TURNAROUND

James Moats - 03/25/2003


the sun was shining, a gentle breeze coming in through the open window. the worst of the winter seemed to have already been packed away as a distant memory. no reason in sight for such a terrible mood this morning. the heavy rain through the previous night had washed the air over the filthy city. the sun streamed through the new wind seemingly effortlessly. the orange glow that usually served as 'round the clock halo and crash helmet for the city was temporarily gone. all things seemed to be right in the world.

but the headaches were coming back. not like they used to be, i was convinced i had a brain tumor or something back then. it had been years since they had come so frequently. mind numbing. they say you can't get away from tooth or head related pain. just like at the dentist. headphones and classical music don't mask the sound of the drilling.

out of work for weeks, i couldn't keep up the payments on the cell phone. out of touch with the world. no work could come in because no one could reach me. couldn't keep the phone running because there was no work coming in.

it was strange to watch the tides turn around and leave the beach all together. now, alone on this desert isle, eating what i kill, killing only what i plan to eat. lately, my prey had been oriental noodle products sold in double digit quantities for single american dollars.

this is no way to live your life.

there was always the working world, the "job" jobs. hardly a chance of that happening. appearance is almost everything and the ability to give a shit is everything else. i was too far removed from that existence to ever be welcomed back. besides, bosses are like politicians, if they were worth voting for, they wouldn't be running for office.

so here i sit. truck stop coffee steam rolling up my face, inhaling and exhaling the vapors, caffeinating myself by osmosis. the truck stop waitress was from a dream. i recognized her instantly. her new role as waitress didn't really surprise me. the characters in my play hold down as many roles as in any given monty python film.

the only real hope of making it back to my previous level of self respect (admittedly low) and sense of viability was to settle up with the person that started this personal landslide for me. years had passed and i had made the best of everything i had to work with.

it began in the autumn of my twenty-third year.

at the top of my class in school, most likely to do nothing with my life. always contradictions. always so much black and so much white that the picture, when viewed as a whole, resembled television snow. squint your eyes the slightest bit and you've got solid, unwaivering gray.

against my better judgment and against the advice of everyone who cared about me in the least, i took a job repossessing cars under the cover of night. exciting work, excellent pay.

exciting in that you never knew who was going to be awake at four a.m. with a loaded shotgun awaiting your arrival.

excellent pay because the guys i was working for were actually sending me out to steal cars that weren't theirs to repossess.

i suppose i was actually in the unpo business, rather than repo. unfortunately, i wasn't in on the gag and therefore stayed in their employ for several months. one winter night, it all turned around and went completely sideways on me, pinning me down with a million pounds of pressure.

i woke up in the county jail.

i woke up in an empty studio apartment.

thirty months and four days later.

half way, indeed. between life and zombification.

if i understand correctly, it went something like this: when i didn't return from the job, my bosses called the police and reported their truck stolen. they said that i had been doing some odd jobs for them around the garage and had been bugging them for months to let me take the truck out on a job. my good friends at pauly's salvage and repo.

if the person that i had been when i went in had been anywhere in sight when i got out, maybe he could have talked some sense into me.

i had had such high hopes for myself.

i quickly turned back to the life that had, unbeknown to me, taken my life away. somewhere along the line, i had turned into a criminal. common street trash. you can always count on institutional rehabilitation to break a person down and convince them of the worst about themselves, thus justifying the need for so many government dollars to be poured into the prisons. people are just bad everywhere and when we turn them loose, we know they will be back.

you may remember me from that time, at the exxon station on south street. i worked evenings and weekends for a couple of months. my prison time was not easy by any stretch. the tattoos and scars on my face, along with broken teeth made a real impression and most folks would stand further away from the counter than usual. during the day, some would even use the bullet proof drawer system that had been put in place to keep night time clerks from having to deal with holdups.

i guess it protected those on the outside as well.

the night job was really to please my parole officer. the money i made from stealing and stripping cars was never reported. life was good for a minute while money was flowing in and the p.o. was staying away. once my probation was up and the community service was finished, i was free to screw up my life full time, in an unsupervised fashion.

i soon found myself pulling the most legitimate jobs that i had in years.

apparently, the police aren't discreet enough for some people and private investigators just cost too much damn money. so, basically i was the equivalent of the neighborhood kid that you pay ten dollars to cut your grass.

you know how to use a lawn mower, right?

sometimes i would chase people who were running away from a debt, a controlling husband, most anything. also on my list of services rendered was collecting those debts, controlling that wife... in other words, i shoveled snow and raked leaves, too.

now, it's time to try and salvage the remains of my life. i'm not sure what i expect. if pauly would offer me a job unpo'ing cars again, i would be offended. if he were to apologize for the spot he put me in, i wouldn't believe him.

i guess there is just something left to resolve. i feel that when a debt is written it should be paid. especially when i am owed something as valuable as a promising future.

wasted potential is priceless.

it is also a fact that when you look for an easy answer, you will find one. usually the easy option is the worst one available. but when it is the only option, it levels the playing field substantially.

and who knows, i may just inherit a nice little salvage business if something unfortunate should happen to my dear father.


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