A Certain Level of Unprofessionalism XI


FEBRUARY 2010 – MAY 2010

I’ve gotten to the point that I’m dictating the events of my life in the form of a narrative, structuring them in my mind into little paragraphs as I see them. I’ve done this for years in my journal, but it has become different now that I spend so much time in front of this screen. I ignore the mundane less, and the cat scurrying across the street indifferent to the couple fighting near the corner at three in the morning about who flirted with who first or the glossy sheen streetlights give the pavement after rain become embracing details that I carry with me until I sleep, if I sleep. Sleep has always been difficult for me. When I tended bar, it was difficult, but easier than it is now, now that I no longer spend the late night/early morning hours binge drinking to silence the pinball chaos in my brain. Instead, I spend the time that I would be drinking here trying to stomp out the flickering coals of former memories that I would otherwise douse with bourbon or vodka or beer or an obnoxious amount of Rumplemintz. What has been on my mind most these days is the heaping experience of jobs I’ve taken since I left a six year bartending stint in Oxford, Mississippi. I’ve decided to break these little gems of experience into eleven segments beginning with the most recent job first, a job that I took here in Ithaca, New York, delivering the weekend edition of the Ithaca Journal on Saturday morning.

The job is relentlessly tedious. I fill the backseat of my car with newspapers in bundles of ten and deliver them to various newspaper boxes, commercial businesses, coffee shops, and restaurants. When the only real snowstorm hit Ithaca in February, it was more than a challenge to climb over snow banks to find the boxes, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was the actual training for this job that provided the most memorable experience to date which consisted of driving the route with the woman who needed Friday night off and offered fifty bucks to whoever would deliver the papers that night.

I knew this woman for eighteen minutes before she told me she was a former stripper at a local joint I’d never heard of. She shrouded herself in a baggy hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants. She’d pulled her hair back and tied it in a pony tail. She was younger than me, but her face carried the scornful weight of age or alcohol or sleeplessness, a sweaty block of pale white cheese with puffy sad eyes carved into it and I wouldn’t shed a wad of piss soaked counterfeit bills for her. I suppose my lack of response gave her the intuitive insight that I was a chronic masturbator who preferred catholic school girl types. She mentioned something about that fetish and internet porn but I ignored it. I had given this woman no more than a dozen words of my own, telling her that I was an English teacher and I needed the extra money (The extra money part was only a part of it. Nobody, no employer, wants to hear: I want this job for writing material). She then replied: You look like the type of guy that would sleep with your students. A bit taken aback, I didn’t know what to say, so I replied with the type of response I feel most comfortable with, sarcasm. Some students really want an A, I told her.

We had already finished one truckload and had gone back to the loading dock for another. The second truckload took us out to the west end of town, a long traffic light riddled stretch of five lanes and fast food restaurants, hotels, and gas stations. She began talking about former boyfriends who were verbally and physically abusive. Then she told me about her ex-husband and how droll the sex with him was. This was the topic of conversation for the rest of the night, about two hours of bad sex and abuse stories, and I had all I could do not to stick my head out the window and hope she’d jump the sidewalk and end my misery with decapitation from a pedestrian sign. At the same time, though, I was savoring the dialogue; my grunts of affirmation or disapproval somehow encouraged her vapid continuance of bullshit people shouldn’t reveal about themselves to strangers. Then she came to another epiphanic assumption. You kind of look like the type of guy that would knock a girl around. By that time, my sense of humor became as dry as my hands from the newspapers I’d been handling all night and I replied: Keep assuming shit. Eventually, you’ll get something right.

I understand hidden bias but assumptions like those don’t deserve to go unnoticed. I understand the need for cautionary behavior, but I warranted none of that. I have never hit a woman out of anger. Frankly, women scare me. I don’t assume them to be frail and weak, but the essence of the most elegant strength most men will never know. One of the most devastating hits I have ever taken was a right heel kick to the jaw from a charming little dove named Amy and that was a bout of affectionate play fighting. It was the closest I’ve ever come to getting knocked out. I’ve had my nose broken by a woman and looked down the barrel of a shotgun at a woman intent on blowing me the fuck away and would have succeeded if she’d hit the safety first. I’ve written about a woman who slits a man’s throat after she fucks him, and I have the imagination to conjure much worse conclusions. I greatly detest the physical abuse that women suffer. I understand the urge and I’ve come close once when an ex-girlfriend interrogated me unsympathetically about the darkest, most horrible seeds in my mind that I’d written in a drunken flurry in a journal I didn’t give her permission to read. Regardless, crossing that line with a woman is like pushing a child on a tricycle into traffic. But, for someone to base an assumption from their two month experience with psychoanalysis acquired at a fucking dirt-floor strip club is. . . eh. You tell me.


One thought on “A Certain Level of Unprofessionalism XI

  1. Joe, I love how you show what it’s like to live in the details of things – the curse of a writer is the same thing that makes writing for me so enjoyable. Nothing goes by unnoticed or unfelt. I’ve been thinking a lot about assumptions lately: how what we say about others mirrors who we are and what we fear and what we love. I found your piece very moving, especially the part about violence against anyone. I urge to push the edges of understandings, to say the truth when it begs to be written, to shift perceptions so that characters and people, myself included, are really known and not just witnessed in a mirror. Beautiful piece.

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