Discount Office Furniture
It wouldn’t stop snowing and I worked outside doing brick work. Ice storms ruined my plans.
My boss changed his flight and left early for Jamaica. He’d be there all winter living on a resort, fixing the place up. Repairing some block walls damaged by a hurricane.
I couldn’t come with him because I was taking classes at the community college which I’d wind up dropping anyway, but at the time, I was enrolled and going sometimes when nothing good was on TV … I mean, I wasn’t invited to Jamaica, either. I didn’t mean to say it that way.
My boss got on the plane and I was stuck in NJ, broke and with no job till the cherry blossom trees popped open again.
I dug my car out of the driveway and headed across town to get a newspaper at the convenience store. Every time I was in that 7-11, I couldn’t help but think back to the year before, when it was right after September 11th, and I’d been fresh out of high school and standing by the soda section and someone came in and grabbed a bunch of Snapples and started saying how they were going to make Molotov cocktails and ‘get even’ with the person who owned the 7-11. The guy took the Snapples to the register saying exactly what he was gonna do with the bottles to the clerk himself, the clerk and his family’s store. The cash register went ding. The money drawer opened. A receipt issued and have a nice day, buddy.
Just like everybody else in the store, I hadn’t said anything. We were all afraid of different things and uncertain of our futures. Bunch of fraidy cats lashing out irrationally. Cowards at the corner store.
Out in my car, I shivered, teeth chattering because the heat was broken. In the classified ads I found five jobs I was interested in, they were all lousy jobs. I circled the lousy jobs with a red Sharpie and put the car in gear, drove towards the promise of those lousy jobs.
The first two places I went to weren’t even open because of the snow, and I can’t remember what they were now. When I walked into a strip mall furniture store though I was hired on the spot as a delivery man because I had a driver’s license and I looked like I could lift heavy stuff and take it up staircases.
“Come back tomorrow at 9am,” the old tired man who owned the store said.
“Sure,” I said, but I left the store and took a drive to the other places from the classifieds just in case.
Turns out the next job was stocking stuff in the freezer section of the grocery store, night shift. No good. I was cold enough not in a freezer section, and I had just enough money that I wouldn’t have to take the night shift. I’m like you, I like the sun.
The other job was night shift too, gas station attendant. Hey who doesn’t love the smell gasoline? But hey, who wants to shake from the cold in the moonlight for seven dollars an hour, only source of happiness a bottle of blackberry brandy stuck in one’s coat pocket.
In the morning I came back to the strip mall. The furniture store was called Dave’s Discount Office Furniture and they were a little shit hole that only sold particle board desks and book cases, computer chairs that destroyed your back. Fake tropical plants. Warped mirrors. Also, whatever the owner found on the side of the road, and he could toss in the back of his Sea Foam Lincoln Continental. This Dave’s Furniture store was not to be confused with the fancy furniture store up the street, also called Dave’s Discount Furniture. But they were unrelated. This was discount office furniture.
Half of this store’s orders came their way from bubbling confusion. Misunderstanding. People meaning to order from the better store up the highway a stretch.
I’d been confused too when I stopped in there and asked about the job. They hadn’t been the ones hiring. Dave’s Discount Office Furniture didn’t advertise in the newspaper. They just seemed to do their hiring by happenstance. By desperation. By the universe bringing them people with time to kill until spring.
Truth be told, I could have probably gotten a dollar or two more an hour if I’d realized, but here I was punched in for the day and getting paid cash under the table anyway, so maybe I was making out better. There were sometimes free sodas in the fridge. Oh, I think they were free. No one ever said anything.
I worked with two other guys, at the furniture store. Ryan and Frank.
Ryan had spiked hair, all gelled up like an anime character from Dragon Ball Z. He was in a shitty band and drove around listening to his band practices on cassette, top volume.
Frank was rat-faced and generally kind, but he never took the blame for anything. I got along good with him. Matter of fact, I wish I’d learned his last name or something it would have been nice to stay in contact.
Most of the time, Frank stayed back at the shop and assembled the furniture, which came in big flat boxes. And most of the time Ryan and me drove around a four town radius from the furniture store, bringing people their orders.
I was in the passenger seat and Ryan was driving. The box truck was packed.
I didn’t have a cellphone yet, or I had a flip phone, so I was doing this crazy thing that people don’t do anymore. I was making conversation with my coworker even though right away I didn’t really like him. Nowadays, I’d just look at my phone and so would he while driving. But here we were, talking.
“My aunt died,” he said.
“Oh shit, sorry, man.”
“No it’s pretty awesome actually. Did you see my car?”
He drove an electric blue Hyundai Tiburon.
“Saw your car, yeah.”
“Thing rips,” he said.
It was a shitty little car. Was loud though and I guess, fast. Certainly faster than my car, but I think my car had a blown head gasket anyway and the heater didn’t work. So, ha, I wasn’t gonna go racing on the icy streets behind the furniture store anyway.
“I got twenty grand,” he said. “Spent twelve on the car, rest of the money I used in Vegas.”
“I’m not 21, so I can’t go there for any fun.”
“I’m not either,” he said. “Ever see that HBO show, Hookers On the Point?”
“Nah. My family doesn’t get HBO.”
“I went to the Bunny Ranch and got a blow job from star of that show. The lead hooker. Was amazing.”
“Oh yeah, really, huh.”
“Yup. Only cost me three grand. Totally worth it. Only thing that was kinda crappy was that I had to wear a condom while she did it and the condom went over my balls and everything.”
And that was the end of the conversation, we pulled up to this house and I opened the back of the truck up, got the hydraulic lift gate lowered, while Ryan walked up to the homeowners door with the clip board and a smile on his face. He was ugly, that’s for sure. And he was always smiling.
The hardest part about carrying furniture into someone’s house is not destroying the entire house by knocking over glass menageries, stomping on small dogs accidentally crushing their spines, bumping into candles and causing a fire to spread instantly across the entire house.
I’m on one end of the desk and Ryan is on the other end of the desk, and the desk is being rotated through the air at impossible Tetris angles to make it around a tight turn in a cluttered mobile home. And if one single square inch of floral wallpaper is ripped, moulding scuffed, wood paneling knicked … the world ends. Not to mention, if somehow the walnut finish on the desk’s particle board desk is messed up, the universe folds in on itself and the homeowner will begin to hyperventilate, weep openly, then in a swarm of rage, level the sum of his or her rage about the attacks on the twin towers, the results of this week’s American Idol, the pain and suffering they feel at the merciless onslaught of the burden of still being alive on earth while George W. Bush Jr. eats their tax return, and the snow comes down and the bread and milk still have not been restocked at the pharmacy up the street.
Whatever, you have a little marker that comes with each piece of furniture. And whatever you destroy on the furniture’s finish getting the furniture into the house, you can color in with the marker. Make it all good again.
The house you destroy? Ah, fuck the house.
We’d usually get a couple dollar tip each delivery, and we’d usually waste the couple dollar tip on junk food at the 7-11. So it wasn’t like we made any extra money with the tips, we just drank more Slurpees. Ate more Butterfinger bars. Sometimes bought lottery tickets.
“We shouldn’t support these terrorists,” Ryan said.
“Terrorists aren’t in the snack cake dispensing business,” I said, popping an orange Hostess cupcake in my fat face. “Leave your home town, learn about the world, you ignorant shit.”
“I’ve been to Vegas!” Ryan said.
I worked at the furniture store all winter, waiting to go back to my other job when the weather got better.
In March it warmed up and I might have been able to go back to doing the brick work, but it wouldn’t stop raining. Sheets of rain for days.
One day I was sitting in the shop waiting for Ryan to show up so we could go and deliver the furniture.
There was often morning like that. I’d be waiting for Ryan to come in or he’d be waiting for me. We’d give each other an hour or two and then we’d take Frank instead even though he was scrawny and short and it wasn’t really his job to carry heavy stuff up and down stairs. The one nice thing about Frank though, was that he wasn’t a racist, and didn’t make you listen to his band’s practice sessions, etc.
I looked at the clock, it was almost 11am.
After lunch Ryan still wasn’t in, so I took Frank.
We had to deliver to this house on this steep hill and there was this old junk car parked in front of it. A rusted out station wagon covered up with a blue tarp. The driveway was tight.
Frank said, “I’ll hop out and back you in …”
“Okay, thanks Frank.”
There he was standing on the side of the truck giving me hand signals.
I could see him clearly.
He was staring at the back of the delivery truck and motioning for me to come back.
I backed up.
I backed up and he kept giving hand signals, “Looking good!”
That’s when I smacked into the parked junk car. Hit it so hard it pushed forward a few feet and the front axl which which had been on cinder blocks crashed down.
Frank came to my window, “You hit that car!”
“Get in Frank.”
“You hit that car.”
“Get in the fucking box truck Frank.”
He climbed in. We drove away with the furniture still in the back.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m taking you somewhere quiet where I can kill you without witnesses.”
The next morning Ryan was dropped off by a woman driving a white mini van.
“Where’s your hot car?” I said.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Did you crash it?” Frank said, pointing at me, “Don’t feel bad, he just crashed the box truck yesterday.”
“You crashed the box truck, Frank,” I said.
“How can you crash if you aren’t driving?”
Later on that day Ryan admitted how he’d wrecked his car. Because of all the rain there was a giant lake of water that’d collected at the base of the bridge by his house. He’d driven his car headlong into the puddle.
“Was it dark out?”
“Middle of the day,” Ryan said.
“But what, you didn’t see the lake?”
“I saw it,” Ryan said. “I thought I could get through it so I gunned it and sucked all the water up into my air intake. Engine is ruined.”
“Oh shit,” Frank said, “So you blew all of your inheritance money on sucking, huh?”
“$17,000,” he said.
“Should have wrapped your Hyundai in a condom.”
“Balls and all.”
My favorite day at the discount office furniture store was the day we had the truck loaded with desks and dressers and bookcases that we’re going to the weirdest house I’d ever been in before.
It was a normal looking ranch, set on the edge of the woods, just a one bedroom house, you could tell the guy lived alone. He was a little odd but all in all a quiet and friendly enough guy that you wouldn’t know he was a serial killer until he was halfway through killing you himself, and then you’d nod and go, oh yeah, I get it now.
Into the weirdos house we walked, I was one end of this desk and Ryan was on the other, we were being real careful walking into this guys house.
I was walking backwards.
We turned down the hallway and into this side room.
I’d look behind me a little to make sure I wasn’t bumping into anything. First thing I notice is the carpet is pink and I notice that because I’m trying not to fall. Then I notice a little bookshelf with a framed photo and the person in the photo is familiar but I can’t figure out who it is. Guy holding a microphone. I keep shuffling backwards. Then I notice something else, a Bobblehead doll and it’s the guy from American Idol, Clay Aiken. Red hair and howdy doody face. It’s also Clay Aiken in the picture frame.
Ryan sets the desk down and I see his eyes darting all over the room behind me. I turn around and I’m standing in a shrine to Clay Aiken. The guy who finished second in American Idol, season 2.
There are posters and dolls and books about Clay Aiken. Signed parapheniallia. Clay Aiken’s CD in a frame, unopened from its shrink wrap.
The homeowner walked into the room and saw us staring in wide eyed wonder/terror and he said, “Hey this isn’t what it looks like, this isn’t my stuff.”
He sighed for the desk and we left as fast as we could. We probably looked like the roadrunner in the cartoon, blasting off into the distant distance.
Here’s how I pretty much lost the job, and it wasn’t my fault.
I got really drunk and showed up very late for work. Ryan and Frank were already out on the delivery. Ryan was still getting dropped off by his mom because no more of his relatives had died. And Frank was still rat faced and scrawny and blamed other people when he fucked up.
I was supposed to be assembling particle board furniture, but I wasn’t. I was reading a book in the back of the wherehouse.
A little while after lunch, the garage door opened in a flash and Frank came walking into the wherehouse all crazy looking and out of breath. I wasn’t expecting them back for another couple hours.
Frank said, “Where’s Dave?”
Dave, of course, was our boss of discount office furniture fame.
“I don’t know, why? What happened.”
“Something happened for sure. What?”
“Well you know how Ryan drives like a crazy person?” Frank said.
“And you know how he forgets to put the door down in the back …”
I thought about this. There was a system. Whoever was driving, was driving, that’s what they did – the passenger was the one who always made sure the back door on the box truck was down and locked. But I didn’t say anything, mostly because I didn’t get Frank’s point.
“We went to the first delivery and it was easy. Just a little table. But I guess when we hopped back in, Ryan forgot to strap all the other deliveries to the wall and Ryan forgot to close the back door and, man …”
“What? Did you lose something?”
“We lost the whole load. Right in the middle of the highway.”
“The whole load. All the deliveries?”
“All of them. They went flying out of the back.” Frank was pale and looked like he might get sick.
“So where’s Ryan?”
“He put the truck in park and started walking up the side of the highway. I don’t know. He’s gone.”
“And so am I,” Ryan said, punching out. Running to his car.
I sat down again on my cardboard box and finished reading the paperback book. Just about the time I was done reading, my boss came back into the wherehouse and asked me where everyone was.
And so I told him.
And so, yeah. That was it.
But it was spring and crews were at Ground Zero cleaning up the wreckage. Twisted steel and crushed lives. But it was spring and I had stopped going to the community college, earning myself zero credits. But it was spring and the first of the green appeared on the innocuous tree branches. And I could go back to what I was waiting to. An airplane took off from a tropical island, ten minutes after the rain stopped.