from JOB SLUT

Chapter 26

Incontinence

 

My first taste of living in a mission was brief, but I was ensconced thoroughly enough to realize that I had to rein in my drinking weakness to avoid such stays in the future.  The morning after my eviction from the hotel, after I had racked up over $1000 in debts, my sister gave me a ride to the Harrisburg mission.  In spite of getting high the night before, I was somehow able to give a clean urine.  This was important, as it would extend my ten allotted days by seven, provided that I was able to secure a job.

 

Fortunately, I was able to find work immediately at Workforce Industries, a day labor service.  It was similar to the one I had briefly worked at two years prior.  Since  I was able to arrive there when they opened, I was not at an intrinsic disadvantage from the others.  I started working at several distribution centers that were all owned by the same parent company.

 

When big corporations codify rules and policies, it is generally not difficult to spot inane inconsistencies and methods that could be improved upon.  I found it odd, for instance, that we had to wear hairnets and beard nets (if applicable) when dealing with candy that was pre-wrapped.  The standard was far more stringent than the one practiced by restaurants I had worked at.  

 

I thought it was great that the Gatorade line provided decent bonuses to teams that performed well, yet dismayed to relive the gym class feeling of getting picked near-last.  The people in the other half of the building had to provide their own bonuses, which I was told was surprisingly easy.  I was amazed that they would entrust bottom-feeders like us to work around beer, even though stealing Coors Light would be an indignity to any alcoholic worth their salt.

 

With a little financial aid from my sister, I got a room in a house that was about a 45 minute walk from the temp service.  My rent would be twice what it was at the hotel, but it was The Ritz as far as I was concerned.  I had the nicest room, the front one; cabled TV in the living room; washer and dryer; a fridge—all luxuries to me.  

 

As one might expect, there were trade-offs:   One bathroom for seven or more people, a busy-body landlord whose concerns for us improving our lives was bound to be intrusive, and a pre-dawn walk through some unsavory geography just to get to potential work.  I would have greater contact with my neighbors, none of whom I really cared for, thus enabling them to report whatever abnormalities they saw fit to the owner.

 

I finagled my way onto a steady ticket setting up an auxiliary warehouse for an operation that sold diapers online.  We would be temp-to-hire once we had logged three months’ worth of hours at our temp service.  This expanding company held promise so long as babies continued pooping and the internet remained functional.  (And if the latter ceased, society would fall apart and we’d all be crapping our pants.)

 

Our initial group of about a dozen would all be poised to rise up the ranks when the warehouse started running full speed.  I rose straight to the top of our group and was being trained in tasks that would require the most responsibility.  True, I would not have thought years ago that working as a coordinator of Shipping and Receiving would ever represent a step up.  Then again, I had never thought that I would become so morally reprobate with regard to drinking as to make such a shitty mess of my life.

 

I missed almost a full week at the diaper place, two days because “a sprained ankle” kept me from reporting to the temp service, two more because it took the dullards at Workforce another two days to find out that the boss, another Brian whom I bonded with, wanted me back.  I continued my ascent at the burgeoning warehouse, optimistic about my direct hire once my time reached the contractual threshold.

 

Everything was proceeding apace for that goal, until “the flu” forced me to miss another two days two weeks later.  When I got better, through “lots of orange juice” (screwdrivers) and “plenty of bed rest” (unless I passed out on my floor or the couch downstairs), I returned and found out that I was now cut from the diaper deal.  I was sent back to the series of distribution warehouses, where the hours were less reliable (and yes, I say that with full acknowledgement of the irony).

 

Unlike with my previous foray into day-to-day temp work, Workforce Industries did not pay every day.  Sometimes, one had good cause to wonder if they would get paid at all.  Delayed checks were a common occurrence, a major problem for those desperate enough to work for minimal pay.  I think it was actually built into the place’s business model, to systematically make a small amount of people wait for what they earned.  They could earn some money off the interest, and some workers might not be diligent enough to press the issue for longer than two weeks.  (I found it appropriate that the company was later taken over and re-christened “Revolucion Enterprises,” since Workforce engaged in the kinds of practices that can incite revolt.)

 

Our van once got back too late for us to get paid on Friday, but one of the dispatchers swore to the driver she would be there Saturday morning to give us our checks.  Having drank about six beers before I left, I realized I was pushing my bladder’s tolerance.  I had noticed some spots on the walk there that looked like promising places to discretely pee, but I figured I could hold it.

 

Yet when I got to the door of the agency, I could see that there were no signs that anyone had been there, 15 minutes after the exemplar of incompetence promised she would be.  My bladder relented right then and there, standing at the locked door.  My concern was not that I would have to take a 45 minute walk back along the now-busy highway in visibly stained beige pants.  Nor was I perturbed that such misfortune should drip on a blustery day.  Rather, in my dipsomania, I was pissed off that my condition might make the purchase of a cheap 12-pack problematic.  (It didn’t.)  When I was finished riding out this alcoholic wave, I would have to contend with making the 35 cents I now had left stretch through the weekend.

 

The next day, I was sober when my landlord told me I’d have to start attending AA meetings if I wished to remain a renter.  I did not protest about how far over the line he had trod with that requirement.  “Honestly, I think I could use it,” was all I said.  That statement was literally true, but the reader will note that I stated no intention of actually doing so.  I just knew I could easily fabulize meeting details for him if he asked detailed questions.

 

To say the least, I was already disenchanted with my neighbors.  When I realized they were liabilities to my efforts to do whatever the hell I wanted, I had an added incentive to avoid them.  During my previous lodging at the hotel, I had taken up the habit of peeing out my window when I wished to avoid neighbors who were congregating in the hallway.  It was not as gratifying to my redneck nature as a bona fide piss outdoors, but it was close enough.

 

I occasionally resumed this method at this place, but picked up another habit to facilitate avoidance of the neighbors.  I discovered the wonders of the piss jug, the lazy and anti-social alchie’s best tool.  From the moment I picked up that habit, I began to smoke more frequently in my room, even though it was verboten.  My room quickly got trashed to the level where I did not want anyone, especially the landlord, to observe its condition.

 

* * *

 

“Did you just pee out the window?” asked one of the new neighbors, an unpleasant interruption of my increasingly reclusive lifestyle.

 

“Yeah,” I glibly answered.

 

Two minutes later there was another knock.

 

“Did you just piss out the window?”

 

“Yeah, I just told your wife when she asked the same thing.”

 

“Man, that’s fucking crazy!”

 

George, his wife, and I had initially drank together under auspicious circumstances.  I knew I would never regard them as intimates, but I figured we could at least occasionally engage in compotation together.  If their redundant inquiries cast a pall over those prospects, the next knock at my door indicated that I would certainly never want such, and that my days there were numbered.

 

“Hey dude.  We got a call about you pissing out a window.  Is that true?” one of the cops at my door asked me.

 

“Yeah, I just woke up and had to piss real bad.  I didn’t know if I could make it to the bathroom, which is usually occupied anyway—”

 

“Well there’s still some room in that jug,” he laughed.  “Seriously, guy.  I had a roommate in college that lived like this.  He had to get help and I’d advise you to do the same.  We’re gonna’ give you a ticket for disorderly conduct, and that’s letting you off easy.  We could give you an indecent exposure one, too.”

 

My intelligence had often served me well in life, but I didn’t see the point of pointing out that anyone who had binoculars fixed on my window to see my dick was surely sicker than me.  I just had to take a piss, not expecting that it would lead to this kind of Spanish Inquisition.  Such is my life.

 

The other cop added something that implied he had been spying on me.  “Mr. Willard [sic], we also saw you smoking drugs when we pulled in across the street, before we came up.  We saw you hide them.”

 

Shit.  I did have a pipe that I had smoked resins from about six hours earlier, but I currently had no idea where I might find it.   I would not reward his attempt to palter me.

 

“No, you didn’t.  I wasn’t.”

 

“Mind if we look around?  We know you’ve got something in here.  We saw you, Mr. Willard.  Just tell us where it is; don’t try to bullshit a bullshitter.”

 

Again, I could have logically interjected that he just admitted that he was bluffing, but I remained silent.  I did realize that I was lucky I couldn’t remember where it was, because my tell might have emerged.  As has happened before while getting pulled over, my messiness overrode the cop’s hunches that he was about to make a drug bust.  He just looked around a little and then gave up, admonishing me about what his partner had said about getting help.

 

Knowing that I would be evicted, and that everyone was right about me needing help, I began preparing to enter rehab within a couple days.  Before I made this move, a lot of time and energy had been expended by myself and others in an effort to preserve what was salvageable from my possessions.  My once-extensive book collection would soon dwindle to the Bible and a book of noncanonical Gospels.  My music collection would be reduced to the radio and the songs in my head.  I would retain little of my clothing.

 

I crashed at Will’s parents’ place the night I moved out, and he took me to work with him the next morning.  His former office with the county’s mental health and mental retardation department was in the same building I would have to visit to get funding for rehab.  That morning, before going into that department, I went to the bar to freshen up my buzz for the last time for at least a while.  I returned drunk enough to guarantee that I could wander anywhere in the building and not look and act out of place.

 

I ran into one of my neighbors I had just moved away from.  I found Ashley tough to take, but, because of our work schedules, I spent more time with her than the others.  Her dad, she had told me before, was a crazy drunk.   She said that day that she wanted to help me because while I was a drunk, I was a nice and smart one.  She accompanied me through the intake procedure and rode with me to Lorenzio, the rehab facility.

 

I thanked her and paid for her to get a cab back to the social services office.  That last act may have proved decisive in me sticking out the unpleasant rehab experience.  My money had been sapped to four dollars, a quarter short of the pint of vodka that might call out to me and tell me to say “Fuck all this shit” and leave prematurely.

 

(Lorenzio and Third Day Recovery, the successive halfway house I lived at for three and a half months afterwards, will probably provide the basis for my third book.)

 

* * *

 

Once I became eligible for employment, according to the halfway house’s standards, I applied for a job at the Harrisburg airport.  The position of ramp attendant, when it was a union job, paid $22 an hour.  When I started, it was $8.50.  It was futile to carp about that reduction, as I would have been selected out of the process were there competent competition.

 

Part of my work experience was typically a mixed bag for jobs like these.  I was either over-qualified and therefore seen as a flight risk, or a fuck-up for not making greater use of my education and intelligence.  Regardless, I had too promiscuous a job past to look too promising.  Bosses may think they can tame me, but it hasn’t happened as of this writing.

 

During my interview, Roger, my prospective boss was alarmed at the number of jobs that I had.  “Wow!  I mean, experience is one thing, but—I mean, ‘wow!’   I’ll try to get Corporate to approve this, but I just hope they give you the okay.”

 

Roger that.  When you ask someone interviewing for a low-paying job to list their entire work history, what do you expect?  That I had no felonies, a driver’s license, and could pass a pee test proved sufficient to my employability.

 

I briefly mentioned her before, but I worked with an educated girl named Kelly at both the department store and the test-grading place.  She would complain at the former about—well, pretty much everything.  But her basic attitude was unequivocal:  “This job is just a bunch of stupid monkey shit.  I mean, it’s not like we’re saving lives.”

 

I almost wished our paths had crossed again at this job, where lives were potentially on the line.  Here, we could have together helped constitute the vanguard in the War on Terror, doing our best to keep passengers safe from intentional and accidental misfortunes.  For $8.50 an hour, I would go on to discharge my duty to the best of my ability.  You’re welcome, America.

 

From the restaurant business and the plastics factory, I was accustomed to time-sensitive work, where one occasionally gauged performance in terms of the second and even the half-second.  Airports also had their time frames.  “We’ve got to get this plane cleared in two minutes!” was an absurd exclamation to hear in that context.  As a small airport, we might not have another flight coming in for another four hours.

 

We were supposed to empathize with the bigger airports we worked in conjunction with, where two minutes might be meaningful.  But it was self-evident that we were dealing with large, expensive machines that would be traversing the continent at hundreds of miles per hour at an altitude of tens of thousands of feet.  To hell with those minute-misers in Minneapolis; let’s take our time and make sure we get things right.

 

Contemporaneous with this emphasis on the value of every second, I heard ad nauseam the refrains of others who were also on the recovery journey.  They referred to “white-knuckling it,” referring to one who was anxiously clinging to their sobriety, or about how “one day at a time” is sometimes supplanted by taking life “one second at a time.”  When I felt like I was going to die without a drink ASAP, I applied the principle of “one second at a time” in a far different context.  “Just hold on,” I’d tell myself, “one hour and 32 minutes until I can get a drink.”

 

* * *

 

I worked most with Salvatore, two young and irresponsible cousins, and Elton and John,  I had a field day combining that last pair of names to indulge my penchant for singing.  John laughed every time I tried to hit the high notes when I sang, “B-B-B-B-B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets.”  Salvatore provided most of my training.  He was mostly business for my first two days of instruction.  “This is how you sort the luggage,” and “Here’s a helpful pointer about this flight,” comprised the brunt of his communication.  He may have been sizing me up, or saving himself for the lengthy diatribe that he delivered the third day.

 

“I’ll tell you what, Brian.  I can tell you’re sharp and a hard worker.  The only tough thing here is the occasional rush of trying to meet the deadlines, but if you made it in restaurants this will be fuckin’ cake for you.

 

“If you can put up with this place and stick it out, you could go far here.  You’re the only person I’m telling this for now, but I’m out of here in a couple weeks.  You’ll be the man, then. 

 

“John?  He’s too fuckin’ limited to go any further.  You may have perceived that we rub each other the wrong way.  It’s because he’s weak in every sense, a blowhard who thinks he knows everything.  For instance, he marries a sex addict and then brings all the drama to this shithole when she cheats on him.  I’m like, ‘What the hell did you expect’?”

 

“Quite bathetic [sic].”

 

“‘Pathetic’ is right.  If my fiancé did that to me, I’d be ashamed and never tell nobody.  And they’d never find that whore’s body.  You know who I feel bad for, though?”

 

“Who?”

 

“I feel bad for his kid.  He died when he was eight.”

 

“Yeah, I heard.”

 

“Of course he told you.  Wasn’t the poor kid’s fault he was born to weak parents with bad genes.  I’m a believer in the Bible to an extent, and I buy into the ‘The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons’ deal.  A goddamn shame, and yes, I feel bad for John and his wife and their loss.  Sometimes I think this country needs someone to get all Mussolini and sterilize people like them.  You want another smoke?”

 

I nodded.

 

“We had this one motherfucker here.  Nobody knew he was an alcoholic, or that he was crazy, as you’ll see in a minute.  He shows up tanked the one day, but Roger lets him work in the luggage area because we needed him.  We just had to keep him away from the carts and the trucks and whatnot.  And if Roger wrote him up, he’d get in trouble for letting him work in the first place, so he just told him not to pull that shit again.

 

“A month goes by, and he comes in drunk again.  I think I was the only one who knew, so I just kept an eye on him.  I turn away, and next thing I know, he’s in the cockpit of one of the planes we’re doing, trying to get the fuckin’ thing to start!  Imagine that shit!  Man, I thought Roger was going to knock his teeth in.  Then the TSA came and I really don’t know what happened after that.”

 

“He’s probably in Guantanamo now,” the most I’d said in this exchange, as my communication function was on autopilot, yielding to Salvatore’s loquaciousness.

 

“Fuck him,” was his terse response.  “Well, my day’s about done, I’m gonna’ go take a shit and then roll out in about a half hour.  Just remember two things.  Don’t hitch your wagon to Roger, because that stroke job is going to crash and burn.  I hope it happens before I leave, so I can laugh in his face.  

 

“And, since I seen you checking her out, don’t fuck with Liz.  Don’t let your dick do the thinking for you.  She’s your boss and she’s married.  Don’t get me wrong, brother; that’s some Grade A MILF right there.”

 

“Yeah, I know.  But just thinking about her in that skirt today makes me want to visit the other bathroom for a different reason.”

 

“Do we have liftoff?  Ha!  Arrivederci, man.  Have a good weekend.”

 

“You too.  Thanks for the training, bro.”

 

* * *

 

After only having driven once in the past several years, I couldn’t help but contain my smile as I drove my first vehicle, in this case the luggage transporter, out to a plane on the other side of the airport.  Of course, this could not be an occasion to have fun with carts.  Spilling $20 of milk
may be nothing to cry over, but I had to be careful when millions of dollars and dozens and lives were at stake.

Even if I didn’t fully absorb past lessons about inappropriate humor, I knew that I would have to seriously curb a lot of my humor because of safety concerns.  I don’t really think sobriety played much of a part in such propriety.  I was still a joker, perhaps more so because I had a clearer head.

But I had to stifle my essential inner clown, who wanted to act outrageously in view of the passengers.  I longed to feign a heart attack on the tarmac, or to frantically start running away from the plane.  Maybe do something just to panic/amuse/anger my co-workers.  While hooking up a plane to the external power source, I could fake electrocution.  No, that was out.  So were terrorist jokes about my new Egyptian supervisor (who soon replaced Roger).  Pranks that involved the TSA?  Definitely out.  I figured that even playing with the plane chocks as if they were nunchucks would be frowned upon.

It seemed like the only forms of humor I had recourse to were the typical blue jokes one tends to hear in blue-collar work environments.  Maybe jokes about fat people or inappropriate sex talk would be better than remotely hinting that I might do anything dangerous or unsafe.  Since I was sober, for once I could make drinking jokes and not worry about being called out for
reeking of booze every day.

Things went quite swimmingly at the job and I felt in no particular rush to leave the halfway house.  I patiently looked for a room within walking distance of the airport and planned to take the first decent and reasonably priced one I could find.  This, however, also became time-sensitive.  I was up for a promotion if I could work second shift, which was not allowable with my current living situation.

Ammon, my new supervisor, had implied that I was on my way up, that I could climb the ladder as high as I wanted to go.  As long as I was willing to travel and work hard, even at a salary level, e. g., no overtime, there was enormous potential for advancement.  Well, I had hardly done any travelling, had never even flown in a plane, nor actually had a salary.  This all sounded good to me.  My last day before my move, Mary, another supervisor, lavished me with compliments about my performance.  I was so focused, she said, “unlike some others, who shall remain nameless.”

 

* * *

 

Chris, the counselor from Third Day Recovery, gave me a ride to my new place.  Perhaps because we were interacting in an unofficial capacity (and because I always thought it was cool when nonsmokers like himself allowed others to smoke in their car), we had one of the most succinct and constructive conversations I’ve ever had about addiction.

“I hope you make it, Brian, but you already know that.  I went through rehab and that place twice before I did, and that was after years of severe alcoholism.  Just remember to ‘play the tape through,’ to remember where drinking has gotten you in the past if you’re tempted to pick up again.  And we were lucky.  So far, at least.

“You may be able to get away with going back to the booze here and there, but that’s playing Russian Roulette for people like us.”

“But, the thing is, the odds in that game are actually pretty good.  Around 80 percent.”

            Some in his position may have taken my irreverence for insolence, but he knew my humor well enough to chuckle.

            “Oh, and you, more than most, should keep in mind that you’re not smarter than this thing.  No one is.”

            “Thanks a lot, Chris, for everything.  I’ll see you tomorrow when I pick up the rest of my gear.”

* * *

If only the bullet hadn’t been in that second chamber.  I drank about eight beers that night, worked the next day, and drew on all my fortitude to resist going full-throttle with the bottle—this time vodka—until I returned to my new place.  Will, my ride from Third Day to my room, was disgusted with me for jumping off the wagon so soon.  My first day after moving into my new place was to be my last day working at the airport.

As if drinking around the clock and pissing away my savings with no thought of what to do next wasn’t lame enough, I didn’t even have fun doing it.  I could have at least taken the occasional nature hike, even if I was drunk at the time.  As long as I was drinking, I should have at least gone to the bar in the evening more than once or twice to try and get laid.

 

Instead, I sat on my ass and watched TV to a most unhealthy extreme.  For the first time in about seven years, I had cable TV that I was in unfettered control of.  I began an intensive informal study of TV, noting things such as that Pimp my Ride was on around the same time as The Bachelorette; I envisioned a cross-over show which could be called Pimp my Bride.  I suffered a gradual existential pain when I realized that Joey and Phoebe from Friends, whose reruns were there for me thrice daily, were not going to get together.  Without having the balls to make a direct play for her, I concocted subterfuges to knock on my cute 18 year-old neighbor’s door, fantasizing that she’d kick out her boyfriend du jour and invite me in.

 

To say I was a mess in every respect is an understatement.

 

I made
my last trip to the airport to pick up my last check.  I talked to Tara, my immediate supervisor, told her I knew I was to be fired, and offered to turn in my badge.  Just pay me my money down.  I leveled with her about what happened, well aware that “the flu” or “a sprained ankle” could not account for a monthlong absence.  She told me not to jump to such conclusions.  She went back to see a manager that outranked Ammon and the departed Roger, and the three of us chatted.

 

They were more than willing to give me a second chance, only wanting to know how long I needed before I could return.  No rehab nor counseling was necessary, but they could help with that if I wanted.

 

“Believe me,” Tara said as she walked me out, “we’ve had other people like that here and we’ve worked with them.  And I may be young, but I’m not naive.  This stuff is epidemic [sic] in my family.  But I just hope you didn’t forget too much of your training, because you were getting good.  Although I thought you were going to leave a puddle in the pushback tractor when I trained you on that.  You were so nervous!  It was funny.

 

“Something else you missed—not to be mean—but it was hilarious.  John had an accident removing the waste from the plane.  He didn’t have the nozzle on right, and…”

 

“You mean?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Shit.”

 

“’Shit shower,’ we called it.”

 

A large part of the training theretofore had involved pointers like, “Stay out of the engines’ blast zones, which can suck you in.  Like this guy in Cleveland…”; or, “Make sure you pick up whatever you find on the ground.  A zipper can be shot like a bullet due to the force of the jet blast.  There was this guy in Vegas…”  Now John was part of the lore, probably used as comic relief to more dire dangers.  “Get this shit:  This guy in Harrisburg was handling the sewage…”

 

The dangers of the job had already been clear to me.  There were lots of ways to die on the job.  I had the minor inconveniences of hitting my head or my shins practically every other day.  I was most concerned that my safety in part depended on some of the maladroits I worked with.  But I had never thought about something as crappy as what happened to John while I was on sabbatical.

 

“So you’ll be in in three days, Thursday at two?”

 

“Yes.  Thank you, Tara.”

 

“Till then.  Be well.”

 

“You too.  Do good things.”

 

If only it hadn’t rained Thursday.  That was my pathetic rationale for my incredibly stupid act of blowing off a potentially promising job where I had generously been given a second chance.  I had other justifications that, even from the hindsight of today, were cogent reasons to not stay there long—the corrosive effects of sunlight exposure for a lupus “survivor,” the multiple short-term hazards—but none could excuse not putting down the beer at eight that morning and getting sober enough over the next six hours to show up for work.  I woke up around noon, saw it was raining, said “Fuck it; I’m going back to rehab for a redo,” and began chugging beer.

 

I can say many positive things about addicts, including myself, but self-control for us is almost always wanting.

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