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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Driving Lessons

With one notable exception, I have the unenviable talent of locating, obtaining the interest of and being employed, managed or supervised by colossal assholes. Because I'm not counting the Great Baloney and Scrambled Egg Babysitting Accident of '78 because taxes and FICA weren't being withheld so technically it wasn't a real job, Al Tipton seems to have been the model, the 'type' you know, the way we all have a specific sort of 'type' of people we're attracted to? Well he was the mold for all schmucks to follow, every last successor including the joker who wanted to sign me and himself up for classes for a specific sex act (which last I checked was still illegal in several states) at Babeland in Soho. I didn't know one needed classes for that as part of that particular job description so after a nice conversation with an attorney who specialized in sexual harassment and then taking everything in a large file cabinet that contained very important 'stuff' and running it through an industrial shredder and then showing his wife a photograph of his stripper girlfriend Tasha giving him a lap dance, her crystal clit ring glittering prettily in the camera flash, I removed myself from that situation and found a less demanding position for actually the only boss I genuinely liked. But I digress.

Al was one of those people who are unfortunately called 'gingers' but that was long before my time. As it happens with many gingers, for some reason his hair turned snow white prematurely and it, with a visage that made the banjo boy from Deliverance look like Brad Pitt. (Short pause here. Am I the only one who now thinks there is SOME resemblance between Brad and Banjo Boy or is that just the remarkable power of my own suggestion and wild imagination? Does anyone know if Brad can play banjo? <note to self: Google- Brad, banjo>)  Anyhoo, Al looked like a really sneaky big white rabbit and he had a perpetual sniff. Not a 'I have a million allergies' sniff or a 'you people are all peons' sniff  but a really irritating tic and no one would say shit to him about this and myriad other strange things because he was the Operations Manager AND a dick and was also banging the third generation co-owner of the company who was hell bent and determined with her brother Barry (who we affectionately called Kid Limo) to run the company into the ground as soon as they forced their dad into retirement and shipped him off to Boca. For the record,  I really couldn't pity him because he used to steal all my pens and strangely a tiny flocked teddy bear desk toy (I saw him take it) and they were just like him so it was sorta kinda a 'you had it coming' thing.

My dad worked for the company as a truck jockey which meant he would take all the trucks to Hertz-Penske in Kearny or wherever the hell it was with another yard monkey and trade them for trucks that were running only slightly better sometimes only barely making it to the warehouse before it would break down and they'd have to take it right back. Sometimes this went on all night long. He also fueled them up and checked the odometers to make sure the cross-country drivers weren't keeping double logs (they were) and every thing was legal (it wasn't) but that had nothing to do with him. Much of his time was actually spent turning the diesel hose on wild packs of vicious dogs that used to be pets but were thrown out of their owners cars on nearby highways when they lost their puppy-ish charms, so it was not unusual to see bands of standard poodles, English bulldogs and even chihuahuas and Scotties running through the Meadowlands at night in the glow of the arc lights. I once saw a breathtaking Afghan Hound chasing rabbits around Barry's limo which my dad was taking his sweet time fueling up by forgetting it was there and disappearing for two hours. We all have our passive-aggressive pecadillos.

Dad and Al hated each other with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. My father did not bow down to anyone even if he was a lowly errand boy. It wasn't noble but it was honest work and he was an honest man and it put food on our table so he was one of the few people Al couldn't intimidate. For some reason, this did not stop Al from hiring me to work as a shipping office clerk on the skeleton crew while my dad did his thing. We drove in together and ate lunch together and because it was the late crew, we were pretty much left to our own devices until someone in the office on the day shift went on maternity leave and I was told I had to work days for about six weeks. I didn't drive at the time but no matter; the office manager, a close personal friend of Al's (well, her husband owned a liquor store and Al liked liquor) would have me drive in with her. I proved to be such an asset to the day crew that they had me train new workers and extended my stay to six months until I was needed on the night shift again.

For some reason, the night shift (as evidenced by an awesome movie) attracts a lot of strange people and I get along with most everyone and have a million stories to prove it but the day shift was infinitely better (like night and...never mind) and I met some great people there, the most notable of which was my friend May. 
She was a woman in her 50's, dark, bespectacled, short and very plump, a heavy smoker with the voice (and cough) to match and the proverbial heart of gold. She also had a taste for very small Latino men and they liked her a lot too and there were a lot of them working there so in exchange for a couple of Marlboro 100's, I'd man the will-call desk so she and Julio could express their daily devotions in private. May worked under the table because she won a wrongful death lawsuit over her late husband but it was held in trust and doled out monthly with the stipulation she could not earn any money or the trust would be void or some shit like that which meant she was pretty much stuck working there and if Al fired her it would be a bitch to find a job that payed that well off the books and Al knew he had her in a pickle so he made her do a lot of extra work. 
Sometimes after work she'd take me home with her and we'd hang out. We never talked about work; we had much better things to discuss like when she asked me why I was 20 and still didn't drive.  I told her I was kind of afraid and also my folks wouldn't let me get a license until I could afford insurance because New Jersey auto insurance laws sucked ass. She said bullshit on that and took me and her giant Chevy Caprice to an industrial park on a Sunday when the lots were empty and made me get behind the wheel. I asked what if I hit something and she said the car was a piece of shit anyway and reasoned if I totaled it she'd win enough money at bingo to replace it at some point. She figured she was due for a win soon anyway. So I hit the gas and promptly backed into a telephone pole. I hit that fucker four times.

I was mortified, she was laughing her head off and neither of us were injured. She said to do it again and again and again and by dusk, I was doing donuts and getting seasick. We stopped for KFC and her perpetual two litre bottle of Pepsi and I spent the night at her house and the next morning she drove me home. A week later my father quit because Al accused him of something he didn't do, I quit out of loyalty to my dad and May quit out of loyalty to me and the shipping office was effectively fucked while they scrambled for replacements. The company went under and the co-owner's divorce attorney husband found out about Al and his wife and threw both of them out on their asses. I heard a rumor he was dating Al's long-suffering wife but I think that's just wishful thinking.

Over time, I lost touch with May. It happens. But one day out of the blue around a year later, she called me and during the conversation she mentioned offhandedly that she was in the hospital and I asked her where and the next day I surprised her and showed up. She was so excited she was laughing and crying and called the nurse in to see her prodigal daughter returned. She told me she always thought of me as her kid and I was too good for that shit company anyway and she never once regretted quitting. She told me found another job and still played bingo and was dating another guy, also named Julio. I think she called them all Julio out of convenience but they were cool with it so who am I to judge. A week later she died of congestive heart failure.
She was an awesome humble gutsy woman who made the best of her situations. When I went to her wake, I met her son for the first time and he handed me something before I left. He said he found it in her wallet. It was a picture of me, that I must have left behind in my desk when I quit that shitty job. In it, I'm about three years old and standing in my grandmother's rose garden, squinting in the sunlight with a loopy grin. On the back in my mother's writing is written, 'Elaine, May 1, 1970.' below it in May's writing is, 'my little girl.'


  1. Very sweet. Sometimes our friends are more family than our family.

  2. I wish I had you innate talent. I can write, but I run off on terrible tangents... Once again, another wonderful piece.

  3. You, my dear, know how to tell a story and this is a beautiful one. Family is what God chooses for you via your blood, family is what God lets you choose for yourself via your heart. May chose well.

  4. Oh my God oh my God oh my God you are awesome. I laughed and then I cried. Stop making me do that. I'm going to short out another hard drive:)