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Gone Fishing

Once upon a time I was asked to leave school and not come back.  There, I said it.  It’s something I hate to bring up.  Not only is it embarrassing but I would hate for someone to think that I’m somehow proud of myself for reaching that level of troublemaking.  Sure, I joke all the time about how I once did this or that, and while it’s fun in its way it’s almost a punishment to myself.  Like I want people to realize I’m not trying to hide from my past, or blend in with the good, honest folk.  Many people don’t believe it.  They say, “I can’t see it.  You just seem like a nice guy.” Well this is how it went down.  Keep in mind I was a teenager, which is to say I was confused, angry, lost, bored, frustrated, hopeless… you know.  We’ve all been there to some extent.

I’m going to skip ahead a bit here.  There’s no reason why readers should have to sit through the story of my life from the beginning, though as with any story the beginning shapes the end.  My senior year.  That’s where this story begins.  I was struggling (remember, I struggle).  My problems in school have never been a secret.  Sitting in a desk all day and listening to someone talk.  For those of you who can do it, I envy you.  It drives me nuts.  By the twelfth year of it I had had enough.  Problems at home and depression had taken their toll on me.  I discovered skipping school. 

Now it wasn’t like I had never skipped a class before.  Many times before I had decided to avoid the boredom and went searching for some entertainment.  This year however it seemed like the only option.  I couldn’t sit there anymore.  I’d fight with my family all night and spend my free time smoking and drinking with friends.  When I tried to sit quietly and listen to the teacher… I can’t really explain it.  I wanted to scream and flip desks.  Drama was becoming my drug of choice.  I needed the screaming and lying and debauchery.  Turmoil fit my mood. 

So I started missing classes.  At first just one or two here and there, always carefully chosen so I could have a longer lunch, or a shorter day.  In the first few weeks of senior year however it escalated.  I started missing classes regularly.  Sometimes I would even forget what class I had and when told to “get to class” I literally didn’t know where that was.  I had to go to the office and get my schedule again almost a month into the semester. 

This did not go unnoticed.  I was talked to by my parents, the guidance counselor, and the principal.  Would you be surprised to hear that I didn’t listen?  I didn’t have it in me to listen.  Not right then, and not for a while yet.  The principal told me I had attended thirty-three percent of my classes.  Not good.  Really not good considering I had called myself in sick or had my friends in the office mark me present many times.  I was told that if I was absent anymore I was out of school.  Though I made some effort at that point it was hopeless.  I was hooked on skipping.  I could no longer sit through a class. 

So began an interesting time for me around school.  The principal was after me.  Literally.  He was chasing me.  I’d see him in the hallway trying to flag me down.  I’d pretend not to see him and the chase was on.  I’d turn a corner and as soon as I was out of his sight I’d break into a sprint.  Eluding him became a game to me.  Friends would help by stopping him to ask random and frivolous questions.  If I felt he would try to corner me during a class I wouldn’t go to it.  Any notes I received to go to the office were ignored, though I did use them as an excuse to break free from my classroom prison.  It was a losing battle and I knew that.  It’s something I chose not to think about. 

Then one weekend in early December, nearly the end of the semester, myself and my two buddies were feeling down.  Things weren’t good for us.  That our problems were largely of our own creation didn’t matter.  The fact is we were pretty miserable.  We knew a reckoning was coming.  The world wouldn’t abide our disrespect for long.  We decided a vacation was in order.  Just an escape from our dingy little world.  In the span of a couple of hours it was decided that we would set course for Cleveland where my friends older brother had an apartment.  When you’re a kid anything other than home seems cool I guess.  Plus that guy was known to drink upwards of twenty beers in a sitting, which gave him legendary status by our ranking system.  We set out immediately.

In our defense, our admittedly weak defense, we made an effort to inform our families.  We didn’t want anyone thinking we had died or something.  One of the guys  just boldly told his family, “I’m going, that’s it.” He was told he wasn’t welcome back.  Another tried to make up a story about spending the night at a friend’s house.  Unfortunately he made that call from Cleveland and was busted by the caller i.d..  Watching him trying to lie his way out of that was a highlight of our night. “Hey Mom, I’m fine…What? I told you were I was going….I don’t know why it’s a strange number… I’m not lying!… Mom! Wait… Mom! I’m in Cleveland!… No I can’t come home!… Because I didn’t drive!  Whatever! I’m eighteen. You can’t call the cops!” Poor guy.  He wasn’t welcome home either.  I chose to keep it simple and to the point, with just a hint of humor.  On the counter I had left a piece of notebook paper with “Gone Fishing” written on it.  Just enough so they knew I hadn’t been kidnapped.  I’m not proud of myself but it was kinda funny.

We stayed in that apartment for several days.  We wanted no part of what awaited us back home.  We even discussed getting jobs and settling in.  Eventually we wore out our welcome.  It was time to head back and pay the piper.  Our first stop upon arrival was the school.  We burst into the gym during volleyball class, quite pleased with ourselves and our adventurous ways.  Everyone wanted to know where we had been.   This was before social networking, hell before even before we had cell phones.  No one knew where we were.  We started bragging about our trip and sudden departure.  The story telling didn’t last long.  It was interrupted when the gym door opened and the principal walked in, looking straight at us.  Word traveled fast I guess.  Perhaps we should have made our entrance a little quieter.  He didn’t play any games this time.  We were given no chance to escape.  He pointed and his voice boomed, “You guys are out of here!”  He didn’t answer our questions or allow us to argue.  He ignored our insults.  We were marched to the front doors and quite literally expelled into a wintry afternoon. 

I can’t really explain how it feels to suddenly not be welcome.  Whether at home or at school.  Try to imagine.  Snow falling and there’s nowhere to go.  Your cold and there’s no available warmth.  Tired with no bed.  It’s a terrible feeling when the world casts you out.  We hit bottom that day.  The world was done with us.  At least our tiny little worlds.  I could tell you about sleeping in a cold car in the parking lot of my workplace hoping I woke in time for my 6:30am shift.  I could tell you about walking icy railroad tracks at three in the morning because we heard a rumor that a girl might let us sleep in her basement.  Or trying to camp in a field where we just couldn’t get warm no matter how big a fire we made.  But those things aren’t important.  Well, not to this story anyway.  This story is about how I ended up expelled from school.  I think we’ve basically covered it. 

If there was anything else to say it might be this.  The way I was feeling at that point in time was valid.  It was very real to me.  I was trying to find my way and failing.  Adults need to be very wise when dealing with troubled teens.  There is a paradox.  You can’t force them anymore, they’re not kids.  But trying to be overly sympathetic only enables them to make bad choices.  You can’t be too hard or soft with them.  Instead you have to wisely choose when to lean on them and when to bend to them.  Let them mess up but quietly be guiding.  Most of all love them, no matter what.  That’s how I see it at least.  If I didn’t learn something from this mess then what good was it?  But I don’t have kids yet, and I’m sure somewhere there is a parent just shaking their head thinking, “He’ll see…”


Found Wanting

It’s amazing what little gems the world can slip to you as you go about your day.  With so much negativity floating through the cosmos these shiny drops of positivity shine all the more bright.  So it is that I learned a sharp lesson.  One simple moment that shifted my thinking forever.

My job involved the pick up and delivery of various documents around the city.  I spent my  days on the road.  This afforded me the opportunity to see a variety of locals.  From homes on the beach,  perched on stilts above the sands, to junk yards guarded by feral doberman and rottweiler dogs.  It was an interesting job.  Every day I was thrown out into the river of life, whether I liked it or not, and it whipped me about and spun me in and out of people’s lives.  I was touching on a hundred different worlds but never stopping to live in any of them.  Some days the road stretched in front of me and the blue expanse of sky beckoned me forth into the universe.  Other days the cab of my small truck was like a prison, and I twisted and squirmed on my seat, pounding my hands on the steering wheel.  Those days were dark and mean times.  I had no one to talk to.  Corrupted thoughts filled my skull.  I would try to go blank and to just exist for the day, my mind dark as I navigated the endless streets.  But the stopping and starting. The sun constantly burning at my eyes.  Some days it was all I could do to function.  Those were the bad days. 

One morning I found myself having a bad day.  Instead of picking up a run to the beach I had been dispatched to the city where I would most likely spend my day.  Hundreds of stop lights awaited me, along with damp tunnels and traffic jams.  I wasn’t thrilled with my situation.  To make matters worse my first stop took me to what was probably my least favorite place.  A hardware store in a rough area.  I was twenty and looked fifteen.  They didn’t get a lot of white boys in a shirt and tie in that neighborhood.  I have this thing about getting shot.  I choose not to do it.  Every time I was sent to that place I worried that the choice would be taken out of my hands.

I pulled into the neighborhood, shocked as always at how peaceful it seemed if you didn’t look too close.  Large mature trees grew on either side of the street, arching over and screening the rusted cars, covering them in dappled sunlight.  I pulled up to the first stop sign with every intention of rolling through.  But there was a man there.  He was shuffling into the road and it struck me as rude to blow by him. 

He walked slowly towards the car.  He was tall and thin and stooped.  His skin was dark and lined deeply from many hard lived years.  His clothes were worn but functional.  I wondered if he was homeless.  As he reached my truck he put a hand onto the hood and looked towards me, his eyes dull and mean looking.  “Here we go,” I thought to myself.  He stood there staring.  I had to fight the urge to reach over and roll up my window.  He was only a few feet away and I was feeling a bit exposed.  Sitting there, uncomfortably idle in the warm morning air, I began to deeply regret not passing him by when I had the chance.  With no other options I did the only thing I could think of.  I gave the man the hardest look I possessed.  A look that I hoped would convey the message that I was young and strong.  Not a person to be trifled with.  He stared back for a moment and then his face began to change.  It was like a mask was lifted away.  His features animated and a light came into his eyes.  A grin stretched his mouth showing gaps where his teeth had once been.  He said, “Cheer up young man. Can’t nothing be that bad. God bless you.”, and with a final clap of his hand on my hood he strolled on by. 

I pulled away from the stop sign with a smile on my face.  Unexpectedly I felt a lump in my throat and I struggled to swallow it back.  I felt enlightened but ashamed.  For some reason deep inside I had hated that man.  Fear controlled me and I had wanted him hurt.  I had judged him only to find that it was me who was guilty.  Sitting there in my expensive clothes, driving my company vehicle, I exuded such pain and misery that the goodness inside him had forced him to stop and try to help.  And he had.  As I exited my vehicle to enter the store I noticed a group of rough looking youths staring at me.  I met ones eyes and nodded.  He nodded back.


I struggle…

I have another pizza delivery story.  Evidently pizza delivery is fertile ground when it comes to memorable moments in my life.  Who would have thought?  I guess when you get a bunch hungover twenty-somethings together and pay them minimum wage to create and deliver food hilarity ensues.  Well it’s funny to me, so whatever.  Prepare for a brief glimpse into the mind of an idiot.

I had to deliver an order to a trailer park.  The same trailer park I had delivered to hundreds of times before.  People in trailer parks really seem to like pizza.  Is it ok to call them trailer parks?  Trailer community maybe?  I pulled into the trailer community and began trying to figure out which lot was which.  If you’ve ever done this, you know.  It sucks.  You pull in and the first trailer you see is 249 and your like, “Ok, so 248, 247, wait… 109.  What the hell? Ok, so here’s 109 and I need 17… so if I go this way its going down.  Wait, the other side of the street is going up.  Um, that’s the 300’s  soooo.  What the hell is going on!?  Are you serious!?  Who organized this place?  How dare you!?”  I apologize.  Evidently I’m still a little angry.  I’ve lost hours of my life in places like that. 

So after passing the trailer three times I finally located it and rather than go around the block again I stopped, and figured I’d walk back to it, maybe four trailers behind me.  Ugh.  This is embarrassing.  I jumped out of my car, grabbed the warmer-bag, and slammed the door behind me.  I started walking but glanced at the ticket and saw that they had ordered a 2-liter.  A quick glance into my window showed no sign of a Coke, so I put the warmer-bag, containing two large pizzas and a cheese bread, onto the top of my car so I could dig around under my seat.  It took a moment of pawing through months worth of trash to come to the conclusion that I had not brought the drink.  Not to worry however, there was a gas station right at the entrance to the trailer park, excuse me, trailer community.  In an effort to salvage my tip I hopped into the car, which was still running, and took off.  At that moment I glanced in my rear view mirror just in time to see the door to the trailer open and a guy step onto the porch, cash in hand.  Evidently he had noticed me as I passed his home repeatedly with my delivery sign shining in the darkness. 

So I’d been spotted.  I bet you think I went back and apologized, explained my error, and returned in a few minutes with his drink.  Nope, I floored it.  I panicked I guess.  It was a gut response.  I don’t know.  But I did, and as I navigated the twists and turns of the neighborhood I tried to think of how I was going to explain my actions to the customer.  If you’ve read previous posts you’ll know that it was time for a conversation with myself, and yes I do say these out loud.  Well I kind of mumble. 

 “Ok man, nice.  You just take off, you’re so stupid.  The guys probably calling the store right now.”

“It’ll be fine.  I’ll just say I didn’t see him.  I’ll have to explain about forgetting his Coke, but he’ll be ok.”

“If he called the guys at the store are going to be giving you shit for weeks.”

“Yep. Oh well.  What am I gonna do about that now?  It’s done.”

“You’re a moron.”

At about this time I was pulling out of the neighborhood and onto the highway.  As I accelerated up to fifty-five I heard a strange noise from my roof.  I glanced in my mirror just in time to see my warmer bag, stuffed with pizza boxes, go flipping down the road.  Cars swerved to avoid being struck. Yep.  That’s right.  I had left the pizza on the roof.

So a rational human would stop and get the bag, go back to the store, explain the series of events that lead to this unfortunate happening and get his night back on track, but I’m just not that guy.  I kept driving.  My mind was racing as I tried to figure out an excuse, or better yet a believable lie, to explain what had happened.  But there was no way to fix this.  The voices in my head went silent.  It was pretty much just white noise.  And I just kept driving. 

Eventually I pulled into the parking lot of my restaurant and parked.  It was time to make a decision.  I was pretty well screwed.  I kept thinking about that guy seeing me drive past his window over and over, and then seeing me get out and put the pizza on the car only to jump in and take off with his dinner still up there.  Finally I narrowed my options down to going back for my pizza-bag, or committing suicide.  It was a toss-up for a minute but I decided to go back. 

A few minutes later I rounded a bend in the road, holding my breath. I expected to see the bag shredded on the shoulder, cheese and sauce smeared obscenely on the concrete like some kind of delicious breed of animal hit by a semi.  But there was nothing.  No sign that anything had happened.  I wondered if I was going crazy.  Had I completely lost it?  I wonder things like this sometimes.  I fully believe that my mind has the potential to completely come unraveled some day.  Hopefully not.  But what had happened to my warmer bag?  There was nothing to do but head back to the store. 

I walked in the back door with no excuses.  I’d decided to just tell the truth and try to laugh about it.  Sometimes that is all you can do.  I figured I’d have to pay for the bag at least, and I might be fired.  I was greeted by my missing bag sitting on a prep table.  It still contained the pizza boxes and had held up pretty well.  Just some scrapes.  Evidently one of the cars behind me had stopped and brought it back to us.  How lucky for me that so many people had been witness to my bumbling that evening.  I had some explaining to do.

I told everyone what had happened.  It wasn’t easy.  “Well I’ve been gone so long because I forgot a drink, ran from a customer, drove around with pizzas on my car before dropping them in the road… and then I kind of just drove around for awhile.”  There was a variety of reactions.  My least favorite of which was a look of disdain.  A look that says, “Is there something wrong with you?” But mostly people laughed.  My only real punishment was having to re-deliver the food.  So the customer that witnessed me embarrassing myself earlier got a chance to meet me in person.  He didn’t ask me any questions.  His friends just gathered around the door to get a look at me.  I stared at my shoes and prayed for our interaction to end.  Believe it or not he gave me a small tip.  I think he pitied me.  I obviously wasn’t a smart man.