I want love the way a single breeze makes all of summer bearable. Dryly washes warm from minds. Heat off shoulders. Tickled sunlight into nibbling instead of gnawing. I want love. Outward. Give. The way I want to live. Kind of already caught up in it and maintaining a status quo before I even know what it really is I really have to live for. Three. Two. One way I love is by biting my tongue. Quetitude. Silace. I brood. Like I just bit a lemon. Clearly thinking all about how I feel about it. But it isn’t citrus, is it? Love. Four letters. Three forms. Two directions. And one great big excuse to crowd out all other excuses. You’re never let off over-easy again. Hard time. Still not hard. Like boiled eggs. Soft as hell. Still stiffer than calcium cradled saliva clear and sunlight yellow centered. Hard time. Beneath a salt shaker. For bites. Three’s the leftovers. Too left over. One rotten stomach. I want to love the way Pepto-Bismol coats the throat and pink lines the gut like in those commercials. I want to be sick. Just so I can take medicine for it.
If you kind of clench the back of your throat and blow air out slow, almost growling, you can imitate this sound. If you can snip your tongue to the edge of your gums and lips, you can crackle just as the fire did. Rumble, down in your stomach. Without much effort, you can imagine what we were doing here. Smiling. Pat on the backing. Happily projecting.
Like everybody does.
We have a language full of dirty words like a tool box. Screwdriver. Phillip’s head. Good for you Phillip. Nails. Screws. Socket. Stud-finder. Okay. Daddy doesn’t want help with his tools anymore.
Let me do this for you. I’m not a plumber, or an electrician, or a roofer, or a carpenter.
I’m a writer.
Let me set you straight. If you’re reading this, you’re currently caught up in a process we call life. No matter what you have been told, there is no assurance you will ever have another one. You’re not alive on accident, and you’re not alive without stipulation. You, or someone close to you, has been doing a lot of work to maintain you in this state. Alive. For just the one time.
You’re saying things you heard on TV. We know. We heard it too. You’re saying them to people who are speaking about things they did not see on TV, things they lived through, decisions they have made.
Television has been lying to you.
The things I have done have climbed inside my hands.
Used engine oil. Black grease spiraled out an iron jack.
Dad swears it once held up the entire house.
A touch of rash off a three leaved brat like a bracelet
decorating my wrist. Inch long scar from a bowsaw
when I was too young to have had one. White lightning
sunk into my right pointer knuckle from a kitchen knife
I’d forgotten I’d put in the sink. Green veins
peek through stretched thin red window panes
from so much sun the past few days.
The dent. Where the pen sinks in. Black fingernails
half step between pink ivory keys on a self playing piano.
Where there once were blisters.
As if I wasn’t going to remember.
Why don’t we think how little control we have over basic life everytime we set an alarm at night? What a nasty trick to play on ourselves. Set a digital trap to ensnare any shred of our senses first thing in the morning. This one first thing in particular, began at five AM, because I had to be at the farm by seven, and I had to have a half a pot of coffee in me before then. And I liked to read and write during that time. I love the early morning. Just as soon as I’ve slapped the sleep out of myself. The most productive hours, I call them, because of how they melt away without much mental cognition into small piles of finished projects and completed records. Beginning, middle, and end. Every sentence. Stacked back to back each paragraph. Every follow after chapter. Until you’ve created your very own titan. A champion the gods themselves must descend and deal with outright. Jesus Christ, we’ve been seeking out an honest terms contest with God for a long long time.
Mistakes are like Old Testament men with infertile wives. Somehow, even left with no direct route, they find a way to multiply. We thought it was love. And out of love, family. But in reality, it was the other way around. We want family, and also love, so long as it leads to a little one who looks and acts enough like me I don’t feel so final about my final trial. Mistakes will copulate, they will take more wives, servants into deep closets. The progeny of mistakes will begin to ooze out of the woodwork like oil off all the fingers and hands that have touched it throughout the decades.
Mistake begets mistake begets mistake.
And in this way, Adam repopulated the world. And Abraham after him. And so on and Noah afterward. Cutting the foreskin off their boys so all women could recognize them. A nametag of sorts. Hey. Eyes are up here. This isn’t about pleasure. This is repopulation. An old man with a sharp knife saw to that. In a sordid old fashioned way, fixing his own mistake.
I will commit to my mistake, so long as a nonspeaking, unknowable, most importantly, non-human deity demands it of me. I will walk my only sun to the top of the mountain and snuff him out like a distant star between my pointer finger and my thumb.
No I won’t.
I will learn to not make a god out of any entity that makes demands. Any object that seeks to undermine the rules of physics that require we all tire out and die when it comes time, for the sake of a story, for the purpose of proving a point, betrays its own laws and rigid guidelines, fixes them like they were mistakes, like stray dogs, is no God of mine. Is no God at all.
That is what you call poorly developed literary device.
I don’t need my universe to make mistakes.
I was self-made to make enough for both of us.
Love: A line of credit you’ve given very few people access to that has no spending limit, that despite your current situation, one way or a thousand installments after, you will eventually pay the balance.
God: A monosyllabic reminder that Mankind invented language, and when language fails to name something, the fallibility is in the vocabulary, not the universe.
Death: A superpower life discovered early on that allowed us to not just learn from our failures, but eat them up for supper also.
Cruelty: Doing to others, solely without second thought as you have had done to yourself. Severe lack of story. Caught up in some moment. A tangent. The overfermentation of desire. The flex of weakness.
Trust is a sail.
Faith is a paddle.
Hate is what anger becomes when it matures. Be careful not to make an enemy of hate.
The word enemy is a doorway for the hateful. Make them fuss at you through a window,
a good word for that is called a neighbor. Hate is a season. Hate is a debit account.
Once it’s spent it’s done and gone. The overdraft fee on hate is criminal.
Hope: long list of chores and an early start.
What is a flood to a fish. Fast running earth softening apocalypse.
White water parted around park benches. Is there a little low cabin
of stiller cold current stable along the stirred up muck lined basin.
Does the flood happen far above the heads of fish. Wait it out
weighted out way deep down. Beneath high water. New real estate.
New adventure. Was the fish’s world expanded by a natural disaster.
Thick rich one percent water heavy with death and nutrients.
Button eyes glued on and bulged out, flake of shiny black sequin set in a droplet of water
and loose to roll around while each slippery scaly arrowheaded wing throated muscle
patiently packed with tin cans rolling across the bottom of so many drowned rivers.
Horny heads hidden in creeks. Bass buried bellies brushing the bottom
of every many layered lake. Is that it, to fish, a flood. More traffic delay than catastrophe.
Bringing off the beaten path shortcuts into possibility. Honey get off at the bridge.
What bridge? I never saw a bridge here before. How could that be.
Well it never was underwater before.
I see. Said a blind fish. Lost in filth laden busybody highly agitated medium. Fast falling.
Dirty. Rich. Maybe floods are the opposite. For fish. When the weather is rough.
People hide inside and wonder how high the creek might rise,
how much more the lake can swallow before it is finally full.
But for fish, maybe a flood, means time to go to school.
Flying in cars across bridges.
Lake water parted by Moses mind so as to envision massive fuming
earth moving machinery at the bottom, sixty three feet down. Damming.
Damning. When things get in the way. Or seeing a clean sawn off stump
too near a mountain top. Ears of gods grown strong straining
in on only the most whispered prayers hears chainsaws tear
through at least several decades, smell of high pitched oil laced exhaust,
sawdust now dust like snow on some long gone logger’s powerline boots.
The Sunday chicken cackles up bubbles boiling in a bed of sugar white rice.
Shovel parts a piece of that deep red clay and it clings, it sticks hard to metal,
stains anything it touches red, pine trees long past dead, pressed like flowers
between the crusty pages of so much devastation, weight, and of course, time.
Like the skeleton hides inside the body
and a foundation lies buried beneath a house
memory is inlaid within imagination.
One and the same, these two things are.
What is seen now and what all came before.
This world. Mountain springs and fields of flowering green
and a sunset that melts into the horizon like a scoop of orange sherbet
against hot sidewalk. With what at its core?
With what at its core.
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.
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.