Mar 26, 2007

Going away Jack

I had the 18th pallet jack. I don't know how many there were, but mine was the 18th. It was red, labeled R, with a bad right wheel.

When I picked up a load of water, bottles wrapped in plastic into a pine pallet, the jack would lean and wander to the right so I was always steered down the aisle in a stagger trying not to take out the super-mart shelves.

Somebody took a black pen and wrote REPUBLICAN onto the jack after the R. I never figured out what kind of joke that was, but thought it was funny anyway. I don't know who wrote it. It was there when I got there and it was a bad joke and bad jack so no one wanted it and I pushed it around every night that winter.

I got 15 minutes off at midnight. 15 minutes at 4 and 15 again at 6. I read some, about angels and economics. Just sat there, some, listening to the women turning the pages of the tabloids and the magazines. Listening to the smell of coffee in a paper cup. Listening to the talk.

In the back room of the warehouse store, that winter, in the smoking break room, there was an argument. I listened to it all winter, talk between cigarettes for 15 minutes at a time.

Chris said working there, stocking shelves at night, was the best job ever. They paid you and they left you alone. Jack said he was crazy. Every day Jack talked about leaving. In the morning, at the end of the shift, walking out through the sensor-run sliding doors into the day that was still cold and uncomfortably new, he'd say, another day down.

He'd gone away once. Gone away from this town to another job that was like the one he had here, but it was somewhere else. It was down in Mississippi at the end by the coast and there was a store there where he got a job and he didn't know anybody, which was kind of the point. He told me this once and he ended it there, talking about Mississippi and ending with, it was good, it was nice.

But you're not there, I said, you're here.

Well there was the hurricane. Where else was I going to go? I came back.

So now he counted down the days until he could leave again and when they argued in the break room he smoked menthols and wore his brown hair long and said this night work, this crazy shit of stocking shelves so they could be empty again so you could stock them again was the worst work you could have.

Why? Here, there, here, it's all the same. It's just the same, Chris said. You know people here so you know you have people here, you're from here. Somewhere else? The people be the same except you wouldn't know them.

It was like that all winter. I was working nights and the winter was dark and cold and smelled like a couch. I don't know if it was long or short for a winter but it passed and the argument ran on. It started before me, before I came and left again and, for all I know, it is still going on.