By walking feet. By eyes.

Easy as a bullet from a gun.

Blue Mountains

The mountains are two dimensional.
And blue. And minuscule.
Rock mounds bound behind clouds.
Sound. Muffled in a muffled room.
Ends too soon.

Almost didn’t start.
I might not be smart.

Mountains might actually be massive.
Clouds could be vapor. Lighter than air.
Ridges more red-white than blue.
Who knew. Clear as a bell windows.
Still aren’t see through.
No matter what lies on the other side.

You see a window too.

There are no such things as mountains that are blue.

“I really don’t care. Do you?”

I’ve been calling them shakedown years since about two thousand and fifteen. It feels like the tipping point between words and reality finally took a topple toward words. We’re supposed to listen to and respect someone’s right to conversation, in complete deference and willful ignorance of all their words definitions. You can tell it, yell it, scream it in my face, but if I don’t see conservation in your life, in your philosophy, decisions and actions, I am not going to call you a conservative. If you pull into my driveway and explain how you’re a christian as you apologize for calling me a waste of life and telling me I’ve disappointed my deceased grandparents, you may not actually be living up to the definition of the word Christian.

I hear you. I probably smiled, nodded, maybe gave you an ‘I don’t know’ headshake, or a ‘let’s agree to disagree’ grin, but I saw you. I see you. And the day will come that you might ask me to read you. And I won’t paraphrase. Your complete way of life is beside the point.

I don’t care about your opinion on abortions. If you wanted me to, you needed to go to school, and earn that right.

I don’t care your opinion on illegal immigration. The end result of that line of thinking will have us walling off our states, standing in line outside of our own hometowns providing bonafides and credentials just to be let in. If I drew a line in the sand and said no one could cross it, I still wouldn’t be surprised when someone does. Such is the nature of lines drawn in the sand.

I don’t care that you dislike black people. Or that you would like to casually comment degrading, disrespectful remarks about people who are different than you, in every way except their willingness to suffer and die for their identity. That, you have in common with everyone.

I’ll care when you give me something worth caring about. When the issue on your lips is one we all need to pass over ours in order just to maintain not caring for another day. Our society skipped right over any form of discussion about the basic daily life essentials we’re all scrambling to acquire. Our society has slipped its way between us and our earth and is selling it back to us piece by piece as we grow up and recognize our needs.

Government is crushing farmers, because government does not want us to farm. It wants major corporations to take up those arms, and they’re hesitant. Because growing food is hard. Keeping clean water, and more animals than you can count in your own backyard, is expensive. And, farming has this neat effect on the human life. It gives us a different, more dutiful, dependable and fair master over our time and labor. Nature. And government does not want nature to be anything more to us than a recreational activity.

Well. I am done. Done pretending this is the way it is. The founders of this nation had nothing even remotely similar with which to compare our current way of life. The fact that almost all of us would start to starve the instant grocery stores stopped filling up. The richest aristocrat of George Washington’s era still had chickens in his yard. Still used horses for a car. Still knew the soft snap of green beans and the smell of soil turned over for the first time after winter.

A farmer is a producer. And a producer makes an inconsistent consumer. And our society, our government, in no evil or malicious manner, simply doesn’t benefit so much from a population of producers as it does a system filled with poorly educated, ravenous consumers. That’s as simple as it gets.

If you want to talk about freedom, there has to, I repeat, has to, no option otherwise, be a way of life at the very base of our system, in which a person can eat good food, sleep safe and warm from the weather, and drink as much clean water as they could ever need, without using any form of currency. Apart from their humanity. And whatever morning choring those things require.

This idea. What is freedom without forty acres and a mule? Perhaps that should be our golden rule. Before we sail off into this corrupt, divisive, consumption based, product placed future, we all need to know there is a piece of land set aside for us. A way of life fruitful enough to provide for us. A simple, quiet life in the country.

The economy of want is not appropriate to manage the economy of need.

I refuse to talk about building walls, renovating bathrooms, or putting in a new kitchen sink, until the foundation of this building has been surveyed and repaired.

I am not saying anyone is right or wrong.

I am saying that until the conversation includes providing a base level of survival resources or environments for every citizen in this country, it is my right not to care.