It was the first time I’d felt really, really sad, my first Christmas alone. Probably the same for my parents since they’d split up and we each had to confront that now in our own way. Mom gave me a word processor but the wrapping was torn and I could see what it was before I opened it and for that reason I resented her and decided I didn’t like the word processor, I’d write by hand instead. The three of us exchanged gifts at the house and went our separate ways, me back to my apartment. It was the first time I’d felt really sad and used alcohol to comfort myself. That and the downtempo, self-involved music, a record called This Mortal Coil, named after a line in a Shakespeare play. Something about the inherent suffering of life, more than an hour’s worth! I sat alone in my apartment as the sun went down feeling strangely alive. This was the kind of hurt I could expect now that I’d grown up. And maybe I could do something with it, make art. Maybe the art was in the refashioning of otherwise useless things. Like memories. The problem was you couldn’t use them right away, they had to sit. And there was no way of knowing how long.
A year later I moved to Pittsburgh, a five-hour drive across the state. I’d done writing gigs for three papers and worked temp jobs, gotten fired from a restaurant where I waited tables but kept going back because I missed it. Everyone seemed surprised to see me but glad when I returned. I sat at the bar reading books with heavy titles and made a show of my note-taking with a pen and a pad. I’d walk home past the prison and slaughterhouse to my apartment, to the sound of my neighbors fighting. And I’d hammer back with my manual typewriter and head off to bed.
I wasn’t good with women, mistreating the ones I was with and forever wanting for someone else. One told me that our relationship was like the blueprint for all future relations she’d have with men. And that saddened me because I’d been so unkind with her at the end, hurtful without cause. And if I were the architect or creator of any blueprints it was no house I’d ever want to live in myself.
I flagged for a construction crew who taught me how to game my time card so I’d make more than I actually worked and they’d sign off on it but I couldn’t let them do that and none of them understood why.
The highest paying gig I got was $7.50/hour to inspect ball bearings. Every day we got a set of disposable felt gloves and pallets of plastic tubes with steel ball bearings that slid out of their casing like palm-sized donuts we examined one by one under fluorescent light, wiping the grease off with our gloves, looking for flecks of rust. We did that for three weeks full time and never found one. I was faster than the rest of my crew because I couldn’t stand the monotony of it all but one day the supervisor took me aside and said slow down, you’re going to work yourself out of a job. I thought about how I could replace him and what that would be like, but thought better of it.
By the fairgrounds they opened a new cafe, the first of its kind in my hometown. I said I like it here, are you hiring? So I learned how to steam milk and pull espresso. All the customers were in AA and chain smoked out front. They had live jazz on Wednesdays and that’s where I got my tinnitus. When I left town I asked if I could use them as a reference and that’s when I got started in the coffee business once I got to Pittsburgh. I didn’t have any plans. I just wanted to write and find someone, a place that accepted pets.
In October my lease was up and I left 5th and Hamilton for a neighborhood in the hills looking down on the south side of Pittsburgh and named after the same place I’d just left, Allentown.