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Money II

They bought OUR bank. It was a hostile takeover. I was scared. Mom was scared, I could see it. Dad had a plan it was simple. We’d just get our money out of the ATMs, you can only get a couple hundred at a time but you can visit a bunch of ATMs right. We drove to the Ugly Teller and I stayed in the car. The first ATM barfed forward a stack of crisp bills. Old ATMs needed really really perfectly flat money so the cash coming out was always PERFECT. FDDDTTTTTDDD it spits the bills forward and they hit the inside of the cash bucket. I can hear it now. Relief. Those bastards won’t have us THIS time.

I play with the radio controls, they have a pretty good feel with they snick off. I’m not even sure what car we’re in here. The Fox? The big yellow truck? I forget. They’re all just knobs and handles to me. American knobs with their fat, wobbling on/off break point and the smooth, logarithmic volume ramp. We’re pre-japanese cars here, none of that perfect snick on/gritty but even volume control. Dragging my fingerprint across the  sharp edge where the chrome ends on the rough casting of the door pulls creates an extraordinarily satisfying tiny chirrup of noise you can feel in your knucklebones. I know how to program the pushbuttons on the radio, and I’ve learned that if I tune buttons 1 and 5 to opposite ends of the dial, I can push between them and make the dial dance back and forth in the middle as long as I didn’t let it get too close to either end. Maybe it was buttons one and four, I forget.

There’s a problem outside. I’ve been dial dancing too long and missed it. Mom’s punching in the pin again. I can’t remember that pin anymore. They all fade together in time. The card comes sliding out. They’re hooked together that’s the problem they pile back in. Which one was closest, we’re at the Basha’s branch now. There’s the one by… I forget where they were. There was one in Tempe, by the mall. That was too far to go for this, wasn’t it? Back to the chrome flakes. If you’re not careful you chip it off and sometimes you cut yourself a little but mostly the problem is you start losing little flakes to rub your finger against and then the doorhandle is just a doorhandle for getting in and out of the car with. We go to another branch, closer. No money. It’s a run on the bank. Our savings, all our money gone. I panic. I imagine the stack of money that my parents managed to salvage out of the first atm, that pathetic stack. That’s all we have left. I can feel my heart racing in my chest but now is not the time to add stress to this situation. They got us. They got it all. Fucking daily ATM limits. IF ONLY WE HAD MORE TIME. MORE DAYS TO WITHDRAW.

We were broke.


Of course if anybody had ever taken even a minute to listen to a news report or read to the end of a newspaper article about this bank closure they’d know that all the money was fine. The FDIC guarantees all that money and the branch opened as normal the next morning as far as I remember. And it wasn’t like this hostile takeover was some fly by night organization, this was Bank of America. But I clearly remember driving around like goons, in the night. Desperate and afraid that all our money was gone because we’d put it into a bank.

Just a night at Wal-Mart

I hate Bike Builder Skip. He hates me, or maybe he hates everybody, but I hate that this place hasn’t gotten to him. Somehow he’s worked here for years and it just hasn’t broken him. He needs the money too bad to quit but they can’t get anybody else to do as much in a shift as he can so they don’t fire him. His six foot by eight foot bay is packed, he has to climb in under diaper storage or over the ten foot high pile of unassembled bikes to get at the mishmash toolbox and broken display model stereo he had cribbed out of claims. He loves this time of year because I can’t fuck with him, he smiles widely at me and scrabbles over the pile with an energy drink in his hand to go play some kind of race anthem speedmetal and turn out some bikes.

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving. Every rack and bin is stuffed. The steel, enormous warehouse racks, are jammed with with poorly stacked pallets of cheap chinese shit. And one of the most space consuming and time consuming to make ready for sale items in the store is bikes. This is crunch time. I’m trying to pull down a load of diapers that has half fallen off its pallet fourteen feet up in the air with the electric lifter. It’s a huge pain in the ass and maaaybe a safety violation to take the lifter across the floor to main receiving so we try to only do it once a night, so I am in a rush to get everything on the floor so I can go finish unloading the fifth and sixth truck and pull the pallets from the steel on that side too. I’m gonna have to climb up this stupid thing and get the boxes back on the pallet.

I set the forks on the top steel and begin climbing up the cage. You’re not supposed to do this but there is usually just no other way. There’s two or three leaners up here I might try to tape while I’m up here. I wedge myself between the diapers and a drop display of shampoo and legpress the diapers back onto the pallet so I can get them down. Now I just need to get behind that leaning tower of dogfood and maybe I can…

“Aaron we have a safety situation here.”

Shit. I look down to see the guy who stocks shoes is looking more morose than usual over two huge cardboard boxes that skip has ejected from his area overhand, pointing at two corners which fall over the tape line on the floor. Christ on the cross Dale it is two weeks to blitz and you’re fucking whining about two boxes at ten pm.

“Give me a minute Dale, I’ll be down and I will fix that.”

Skip is building bikes at a frantic pace and using that as an excuse to leave an enormous mound of cardboard boxes on the floor in front of shoes storage racks. This, sad and small as it sounds, is a political event, as I am technically in charge of safety in this area, according to the “warehouse manager” sticker on my badge, and the occasionally blooping walkie talkie hanging from my ass. Shoes is a shit department but for reasons nobody can explain to me they have clout. And they have the line, the yellow and black asphalt tape that home office installed as the “designated footpath”. You can’t have cardboard on the footpath, that’s a safety violation. Which you report to your nearest manager. And in the warehouse, you report it to your nearest warehouse manager. And despite the fact that he can be a pain in my ass Dale is a sweet old man that nobody really hates. Except Skip. Skip hates that shoes has clout. He may not understand that but it is true. Skips department, a department of one, butts up against shoes storage, and since shoes storage area had unique bins, and since there was no other place for bikes to build, they gotta beef. And when they beef I get to clean it up.

I climb down and set the boxes up on end. Dale looks unsatisfied, so I yell over the pile of bikes to put all empties on a pallet. Skip does not respond, except to turn up the speed metal he is playing on his cobbled together sound system, but that is all the time I have to soothe Dale’s ego today. I shrug at him and pull nine hundred pounds of canned cat food down and set it next to the diapers.

“Macaroni, do you need help with that cardboard?”

He snuck up on me from the grocery side door. What the fuck was he doing over there.

“Yeah, Thomas can you go bale those guys.”

He’s high as hell. I can just tell with Thomas now. Smoked some meth out in the parking lot. Probably chugged one of those beers he stashes out there too. I sorta want to go grab one of mine but I have too much to do.

“Macaroni may I have one of those pieces of gum.”

Thomas is very chivalrous when he’s tweaking, at least to me. I fish in my apron for the gum and hand it to him, after reflexively checking my cigarettes and lighter were still in my pocket.

He jams the gum into his mouth and squeezes past me and the lifter, throws the wrapper into the trash can in a chubbily graceful jumpshot, grabs a double armload of bike boxes and bounces toward the shoe department doors.

“Where are you working tonight, Thomas Tudbury?”

“Assistant Manager Joel (always full titles when he’s tweaked) speaks perfect Spanish, Macaroni. I heard him talking to an old mexican woman out front.”

“Oh yeah what did he say?”

“I don’t know I don’t speak that shit.”

And he’s gone. Skip throws another bike box over and it hits Dale on the foot. Dale gives me a look and heads for the breakroom. The walkie squawks.

“Anybody seen Thomas, I need him to bust out Housewares for me tonight.”

“Headed toward main receiving with a load of cardboard for me.”

“Speaking of main receiving where is that lifter Walker are you making a career out of that back room? We got a full truck over here.”

“Six more things to get out of the steel then I’m on my way.”

“Unload the truck first.”

Shit. Shit shit. I stuff the lifter under the steel between the racks and jog over to main receiving. Robert hands me the invoices, he’s sweaty, they’ve been working since four. Despite what Assistant Manager Doug says we have three full trucks, the, fifth, sixth, and seventh of the night. Each one is a semirandom jumble of crap. It’s not even christmas crap anymore, we have to be ready, the NIGHT after Black Friday, to go in and reset half the store to New Years/Storage Totes (always binge purchases then BIN purchases heh heh oh no I have jokes about this place I’ve been here too long).

“Nah you go man, you need a break.”

“Fuck it yeah OK.” Robert walks off. He’s too old to be doing this kind of work, it’s still a hundred degrees in the back of this truck. All you can smell is human effort. Mario the stud is throwing. Conan is outside throwing up. He does it for attention. Roberto sees me coming.

“Pelon.” (bald guy)

“You want me to throw or stack.”

“We need somebody on 7-8, diapers, man we got so many diapers.”

God damn it I just pulled down diapers. Well, everything I pulled down was Huggies this is all house brand, it’ll be fine (oh god I know the inventory I’ve been here too long too long). Stacking sucks. You use a lot of tape and stretch wrap and you swear a lot. You put a lot of unsafe stacks of shit on pallets and pull them out to the floor at unsafe speeds. You knock a lot of endcaps down. It’s pretty fun. Stacking diapers sucks a LOT because every size has a different sized shipping box so they never stack well. It’s annoying and repetitive. This is why Conan is outside throwing up, so he can avoid stacking diapers. Jesus christ.

Half a truck of diapers. What in the hell was going on with that order. Mexican Maria and Indian Debbie are both back telling me to stop sending out diapers because they don’t even have room to work in their department.

Joel flips me off and tells me to suck his dick in his deaf pantomime way. Then he laughs and pretends to be Indian Debbie bitching me out, and gestures at the diapers. I make a circular hand gesture and point to layaway. He gives me a thumbs up and runs off. He’s the hardest worker at the entire store. Conan comes in and tries to explain himself to me. Despite the fact that he works for Robert, he seems to only acknowledge caucasian superiors, and I am the closest thing he can find to an authority figure. I wish he’d stop talking to me with his barfy breath. I walk into the truck and tell Mario the stud to go get a drink. I take off my shirt and start throwing in the hot dark.

What I thought I’d be doing by now.

Certainly not this. As a boy I had a dark sense of humor. I remember there was some art period at school, and they handed me a little dittoed prompt sheet, four squares. There was “draw yourself” whose contents are lost to memory. Probably a stick figure. “Draw your house”, where I am sure I crudely interpreted my childhood home on Toledo St. “Draw your family”, whose contents are a little hazy. Mom, dad, maybe a dog I have no real memories of called Popeye. It is unlikely my sister appears due to acute lack of conception at time of portrait. And the final panel, “draw yourself at 30” in which I drew a tombstone.

I don’t know if the very young boy who drew that tombstone really understood suicidal depression. I don’t think he did, but I don’t remember much about being him. I don’t remember the dog. Maybe 8 year old Aaron already did. Maybe he woke up at 7am, climbed up on top of the fridge to get cereal and poured it in his bowl, and while he walks from the kitchen, through the dining room to get to the TV to watch cartoons, all he can think is “I wish I were dead.”. I can clearly remember 15 year old me acting out this scene (right down to the cereal _and_ cartoon brand for that matter), but the evidence exists — wee bitty Jarvitron had a pretty dark streak to him already.

Lets talk about 15 year old Aaron for a minute. I was having a hard time fitting in with kids who were doing normal things. I did not understand how to modulate my emotions or separate/elevate my needs and my poor socialization had made me an easy target for bullies. Actually it was the bullied who came for me. If you needed to “throw down” to make sure the rest of the students didn’t think you were a pussy, there was always Walker, big and kinda fat and perpetually scared. Anyhow, I had this fun thing around this time where I’d hit myself. 15 was probably the peak. I figured it out around maybe fourth grade, fifth, if you’re in class and you can’t stop wanting to cry or do something other than just stare laser focused at your book, you just ask if you can go to the bathroom and you make sure you go to one where nobody else is in because they will be able to hear you and then you hit yourself in the face just hard and fast, there is a technique to it because you don’t want to accidentally hit your nose and give yourself a black eye because people notice those and you don’t really want to hit your temples too hard because it makes it really hard to hear but you hit yourself and you hit yourself and sometimes you hit your head on the wall not too many times because people notice but it is a good, hard feeling, with an edge of danger and you SCREAM it in your head you scream I WISH I WERE DEAD I WISH THAT SOMEBODY WOULD COME IN HERE AND STAB ME AND THEN CRACK MY SKULL OPEN AND THEN SET ME ON FIRE AND I WISH I WERE DEAD AND THE PAIN COULD GO ON FOREVER AS LONG AS I WERE DEAD AND IT WERE JUST THAT IF I COULD LEAVE ALL THE REST AND JUST DIE AND HAVE PAIN then everything is pretty much good and red-tinged and then you go into a stall in case anybody comes in because now you’ve got that fucking warrior face on and people don’t like that, they can tell and you don’t want to be disturbed so you sit down on the toilet and wait as the adrenaline just rooocks in. It’s not pleasant and I’m not really sure I’ve ever talked about it to anyone ever. Certainly not in depth. You can sub out a shed in the back yard for the home version. And then for the rest of the day, it’s books books books. Math math math. Anything where there’s rules, simple rules that build to bigger better rules.

Fast forward to college. College was real hard and I wanted to die in earnest all the time. I’d learned in High School that people were awful, and my hopes that College would be some kind of different beast altogether were dashed in the first 72 hours on campus. I didn’t want to go back after the first semester break.  I cried a lot and went to great lengths to make sure that nobody ever saw that shit. I still hit myself, at a greatly reduced rate, and I went to great lengths to make sure nobody saw that shit either but I definitely remember headbutting the wall by the Sun Terrace Apartment payphone a few times. Cinderblock is definitely not the preferred surface for such a thing. I wonder if I could get a gun. My roommate at this time had one in his room, had I gone snooping. He’d probably have handed it to me had I asked. I had given a lot of thought to methods of suicide, and I believed (and still do) that a gun is the only way I could do it. Anyhow, when I’m busy I’m fine. When the work is overwhelming, that’s fine. When I get bored, I feel like I want to die.Whenever I cry or think about dying, I think about my mother and what it’d do to her. What she’d look like at the funeral. What it’d do to my sister. So I do my rageface thing and then back to some math. But the god damned thing about college is the free time, they give you so much of it and you’re supposed to find people and make relationships and all I wanted to do was get away. Anywhere else. Sometimes I called that place death. I could only even conceptualize sex when I was obliterated drunk, and when I did get there it was always awkward, terrified. Sooner or later I found drugs. And drugs have rules. Simple rules that build to bigger better rules.

Fast forward to 2007. I’m trying to buy a video card from somebody off Craigslist. My roommate has unexpectedly taken my car, so I am making the trip on Portland’s better-than-average-but-still-just-public-transit. I’m running about 20 minutes late, and I’ve also unexpectedly had to take a visitor from out of town (a friend of my roommates) with me to show around. We’re walking from some weird bus stop toward my house in St. Johns, along a greenway I’m not sure I could ever find again. My phone rings, and lo it is my roommate, whose friend I’m showing around. He’s calling from somewhere very very far away many clicks of my car’s odometer. Miles of tree lined Oregon road. Maybe he saw a waterfall. All I see when he talks is a gas gauge pegged on E, a hate-vision fringed with crimson and dazzling sparks. Wait what was going on here oh. He’s bartering some computer hardware I’ve upgraded away from for some industrial size bin of electronic garbage to store. And while he describes the trade in earnest, our shared family plan minutes smoldering, I see the room full of old computer stuff in my house, imagine it packed fuller. It is already a drift of carcinogenic obsolete shit, a frozen tsunami of old wires and reclaimed computer racks. And finally here is where it happens. I hang up my phone, and the Craigslist person is calling me, and I look up at this tree (which is what I do in situations where devout people might “look to heaven”) and I think, “I wish I were dead.”. I pretend I don’t hear my phone and keep heading back to the house.

That’s it. That is where it changed for me. Not then, but in the remembering of that moment. It is so fucking ridiculous. SAD. It’s… it’s asinine. Pathetic. Every synonym of every word that has ever implied someone who is as irrational as they are immature. It wasn’t long after that, that I broke down what was happening. I had bent and bowed and “helped” and “done what I could”, and my relationship (and business entity) was still a never ending hole into which money and time and effort were pumped… from my real job, which at the time needed 60+ hours of my week. I want to be dead, Mr. Tree. Something snapped and the tree talked back. It said, You want to be dead? Because you have a shitty roommate?! Because you don’t wanna be “the bad guy” and stop supporting some other person’s half baked dream? What happened to all those other times dipshit, you wanted to die, and you felt so strongly about it you were just prepared to but you needed to find the gun, tomorrow you’d go get a gun, and you never did. By morning, that feeling was completely gone, and tomorrow morning this’ll be completely gone too. In fact it’ll probably be gone as soon as you eat a piece of fruit or take a shit. So stop tellin’ trees your sad sack bullshit and go fucking buy that video card after you EAT A MEAL. And after that THUNDERCLAP of thought… I finally felt my stomach growling. I thought about how long it had been since I’d eaten anything.

It didn’t end that day. Neither my shitty roommate situation; nor my brain’s flagrant, flippant insistence on the suicide option being tabled in all brainstorming sessions for every scale and variety of problem in my day to day life. But that’s when it started. I was able to get outside of my head, for just a moment, and see how childish that thought was when looked at realistically. I definitely don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember, as a child, saying “I wish you were dead, for a MILLION YEARS.” And while my adult ears twigged to how immature an understanding _that_ emphasis belied, for some reason it took until I was 27 years old for me to hear “I WISH I WERE DEAD” in that same babyish tone. I WISH I WERE DEAD as a replacement for I WISH I WEREN’T IN THE LINE AT A CARL’S JR., as a stand in for NOBODY KNOWS HOW TO MERGE FROM THE LEFT LANE.

And finally it is wrong of me to try to put some kind of pleasant cap on this. Like I’m dusting my hands of it. Far from it. This is a reminder, that the brain is a tricksy thing. That there will be thoughts that get stuck in the rotation, that don’t really have anything to do with what is going on. And the old tricks are always the best tricks, and for me, and for a lot of people I think, the brain’s first best trick is pretending death is a painless alternative to every passing discomfort. I hope that my last best trick is pretending enduring discomfort is the only alternative to the painful permanence of death.

Failing Better

Fail better next time.

There are a lot of things going on in that sentence, and while it starts with the word “fail”, I believe it’s the most optimistic sentence possible. Sure it doesn’t glitter like “If you aim for the Moon and miss at least you will end up among the stars”, but what it lacks in grandiosity I feel it makes up for in gumption. I like to think of it as Camus’s fascination with Sysyphus as a hero — the eternal optimist for whom knowing success is unlikely; even impossible; cannot dissuade or deter his efforts — distilled into a handy throw away piece of advice.

I recommend against throwing it away. As I get older I realize there are no unmitigated, inarguable victories. That is now how life works. Each thing, when you are done with it, has failed you in some way, or you have failed it. Even in masterworks a virtuoso artist can see their own mistakes, second guess themselves: even if a thousand thousand people love every detail, there will be one thing you notice about your creation that you wish you could un-notice. A failure you wish could be blotted from the record, an edit you wish you could make in time. But you can’t. It’s madness to think you can. The only thing you can do is accept your failure, and make note of that mistake for next time. You’ll fuck up again, of course. But you’ll fail better.