Shakespeare and I
We lasted not more than three months. I was substitute-teaching and the school year was rapidly closing in on us. I had another part time job at $8 an hour in aftercare at the YMCA with a cap of 20 hours a week. I knew I had to find replacement work, fast. I had just moved to Michigan and money was tight. I told my husband, to his chagrin, that I would take the first job offer, whatever it was. (I hate being unemployed, i.e. not self-sufficient.) I was to be sure applying for regular teaching positions, but as it turned out Michigan and Jersey regulations don't align, and my qualifications for N-12 Art Teacher certification were not good enough. (It took a couple years to straighten that out and I'm still working on securing a position.)
In the meantime, we pounded the pavement. A local pub was hiring, and it seemed like a good bet, turn around being very high in these joints. The sign itself looked desperate. Shakespeare's Pub, Immediate Opening. I got the interview on the spot. Scott was running late, so I had a chat with the co-owner Ted, who seemed eager to fill the gap pronto, and by the time Scott arrived it was quickly determined to give me a try. The position was for a line cook. What restaurant experience did I have? None. But I did cook at the assisted living residences that I had worked at prior, so I hoped that that would count? It would. They needed somebody and fast. I started the next night.
Ted had facetiously said on closing the interview: "Make sure to learn the recipes right the first time." And when push came to shove, I knew exactly what he had meant. There were so many requested substitutions, that it was near impossible to pin down what the actual recipe was for this or that sandwich. Luckily, I grasped the build of the nachos with queso no prob, and I was reportedly the best pizza maker on staff, always assigned to that station when on shift and orders were up, especially large orders. I had a knack. (I should note that I frequently cook blind, even at home, as I don't eat a lot of things that most folks do, like milk, cheese, butter, meat, etc. And I do a very good job guesstimating the desired end result.)
If you have ever worked in a restaurant, you know pace can be grueling. Either an onslaught or naught. Mostly it was a steady stream of tickets, with three of us on the line, and a supervisor, though sometimes we were down to two cooks, and on party nights we had as many as four. Tensions were absurdly escalated. It wasn't teamwork. There was a strong underlying competition among the cooks, who it turned out were vying for scare managerial positions should one open. And they thought that I was lying in wait too. The place brimmed with hate and anger. As well as palpable sexual tensions. It was the closing shift 4:30 - 2:30am. Fatigue and accompanying error, worsened human relations. Added to this we had one fellow on staff, Christopher, who was diabetic and suffered anger management issues. We tiptoed around him knowing that at any minute he could explode, toss his apron and stomp out; yet, never lose his job, because replacements were so hard to come by.
One of our longest serving co-workers was a taciturn fellow that went by the name of KO (his real name was Kevin). He was the worst, in my estimation, and tried to give "good" free advice. Like when he hissed irritated-ly that I need to "fight" for my breaks-- Or I wouldn't get any. He was right. But I'm not a fighter, and I was annoyed at his aggressive handouts. He only settled down when I told him I was taking on a new job in August and that I was married. Otherwise, he seemed to think I was after him and his potential managerial promotion or something. (I don't know why.)
I was going about doing my assignments as best as I knew how. I came in every day like a boxer readied to take a beating from opponents in the rink of the kitchen. There were of course some friendly faces like Coco and Phil, and the servers were appreciative of the artistic plating that garnered higher tips, as they later told me. I admit though I was relieved when I was assigned the messy task of doing dishes instead of cooking. I had a good strategy for this and could do it with efficiency and minimal mess, where others would emerge soaking wet, leaving behind a floor that looked like they lost the battle with the hose of the industrial kitchen faucet.
During my short time there we were of course up for state inspection. This prompted a mass cleaning of the ultra-grim covered ovens. We came in extra to scrub the unacceptable buildup. Amazingly, we passed. The place made me nervous the entire time I was there, as a state of hazard and accident waiting to happen; and I still can't believe that I was on the inside. I suffered several grease burns, which fortunately didn't leave scars. But they don't call it Shakes for nothing, and to this day I've never been to the pub upstairs.
What made the work particularly difficult was that I was pregnant with Remy Niko. Morning sickness can hit at 10pm as much as at 1am--- working with food not at all conducive as you can imagine. When I started puking in the back, I knew my days were numbered and I prayed that I could make it unnoticed until the end of the summer and take up my next job. As a preschool teacher.
It came across the pager at 2:36am. Fuck. I'd forgotten to turn the sound off and the ber, ber, boop, ber, booooop sang with a deafening blare in the tiny cave of a break room. Jeremiah glared at me from his makeshift chair bed on the other side of the room before his pager started buzzing on the table too. "God dammit," he mumbled, swinging his legs down and propping his elbows up to see what call had both of our pagers going at this time of night. Night shift was normally slow, and though we weren't 'allowed' to sleep, it was expected that those of us who were in school would spend the evenings studying in between the few lingering room transfers. Then it'd be off to bed ourselves, rolling uncomfortable chairs together, resting heads on tables, leaning against lockers, and drooling on ourselves. Sometimes the supervisor would even skulk off to the supply room and nap on the gurney. We couldn't get away with that, but no one was about to report him either.
It was evident that is what Matt had been doing when he burst through the door, interrupting Jeremiah's crotchety grumbles with one of his own, "It's a 57. Up on 6 Tower... The motorcyclist." My heart sank at that. We'd all been rooting for the motorcyclist. Poor guy was 26. He'd lay in his ICU bed with monitors beeping in a quiet symphony of depression. He was probably the most beautiful man I'd ever seen, despite the fact that he'd knocked out all of his teeth in the crash that had landed him here. He was going to be paralyzed from the waist down, but last week he'd wiggled his toes. He'd been making progress... How could this have happened now?
"Man, that's sad. I was really rooting for him," I said, and they both nodded in agreement.
"So was I--" said Matt,"--are you sure you're up for it?"
I could hear Jeremiah roll his eyes from across the room. I fixed him with a glare before replying to Matt, "Of course. I know you guys worry, but 57s really don't bother me."
Matt just shrugged, "Well that's weird, but okay." He looked at Jeremiah as an afterthought, "What about you? You good?"
"Duh," Jeremiah smirked and patted him on the shoulder on his way out the door. I followed behind. We stopped in the hall and looked at the pagers again.
"Well, it's on 6 tower, so we won't need the Hoyer lift. Off to the morgue then, right?"
We started down the winding corridors of the hospital basement, finally arriving at the morgue. With his hand on the doorknob, Jeremiah paused and lowered his voice to a whisper, "Are you sure you're good?"
I nodded, but he continued anyway, "It's okay if you're not. 57s are tough for everyone." I wish they'd just stop with this, but I knew it wouldn't end anytime soon. I was the youngest person they'd ever hired in this department: 18, pretty, and definitely only hired because the head of department was a perv and I'd worn a ridiculous, low-cut red dress to my interview.
I playfully slugged him on the shoulder before answering, "For the love of God, Jer, don't you start, too. You know my heart is blacker than the lot of you. Let's go."
He slugged me back and smirked, "freak." Jeremiah had shot his shot with me earlier in the year, taken being turned down like a champ, and formed a unique, tenuous friendship in the wake of the rejection. Jeremiah was good people.
I shoved him aside, scanned my key card, and stepped into the Morgue. My nose crinkled. It smelled like Wexcide (the hospital’s industrial disinfectant) and rot in here. The smells were by far my least favorite part of running a 57 call. Jeremiah made a gagging sound and grabbed for the Morgue gurney. It had a special tent that went over the top. It was tasteless if you ask me. I think covering the bodies in a sheet would have been classier… would have drawn less attention, too. Everyone knew what was under the bulky tent, anyway. Jer lifted the flap. “Good. No one inside.” He unlocked the brakes and I held the door while he wheeled it out into the hallway. “Did I ever tell you about the time fucking Donna left someone on there? Wheeled it all over the hospital… I already had the new patient in the sling when we discovered him there. God. The smell…”
I chuckled, but shooshed him as we rounded the corner. You couldn’t be caught talking like that in the hallways… even the basement bowels of the hospital weren’t safe for that kind of talk. Only our little breakroom was a safe place for that… and it depended on who was on shift. Matt and Jeremiah were by far the best companions for candid conversations. I suppose I was, too.
We made our way to the elevator and punched the 6. The hospital was quiet this time of night… terribly quiet, and it wasn’t hard to imagine ghosts walking the halls alongside you. I knew they were there. I could feel them, smell them. They touched me as I stepped along. The ghosts were especially prevalent around the entrance to the ICU. A thickness always hung in the air there (and in 3 West, the hospice cancer ward), even during the day. Jer and I both shivered as we stood at the doors, waiting for the charge nurse to pick up her side of the phone. “We’re here for the 57,” Jeremiah spoke in low tones, the reality settling into our bones. We were here for the 57. Here for the motorcyclist. Here, because he was dead in his bed. I swallowed.
The doors slid open and we made our way to the room. Neither of us needed to double-check the number. Jeremiah and I both had special rounding privileges in ICU. We’d been coming up three times a shift to help reposition the patients for the last six months. We both knew the motorcycle man. Intimately. We’d held his naked body up on many occasions, and whispered jokes in his ear to make light of the situation, while the nurses cleaned his backside. I could feel the vibrations of his laughter in my limbs as we stood outside of his room. The charge nurse came over, speaking softly, “He’s all cleaned up and ready to go. His belongings bag is on the chair. Let me know if you need anything.” She looked for a moment too long at his door before turning away.
“Wait– Ava,” I stopped her, “I don’t normally ask… but… what happened? I rounded on him yesterday…” I let my voice trail off. She knew what I was asking.
“He… Well, nothing. He…” she had tears in her eyes, “He found out. About the little girl in the car he hit… and… He just gave up.”
“Oh.” Jeremiah and I spoke in unison. Ava nodded and turned away again. This time we let her go.
I slid the door to his room open and we rolled the gurney inside. It was my turn to check on Jeremiah. He acted tough, but we both knew I handled 57s better than he. His breath was coming fast.
“Jer–,” I said, interrupting his daze. His eyes snapped to my face, “look at me. We’ve got this– I’ve got you. Follow my lead.” He swallowed and nodded.
I pulled back the curtain. The motorcycle man was covered in a sheet. It had to be removed to put him in the lift. I pulled it back, and his crystal blue eyes stared up at me, devoid of soul. If you don’t believe in souls, spend some time around dead people. You will. We’re different after we die. We are decidedly not there anymore, and what’s left…for lack of more eloquent language… is a sack of meat. These thoughts were interrupted by Jeremiah’s gag. “Go rub some hand sanitizer under your nose, Jer. I’ll start putting the sling under him.” Jeremiah did as he was told, and was back in a minute, apologetic as we maneuvered the body onto the sling. He stood by the bed with a hand on the patient as I walked across the room to slide the ceiling lift over. There was no reason to stand bedside, but training was engrained. You didn’t leave a patient alone with the bedrails down. I brought the lift over and watched as Jer adjusted the straps one last time. He leaned across the patient… okay, he leaned on the patient a little… and chaos erupted.
The body let out a gut rending moan– and sat up. In panic, Jeremiah yelled, “Shit, fuck… fuckity shit!” and shoved the body back down, only to have it sit back up. This cycle repeated several times, before I made my way to the bedside. Ava burst through the door seconds later, enraged, “What the hell is going on in here–” she screamed in a whisper, before her eyes processed the scene in front of her, “-oh.” She stepped back outside, but popped her head back in, “I’m sorry. Just be quiet, okay.”
“--But,” Jeremiah started.
“--He’s definitely dead. I checked,” she smirked, “Just gasses. Happens sometimes.”
She closed the door tightly as Jer and I each pressed down on the patient’s shoulders, keeping him in place on the bed. Our eyes locked over top of him and we both burst into a fit of insane laughter. We made our best effort to keep the snickering to a minimum as we went about our work, but every time the body moved, we’d start up again. I couldn’t look at Jeremiah the entire walk back down to the morgue, because when I did, I’d laugh again… and one doesn’t laugh when doing the solemn duty of transporting a body.
We made the rest of the transfer without further excitement, uncovering the patient in the morgue to find him partially sat up, but our earlier giggles had lost their luster. Jer gagged again as we opened the cooler and rolled out the metal pan. We didn’t speak as we craned the body in, but we silently agreed to treat him with the reverence he’d deserved earlier. Jer cleaned the tent and gurney while I zipped the motorcycle man into the body bag. He was still the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, though his cheeks had begun to sink, and the crystal blue of his eyes now had the unmistakable look of death in them. I touched one black curl on his head before I zipped him up all the way, “I’m sorry you stopped fighting,” I whispered, letting the curl spring away from my finger slowly. Jer came up behind me, body brushing along the back of me, too close, but a comfort nonetheless.
“Such a shame,” Jer said, “I really liked him.” I nodded and zipped the bag shut. We rolled the tray in together and latched the door.
We stood for a moment in the damp stink of the morgue before Jer slung his arm around my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around his waist and we made our way back to the safety of our little breakroom in the basement. Once inside, we sat down across from each other and laid our heads in our hands on the table. Jer looked up at me, “You know, Whit… You’re my favorite person to go on 57s with. Sorry, if that sounds weird.”
I propped my head up and smiled, “It does, but I get it. Same, Jer. Same.”
We looked at each other for a long time, words flying unspoken in the air between us.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said and laid his head back down.
I brushed my hand along his shoulder, “I’m glad you’re here, too.” I left my hand on his shoulder and put my head down too. We fell asleep like that with our heads on the table and our hearts in our throats.
Together, and glad to be there.
Yes, this is a true story. This job was probably my favorite job ever. I worked as a hospital transport tech when I was in college. Code 57 was just a small part of the job. We more often transported alive patients to and from in-hospital appointments. We often transported samples and tissues (remind me to tell you about the time we lost the box of eyeballs). We were also required to respond to Codes (combative patients, CPR, lift assists– remind me to tell you about the sock and the psych ward). We made rounds in the ICU (remind me to tell you about the time my hand got lost in a pressure ulcer). It was a terribly exciting job and my co-workers were beyond fabulous. I am confident I would still be working there if I had not sustained a back injury that prevented me from doing lift assists. My friends who still work at the hospital often ask me when I’ll be back, and it’s been over a decade. So… an unsavory job? Yes, indeed. The perfect job for a freak like me? Indeed, as well.
Yo Quiero A Better Job
When my plane landed in San Francisco I knew the torture of the last two years was over. Leaving the plane, I promised myself that I would never step foot in Florida, Alabama, or the South ever again. The South and I had developed a deep loathing for each other and if I ever had to hear ”Sweet Home Alabama” again I was going to gouge out my ear drums with rusty ice picks. I had learned my lesson, California had its faults, but despite it all, it was home.
As I weaved through the airport crowd I couldn’t stop smiling and felt spank me twice and call me naughty, happy to be home. On the downside, I only had sixty bucks to my name and I was going to have to stay with my mom until I got a job and got back on my feet, but that was okay. Though basically broke and pseudo-homeless I felt free because I no longer had to deal with being called a Yankee by people who had more toes than teeth and humidity that steamed one’s balls just about every day of the fucking day of the year.
Returning to California, I wasn’t familiar with where I was going to live. All I knew was that it was a town near Modesto, which given its reputation, was trying to be the west coast’s answer to Detroit, but I hoped that would be very temporary. It was imperative that the time I spent staying with my mom was as brief as possible because after two days in her presence we’d be at each other’s throats like two starving wolves over the last pork chop. Still, despite the obstacles I faced, I thought my life was looking up.
Being new to the area, I knew it was going to be a challenge finding a job and that $60 I had in my pocket was gone after getting a haircut and buying a button-down shirt for job interviews. Facing poverty and the tension of living with my mom, I swore I would take the first job I was offered.
After a couple of weeks of pavement pounding, I was hired by Taco Bell. My job was a whole 15 hours a week for $4.75 an hour. The position was, “Lot Person” meaning I was to clean the parking lot, stock the dining room with condiments, and clean the restrooms before the restaurant opened. I didn’t complain because I was 19 years old and filled with the kind of optimism that only village idiots and Disney characters possess. It was just cleaning; how bad could it be?
The job seemed too easy until the first time I walked into the restrooms with a mop and bucket in hand. What I saw and melt was a god awful, biohazard filled example of how some human beings are not only happy to wallow in their own filth, but they are also eager to share their filth with others. After a few days of cleaning the restrooms I came to a surprising conclusion. The women’s room was by far the scariest, dirtiest to clean.
Now, let me just say that I have always felt that women are superior to men in every single way. I truly believe that women are the apex of human evolution where men are basically just a drunken evolutionary stagger in front of our knuckle dragging ancestors. A week of cleaning restrooms and my high opinion of women was crushed a little by reality
The men’s room was always what you’d expect. The trash can was full and the sink was filthy and often caked in a disgusting film of chewing tobacco. It was not unusual for boogers to be found on the walls, doors, mirrors, and even on the ceiling (now that’s talent). Of course, being a Taco Bell restroom, the toilets were always a cross between a sewer treatment plant and Chernobyl in terms of cleanliness and sanitation. I came to theorize that the state of the commode was a direct result of the fact that Taco Bell doesn’t always sit well with everyone’s digestive plumbing. After consuming this, “Quick Serve Mexican Food” many people experience the phenomena where their Nacho Supreme, Taco Supreme etc. races through their stomach, squeals recklessly through the curves of the intestines, and finally exits the sphincter with the speed of a behind schedule Japanese bullet train. The result was never pretty and not always contained within the confines of the commode. Lucky me, I was responsible for cleaning the aftermath of this burrito-based, porcelain destroying crime against restroom sanitation.
The women’s room was different. Oh, it had an overflowing trash can and grimy sink. One difference between the lady’s and men’s room trash cans was the addition of dirty diapers (both infant and disturbingly some adult). The toilets were just as bad (one could sense distinctively feminine daintiness to the aftermath of the taco-induced spontaneous rectal purge) as their counterparts in the men’s room.
What stood out in the ladies room, what haunted my dreams, was the diabolically inappropriate disposal of feminine hygiene products. Though it didn’t happen on a daily basis, there were times the women’s room looked like someone tried to perform a dinner theater version of Stephen King’s Carrie in there. Tampons and sanitary napkins could be found on stall floors, floating in the toilets, and one time it looked like someone threw a very used sanitary napkin against a wall, repeatedly. The reason the restroom was so abused was a mystery to me. Maybe it was a raving mad femme artiste who chose to work in the medium of uterine blood instead of watercolor or oil paint. Maybe it was a disgruntled employee. All I knew was I wished the panty-liner Picasso would practice her art at the Burger King down the street.
I have a strong stomach, but I was ill equipped to deal with what I’d seen. Instead of mop, bucket, and cleaning cloth, I felt this menstrual mess required a pressure washer, followed by a sand blaster, followed by an exorcist (the power of Mr. Clean compels you) for good measure. A couple of weeks after working as a lot person, one of my first purchases with my Taco Bell wages was a pair of rubber gloves I’d seen plumbers use. There was no way I was going to use the paper-thin plastic gloves Taco Bell provided to clean, IN THERE.
Though I was somewhat traumatized by what I had experienced cleaning the Taco Bell restrooms I did learn three things. First, I should be ashamed of my fellow males because most of us have the manners and cleanliness of an undersexed chimp watching a Planet of the Apes marathon. Second, not all women are polite and emotionally mature demigoddesses. Some are downright foul. Finally, I am a bit of a masochist because it took me thirteen years of promotions, punishment, being told to get a real job, and red sauce seeping from my pores to hand in my Taco Bell uniform and go back to school.
A Coming of Digital Age Story
It's the scariest time for a shiny, brand new doctor: July 1, the day after four years of residency and the first day as an unsupervised doctor (or, actually, less supervised). You're thrown into the emergency department for the first time--let go--released--at large, daring disease or injury or mystery illness to best you.
At the beginning of that first day you feel ready, that you know everything. At the end of that first day, you feel completely unprepared, and you don't really know anything.
It's the scariest time for a patient: July 1, when shiny, brand new doctors will engage with them willy-nilly, whether they know the significance of that date or not. If you're going to get sick, you really should wait until June 30, the day before the most experienced doctors leave to hang up their shingles. (They don't do that anymore, but they still leave, looking for a life.)
"So, what's the grossest thing you've ever had to do?" I was asked once.
We have an abbreviation in medicine--TNTC--meaning, too numerous to count. As in, How many malignant cells on the slide? TNTC.
The grossest thing I've ever had to do? Seemingly impossible, because of TNTC. Yet, there is one particularly gross thing I did one day that has stayed with me. (Details to follow.)
I was on the internal medicine rotation, just finishing my rounds--12 patients to a ward. It was the winter, which means that I went 9 weeks never seeing the sun--12 hours each day, arriving before dawn and leaving after dusk. A smarter doctor would have taken vitamin
I was so ready to go home. The early darkness outside made me feel I was shortchanging myself my time away, so I hurried out. As I passed the door of another ward, I heard her.
"Oh, Doctor, please, please..." and it faded to crying. First with sniffles, then overt weeping.
It wasn't my ward. It wasn't my patient.
I engaged my tunnel-vision and walked past. "Oh, please." I stopped.
Wasn't I a doctor? Didn't I write in my admission essay I wanted to help people?
I turned. I returned to the door and looked in. She was in the first bed, the better part of 500 pounds of postop female.
"Yes," I asked tentatively.
"I'm so blocked up. It hurts so bad. Please help me. My bowels--" and then she let out a yelp of pain. There's suffering, and then there's suffering.
"Call your nurse for an enema, " I offered.
"No, they did that. Twice. It's right there, but it's backed all the way up and--Oh!" she screamed.
I stepped in and retrieved her chart. Postop gallbladder, 5 days after, and loaded with narcotics ever since.
Here's a little science: narcotics slow up the bowels. They constipate. If it continues without some sort of resolution, a fecal impaction grows, making the problem worse.
It gets worse: the bowel wall is weird. It only has pain nerves for distention. You can cut it, burn it, laser it, even remove it...nothing. But if it distends, all hell breaks loose (as opposed to the impaction, which doesn't). This is why babies cry bloody murder when just a little baby fart tries to cross those little baby bowels. We are gas-producing animals, and when there is no way out, the gas begins distending. It won't go back up, because sphincters make bowel traffic one-way.
If the impaction isn't dealt with, rarely, the bowel can even burst, resulting in peritonitis or death. But before all that, it hurts. It hurts really bad--in fact, unimaginatively bad. There is colic, and then there is colic. On a scale of 1-10, it's, right, TNTC. You even wouldn't want Hitler to have this kind of colic. (Well, maybe--I'll have to think that one over.)
So, should I be a shit bigger and harder than the one she couldn't pass and just leaver her? Not my problem? That's when I realized, if I don't do it, no one else will. She will lie in agony all night and maybe be given just what she didn't need--more narcotics.
I knew what I had to do, and she had a pretty good idea what I had to do.
I found gloves and approached her with gloved hands raised. (It's this thing we do.) She raised her knees. I used both my hands to serially move back the fat folds on her thighs and slowly made progress to her anus. A long and winding road. Once I found it, I looked back up at her.
"Please," she pleaded. For her, it was an emergency. "Please," she repeated more frantically.
And I did. I digitally explored her rectum and dug out the TNTC rock-hard fecal boulders piecemeal. I made progress slowly but surely. Finally, I must have struck gold, because a huge whoosh of gas decompressed her abdomen.
I rolled up the sheet under her, top and bottom and side and side, making a tidy little basket of surprise for the linen people.
I looked at her again, and she was crying in gratitude. She thanked me TNTC. She asked my name. (But did I really want to be the go-to guy to dig out her impactions from now on?) I gave her my name, and I could tell by the way she asked she would never forget me.
And I would never forget her. Gloria was her name.
So, when I'm asked what's the most unsavory thing I've ever done in my profession, it's Gloria. And as disgusting and gross as it was, it's also the thing in my profession of which I'm the most proud. I had stepped in when no one else would. I was true to my admission essay.
All the doctors who had deserted her--even her doctors--are the shits in Medicine--the hard, rocky shits--that cause the moral impactions of the profession. For them, no enema is strong enough; and for folks like Gloria, no enema is worthy.
The Best & Worst of it
I landed a gig as cartoonist for my hometown newspaper, pathetically named The Advertister. The Editor was super excited, and new. My written proposal to send in some cartoons weekly was well received, and I relished the idea of freelancing in this small capacity, hoping to build on the capital. I had, accordingly, no contract, but a lot of free range. I made sketches for me, then sent in two potential finished compositions, and time and again one or the other was accepted, sometimes even both, with week's delay in publication, as the limit was one per week. A crisp 25-dollar check came in the mail promptly the next day after the work was featured in the paper. Yay!
Not much, in the grand avenue, but a cheerful lightness of step in the right direction... Now to the part where it gets dirty. After 7 or so happy such weeks, I received an email from the Editor, in odd wording that the Owner of the paper had received interest from another party... my heart sank. I saw the work of the Other printed shortly the next day, my own (with no false modesty) doubtlessly superior illustrations rejected. I had been extremely cautious. I had curbed my satiricism to the most benign commentary. I had resorted to serving the perceived clientele with "good taste." So, I knew it was nothing that I had opinionated. The Owner of the paper had apparently seen the family Name.
That was blacklisted, a history unrelated to myself except by a dis-nepotism. You see my parents had worked for the same paper a decade earlier. Father as a photographer and Mother covering the local beat with incisive criticism, that was soon suspected to have been Ghost written by Father; and indeed so it was, but nobody could prove it. Nevertheless, the duo had to go, because they were undermining the comfortability of local scoundrels and operatives. They were essentially barred from any such work, by reputation. And I by association was a potential latent threat.
It was an interesting stint, a glimpse through a dirty window of local news.
Unsavory job challenge @Prose
Not My Favorite Job - Ever
I was all of 16 n 1963, I spent my summer vacation in a small place known as Kerr (pronounced cur) Station. Population yahoo but my grandmother lived there and ran a country store a number of years after her husband, my grandfather passed away.
It was that summer, my uncle found a job working in Smithfield at a processing plant and about a week after I arrived, asked me if I would be interested in working there.
"Pays seven and hour, Billy. Taint hard. All ya gotta do is wash down the floors, scrub real good, then wash it down again. Takes about five hours to get it ready for when they open up the next day. I can get ya in if ya wanna."
I thought about it for all of twenty seconds before I said, "Sure, why not."
Three words that were the worst three words I ever said.
My uncle didn't tell me what kind of processing plant it was, the day after I was hired, I showed up to do the best job I could.
I walked into a large room with all sorts of rubber insulated wiring hanging from the ceiling. The place had to have been over 1500 feet of concrete, blood and ... guts.
The smell hit me like a mack truck would hit a Volkswagen head on.
I wore protective gear such as goggles and a breathing mask and wore a bright yellow raincoat to keep me from soaking my own clothes and rainboots.
But no mask in the world could prevent the stench surrounding me to just go away. No matter where I turned, there were portions of chicken guts everywhere I looked, even a few chicken heads.
I stuck it out and finished the job but when I was finished, I quit.
My uncle laughed. He told me I was the sixth person hired in two weeks to do that job.
It took the better part of two weeks to wash away the stench that seemed to never leave my body.
I swore that day never to take another job he told me about.
Oh, and I haven't eaten any chicken since then.
I had a fulfilling work life in foreign language education for some 25 years. I taught Spanish for a dozen years and while teaching, consulted for a non-profit foreign language organization. When I stopped teaching, I consulted full time. For several years, the organization was very busy with academic, government and military contracts, but then there was a lull.
Enter, the unsavory job.
While waiting for new contracts, I signed up with a local temp agency (something I always did during breaks in college and grad school), and was immediately contacted to interview with a lawyer looking for a Spanish translator.
His office was only a 20 minute or so drive from my home which was nice. When I entered the office, I was shocked by the absolute, unmitigated mess. Books and papers everywhere. He, let's call him Larry, took some books off a chair and waved me onto it.
Perusing my resume, he laughed and said, "Haha, looks great if it's true."
Excuse me? "Well, it is true and you can contact my references from each. I have no reason to pad my resume with lies. But I am not sure I want to work for someone who starts an interview with an insult to my integrity." I stood up to leave.
He immediately apologized, smoothed my ruffled feathers and got down to what he needed me to do. Basically, translate a legal contract to buy a company in the Dominican Republic where he thought he'd get rich fast by recycling garbage.
He already had an electronic translator but it was not doing a very good job. He wanted me to take what the electronic translator spouted and "fix it" so it made sense. I accepted the challenge, told him my requirements, took over his office, cleaned as much as I could, and got to work (he gave me a key because he kept erratic hours).
It was late 2009. Electronic/digital translators were virtually useless. Especially for legal documents.
After wasting days trying to piece together the garbledygook, I decided it would be easier to start from scratch.
After translating the bulk of it, I asked Larry if he knew what he was doing. The document seemed heavily in favor of the seller with so many caveats I was not sure Larry was actually doing more than giving away his investors' money (because, of course, none of the cash down payment was coming out of his pocket). But maybe he was still making money...
"You sound like my mother," was his annoyed response. (Just before I quit, I met his mother. He clearly meant his comment as an insult but neither she, with all her nagging, nor I, with my queries, was wrong.)
Fast forward a few months, and I am on a plane to the Dominican Republic to meet with the owner of the garbage company Larry wants to buy. It is minutes to take off...and Larry has not yet boarded. I am ready to run off the plane but then, there he is.
We arrive at night, so work begins the next day. We are whisked off to the offices of myriad government bureaucrats who do little more than shake hands, and walk us to the next office. Supposedly, it was a demonstration of support for his contract and recycling plans. That evening, we have a dinner meeting with the owner and his wife and I am the interpreter. They are a lovely couple. Not much business is discussed. The food is great. We fly home the next morning.
Perhaps a month later, I'm still translating revisions and we are off again with three of his investors. According to Larry, the recycling company owner insisted I be a part of the meetings or else he would no longer deal with Larry. Possible. They were kind to me and not so much to Larry on my first visit. And Larry gave the air of knowing less than he wanted you to believe and more than he let on. Contadictory, I know.
This time, rather than a hotel, we stay in a seaside condo.
Enter the unsavory part.
The investors, Larry and I all go out to dinner and when we get back female guests have been arranged for the investors (apparently they all have regular...guests). Larry asks me to tell his pretty young thing that he doesn't want to have sex, he just wants to lay with her. Or something I have since blocked out of my memory because I could not believe I was being asked to interpet the desired outcome of an intimate encounter.
I locked my bedroom door.
The next day we were late for a meeting with the lawyers. I was mortified. I then spent two hours trying to interpret the yelling of eight people.They seemed to hate each other but when it was over it was all smiles, hand shaking and how's the family? I was still shaking when got back to the condo.
We got a late flight home that night and I gave my two weeks notice when we landed.
His mom was cleaning his office, trying to get him to get his life together the last week I was there.
I found out a few months later that the deal fell through.
What a surprise.
It was a shit job. Quite literally. I was a 16 year old girl, and did have “farm experience“ as I said. I failed to mention that my dad had a small fruit tree farm, not the kind with horses and barn animals. I thought “yard work” and “spending time with horses” sounded like a nice summer job. Who cares if I have to wake up early! It was $20/hour cash, and to a 16 year old that was pretty good money.
I came wearing gardening gloves and jeans, and happily met with my best friend’s mom who gave me the job at 5:30 in the morning. I would be taking care of their race horses. She handed me a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and we started walking to the fields. I wonder what this is for, I thought. I must be pulling weeds. “I’m kind of behind. I keep meaning to get to this, and can’t by the time the day is done. I’m so grateful for your help. Anyway, you’ll see.”
“Don’t be intimidated” she added. “They can be intimidating.”
As I entered the horses‘ fenced in pasture they cautiously walked towards me. I held still and calm to show I could be trusted. They grew bigger as they got closer. Before I knew it I was face to chest with a mammoth horse! He was so tall my head came to the bottom of his chest (I’m not exaggerating). I had been around horses before, and this was no horse! This was some genetically altered mutant horse. What were they feeding this thing?? I didn’t know they even came in this size. I said “Hey, it’s ok buddy”, in my most soothing voice, to relax him and make him feel comfortable with me. He kicked over the wheelbarrow hard and knocked it over. I gulped. Glad that wasn’t my head.
More than a little intimidated (okay, mildly shaking), I cautiously slipped by the side of the wheelbarrow and dragged it towards me and away from said monster horse. I set it upright and looked ahead of me, down the field a bit. I understood the mission now. “Shit duty”. Bummer. “Well, I’m here now,” I thought and wheeled the battered barrow over to the big open shed. It had three walls, and a forth open, and I realized it served as a giant outdoor porta-potty for the three massive horses that looked like they just stepped off set from a photo op with Muscle magazine. The smell hit me hard like Dorthy’s house falling from the sky. How long has it been since this was cleaned? I held my nose for a second’s relief. The shit was a foot deep, and had both a soft warm and stinky layer and hardened hard to shovel layer. I looked at my sneakers and said good bye. You two have served me well, but I know there will be no coming back from this one.
Two hours later, in 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity, I leaned onto my standing shovel exhausted and looked at my progress. I made a dent in it. There was no way I could finish shoveling out all of the manure by end of shift. I was only due to be there a couple of hours. Sore from shoveling and dehydrated, sweating like a fat rich man with a cigar in a sauna, I called it a day. “$40. Wow.” Forty dollars suddenly didn’t seem like that much money. I stuck it out for the summer, but it really was the shittiest job I have ever had.
The gates of hell are open in Iraq.
’The gates of hell are open in Iraq”-
Amr Moussa, Arab League’s Secretary General, September 2004
In the next few minutes, as you’re reading this, a mother will give birth in Fallujah. There is a 33% chance because of U.S.-used depleted uranium that the child will be born with a life-crippling birth defect, or dead; a young man will forge through piles of trash for food to feed his impoverished and displaced family. There are over 5 million displaced Iraqis, high estimates of over 1.3 million killed and an entire country with no secure future. Food, water, power, housing, education, safety, freedom of speech—all words absent from America’s “liberated Iraq.” Most of these events are rarely reported.
People often spend their entire lives fantasizing about war, or vicariously living through the proud stories of soldiers who have experienced war first hand. Often in American culture war is glorified and sold to the almost 307 million civilians in the United States without ever hearing, seeing or realizing the costly effects war has on those that survive it all the while forgetting the names of those lost in it.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. I often become queazy and physically ill when I think of it. It was at our JSS in Mushada which is North East of Baghdad. I was only 22 years old at the time and it was my second consecutive deployment to Iraq. Friends my age were in graduate school and I was in the middle of a war that I could not understand. We received a call that multiple Iraqi civilians had been killed or wounded in what I remember as an American air strike. It’s very confusing to myself how Iraq seems to all blend into one massive chaotic pile of undesirable shit in my brain. I often have difficulty pointing out dates, times and often even locations when traumatic events happened. This day, this day will forever be in my mind and wear heavily upon my soul.
After we threw our gear on, grabbed our weapons and headed out to provide medical evacuation to the wounded Iraqi civilians our stryker paused about a half mile down the road from our JSS ( joint security station. American soldiers and Iraqi police live together in a botched attempt to hand over security to the Iraqis) and came to a halt. I was in the air guard hatch of the stryker with a fellow soldier and friend Pedro Rios. We were watching people carrying a woman on a stretcher to a helicopter that hand landed about 200 meters from our location kicking up dust and rock. As the soldiers from my platoon were carrying the women one of them slipped and dropped her lifeless corpse into the dirt. It was as if time froze. Her frail, limp body had landed in the dirt of the road and dust had kicked up like smoke enveloping her lifeless body. I looked at Rios as the ramp to our vehicle had begun to lower. It was our turn to try and save a life. A small boy no older than the age of 5 years was pushed into our Stryker until another helicopter could land to evacuate him for medical attention.
The small boy had holes in his chest that were crudely attended to. I remember completely being consumed by this childs face and eyes. As i watched him struggle for breath and life I felt powerless. As the child drew his final breaths of life I wondered and still do wonder what his last thoughts were. His eyes were fixated on mine and I couldn’t find a word to say that could possibly consul this young boy. A child much like my own son. Someone who probably loved sweets, music and hated his homework like most boys his age. At this very moment in the war in Iraq I saw a face I would never forget. In the wreckage of a job well done I watched a boy die and could do nothing to help him. These are the types of stories Americans never hear about. How airstikes go wrong, mothers die, children lose their fathers and sisters and soldiers are reduced to our human factor. Empathy.
The ramp lowered and the corpse of what was once a smiling child was hauled from our vehicle. It seems the world lost two people that day. I found out later the woman who was dropped was also the boys mother. I had mixed feelings, I was broken by the loss of human life but I was almost relieved that the boys mother would never know her son was dead as she had met his same fate. I never really had an ill bone in my body for the Iraqi people. I would have happily died in Iraq if it had meant legitimate liberation for their people. I could no longer blindly look at the war as if it was something necessary or good. War in Iraq is something so abstract to civilians that at times it becomes frustrating.
For the remainder of my life on earth I will remember this boys face. The child who’s body is buried in a country I didn’t belong in. There’s something intimate about watching someone die. I wanted to help but there was nothing left to do. The last images of that boys life is of my face and I had nothing to say to him. I couldn’t say anything in Arabic, I couldn’t smile at him...how could I? His life was draining from his body before my own eyes and here I am, deployed to Iraq in the great and “noble” mission of “Liberating an oppressed people” only to find out that the United States military was the leading cause of Iraqi civilian deaths. 1.3 million Iraqis died in a similar manner. I learned something about US foreign policy that day. That that childs death may have been an accident but the war against the Iraq people was not an accident. That hundreds of thousands of children have met similar fates. That if we as soldiers remain silent and do not paint a lucid and accurate picture of what war is really like, what war means to the people in a country that it’s waged on, we may find our own children staring into the faces of other peoples children as they exit this world in a violent manner.
Americas greatest danger does not come from the lips of a small boy in a foreign place that most Americans cannot point out on a map. Americas greatest enemies are those who promote a perverted culture of death that rallies endlessly for war. I often wonder what that child would have became if not for the war in Iraq. I do not even know his name yet I see him almost every night. I don’t blame them for hating us. I hate us for not stoping the war in Iraq.
That night I could not sleep. I lay awake listening to music trying to organize my thoughts. I wondered if my friends and family at home knew what was happening in Iraq. I wondered if they even cared. I decided that I would never support a war like Iraq again.
For many Americans the wars we wage are far and foreign. We almost never think of war as an actual material condition. Our friends and loved ones we send to die or kill are always and never at the tips of our lips.
Someone once told me that hell was other people.
Working there, I knew it was.
I could tell a story. Of toxicity, of tension, of fear.
I could tell a story. Of manipulation and puppet masters, people who are proud of the chess pieces that they try to marionette.
He thinks that were friends.
With his paragraph long texts of faux concern.
With his thinly veiled gossip, his complaints, his talk of being in a better place.
It is a better place when you choose to leave.
It is the only place when you are shuttered out.