Thanksgiving is upon us again. It seems like just yesterday, old Pat Freestone was carving into a holiday bird, slathering a big pile of mashed potatoes with a heaping spoonful of country gravy, and then purposely ramming Aunt Helenís car in a drunken rage. Ah, the simple things!
But before I get caught up in nostalgia, let me just take a moment to remember some of the things Iím thankful for this holiday season. Lord knows, there are so many.
Thank you, oh Lord, for Funyuns. Thank you for Cuervo Gold and Dry Cleaning. Thank you for the internet. However, dear Lord, the pop-ups, spam, banner ads and poorly flash-animated blowjobs I could certainly do without.
Thank you Lord for the beautiful fall leaves and the comforting smell of a well-worn crack pipe. Thank you for Fran Dresher, Cool Whip and birth control. Thank you for the Indians, both kinds.
Thanks for the little things, like Breathe-Easy strips and chocolate sprinkles. Sunflower seeds. Velcro. The mute button. The tiny man who lives inside the butter compartment in my refrigerator and occasionally suggests that I go out and kill Celine Dion. You know the one.
Have a great holiday!
December 1, 2003
Call it fate. Call it compassion. Call it the kind of spontaneous judgement call you might make after youíve been drinking red wine for nine hours on an empty stomach. Whatever you want to call it, Iíve decided to take on a local homeless man as a roommate. His name is Sonny.
It all started on Thanksgiving Day, when, while searching for a hearty and reasonably-priced turkey dinner, I "accidentally" wandered into St. Christopherís Community Shelter and Soup Kitchen and grabbed myself a seat up front. A large muscular volunteer by the name of Joan immediately saw through my ploy and put me to work peeling potatoes in the kitchen while simultaneously lecturing me on the virtues of charity. There was no way out.
So, as soon as Joan left the kitchen, I tore into a nearby case of cooking wine and tried to make the best of things. After a full shift of peeling, mashing, and surreptitious binge-drinking, I was allowed to help myself to a free meal in the dining hall.
Drunk and starving, I staggered over to the only empty seat in the house and sat down next to a seven-foot bearded figure dressed in filthy, threadbare army clothes. At first, I though it was a POW grizzly bear. Then he turned to me and introduced himself. "Nameís Sonny," he said. "Heah--Pash Reestune" I slurred, and then nodded off into my yams.
At dawn, I awoke confused, but in my own bed, to the roar of what sounded like an intermittent belt-sander. I got up and walked into the living room. It was Sonny, snoring away on my couch. Awakened by my footsteps, he shot up and threw his giant arms around me. "Thanks, brother," he said, "thanks for offering to let me stay here for free until I can get back on my feet."
So thatís how I got my new roommate. Thatís how it happened.
December 2, 2003
Last night, I took Sonny down to the Goodwill store and bought him a new set of clothes, and then treated him to a shave and a haircut at Georgeís Unisex. I want Sonny to look his best for the job interview I set up for him at Kinkoís tomorrow.
After talking to Sonny for a long time last night, I discovered that under that big, hulking, crudely tattooed exterior lives a frail, frightened child. Granted, a child who served fourteen years in prison for killing a cocktail waitress, but a child nonetheless.
Sonny never got a break. His father left home when Sonny was seven years old, and took Sonnyís mother with him. Sonny became a child of the streets--hustling, stealing, caddying and doing whatever he had to do to survive. When he was ten, he became a heroin addict. By twelve, he was a full-blown jazz musician. It seemed that wherever Sonny went, trouble followed.
Thatís why I was sort of thinking Kinkoís.
Pray for us,
December 3, 2003
I did my best to prepare Sonny for his big interview today at Kinkoís. In addition to getting him into the proper attire, I also helped him with getting into the proper mindset for a position in the retail service industry. Sonny was concerned that he had never worked directly with the public before--except as a crack dealer and part time as a hired goon--and didnít want to come off as looking as though he had no experience with customer service. So I walked him through some of the basics:
*Always look the customer in the eye, and be especially careful to avoid the phrase, "what the fuck are you looking at, bitch?"
*The customer is always right. Obviously, they arenít, but itís a fun little game you can play with people.
*A satisfied customer will share his or her experience with one person, while an unhappy customer will tell ten. Therefore, try to save your worst customer service for the customers that look like they have no friends.
*Repeat business is the core of any successful retail operation. So donít worry if you piss off elderly customers. They probably wonít be around for long anyway.
As far as the interview itself was concerned, I just had this one piece of advice for Sonny:
*Lie right through your big, smiling teeth.
I hope it works.
December 4, 2003
Sonny got the job!
I must admit, I was slightly less than confident that Sonny would land this one. I had already prepared my "weíll get Ďem next time" speech and was trolling the internet for other job listings, when Sonny came bursting through the door with a smile on his face, an orientation packet in his hand, and an undersized blue vest stretched over his massive torso. I almost wept.
Today, Kinkoísótomorrow, well, probably still Kinkoís!
December 5, 2003
As I was helping Sonny fill out his Kinkoís Service Associate Start-up packet, it became abundantly clear that he is currently reading at a grade level far below his size. And frankly, Iíve seen more legible writing peed in the snow. So, after we finished filling out the Kinkoís Service Associate Locker Request Form, Agreement of Personal Conduct and Emergency Contact Sheet, we practiced our penmanship and took a few passes at Green Eggs and Ham.
Perhaps I shouldnít have been so cavalier in allowing my subscription to Highlights to lapse.
December 8, 2003
I think heís ready.
I did everything I could to prepare Sonny for his first day at work at Kinkoís. Now itís up to him. But the retail game is a brutal, take-no-prisoners battle. Your clients can smell fear, and theyíll tear you to pieces the minute you let your guard down. So I took the liberty of preparing a small crib sheet for Sonny to keep with him, in case he finds himself in a tight spot with a tough customer. I included a comprehensive list of emergency phrases like these:
"The main warehouse is on back-order, but we should be back in stock by next week. Try back then."
"The system is down right now."
"Let me check the stock room for you." (hide until customer leaves)
"Due to unusually high volume, we canít process your order at this time."
"Unfortunately, the guarantee/sale price/special offer does not apply to (insert name of customerís request)."
"Iím sorry, I must have made a mistake. Iím having such a tough time this week. My six year old died of Leukemia on Tuesday."
I also jotted down the phone number for Big Screen Video and told Sonny not to hesitate to call me if he needs any help.
Iím so proud of him!
December 9, 2003
All things considered, Sonny performed quite well on his first official day at work. Via telephone, I talked him through some of the rough spots on his first customer, like listening carefully to the customerís request, accepting the customerís original document, taking the customerís original document over to the copy machine, opening the lid of the copy machine, placing the customerís original document face down on the glass of the copy machine, aligning the customerís original document along the proper edge of the glass of the copy machine, closing the lid of the copy machine, selecting the number of copies, pressing start, and then checking to make sure the copies meet the customerís satisfaction.
Then we went back to the copy machine, and this time placed the customerís original document on the glass face DOWN and repeated the same procedure as before. Then we did it once more, but this time we placed the customerís original document face down AND aligned it along the 8 x 11.5 markings, so that the copy actually resembled the customerís original document, and not just the left half. The customer was eventually satisfied with the results.
Then, I talked Sonny through putting the customerís copies in a suitably-sized Kinkoís bag, looking up the price for standard 8 x 11.5 white paper copies, entering that price into the register, multiplying that price by the number of copies the customer requested, pressing the subtotal key, reading the subtotal to the customer, accepting the customerís twenty dollar bill, making change for the customerís twenty dollar bill, handing the change to the customer, and then carefully tearing the register receipt off along the perforating edge of the receipt dispenser, stapling the receipt to the bag and then handing the completed order to the customer.
Then we went back and retrieved the customerís original document from the copy machine. It was still sitting there on the glass.
Sonnyís second customer had a two-sided color document and wanted to pay with a credit card. So I just ran down there and worked the rest of Sonnyís shift for him. However, Sonny insisted on doing all the receipt-stapling himself. Heís pretty damn good with that thing.
See you tomorrow,
December 10, 2003
It got pretty busy at Kinkoís, and between that crowd and the growing line at Big Screen Video, I had my hands full. Luckily, Sonny was there to do all the stapling.
At about three pm, the main feeder on the Xerox 8800 jammed, and after noting the unusual ERROR 606 readout on the control display, I realized that I had no choice but to crack her open and have a gander inside. As I suspected, it was a broken rear capstan in the primary output path. I had Sonny stall for time while I mended the capstan with a paperclip, wad of gum and the cardboard tray from a nearby Almond Joy. That held the capstan in place while I took care of Ellen Henkleís resume and the 500 flyers for Hello! Pizza!
I left Sonny to make change and dashed back to Big Screen. By that time, there were almost a dozen rental customers waiting at the counter, and the video cassette return bin was spilling over onto the Matrix Reloaded display. I quickly handled the transactions and took a quick look around for my co-worker Ruth, who, as you well know, has a habit of leaving her work station whenever Iím not there to constantly supervise her. As I suspected, she had climbed up into the heating duct to smoke her marijuana. She was wearing a walkman and didnít hear me banging on the vent with my umbrella. So before I ran back to Kinkoís, I cranked Big Screenís thermostat up to 170 degrees.
That ought to flush her out.
December 11, 2003
After all the chaos of yesterdayís split-shift, I decided it would just be easier if I filled in for Sonny at Kinkoís and Sonny filled in for me at Big Screen Video until he gets used to working with the public., The cash register only has five keys, and the Big Screen clientele is a little more forgiving. Sonnyís quite sensitive for such a big guy with such a checkered past. Yesterday a small college girl yelled at him for taking too long with her order and he sat and pouted by the toner for the rest of the afternoon.
As far as Iím concernedóand thanks for askingóthis switch will be somewhat of a sacrifice, but Iím making the best of it. I went ahead and recalibrated the imaging sensors on all three of the shopís high end copiers. Can you believe they had them cranked up to .85 for high density and a whopping 1.25 for photo quality?
December 12, 2003
Perhaps in another life, I could have been one hell of a photocopy shop manager. Iím comfortable here at Kinkoís, with the feel of warm, freshly copied documents in my hands and the gentle low-frequency hum of the Xerox 5600 series lulling me into a sense of calm. I enjoy being surrounded by full-color brochures. I like the smell of heated laminate. I am a person who feels at home around collating trays.
But Iím a video man. Always have been. Itís in my blood. I have a sixth sense for it. Thatís why right now, I can close my eyes and know exactly whatís going on down the street at Big Screen Video. I can see Ruth at the counter. I can see Sonny standing next to her. I can see them both leaving the counter to go smoke angel dust by the loading dock.
December 15, 2003
I should have never left Sonny alone with Ruth.
As I had envisionedóunfortunately a little too lateóRuth shared some of her PCP-dusted hashish with Sonny, and now Sonny is nowhere to be found. The only evidence left of him is a remarkably detailed, Sonny-shaped hole in the plaster from where he smashed through the wall after freaking out.
I can only assume he has returned to the streets.
I will continue looking for him tonight after my shift(s).
December 16, 2003
What do you want firstóthe Good News or the Bad News?
I thought so.
The Good News: Sonny showed up at my apartment last night.
The Bad News: So did four stray dogs, nine homeless acquaintances, seventy-two tall cans of discount malt liquor and one giant bag of crack.
Looks like someone got his first paycheck.
December 17, 2003
Although I was quite cross with Sonny for turning my apartment into a crack haven for the homeless, I tried to be a good host and make everyone feel welcome. It was interesting to spend an entire evening with people who have lived on the streets for most of their lives. I feel like the experience shattered some of the misconceptions I had about the homeless. Like the misconception that homeless people have many interesting stories to tell. Or the myth that the homeless do not enjoy smoking crack and urinating on the floor. Or the old stereotype of the homeless guy pairing up with a friendly, scrappy little canine companion as opposed to a rabid, mange-ridden sheepdog that would prefer to just be left alone to die in peace.
But once you invite them in from the cold and sit down and talk to themóand really listen to what they have to sayóyou will realize that there is a lot you donít know about the homeless. And you will realize that you should probably open a window or two.
December 18, 2003
Well, the party is finally over. Iím looking forward to throwing everyone out and hosing the place down. Last night I opened about six dozen boxes of Arm & Hammer baking soda and sprinkled them all over my apartment. That absorbed a significant portion of the dank, acrid smell of vagrancy.
Now that theyíre all asleep, I can get a better look at them. On the couch is Cookie, a small, somewhat leathery woman in her early 20ís to mid 70ís. Sheís either a young gal who has lived a torturously hard life or an old lady who likes to wear Converse hi-tops and nose rings. On the floor is Andre. Heís a lanky man with a knack for using the word "mufuckin" at least twice in every sentence. Next to him are two bearded guys whose names escape me. Letís just call them Burl Ives and Ulysses S. Grant.
Over there in my bed is The Admiral. Iím not sure why they call him that, but I suspect it has something to do with his hook. On the floor by the bed are Petey, Gumby and Earl. Good guys. And then over there in the bathtub is Angry Ann. I believe she is the rightful owner of the three wretched dogs.
Those of you who pay close attention to such things might recall that my original headcount included four dogs. But upon further inspection, I noticed that one of the dogs was actually a young, unshaven teenage boy named Clicky who likes to crawl around on all fours. Clicky, Angry Annís unofficially adopted son, was abandoned by his real parents when he was an infant and subsequently raised by termites. He has some strange habits that Iím not sure I want to get into right now.
Who wants coffee?
December 19, 2003
It doesnít seem like any of Sonnyís guests have decided to leave. Actually, it seems like more have arrived. I definitely donít remember seeing the albino guy with the "Take This Job and Shove It" hat. The can and bottle hoarder is new. And that fellow with the crutches couldnít have been here long. He still has snow in his hair. I guess it could be really bad dandruff, though.
As I am not very good with crowds, I have decided to just let my lease run out. Eventually, Mr. Limon, the building superintendent, will come to repaint the place and heíll figure out a way to get rid of all these people. For now, Iíll just take the few remaining items of mine that have not been stolen and pawned for crack and hit the road. Iíll go apartment hunting after the new year. Maybe I can finally get a place with one of those sunken tubs with the water jets and the really small tile.
Until then, if you need me, Iíll be camped out in the back room at Big Screen Video. Or maybe Kinkoís.