Friday, August 22, 1992
5:30 came right on time. It felt horribly, sarcastically early. I thought about calling in, but remembered Craig’s speech about no more chances. I still had a couple of days on the books, but using them this soon was unwise. Besides, there’d be coffee at work. I didn’t drink a lot of it, and not everyday. That day, it beckoned.
I felt anxious and somehow off on the way to work. At the halfway point I could feel my bladder filling, and brief concern I wouldn’t make it.
I did. The front security decided to chat, especially when he saw me jitter a bit. Markus and I had a barely civil understanding, and moments like these were handled with a certain relish. I’d do the same thing, made note of it. He pushed it as far was he could, smiled, ended the chat: score one for Markus, and the tension made me feel a bit better. I got to the men’s room just inside the main building, relief replacing discomfort.
Walking past the receiving department, I admired how focused the team was. I didn’t know how they did it, manually checking in the merchandise day after day. The big stuff, like oil, was easy. But those damn air fresheners were a nightmare, and gave me a headache. Since one day when I filled in to assist during a major flu spell, I’ve never used them. Blech!
I still felt pretty crappy, only getting about five hours of sleep or so. At the same time, I felt like I was aware of more, things that usually escaped me over the past few months, even years. I observed the receiving personnel for a while, making note of the almost effortless, organized way they went about things. Everything was calm, planned, deliberate. I loved seeing it, felt like I was a part of a team. We’d all come up together, no real experience to speak of before Kragen hired us. It was kinda nice to see us growing up, getting good at what we did.
I had to force myself to keep walking, and 200 or so feet later I saw the exact opposite on the loading dock. The crew was busy organizing the pallets of oil, and we shipped a lot of oil. I saw the loaders, Saleem and Willy, consulting with the stackers, estimating weights and volume for fitting on the trucks. I realized that I’d trained them, and they’d taken it to another level. The thought felt…good.
The sound of equipment and loud, sarcastic banter filled the whole space as the guys goaded and pumped each other up. It was hard, grueling work. It took a certain physical mentality to do it. I felt like I was watching the best I’d ever seen, ever would see: hardworking men already wiping the sweat out of their eyes, yet the day had barely started.. I heard the whistle of John getting Manual’s attention, a loud, piercing sound that sliced the humid air. Manual turned around in time to catch the Gatorade tossed in his direction from a distance of fifty feet, each nodding as they turned away and got back to it.
I’d argued, yelled and triumphed with those guys, from being a Union organizer to getting promoted as their lead. I felt dizzy as I remembered the drugs I used inside the trailers, both to keep myself going and to get over the almost daily hangover as my body craved that ice cold beverage back at home. I felt a rush as a realized how much they put up from me, yet somehow seemed to respect me. Albeit grudgingly at times.
I had to smile as I remembered Manual, pissed and angry and yelling at me because I rated him a 9.8 instead of a 10 on his last review. It took Thomas to explain to him that it was the highest rating in the whole DC for him to calm down. I was just proud to be able to work with him.
My…,I thought. This must be gratitude…
I walked into the supervisor office where the rest of the Leads were chatting away. I noticed, as if for the first time, that it was like a temporary building, cheaply and quickly assembled to tide us over until the permanent racking was installed. It had been nearly 3 years, and the conveyer belt project hadn’t even been spec’d yet.
Inside, Tony, Sheila and Rodney were chatting away over coffee, Tony delivering a punchline to a story I’d missed. Sheila waved her hands as she left, laughing in spite of herself. Both Tony and Rodney followed with Thomas yelling, “Now I have to wash my ears.” They waved.
I’d cleared the room…
Thomas hated confrontation. He was good at it, always did what had to be done. Didn’t mean he was ever comfortable with it, though. I knew what was coming: the chat with Craig as ‘bout to get real.
“So…, I guess we have to have a little talk.” He turned from me as he said it, swiveling to pick up a piece of paper.
I felt the heat spread throughout my body instantly, knowing my face was beet-red. I held my hand out. To my surprise, it was totally steady. It was never steady.
An inner voice, a thought, like the one on my second day sober after Sam hung up on me, told me it was OK, that this was part of the returning. Action/consequence, but I was and would be ok. I also knew how defensive, argumentative, combative I could be. More shame coursed through me when I considered that could be part of his discomfort. I used to be proud of how hard I was to deal with. Not now, though.
Not this time.
I didn’t say a word as he handed me the paper. I skimmed it for the important parts:
Failure to follow procedure
Further incident, up to and including termination
I reached for a pen, signed without a word, handed it back to him. I tried to talk, but I choked up.
I. Would. Not. Cry.
Not in front of him. Until I did. A little. He let me just sit there for a moment, and I imagined him trying to count and keep up with the feelings I was experiencing. I hope he was, because I couldn’t.
After a few minutes, I wiped the last tear from my face, looked up at him, nodded my head. I stood to leave…
“Hold on a second, Scott. Have a seat.”
They were like scenes from a trailer for a movie, the thoughts that coursed through me. We had a three year history, and it got pretty intense at times. This was tough. Finally, I decided to test my voice and ability not to choke again.
“Well, that was easy.”
He snorted, relieved as I was.
“Seriously, Thomas. I get it. It sucks, and I fu…, fully blew it. Sorry you had to do this. Heck, I’m sorry I had to do this.”
He waved me off. “Not the issue. You okay?”
I paused. “Not sure. But I will be if I don’t drink.”
“That bad.” He leaned in just a bit.
“Yeah, that bad. Did you know?” I dreaded the answer, but wasn’t sure why.
“That I was…, you know, that I had a drinking problem.”
“Everyone who drinks has a problem,” he quipped. He was Mormon, never even tasted alcohol. Or coffee. Or Coke. But he had a way of saying it without judgment, or at least I didn’t feel judged.
“When you put it that way…I could always convert, you know.”
“No way, man. You’d have to quit smoking. Become an elder. You know: white shirt, tie. Ride a bike going door-to-door. You’d’ never make it.”
“Really? Well, screw that, then.”
“Yep. And you should, quit smoking, anyways. But seriously, are you okay?”
“I think so. I mean, I feel like sh…, feel like crap. Didn’t sleep well last night, and I’m a bit edgy.”
“And that’s different…how?”
“Good point,” I said. “But, I feel… weird.”
“Like, you want a drink, weird?”
“Nope. Doesn’t even cross my mind, at all. But weird as in, I really respect the receiving department.”
He picked up the phone, fake-dialed 911. “Hello, I have a guy, I think he’s crazy…”
“No, no, really, “ I pretend slammed down the phone. “Its like, well, I see things a little different, stuff I take for granted. I guess I just never took the time…you know. Shit, I’m turning…”
“Soft? Mushy? Human? I can call 911 again if you want.”
“Huh. Maybe. But you know what I’m saying. I’m a bit of a…butt-head.”
“That’s mild. But yeah… And no notta clue you drank heavy or anything, getting back to that.”
I thought for a moment, staring out the window, watching the guys on the loading dock to their thing. I missed it, the brute simplicity of physicality of building pallets, shrink wrapping them to be stable before placed on the wrapping machine. The sting of sweat, the paced breathing, the totally non-PC banter and goading.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that,” I said after a minute or so. He looked confused, so I tried to l clarify. “Well, I’m sure you remember Norm.” Thomas nodded. “Well, it’s like we all knew he was a heavy drinker, never tired to hide it. I remember him coming all red-eyed, blurry, clutching his coffee with a vice grip. Great guy and all, but he looked like a drinker, know what I mean?”
Thomas just nodded. He and Norm were close, worked together for years when the warehouse was in San Jose. It wasn’t his favorite topic, and I knew better than to ask why he got fired.
“I squeezed by, like no one ever really saw me.” The thought was vaguely uncomfortable, and I knew I had to change topics soon. “I mean, there I am, doing…”
I stopped right there. I was about to tell him about the crank, taking bumps inside the dark trailer, pallets stacked to prevent anyone from seeing inside to dark interior. I phrase I’d heard in the meetings came to me. “Except when to do so would injure them or others.” Thomas didn’t need to know that: it was over-sharing. I covered quickly.
“…doing my job everyday, getting hammered every night. It’s like no one every really knew me.”
“And that’s just the way we like it.” Another thing about Thomas was feelings are left for family. It served him, and by implication would serve me, well. “So, I hate to say this but we’ve been in here a while. If I remember we have one or two trucks to load with a couple stores…”
I stood up again, nodded. “I guess you better get off your ass, then,” I kept a perfectly straight face.
Thomas kept a straight face, turned around and pretended to write on the warning I’d seen. He spelled out the word aloud- “In-sub-ord..” He then asked me, “How do you spell ‘insubordination?’”
“I can’t remember. See ya, bye!”
The rest of the day went well. I spent time in the bins, chatted with Tony and Sheila for a bit and managed to get out of there without anymore drama. It was a placid lake, as Craig would say. But when I got home, I remembered my plan: get to an NA meeting and find speakers. Avoiding it wasn’t an option.
I searched through the papers I usually had scattered around, had the slight woos of panic that I’d thrown it away. Just before I freaked out, and saw the green pamphlet I was looking for, American River Area Schedule of Meetings. Joe had gotten it for me. At first it was hard to figure out- there were so many more meetings than the Solano area.
Finally, there it was. Wednesday, 7 PM, and only an hour long. I didn’t give myself time to think through it, grabbed a map and hit the road. My route was longer than it needed to be, but I wasn’t ready to brave 80 yet. A light detour into the country, I was able to get into town slightly North, off Mace Blvd.
I found myself just outside what had to be the UC Davis Campus, when I saw it: Warehouse Records and Tapes! In my head I heard one of those angelic choruses, a soft ahhhhhh of revelation. Looking at my watch, I saw I was pretty early, by a little over an hour. I had plenty of time.
I couldn’t say the last time I’d been in a real CD or record store. Columbia House had been my go-to for a long time, even if I ended up with a bunch of stuff I’d never listen to when I inevitably forgot to mail in the monthly card. At lest half my collection at the time, roughly 100 discs, was pop/rock stuff I’d never listen to and hadn’t even opened.
My head spun at first, not sure where to start, when I remembered the Singles soundtrack and a couple bands related to the release I wanted to check out. First up was Mother Love Bone, Apple, and sure enough, there it was. Then I remembered reading or hearing about a group that combined some members of that one, along with Soundgarden, but I couldn’t remember the name. I asked the kid at the front register, who smile and nodded as soon as I asked the question. “Oh yeah, man. You want Temple of the Dog. It’s right over there. And check out the latest Spin, man. Rad article, dude.”
I nodded my thanks, headed over, sweaty palms and all. Bingo! I checked out with the magazine along with a local newsletter he slipped in with headline about some band named Thin White Rope. All told, the whole thing took about 15 minutes, and the meeting turned out to be about 3 minutes away. I stared at the bare radio of the Corolla, wishing for a CD player, settled for reading the Spin article about Temple of the Dog, catching up on the history of the band and what it was about. I felt like Rip Van Winkle, eagerly trying to catch up to the scene I’d missed. Nirvana didn’t do much for me, even if I had two copies of Nevermind. But this other stuff, this Grunge-thing, including Alice In Chains, of which I also had two copies, was something else entirely, and went beyond Nirvana. No disrespect intended, I just never clicked with them.
By about 6:40, someone opened the door to the meeting place, which was an old house with a huge living room that apparently served as a meeting-place for seven or eight different groups, from NA to Al-anon and student groups. It had old furniture and smelled a bit like mothballs. I took a breath, walked in, introduced myself to the secretary, Nancy, and help her set-up the meeting, a ritual I would repeat at meetings all over the place.
Before the meeting even started, she agreed to come Chair the next night, and by the end of it I’d lined up three more. The meeting was interesting, in a calm, almost boring, way. Everyone was polite, sat with perfect posture and spoke about the trials and tribulations of staying clean while striving for tenure. I realized these we graduate and PhD students, with a couple of professors. I was surprised that I didn’t feel awkward, but at the same time I didn’t feel like saying much, either. It turned out that my speaker for the next day was a Doctor of Nursing, and had never used a drug in her life, not even alcohol. At 300+ pounds, her drug of choice was food. She felt more comfortable in NA than OA or other food support groups, and clearly loved to carry the message.
I could only wonder how the more blue-collar group in Dixon would respond, but then again the only requirment to be a member was the desire not to use. I guess she had a point, and couldn’t remember actually using being necessary. Even though it was only ten miles away, Davis felt like a different world.
I thought about the weirdness of my day while driving the country roads back home. It started out getting formally written-up, ended scheduling a speaker who wasn’t even and addict. Not with drugs at least. Thinking about it all during the drive took my mind off my fear, and I noticed I wasn’t even clenching the stearing wheel with my usual white knocked death grip. I did notice a tight band around my forehead though, like I was wearing a headband or a hat a couple sizes too small.
I walked inside my room, and saw the flashing red of a message. Andy or Joe, I wondered. I absently hit the play button while taking my shoes off when I heard the voice on the other end.
“Hi. It’s me. Call me tomorrow, ok?”
Ice shot through my veins. Sam.
A hot shower calmed me down, and my brain kept spinning for a while until I fell asleep around midnight.
It was Sam…