In an effort to remain true to this blog’s original plan I am now going to write about previous jobs I held, the crazier and more ridiculous the better. If there are many folks out there who enjoyed the writing of Charles Bukowski, this blog is for you. For those of you who have never heard of him, he was an American writer who found notoriety writing for the L.A. Free Press in the 1960’s, a column called Notes Of Dirty Old Man. He later found fame writing several books about jobs he worked, one called Factotum (later made into a movie starring Matt Dillon) and Post Office. In fact the latter was his first published book, having written it for a publisher named John Martin who believed so strongly in Bukowski’s ability to spin a good yarn that he offered him $200 a week to write so that he could quit his job. Writing about what he knew best (drinking and working for the United States Post Office) he was surprised to see that it did well enough that he was able to publish several more novels (for they were marketed as ‘fiction’) and garnered a rather eclectic audience around the world. He was especially beloved in Europe, but he made a splash in America as well. He wrote the movie ‘Barfly’ (based on his own life) starring Mickey Roarke and Faye Dunnaway.
So that is the new focus of my blog: all the crazy, crappy, preposterous jobs I’ve worked over the course of the last thirty years while pursuing my creative endeavors. Like Bukowski, I am a college dropout and enjoy the occasional beer or ten, but unlike Bukowski I was never a very good fighter yet I was never unwilling to ‘go’ if it indeed became necessary. I also traveled a lot and ended up in some rather compromising situations. I’ll also embellish a bit in some of these tales, as he was known to do. Rest assured they are rooted in reality, but sometimes you have to stretch them a little to get the desired effect. All that said, here is a short one since I’ve already taken up this much of your time: Hotlanta in the summer or Give me Whiskey or give me death, a tribute to Charles Bukowski.
The year was 1994. Kurt Cobain had killed himself in the garage of his Seattle home and the new Woodstock would prove to be a bust, as the grunge generation was a surlier, more unpredictable lot than their predecessors. Artists like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains and Beck were topping the charts while smaller bands like Mudhoney and Monster Magnet were making the rounds, keeping things afloat until they later found fame (Monster Magnet) or they dissolved into an historical footnote (Mudhoney). I was living in a warehouse in an area called Little Five Points in Atlanta, Georgia, having moved there from Raleigh, North Carolina after I got the boot from a band called Motherload. I’d been their lead singer (and chief purchaser of alcohol because they were all nineteen to my twenty-three) but they eventually had enough of my drunken shenanigans and sent me packing after I picked up the lead guitarist during a gig at a packed pool hall in Raleigh and tossed him into the crowd. He was mad because 1) they didn’t catch him, they instead ran out of the way and 2) because his Gibson Les Paul got ruined in the process. I couldn’t really say I blamed them. I was drunk and on drugs most of the time back then, in fact one of my favorite pastimes was driving around the triangle area drinking malt liquor and smoking weed and taking acid and going wherever the wind blew me. Suffice it to say I met a lot of strange people, some of whom thought I was the strange one. Go figure.
In Atlanta I held several jobs, but the first one I worked was selling school supplies for a shady company called Pacific and Atlantic Wholesalers, a telemarketing outfit that violated just about every law you can imagine when it came to consumer fraud (overpriced, crappy merchandise, hidden fees, broken promises regarding free bonus items with every order etc. etc. etc.) run by a man so crooked he made the Enron presidents seem like portraits of American stability. He’d sit behind his desk cleaning automatic weapons and snorting white powder off his desk blotter, every now and then venturing onto the sales floor to holler: “Let’s get a hum going men!” or “I hope you get stuck in traffic and don’t have a forty ounce can to piss in!” if he was upset that we weren’t making enough sales. Sometimes he said even cruder things like: “Shut up bitch or I’ll fill your mouth full of sperm!” or “Shut your pie hole or I’ll fill your corn hole!” Despite all this ranting lunacy the surprising thing was we actually made sales, lots of them. We were cold calling schools all over the greater continental United States and asking to speak with whomever did the purchasing for the school store. When they were put on the phone we then stroked their egos and smooth talked them into buying grosses upon grosses of shit they didn’t need, all of it cheap, easily breakable garbage. Notebooks with bindings that came unglued the first time you opened them up, pens with barely any ink in them that ejected what little there was in a puddle all over the page, pencils that snapped in half if you looked at them funny and so on. Yet we all made sales (some of us to a greater or lesser degree) and some weeks I made enough money to cover all my bills for a month.
It was in the middle of a heat wave in August that the air conditioning went out and, to keep us working, the owner, Cliff, bought us several gallons of whiskey and a quarter ounce of blow, encouraging us to help ourselves. He didn’t have to ask me twice. Within a few hours I wasn’t sure what the hell I was saying to people over the phone, all I knew was that I wasn’t making any sales. When I’d had enough, I snorted another large pile of coke, slammed a giant shot of whiskey, announced I was ‘getting the fuck out of here!’ and got in my car. I don’t remember driving home, all I remember is arriving and getting into it with my drug dealer roommate. I was sick of he and his friends keeping me up at night, partying into the wee hours when I was trying to sleep off a drunk, and I decided this was the time to air things out. Well, one of his thug buddies was there too, and between the two of them they easily restrained me and proceeded to ‘convince’ me that I was in the wrong. They were quite persuasive, let me tell ya, and the next day at work I looked like I’d gone a few rounds with Floyd Mayweather with my hands bound behind my back. To make matters worse the owner called me into his office.
“You left early yesterday,” he scolded, not even mentioning my beaten-to-a-pulp-face; he was too busy using a large hunting knife to shave a mole off his back. “I don’t think you’re taking this job seriously.”
I looked at him incredulously. “Taking the job seriously?” I repeated, trying hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “What’s not to take seriously?”
“You don’t come and go as you please. The manager has to authorize it.”
As I recalled the manager had been under his desk when I left, wearing nothing but black, ankle high socks and muttering something about the impending apocalypse while he drooled over a photo of Ms. July, but I kept that to myself.
“Yes sir,” I muttered, not wanting to argue. What was the point? “It won’t happen again.”
“Damn straight it won’t.”
“You fucking freeloaders,” he said, dismissing me. “That’s the last time I give out free drugs. None of you assholes made any sales.”
“Not even Kennedy, sir?” Kennedy was the only sober person in the bunch; he never drank nor indulged in anything stronger than coffee.
“Kennedy was sick yesterday.”
“Now get out there and get a hum going or I’ll-”
“Fill my mouth full of sperm,” I supplied for him. “Got it sir.” I was tempted to salute but I simply turned and left, wondering why I was stupid enough to keep working there. But when I felt the cold blast of the newly fixed ac, and I got that phone in my hands and spun some magic that landed me a twelve hundred dollar commission, I knew why indeed…