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Monday, May 23, 2011

Work in Progress

Just finished a short story, The Exterminator, my first full-length effort in at least a year (I did recently finish a flash fiction piece, about 745 words, but that hardly counts).  It's about a bug man who sprays for cockroaches in South Florida.  I used to have this giant, ex-con covered in tattoos come to my condo in Hollywood (FL) and spray for roaches (don't get me wrong.  It was a nice condo on the beach.  If you live in FL, you have bugs).  Now I can't say whether this story is any good (although Jimmy, my partner/reader, did respond with a drunken text Saturday night, "Me likey").  I think it's good.  It's been sent out to a few places, so we'll see. The only part of this that's remotely interesting is how long it took me to finish said story.  I've been working on the damn thing for well over a year.  2,000 words. Over a year.  Some of the places I've sent it off to actually pay.  Which is cool. Still, when you factor in the hourly rate, I made more at my first job at Country Farms in Berlin, CT, in 1985 ($3.37/hr.).


Country Farms was the town deli, a must-visit for any Berlin tourists (of which there is an average of, I think, .2 a year).  It's still there now, but it's been sold by the original owners, and last time I was there it wasn't very good.  You'd think making a good sandwich wouldn't be that difficult.  Meat, bread, cheese, a little dressing.  But it's amazing how often it's fucked up.  I've lived in the SF Bay Area for almost half my life now, and I have yet to have one decent fucking sandwich.

I was 16 and I worked two or three days after school.  My main responsibility was rotating the milk, so that the milk with older expiration dates were up front in the cooler.  I was told this was a very important responsibility, but I didn't exactly see it that way.  It was just milk, after all.

I've never been a terribly good worker.  And my stint at Country Farms, which lasted about four months if I recall, was no different.  I was a goofball who would do anything to avoid actually working.  My favorite part of the day was when the Greek kid from the pizza place next door came in for his daily candy bar, Whatchamacallit.  The other kid I worked tended the register, and he and I would wait for for the Greek kid, who spoke limited English, to order.

"Whatchamacallit," the Greek kid would say.

"Well, what do you want?" my buddy would respond.

"Whatchamacallit," the Greek kid would say again, pointing at the candy bar behind the counter.

"I can't help you if you don't tell me what it is you want," my friend would say.

The Greek kid would get all flustered, turning red, pointing emphatically at the candy bar, saying, "Whatchamacallit!  Whatchamacallit!"  Because this was one of the few English words he'd learned.

My buddy would shrug.  "Well, you have to tell me what you want or I can't help you."

And sometimes he'd eventually give him the candy bar.  Sometimes not.  Either way, we'd laugh and laugh.  Kids can be mean, y'know?

This was around the time of my first girlfriend too, Liz, who I stole from my best friend, Shawn.  I was only 16, so it's a little forgivable.  But not really.  An karma is a bitch (See: second wife).

I was a portly 16.  Mostly because I ate mac and cheese by the truckload, didn't exercise, and I lived in Berlin, a town known for its portly and rotund.  There are no Whole Foods in Berlin.  We had the Super Food Mart in those days, which was next to the .99 movies, and sold primarily bulk processed, fried cheesestuffs. Your Cheetos, Doritos, your Lardassos.  I didn't learn about good nutrition until about, maybe, a week ago.  I will do a better job with Holden than my folks did with me. Not that it was entirely their fault.  And by "their," I mean, my mother's.  My father didn't have a lot of input on my being, character, or health.  I blame Berlin, a land of hair helmets and stretch pants.

But I miss a lot of stuff about Berlin, too.  Like being able to leave your wallet at the gas station, and come back an hour later and find it still there.  And the farms and open spaces.  And the small town community and quaint architecture, all seediness relegated to the boundaries and turnpikes where such perversion should be (Hello, Centerfolds).  And I miss being young and how big a deal the Berlin Fair was every year, and going with my mom and brother.  And I miss making middle school and the nervous pit I'd get in my belly every class I had with Anne Hodgson (and Tracy Barlett.  And Melissa Cote.  And every other pretty girl.  And just know I loved you all...).  And baseball.  And hot summer days where the air was so thick with pollen it was almost hard to breath.  And cold winter nights when the snows would come. And I miss the Community Center, my job after Country Farms, and meeting Petersen and playing Whiffle Ball with Jimmy, who I'd get drunk with for the first time, chasing around a new cast of girls (AmySherriKatie), and college, and then leaving.  Yes, I miss leaving, saying goodbye to my hometown, which I primarily hated.  Because I hate it all when I am there, and then I'll think back and go, "Damn, rehab was fun.  I miss going to groups all day and smoking cigarettes."

Nostalgia is like that, eh?


At May 23, 2011 at 9:57 AM , Blogger DSobczak said...

Your story about the Greek kid brought me back to middle school. There were two kids that moved to Berlin from India back in 7th grade I think. I don't recall ever seeing them afterwards though. I can remember being in homeroom and a few kids would try to teach the Indian kids a few words.

Now I'm not going to name any names, but I recall two guys specifically telling them that sticking up your middle finger, was the same as giving the peace sign.

I also distinctly remember relaying that story to my Dad, with the misguided notion that he would find it as amusing as I did. Well he was not. Not only are kids mean at that age, but I don't think we are particulary bright either.

At May 23, 2011 at 1:22 PM , Blogger Soybean said...

Ah, Country Farms, Rockland Dairy, The Farm Shop, the 99cent movie theater...there was also a Woolworths, a couple of mom and pop bakeries, Kensington Pizza, Bill's Pizza, Central Pizza, and a truckload of package stores (liquor stores). And farms. I think that old run down feed store still exists right on Farmington Ave. Or does it?


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