This bag is not a toy

It’s 1992 and the Beastie Boys have just put out a new record, I’ve graduated college and moved to the beach. Four of us in a shack behind a Texaco off Division Street. Beer bottles and sand everywhere. I leave before the lease is up and move in with my mom and her new boyfriend John. It’s odd calling him boyfriend since they’re in their 40s so we just call him John. He’s a musician with long hair and a beard and he’s English so he has Bassets. And makes curry. I’m trying to grow a beard but get ridiculed for it, mom says it’s like it’s there and not there at the same time.

It is the best day of my life when I get a call from the editor asking me to report on a town meeting and submit a thousand words. Even though it’s just a weekly it’s my first time published, my name in print. In just a few months I’ve worked a dozen jobs from pizza delivery to warehouse temp. None of the jobs pay very well so I have to work a few at a time. I flag for a construction crew and meet the guys at a diner, spend the first part of my shift eating eggs and country ham. My supervisor tells me to put 8:30 on my time sheet but that doesn’t seem right since I didn’t start work until 10, and he just laughs. I wave or nod at every driver who passes and get wind burn for the first time.

I wait tables at a bar near my apartment and live above a small jewelry shop in an old building by the jail. The bar is close enough to walk to but it’s dangerous after dark. Downtown Allentown dies from the inside out and I’m right at the heart of it.

The landlords live upstairs and own the shop: the old man is Czech, a jeweler named Jules, and his old lady Mabel does the bookkeeping. Jewelry shops get held up a lot and they’re prime targets being old, so they have to buzz me in every time I come to pay the rent. Mabel writes my receipts in lacy cursive in an old ledger and blushes when we make eye contact. Jules is thin as a dime and doesn’t speak much. He has a wiry mustache and looks like a praying mantis wearing that head-mounted magnifier. Sadly I come to learn he beats Mabel and drinks roughly two cases a week, judging by the glass in their recycling. But they never complain about my late night parties or the time I have a reggae band over. I’ve just discovered Bukowski and the two of them are like characters in one of his books, real and unreal at the same time.

The temp assignments range from entry-level flagging gigs to the more coveted ones that pay better, like the Day-Timer gig with FedEx. It’s seasonal work right up until Christmas, $6.50/hour. I’ve never needed a Day-Timer but they’re produced right here in Allentown, a yearly planner people use to keep business appointments and contacts all in one place. When the year ends they ship out thousands all over the country through FedEx. I’ll help them load boxes into canisters that go onto planes; the canisters (they call them cans) are light-weight aluminum and shaped like Trivial Pursuit pieces, the colored wedges you get when you answer a question right.

It’s just me and two FedEx guys, Lou and Phillip. Lou is a body builder and wears his FedEx shirt with the collar up, has bad acne from hormone treatments. Phillip wears a mustache and uses a comb. Lou bullies Phillip but Phillip’s the brains of the two. They bicker like a married couple: Phillip scans the boxes with a gun as they shoot down the roller and Lou and I stack them inside the cans. Phillip tracks how many boxes we fit into the cans with his scanner and then the two of them argue about how to fit in more. Lou has the demeanor of an ape, hunched in the darkness of the cans like it’s his lair. Phillip is a college graduate in something like art history. We work like that every day for two months and then go to a strip club one night to celebrate.

It’s my first time to a strip club, I’m either too shy or never had enough money for it. You’re supposed to have a lot of small bills, to tip. It’s a real production at the door with the flashlight and a big guy checking ID, but Lou acts like he’s done this before. Phillip is nervous like me and dressed like he’s on a date, but looks like a square. Lou orders a beer and a shot and Phillip asks if they’ve got any wine.

Not long into it it becomes the clear the warm-up dancer is a girl I went to elementary school with, Tammy Kerns. Worse, she was my partner at the square dance in 4th grade. I can still see the look on her face when she took off her glasses, giggled and blinked. Lou and Phillip are making sideways remarks and she’s saddling closer but I’m worried she’s going to recognize me and I’m feeling sick. The dancers take handfuls of ice from below the bar and use the ice for erotic effect. My last visual is Phillip’s head thrown back, Tammy Kerns squeezing droplets of ice on his face. Phillip’s stupid tongue.

The next morning I lie to Lou and Phillip about why I had to leave early. And return to my apartment feeling a new kind of lonely, Jules and Mable arguing upstairs, trying to unsee Tammy Kerns in the nude.

I write for the weekly for almost a year but decide I hate journalism and quit. My editor wants me to squeeze stories out of stories that no one cared about to begin with. It’s a small town and there’s nothing to report on, they’re just trying to fill space.

Still I save every clipping in a box with a stack of typewritten notes as if evidence of me being a writer grows the more the stack grows. And over time the disheveled mess comes to reflect a life I had or imagined I’d have, but its contents are scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle rattling in a box.

Time cuts your life into bits, but unlike a jigsaw puzzle the pieces don’t fit back together the way they should. Time makes irregular cuts. Memoir is for both journalists and movers of furniture who transport their lives from one place to another, to find a new home for their keepsakes and precious things. Memoirists try to outwit time by saving the precious bits, but time always wins. And takes all the pieces in the end.



Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: , ,

26 replies

  1. One of your best reflections yet! Especially the jigsaw perspective – you’ve nailed the phenomena anyone who lives beyond 50 is sure to wrestle with – pieces that should snug together but refuse…
    Love the typewriter pic!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Been reading your stuff for the last couple of weeks now and am really enjoying it Bill. Not sure if you even remember me or not. Either way, thank you for the well written “clips”. I esp I ally enjoy the Starbucks and Philly references.
    Happy Holidays!
    E

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey my friend thanks for reading and for the note, super kind! Glad you’re liking the references…unfortunately I can’t see who people are on WordPress when they’re not logged in, but I likely remember you nonetheless. Happy holidays to you too and be well, appreciate you reading. Bill

      Like

  3. Fitting life’s broken pieces reminds me of kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold. The fractures remain obvious, holding their own unique beauty. There’s poetry in there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is Carl, thanks for that gorgeous image and note…I’ve often thought things improve with a patina of age but there’s certainly damage to the pieces and whole of it. Fun stuff, thanks for playing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I graduated college super immature and ungrounded. Knowing I had zero prospects, my dad got me a job at a company he used to work for. For a few years, I sucked at my job and probably only didn’t get fired because of my dad. Then I suddenly took my job seriously and became really good at it and made a career. I’ve always sort of bummed out that I didn’t have that knock about period when I was trying to figure myself out. I think some hard knocks would have done me some good.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Typewriters and whiteout and centering a title by counting the letters and backspace half from centerline

    Your voice is deft here, strong. Maybe Memoir is when we all nod along, remembering too

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, memoir for the reader as much the writer, that’s good. I’d forgotten about that production with the centering of a title. But I miss the smell of keys somehow, how I imagine it. The real tactile quality of typing on a manual! I used to say it’s like a percussive instrument. Thanks for the kind and supportive comments Kim. And wishing you happy holidays, has been nice to be connected to you this year and share our noodlings. Peace to you and yours! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. it’s often like trying to hold water in your bare hands

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good one Beth. Say, happy holidays to you and your brood. Glad we’ve been connected for so long, thanks for being such a strong supporter of my blog and for reading and commenting each time I post! Really appreciate that. Be well, Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Would you really want all the pieces to snap into place nice and neat? This memoir is of some lively zigzagging, maybe doing this crazy serpentine thing is another way to throw off time, and keep moving forward, right? not getting stuck in a rut. Messy but at least not dull.
    Did you ever hear this Jim Croce song from the ’70’s I think “Big Bad Leroy Brown,” kind of corny but fun, and Sinatra did a really crappy cover. And it goes “Leroy looked like a jigsaw puzzle / With a couple of pieces gone.”
    Day-Timer, yeah the little calendar books, I’m pretty sure my dad is still using one. At one point, I had relatives all over that Allentown area – Pottstown, Tamaqua, Wind Gap, etc. and some people in my family went to college in Kutztown, most of them are gone or moved south,
    Anyway, I enjoyed the heck out of reading this, Bill, really good stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I do know that Jim Croce song, Robert! Good on you for matching those lyrics there. Funny your dad still uses a Day-Timer. Gosh, how they stay in business? Kutztown, funny…made me think for a moment if I I might have actually known you before I left the area but that’s a pretty remote chance. I like your ruminations on memoir, thanks for sharing. Has been fun getting a glimpse into your mind through your wild posts and luscious comments. Enjoy the holiday and wishing you a happy new year here soon. Bill

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Just when I was reconciling myself to the space-time being flexible and perhaps even lumpy, you come along with your ‘irregular cuts’.
    Oh Bill!
    Another ‘new kind of lonely’.
    (What a fabulous line).

    Liked by 2 people

    • David! Thanks, happy you liked the irregular cuts one. True that eh? And glad we connected recently. Hoping you’re getting some good time away with your family and about to enjoy the start of summer! We had a spate of wet snow here last night, was magical. Be well, and thanks for reading! Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I once read the bio on the back of a Louis L’Amour book. I think yours is starting to rival his. Only thing missing might be bare knuckle bouts in the Philippines.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. No-one outwits Chronos.
    Enjoying the longer format very much, Bill. So much in this one, so much black and blue, recycled glass and air (the kind you breathe in).
    Want to ask what the upper case M means to you, remembering your recently cleared woodsman’s beard, sadness dripping like melted ice.
    Thank you for making me dip deeper for responses.
    – Bruce

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey you! Hope you’re off to a peaceful holiday. Yes would like to discuss that upper case M. You mean memoir by that right? Your comments are rich, thank you. More fun and stories for us both to exchange in the new year. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That’s a movie scene — the shippers, the strip club, the small-town girl. I can feel your panic but like that you gloss over the idea of shame. Shamed of being there or shamed on her behalf? Cheers to ambiguity.

    Liked by 1 person

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