Monday, March 15, 2010

Howard the Duck goes for a swim

You know something has gone wrong in your life when you encounter a Howard the Duck telephone. Rain makes the rats come out of the cellar, that's for sure. In the case of my gig today it forced me into the cave of someone who doesn't get out too much. I didn't intend to go to work this morning but Tiffany from Labor Ready called and I've got a crush on her so she could talk me into anything at this point. Her cheerful voice, "You ready to go to work, Oggy?" So, hopeful and pleasant.
"Yes, mom."
"Well, get down here. We need you."
See, only a hopeless asshole like me would be swayed by that language, like we're all part of a team at Labor Ready and I'm the missing piece. What bullshit. Tiffany is just getting her cut out of the money I make cutting carpet. But I don't want to let her down.
"I'll be there in ten minutes."
I'm naked and sneezing in the attic, haven't eaten because I've been sick for two days, and my neck hurts from reading the last of Rabbit is Rich (excellent, simply excellent). The first thing I do is sit down and put my shoes on, without putting any socks or underwear or pants on. Oh boy, this day is gonna go good. When I finally dress myself I inhale a bowl of granola, chug some juice and vodka out of the bottle, and am out the door into a damn hurricane. I knew it was bad because I could hear the wind throw lawn furniture around the neighborhood, but it is very bad. I want to turn around but Tiffany is waiting for me...and I haven't been out in three days.

I get down there and she treats me like any other guy, hands me my ticket, gives me some cloth gloves, and I don't even get a chance to look at her cleavage before I'm out the door on the way to Dover as part of the "Large Loss Response Team"
Get to Dover only to be handed a t shirt (that I wore under a sweater all day) and directions to a place in Hampton.
"You're going to Portsmouth," a lady tells me as she hands me the directions. Does she know the difference between Portsmouth and Hampton, I wonder? You know Dover people...all on Crystal Meth or Morphine pain pills.
So I go to Hampton to the exact destination on the map...a tiny house...high on a possibility it is flooded....I call...blah blah blah...Oh, in Portsmouth? Oh, 12 R... road...Portsmouth, not Hampton. Ah, easy mistake to make...for a fucking ignorant #$#(!!
Another car shows up driven by a guy with no teeth..."Cost me a dollah fifty in gas goin' tah thah wrong house. Ah it's bullshit!"
Let me tell you that $1.50 meant a lot to that man. He bitched about it for 5 hours. I bitched about it for one hour "I go from portsmouth to dover to be told to go to hampton I go to hampton and find out I'm supposed to stay in fucking portsmouth!!!"
I say I'm going to bitch out Tiffany but already I'm thinking I want to ask her out for a drink.

So 10 basement units had been flooded. and when I say flooded I mean a few inches of water everywhere. And these units are all occupied. And when I say occupied, I mean these caves are the apartments of people you would never ever in a million years be invited to eat Thanksgiving dinner with. Ever.
The very first door I opened revealed a rabid, skittish, dog, ready to lunge at me. A hulking man whose only contact with the outside world is definitely via internet forums picks up a dripping wet bean bag chair and wanders through a maze of chaotic decaying furniture and memorabilia. I ask, what's the dog's name and he mumbles something. The dog looks completely tweaked. "Jade?" Is that what he said? Who knows? The dog eyes me as I hold my breath and look around. It would take ten people at least 6 hours to properly move this man's possessions but there is only me and a man we'll call Bipolar Stu. (in the hall, Stu had looked at his equipment ticket, wrote his first name over the last name line and then said, "What day is it?") It isn't like he planned to be flooded out. Nothing is packed. Debris is everywhere and it is all wet.

So me and Stu edge around the perimeter of the soaking carpet because I am certain this dog is going to attack me. I trip over a broken foosball table half under water. The lights are flickering as water flows near a power strip connected to several large televisions with Tommy the Train videos showing.
The boss comes the rescue and fortunately tells me step by step exactly what to do because, folks, I am completely paralyzed by what has to happen here. There are some men made for these crisis situations, who can ignore the stained Marilyn Monroe posters and the piles of Harry Potter paraphernalia and then there are people like me...who devour this one view into this person's life. I'm telling you that no one was ever meant to visit this apartment and this rain and Tiffany all conspired to let me into the sanctuary that includes a Howard the Duck telephone.

I can not just "tune out" the insanity that normal people tune out. I go the opposite way and try to absorb every possible detail including the lampshades, the sheets, the dirty clothes in a puddle. It's almost like the owner has been killed and I'm cleaning up the mess. Who was this person? What the fuck was so important about an Empire the Strikes Back Darth Vader mask? Ah, the debris we collect. We're all so fucked.

So we go from one apartment to the next tearing at carpet and moving furniture stacked with clothes, kids toys and electronics. Just imagine flooding a goodwill store and then trying to save everything. It's the worst possible scenario because if it were all junk we would just bag it and toss it. But the owner is right there and it's all getting soaked as we stand around wondering what to move first since it is our job to get the carpet up and to put blow driers in there.

My hands are too hurt to type much but the day was awful. Hardly worth the $40 I made. We got no break, no water, my clothes were completely drenched, a freezing wind made me shiver, and we had to GO BACK to Dover to unload the truck...bunch of bullshit and then back to Portsmouth to drop some workers off at the homeless shelter where they had been recruited from in the morning.
All three of them shared stories of jail ("I waited for him to come in the cell and I pounded the shit out of him. His head hit the cement like a watermelon"). to drugs "Everyone in Maine is doing morphine. Everyone!" to hunting "When I was a kid I killed 22 bucks in that field. 11 with a gun and 11 with a bow."

And I soaked it all in like the carpet padding we had just dumped. That's my payment...but the price I'm paying is almost not worth it. Still, I met two people from my was Bipolar Stu and the other was a guy a bit older than me who literally acted out a scene from my play when he clutched his heart and looked dazed and said, "I just gotta catch my breath." Yeah, you mean you just gotta have heart bypass surgery.

The world ain't easy but I'm telling you that our society is failing to produce men of character. I know I'm to blame for my own faults and no one forced these guys to snort coke, but when a whole underclass working force is so debauched and degenerate I'm pretty sure that's a sign of systemic problems. The men I worked with are not dumb people, they all had the same potential as stock brokers or lawyers or doctors, but something tragic happened on the way to law school and we've got to find out what it is. I should compare research of men in the depression. maybe I'm being too alarmist. Maybe this is what you'll find during any time period if you scrape the bottom of the barrel. I just feel like if I can find the problem then I'll know how to solve it. Right now I'm seeing almost lawless people running loose. If these guys were in jail at some point then I'll tell you right now that time served didn't do shit for anybody. You got the money to put them in jail for five years but you don't have money to teach them some skills during the 12 years they CHOOSE to go to school?? That's a paradigm that needs to change completely. I'm taking any comments on solutions.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.