I still have the handwritten note from the guy who refinished our hardwoods when we moved into this house in 2010: how to clean them, the right ratio of vinegar to water, don’t over-wet the mop. His name was Roy Birdsall and soon after meeting he let me know he was in recovery, climbing Mount Rainier that summer with a group, and it was easy to see the parallels between giving up alcohol and climbing mountains, I knew about both, and wasn’t good at either.
Mopping the hardwoods, going against the grain, elbow grease: an assistant I had at that knock-off Starbucks in Pittsburgh by Carnegie Mellon, ex-Navy with buggy eyes who wore turtle necks when it was hot and got whiteheads around the neckline, razor burns, who talked about his mom when we were mopping one night, how someone told her the key to getting things really clean is just a bit of Elbow Grease, and how she went into the hardware store asking if she could buy some.
Having a man-to-man talk with Jim before I knew how, the way he looked at some of the girls on our staff, that maybe he hadn’t been in the private sector long enough, that you just can’t look at women that way, especially when they report to you. Catching him in the dish room huffing whipped cream canisters and not knowing what to say or do (he wasn’t my hire, but my boss’s, who saw something in him I didn’t).
The harmonica player Stuart who’d lived in Amsterdam and had eyes like a frog. Fletcher Kolhausen, who I had to write up more than once for not shaving; it became a punk rock thing between me and Fletch, the shaving policy, his anger with The Establishment. I belonged on his side of the fence. The boy named Jeffrey who started making himself up like a girl with subtle touches and looked better when he did, more himself. A guy named Darren who had long, beautiful hair but knew it: blond, Fairy Tale hair, not sure he knew what to do without it.
We had a cockroach infestation in the espresso machine which wasn’t good, having them spill out and scatter like that on the countertop with all the jars of biscotti and the Italian syrups. But we learned they like warm, dark places and congregate there, hunker down until they’re discovered.
Having to can the small business owner who made tabbouleh, hummus and salads for the lunch case but couldn’t get his margins down for the new owners. Meeting with my boss’s boss from Corporate about a prospect to open five new company stores in Philadelphia but not knowing a damn thing about how to negotiate anything, including re-lo. Renting a truck for the drive from Pittsburgh to our new apartment in North Philly, the Sponge Factory, off 5th and Girard, decidedly non-white. How the guys hanging around the gas station descended on our car like flies when we stopped to pump. Prostitutes, attendants working behind bulletproof glass when you paid. Smoke from the building across the street we thought was on fire but learned it’s just the bums cooking the pigeons. Walking to the El and getting off at my shift in Mantua, West Philly, home to the highest number of violent crimes in America that year. Realizing our neighbor, the building manager, was borderline, using her key to get into our apartment while we were gone and borrowing things. Not knowing how to confront her for fear of repercussion. Abandoning the Toyota Celica I got in Pittsburgh when the city of Philadelphia threatened to tow it. Having them track me down years later wanting more in fines than I paid for the car. Two or three photos I have of that apartment moving in or out, I can’t tell, it looks bare: ceilings so high we had a loft like a treehouse for reading, accent lights. That summer it was so hot we had to put the cats in the shower, they were throwing up from the heat. Washing the bedding every morning, damp from sweat. Dragging the Christmas tree down the steps like a corpse by the feet that snow storm and meeting a Puerto Rican in the alley smoking a joint, both of us up to our thighs in the powder coughing. Borrowing Mike’s cell phone to find an apartment in Seattle that would rent to us. Taking the photos down my girlfriend hung before she got home and her realizing why, holding each other, saying goodbye. Finding my own place and buying an unfinished table from IKEA, a manual typewriter, mixing martinis. Saving messages on the answering machine from girl-prospects and replaying them to decipher meaning. Announcing I’m leaving my job and moving back East to watch my mom and John’s house while they move to France, going there myself in June, not sure when I’ll be back. Sending a text to Dawn, in Toronto, re: the phase of the moon tonight, that it will be that much fuller when you return.