Ain’t No Use Complainin’, When You Got a Job to Do
I got drunk on Sunday instead of taking my wife to Mt. Lemmon to see the snow. I was ready to take her the previous Sunday but she didn’t feel well and she said, Next Sunday, Ok? And I said, Ok. Then I got drunk. I was relieved because really on Sundays I just want to get drunk. That’s what Sundays are for, I figure. I don’t want to go to Mt. Lemmon and see the snow. I know what snow looks like and I know what snow feels like. It’s cold and wet and we aren’t going to go sled riding, we’re not 12-years old. At most we’d take a picture of it and in the picture it would not seem cold and wet like it really is. A picture might say a thousand words but most of them are lies.
When I closed myself in my computer room and opened my first beer at 8 a.m. she got up and made a bunch of racket in the kitchen to show me how she felt about the situation. I was smart enough to carry the whole 18-pack of Coor’s Light into my room so I didn’t have to keep running to the refrigerator. I don’t mind if the beer is room temperature. When I had to take a piss, I used the garbage can where I toss my crappy poems and cigarette butts. When it quieted down and I knew she was back in bed staring at her phone, I peeked out. She’d cleaned the kitchen and bathroom to gleaming and used a whole bottle of bleach. She even cleaned the refrigerator, which was empty except for an opened can of refried beans and some tortillas.
She cut sex off 2 years ago. She has bladder pain and says sex hurts. She blames me for it. She thinks I ruined her bladder from fucking her too hard and too often. For a long time, we had a great sex life, at least I thought we did. She seemed to enjoy it. Maybe she was faking it. She’s been to over 30 doctors and none of them can find anything wrong. Some say early stages of menopause. Some say she needs a shrink. Some say it’s just one of those things. One of those unpleasant things that happen to people when they get older and there’s not a damn thing to do about it.
Later that night when I joined her in bed, I made the mistake of touching her leg. She went into hysterics.
“Don’t start with me!” she said.
“What? I didn’t…”
She got up and gathered her blankets and pillow and stormed into the other room. She’s done this a few times recently. She will sleep in the other room on the floor rather than sleep next to me. The first couple of times I followed her and pleaded with her to come back to bed. Now I just let her stay there.
The next day, Monday, was my birthday. It’s been a long 53 years, 22 of them with her. It started out so good and then it all went to hell. Same old story. I had to go to work. We both did. We both start at 5 a.m. and so we get up around 4. She used the bathroom first and when she came out she wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“There’s nothing for your lunch,” she said.
“I know. I’ll buy a sandwich at the gas station.”
Then she left without saying goodbye. Off to McDonald’s where she eats as many free egg mcmuffins as she wants. She’s gained a lot of weight since she started working there a year ago, and has acne around her chin from standing over the greasy grill. Sometimes she brings home a hamburger for me. That’s how I know she’s not mad anymore.
I think about the past a lot. That’s what old people do. I had been reading the philosopher Seneca, who said you should “always be the same man,” but that’s not easy when time is chipping away at you. For 5 years we lived in Mexico. We sold our house in Tucson and bought a place in Puerto Penasco. My wife is Mexican and it had always been a dream of hers to go back and live near the ocean. That dream became my dream. We paid 22 grand for a piece of property that had 3 dilapidated apartments on it. We spent another 20 grand renovating them. We lived in one and rented out the other two to tourists. We were way down on the cheap end, but we made enough money to live on and for 5 years we did not have to wake up to an alarm clock. After cleaning and laundry and yardwork, I went to the beach almost every day. I could walk to the tiny grocery store up the sandy road. Cigarettes and beer were cheap. We planted a fig tree and a mango tree in our little walled-in yard and sat out there in the evenings. We hardly ever argued and had the hottest sex imaginable. We both lost weight and her brown ass never looked so good. I had the most vivid dreams and wrote poems about them and felt like the luckiest man in the world. I was ready to stay there forever.
Then the pain started. She quickly went through all the doctors in Puerto Penasco and we shut down the rentals and went to Hermosillo to stay with her mother. No doctor in Hermosillo could help her either. Nobody could understand this. I didn’t handle it well. I felt like it was all some kind of ruse to try to get rid of me because she didn’t love me anymore. The days became endless arguments and tears and long agonizing periods of silence like a eyeless salamander slowly meandering through your guts.
She wanted to move back to Tucson and see the doctors there. We left our place and found a slumlord rental on the south side. The prices had tripled since we’d left and we were flat broke after the deposit and first month rent. She enrolled in the state health program and got a job at McDonald’s. I scoured Craiglist until I found a job picking up trash. They called it a “porter” but all I do is pick up trash. Everything has a new fancy name, but it’s still the same old bullshit.
It’s the kind of job you can do hungover. On Monday morning, I got in the beat-up Nissan work truck and went to the shop to clock in. I pressed my thumb on the machine on the wall so it could read my thumbprint and then it said, “Thank you.” I hit my first site, Sprouts natural grocery. Mondays are always the worst after the weekend shoppers and I got to picking with my Nifty Nabber litter picker-upper and lifting the full plastic bags of garbage out of the cans and trying not to let too much juice drip on my pants and shoes. It usually took an hour or so for my carpal tunnel to ease. A wonderful aroma came out of Sprouts, some early baker in there making something delicious. The homeless people had thrown all the garbage out of the cans and dumpsters, as usual. It was cold in January and I was hoping it would dip below freezing and maybe turn some of the homeless people into icicles. You would think that the sight of homeless people would make me appreciate what I had and how fortunate I was and be thankful. But my mind didn’t work that way. I had been homeless before and I knew the truth: being homeless isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s pretty fucking great. You have zero responsibilities. Get up when you want, go to sleep when you want. Food is never a problem in America. All in all, it’s a relatively easy and healthy lifestyle. There are some inconveniences of course. Like where to take a shit. Now it was my job to clean up the homeless peoples’ turds. For this I was provided a snow shovel. I found the turds in all kinds of places but behind the dumpsters was the preferred spot. The turds of homeless people were almost always incredibly articulated and firm, which was yet another reason to be envious.
I always felt better after I had finished my first 4 sites and the sun was coming up, about the time I got to Supertarget. Supertarget was the dirtiest site on my route, even worse than Walmart. I know that in general our society is guilty of creating tons of garbage but on a personal level I thought that people who casually threw garbage on the ground were detestable vermin. I hated the fact that after 53 years I was in this position. Seneca said there is no labor that is dishonorable and that happiness is in the mind. Sooner or later we’d all be dead anyway and rich people suffer their own kind of spiritual vacancy. Easy to say for Seneca, whose idea of exercise was being carried around on a litter by his slaves to “shake up his bowels.” I walk 12 miles a day at this job. I wore my wife’s Fitbit one day to prove it. Sometimes my feet were so sore from tendonitis I could hardly walk and had to call in sick. Pain will either pass or it will kill you. I liked Epictetus better than Seneca. At least he’d actually been a slave.
Bryan Adams was singing on the old-folks radio in my truck: “Ain’t no use in complainin’, when you got a job to do, spent my weekends down at the drive-in, and that’s when I met you….”
I turned it off and got out of the truck and stepped on a plastic Starbuck’s cup. As I reached into the truck bed for my Nifty Nabber and trash bucket, here came Chad in his truck. Beep, beep! Chad was my co-worker. He’d recently been promoted from porter to graffiti cleaner, which came with a 20 cent per hour raise.
He parked next to me and got out.
“Got time for a smoke?” he said.
Chad was 45 years old and had long dread locks even though he was a white guy. The old dog shit waterfall. I don’t know how he could stand that in the heat of the summer.
“How’s your morning been?” he said.
“Same old same old.”
We both lit up our smokes. Somebody had spray painted “FUCK SUPERTAGET” on the side of the store.
“Fucking idiots can’t even spell,” Chad said.
“They should have stayed in school.”
“I was just over at Total Wine,” he said. “Those old fucks were lined up at the door before they even opened. Some blue hair almost t-boned me in the parking lot.”
We both wore the same company sweatshirts which were bright orange like hazard cones.
“How’s the home life?” I said.
“Fuck, my old lady’s insane. I’ve been living with her since June, you know, and I’ve been paying the mortgage. I just found out yesterday that the house is still in her husband’s name. I’m a god-damned moron.”
A fentanyl junkie wandered out of the bushes and walked up to us.
“Hey man, can you give me a dollar?” he said.
“Fuck off,” Chad said.
“Well, you don’t have to be rude,” the junkie said. He was about 20 years old, fit as a fiddle. He walked away, then turned around and gave us the finger.
“These fucking pieces of shit,” I said. “I’d like to choke him out with my Nifty Nabber.”
“I’m thinking of getting some bear mace,” Chad said.
“Didn’t your lady just inherit a bunch of money?” I said.
“She got 120 grand when her dad died. Didn’t spend a penny of it on the mortgage. It all went to fucking Amazon. She told me she’s only got ten grand left.”
“Plus, I’m just about fed up with her kid. He’s nineteen and won’t get a job. Plays video games all day and cries when the milk’s gone. The fucker is like six feet four and weighs three twenty. He removed all his body hair with Nair and got a bad rash. He says he’s confused about his sexual identity.”
I looked at the lettering on his truck, which said “Professional Property Maintenance. Always hiring.”
“You could get him a job picking up trash.”
“Lazy ass won’t even take the trash out of the house.”
I lit a new cigarette from the cherry of my first one.
“What can you do?” I said.
“I’m thinking of moving to Nebraska. My brother’s a welder there, he says he can teach me the trade. But I don’t know. Fucking Nebraska.”
“How was your Christmas?” he said. “I got a fifty-dollar gift card to Texas Roadhouse. Went and spent the whole thing on one meal. I didn’t even take the old lady. Big ass porterhouse, the works. Cute waitress too.”
“Mine sucked. Got in a fight with the missus.”
“They’re never happy.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess I better get pickin. This place ain’t gonna clean itself.”
“Ok. I gotta go back to Home Depot for some more paint. Fucking idiot gave me the wrong color.”
He got in his truck and backed out. Beep beep!
A conversation like that always made me feel better. It’s the little things. Like seeing the cute girl from Supertarget come out and eat a banana on her break around 8:30. She always stood there in the sun, so young, so beautiful. She reminded me of my wife when I first met her. She smiled at me once and said good morning. But only that one time. After that, she wouldn’t look at me. I was old but when I saw her I felt young again. She had sad lonely eyes.
Supertarget was so big I had to do it in quadrants, moving the truck around. I started in the southwest corner, one step at a time. Around each corner was another mess. I always had that little hope in my mind that I would turn a corner and see it clean and pristine, but it never happened that way. I carried the garbage bags to the dumpster, leaking out like my soul on the pavement, like the blood from Seneca’s wrists when they made him kill himself. Mostly I looked down, that was the nature of the job. But sometimes I looked up and saw the snow on Mt. Lemmon. It was like a picture, a beautiful picture of a beautiful place. But I saw on the news that the recent influx of visitors up there was creating a garbage problem. People were throwing their trash all over the perfect snowy landscape: broken sleds, drink cups, plastic bags, Styrofoam food containers. People ruin everything.
I told myself: there is a place in your mind where you can retreat and set things right, where you can be happy and nobody and nothing can touch you. This is the only thing that is yours alone, your true connection to the universe, to the infinite. What fortune does not give, fortune cannot take away. I told myself: maybe my wife will bring a hamburger home for me from McDonald’s. It was always nice to get home and see that brown sack sitting on the counter, with a little happy face on it. It almost made me feel like a kid again.
Then I walked around the corner to the next mess. A homeless person had crapped against the wall and someone had written “GOD HATES US ALL” on the sidewalk with cheese whiz.