The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Terrible jobs....terrible women. What's better being drunk and unemployed? Or sober and underemployed?

Submitted: June 23, 2008

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Submitted: June 23, 2008



So there I am at about 9 in the morning amidst the concrete floors and dim light, numb almost to madness, and bored almost to tears. I hear the freight elevator go up and down, up and down, and grinding, slowly grinding against its steel tracks and making a sound that echoes and reverberates off the concrete floor and the concrete walls in the dim light.
I'm sitting on a metal folding chair and scanning tee-shirts that I pull one by one from big gray plastic bins and inventory with a computerized scanning gun. I have a new blue walkie-talkie shoved into my pocket [refer to last blog for reference.] and the new walkie-talkie is bulging there, in my pocket, and causing me to bend my arm awkwardly at my elbow as I scan each shirt. 
I pick up each shirt, one by one from the gray plastic bin, and I scan the bar code on the tag that's attached to the sleeve of each shirt. I'm scanning each bar code to make sure that the price indicated on the tag matches the price entered into the store's computerized inventory system.
As I'm scanning the tee-shirts, I'm making two separate piles of them. On my left are the shirts where the price on the tag matches the price in the computer and to my right is the pile of shirts where the two prices don't match up. 
Time passes and both piles of shirts grow larger. I lift the shirt in front of my face and I press the trigger on the scanning gun and I scan the bar code and listen for the beep that tells me I've scanned it. When I press the trigger and scan the code, a green light will flash at the back of the scan gun, but I never see the light. I only listen for the sound. When I hear the sound, rows of numbers appear on the small screen of the scan gun. I only look for the number with the $ in front of it. When I see the number with the $ in front of it on the small screen of the scan gun, I check that number with the $ in front of it, with the number on the tag that has the $ in front of it. If the two numbers with the $ in front of them match then I put that shirt on top of the pile to my left, if they don't match, then I put that shirt on top of the pile to my right. 
I have hundreds, hell, maybe even thousands of tee-shirts to scan today. I have eight and one half hours of this today, and maybe, a lifetime of it remaining afterwards.
Time passes. After about four hours and maybe 250 shirts, the little walkie-talkie that's bulging in my pocket begins to crackle. White nose, static, nothing I can understand—that's all it is.
But then I hear a word, my name, and take the thing, the little blue walkie-talkie out of my pocket, hold it up to my face and I look at it. One word that's all I hear and the rest is still only static.
"Kowalski," the little blue walkie-talkie says, and then goes back to static.
I ignore it and I go back to picking up each shirt and scanning the tag and comparing the numbers with the dollar signs together to make sure they match. 
The walkie crackles again in the dim light and reverberates off the concrete. It's like the echo of a squawking bat in a dank and dark cave. "Kowalski," I hear. I try to ignore it again.
"Kowalski, come back," the voice says to me over the broken airwaves of the blue plastic walkie-talkie. I stop scanning and take the walkie back out of my pocket. I hold it up to my face and look at it. The voice of my boss, Ramon, comes over the walkie again. And again he says, "Kowalski, come back."
I didn't know that I left. So I press the black button on the side of the blue plastic walkie-talkie and I say into it, "Yeah, Ramon. This is Mark. Go ahead." I don't want them to think I'm lost. Maybe my boss is concerned. Maybe he's concerned that I might have passed out; that I might have had a dizzy spell and fainted and hit my head on the concrete floor of the warehouse.
"Listen, Kowalski," My boss Ramon says in an accusatory tone. Maybe he's concerned. His voice breaks up in static again over the walkie and I can't understand what he's saying.
So I press the little black button on the side of the blue walkie-talkie and I say one more time, "Yeah, go ahead."
"Kowalski," he says, and the static doesn't interrupt us although I wish that it would. "Listen, Kowalski." I'm listening, but he stops.
"Yeah, go ahead," I repeat for the third time into the walkie-talkie.
"Did you talk to Brooklyn store yesterday," my boss wants to know.
"No, I didn't. Yesterday was Monday. I was off yesterday, I'm off every Monday," I say.
He ignores me and says, "Well, we got a customer here who says that she talked to you yesterday."
"Well, it wasn't me," I protest. "I was off yesterday, Ray. I'm off every Monday."
"She says that she talked to you, Kowalski."
"She couldn't have talked to me. I wasn't here yesterday."
My boss tries to say something over the walkie, but I can't understand it. Feebly, I repeat, "I wasn't here yesterday. I didn't talk to anyone." And this statement is true in more ways then one. I wasn't at work yesterday. My boss knows this. He's the person who gives me every Monday off, although, he seems to have forgotten it now. It's also true that I didn't talk to anyone at all yesterday. No one, not a soul, and I would have liked nothing better than to hide down here all day in the concrete stockroom like a war criminal hiding away in a bunker, but the little blue plastic walkie-talkie has ruined that fantasy for me. And the only thing I have to look forward to now is a donut and a cup of coffee after work.
"This lady says that you talked to her," my boss continues to speak over the walkie, "and she says that you told her you called Brooklyn and said you'd get her a swimsuit shipped over here from there."
"I wasn't here," I say back into the walkie-talkie.
For a minute, nothing happens. There are no sounds but the grinding of the freight elevator and Ramon seems to have given up on calling me. I go back to scanning the shirts and increasing the size of the two piles of shirts that I've scanned.
But then I hear my name over the intercom. Everyone in the damned store (I wish it would burn to the ground) and everyone in stock with me hear's my name. "Would Mark Kowalski please dial extension 4667." The message gets repeated. "Would Mark Kowalski please dial extension 4667."
I have to get up from my metal folding chair and step over the two piles of shirts that I've made. I go to the wall, below the calendar of blondes that I've tacked on the bulletin board and I pick up the receiver to the black plastic phone that's on the wall.
I dial extension 4667 and say, "Yeah, it's me."
It's Ramon, my boss. He doesn't say hello, or how are you, or anything like that even though he hasn't said a word to me all day and I wasn't sure if he even knew that I was at work or not.
"Kowalski, get down on the sales floor right away," he says.
"Okay," I say.
I don't run, I merely hang up the phone softly and look at the picture of Jenny McCarthy in a sequin bikini on the calendar. I stare at the picture. I stare at her long legs for a long moment and I notice that today is Tuesday, May 20th. I stand there so long, that I can hear my boss's voice echoing from the walkie-talkie that I shoved back inside my pocket when I had to stand up to answer the phone on the wall.
"Kowalski, get down here NOW!"
I turn off the walkie so I can't hear him anymore as I ascend up to the sales floor on the freight elevator.
The light is blinding when I get upstairs. The light is reflecting off the tiled floor and the people are moving about among the racks of clothes, and I feel them closing in on me, choking me and I don't know where to go. I turned off my walkie so I didn't hear my boss tell me where to meet him, but I don't need to know where to go, because right when I walk onto the floor, before my eyes have time to adjust to the light, they find me.
"It was him. It was him," I hear a woman's voice yelling.
I stop, and my boss Ray, stands there in his red manager's jacket and he's pointing at me along with this woman. And she repeats, "It was him!"
And now they're both standing there in the fluorescent light of the sales floor and pointing at me and saying, "It was him!"
I stop and stand still on the floor like a hunted animal and I point at myself and say, "Me?"
"Yes, you." This woman with a belly and her face red with anger says as she marches up to me. "You," she says pointing a finger at me. She gets up close to me and bends slightly. "It was you I talked to, Mark K." she says as she reads off my name badge.
"Wait, it wasn't me," I say, "I wasn't here yesterday."
"Oh, it was you," she insists. "I recognize your voice!"
"I hardly said anything," I say.
"I know it was you! You told me you'd have that swimsuit sent over from the Brooklyn store!" She screams. Customers at the cash registers stop and turn and all stare at me. Other employees stop trying to look busy on the sales floor and they stop and stare at me too.
I feel my ears burning and my cheeks feel engulfed with flame. "No, Miss. It wasn't me. I wasn't here yesterday," I say. I turn to Ramon and look to him for assistance, but he just looks down like he knows he's abandoning me and is ashamed to do it, but he does it anyway.
"I drove all the way out here! Forty-five minutes," this lady yells. And I'm wondering why SHE needs a swimsuit in the first place. "YOU SAID YOU"D HAVE IT TODAY!" She screams at me.
"I…I…" I stutter and can't get any words out.
"YOU"RE A FUCKING DISGRACE!" She yells at me.
Then she turns to Ramon, because she's done with me, I guess.  After you call someone a fucking disgrace, there isn't much worse that you can say to them. She turns to my boss like I'm a piece of garbage that she discarded away in the trash and she says to my boss, "I want to file a complaint. I'm pregnant and I drove all the way up here and your employee told me you'd have my bathing suit."
I stick around only for a second and I see my boss practically bow out of obsequiosness to the customer, kowtowing like a little bitch. I slink away and watch my feet go one in front of the other as I walk back across the tiled floor. For a second, I wonder why a pregnant woman would want a two piece swimsuit anyway as I descend back into the basement on the freight elevator.
I get back to the concrete walls and the dim light of the warehouse. I pick up a few tee-shirts, but I don't feel like scanning them anymore.
I take the little blue walkie-talkie out of my pocket and I press the black button on the side of it and say to anyone who will listen, "I don't feel very well. I'm going home."
I say this once over the walkie and only static comes back to me in response. I wait a minute and then the turn the thing off altogether. Before I leave, I take my Jenny McCarthy calender off the wall, fold it up and shove it in my pocket because it's not even one o'clock in the afternoon, and no one's said anything to me yet, but I have a bad feeling about what's going on today.
I'm always having bad feelings like this. As I walk out the door and into the parking lot I'm reminded of this one night, it was a Thursday I think, when I cut class and stopped at a bar that I never went to before.
It was a nice place. The bar was lit up, not dark like the places I normally go to. And no one knew my name, which felt good because I could take my little notebook out of my back pocket and sit at the bar there and drink my Budweiser with a shot of Jaegermeister and write poetry in peace.
Like I said, it was a nice place. I should have known better then to go there, but I did. There were more women in there then men, which I wasn't used to in a bar. And there was this girl sitting at a table a few feet away from where I was sitting at the bar.
She seemed nice and I wanted to talk to her, but I couldn't. I couldn't talk to her because she was with a guy, a tall guy, you know, one of those guys that always had his hand on her ass. Not only that, but she was at a table with other people, she had friends with her, and I never know how to act around people who have friends.
So I started out just sitting there and drinking a bottle of Budweiser at this bar and writing in my little notebook, and because I couldn't talk to her and she seemed pretty, I started writing a poem about beautiful things and the poem went like this:
Out of the dim light,
and out of the crowd of drunken faces
and biting laughter,
Out of the lot of dirt and sand
and dried leaves,
from between the cracks
of crumbling sidewalks—
after the darkest of night
will come the morning birds
and flowers growing
Or something like that, the poem that I wrote went. I wrote it because the girl was pretty, but I didn't finish it. I sat the bar there that I had never been to before and I drank one bottle of Budweiser and one shot of Jaegermeister one after the other, again and again and I began to feel it all.
I kept looking over at the table where the girl sat with her friends and the guy with his hand on her ass. He was talking smart, about politics. He was tall and he had a Che Guevara shirt on. He seemed like the kind of guy that went to class. And the tee-shirt he was wearing said: The Motorcycle Diaries, and underneath the name of that movie, his shirt had a black and white print of Che Guevara's face.
I couldn't talk to the girl although I wanted to. I couldn't even go over to the group of people even though I wanted to. I wanted to have friends like that, sitting there, at a table, not at the bar by myself, but I didn't.
As I got more drunk, I felt more and more bitter for no reason.  Bitter like the way I feel now as I'm leaving work because that woman called me a disgrace. For no good reason I turned to the tall guy who had his hand on her ass and I said, "I bet you don't even know who Che Guevara was." And then after I said that, I laughed to show that I only meant to be friendly.
Well, the guy with the Che Guevara tee-shirt on took his hand off her ass and stood up. When he stood up I stood up off my bar stool and walked over to him, trying to make friends mind you, and I reached out my hand to shake, "Hey, how ya doing?" I said.
Then the next thing I know….POW!...this guy punches me right in the face, right below my left eye. I stumble backwards against the bar and things go hazy for a minute, but I stand up and reach a hand underneath my eye where he hit me because it hurt. I felt dizzy after he hit me and I was trying to not fall over, so I just stumbled towards him a little bit and when he saw that…POW!!...he hit me AGAIN, right in the same spot. This time I went down on my knees, I heard a woman scream as things got hazy again, and the next thing I know, I'm outside on the sidewalk.
A cop is there. First, I'm just standing there in front of the cop car and rubbing my face where I can already feel a little bump beginning to appear beneath my eye. Then the cop gets out of the car. He walks over to me while I'm standing there on the sidewalk while I'm rubbing my face because it hurts and he says, "So you're some kind of troublemaker?"
I don't know what to say. The cop is standing over me. We're near his car the lights of the sirens are flashing but there's no sound that I can remember, or maybe I just don't hear it because I just got punched twice in the face. "What the hell were you doing?" The cop asks me.
"That guy just punched me!" I said to the cop.
"What kind of fight did you start?" The cop asked.
"I didn't start a fight. I was just talking about Che Guevara."
"Put your hands against the car," the cop said.
I did what he told me. A couple times I reached up to rub my face where I'd been punched. Each time I did that, the cop slapped my arms down back at my sides and said, "Keep your hands down!"
When he was done patting me down he asked me, "Are you driving?"
"No," I lied. "I walked here."
The cop let me go. I told him that I left my notebook at the bar. He even went back inside the bar and got it for me. He was a nice cop, just doing his job I guess. I took the notebook he handed me and shoved it in my back pocket just like I did now with my Jenny McCarthy calendar.
Then I walked around the block about ten times because I had to make the cop think that I was walking home even though I didn't really remember where I was anymore.
The cop left after a little while, and I could have stopped walking around the block, but I didn't because I started crying for no reason. And the tears ran down my cheek where I'd been punched, and the salty warmth of my tears made my face sting where I'd been punched.
I walked around crying for so long that I sobered up and I got to my car and drove home sober and crying with my notebook shoved into my back pocket. I left and I never went back to that bar again, and that's how I feel right now as I'm walking across the parking lot and leaving work.
No one's said anything, but I have a feeling, that I may never go back to that place again. And to think, I never even got an opportunity to finish my poem about beautiful things, but the only beautiful thing that I took from work today is the calendar that's rolled up and shoved into my back pocket.
I'm not going to cry this time, although it feels the same, but there is one difference. I have a few stops to make on my way home. I've spent the whole day thinking about chocolate glazed donuts and coffee, and that might be enough to get me through. It's enough to keep me from crying for now, and I haven't even finished the poem about all the beautiful things in the world that I started to write

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