Thursday, May 04, 2006
Today, I am the tremendously polished writer you've come to know and love, earning upwards of $3.46 a month by blogging - not to mention saving tens of thousands a year by not having to have psychiatric sessions or the psychotropic drugs I would no doubt be severely abusing right at this very moment - but, in days of yore...
I was 27 years old and finally coming to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be a gazillionaire rock 'n roll star. Or a gazillionaire athlete. Or even a gazillionaire medical-study participant, which was where I had made my most recent buck by allowing myself to be injected with what they told me was a penicillin substitute but could just as easily have been nuclear waste that would sprout a third arm in the middle of my back, in which case I could have become a gazillionaire circus freak. However, that didn't happen, so I came to the painful realization that I needed to get an actual job.
Having no marketable skills other than the ability to be a paid human pincushion, I looked through the help wanted section of the Boston Globe. There were the usual assortment of driving jobs and janitorial positions which I had successfully filled at previous times in my life, but I was looking for a challenge; something to give me mental stimulation and make use of my marvelous Boston public schools education. And that's how I ended up applying for work as an order picker in the warehouse of Blake & Rebhan.
Blake & Rebhan (or B&R, as everybody who worked there called it) was located on D Street in South Boston. It was an office supply company in the days before Staples, which is to say back in the time when that type of business could actually turn a profit. Nowadays there are few such operations, Staples and their ilk having driven the great majority of them into the grave. That's pretty much what eventually became of B&R, but that was a year or two after I left the company. At the time of my employment there, it was a going concern with a hundred or so employees.
Anyway, I cut my hair, shaved, dressed up in a suit and tie, spoke intelligently, and got the job five minutes into the interview.
I started out as an order picker, but I moved up quickly. From order picker I moved into shipping. From shipping I was promoted to the purchasing department. From purchasing they shuffled me upstairs (literally upstairs) into customer service. Three promotions in fairly rapid succession. Finally, after having done all of that in less than two years, some bigwig in the front office saw the write-ups I had been doing concerning the company softball team (which I managed and played for, natch) and decided that I was the best person in the company to head up (read: be) the new catalogue publications department.
We will now take a short break from this Frank Merriwell story to flesh out some background details.
I first tried cocaine while working in the warehouse. It was such damned boring work, pulling pens and paper and cellophane tape and paper clips off of the shelves while compiling orders, that I welcomed any diversion. Somebody (well, I know who, but he may still be doing stuff, so I won't mention his name) asked me if I wanted go in with him on a quarter. Having no earthly idea at that time what constituted a quarter, I asked him what the hell he was talking about. He explained that it was a small packet of cocaine costing $25. Since I was never one to demur when the occasional mind-expanding opportunity presented itself, I said sure. So, he bought it during lunch and we went into the bathroom at B&R to do it.
Mind you, I was no virgin. I had done plenty of drugs before this. Cocaine, though, was always considered a "rich man's drug" in the neighborhood where I came from. So, all of my experience had been with things you either smoked or ingested in pill form. I didn't inject anything unless I was being paid to do so. This was the first thing I had ever been presented with that was supposed be put up your nose.
I watched my buddy lay out the white lines. He used a credit card to chop the powder finely, on the edge of the sink, and he rolled up a dollar bill to use as a straw. He stuck one end of the dollar bill up his nostril and, while dragging the other end along and through one of the lines, snorted mightily. He then handed me the dollar bill with the implication being that I should do the same with the other line.
OK. I did. And about five minutes later I realized that I was really really enjoying just about everything associated with order picking. And I was picking orders more quickly than I had ever previously done so. Conversation of any sort was engaging and fun. I felt like everything I said was tremendously witty and someone should be writing it down for posterity. Good stuff, this cocaine.
That was the beginning of about three years of blowing every last cent of what I earned up my nose.
So, here I was, almost two years into my three year sojourn in the land of blow, and I was being asked to write a stationery catalogue for the princely sum of $8.25 an hour. I said, sure, why not?
(I should note here that $8.25 an hour doesn't sound like much, but it was more than I had been making in customer service, so I had no complaints.)
I was given an actual office that I didn't have to share with anyone, complete with word processing equipment and a big bulky heat printer and a noisy fax machine and a typewriter and all sorts of other stuff that nobody uses these days. I was given another stationery company's catalogue as a template and given more-or-less free reign to design our new one. I would do all of the writing, pick the illustrations, do the layouts, take additional photos as needed - I was the one-man catalogue department.
I needed more coke.