Monday, August 27, 2012

Chapter 1

            “I get this job, and everything’s gonna get better.  I just know.”
            I turned toward the speaker, immediately staring at a face younger than mine.  Some black kid, fresh out of high school grinned at me, his dark lips stretched across his white teeth showing a genuine excitement I would not have expected.  He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and thrust it into my hand.  I looked at it: “What’s this?”
            “It’s my resumé! Went to the library and had one of them ladies there help me with it.”  He pulled it back out of my hand, folding it up carefully before pushing it back inside his pocket.  “I’m sure you want this job too, my man, but I don’t think you gonna get it.”
            “Maybe.  But what makes you so sure you’re going to?”
            “I just got that feeling, you know?  Everything’s gonna look up, I know.  Just like they say in church: ‘God’s always looking out for you.’ I think He’s got my back this time!” He turned, looking back at the long line that snaked behind us, going up the block and disappearing behind the gray concrete building we were standing in front of.  I knew what it was going to be like, standing here, waiting for an interview.  But this made me realize I did not comprehend exactly what was happening.
            It was a powder keg: hundreds of men and women standing in line for roughly two dozen jobs.  I knew, like me, that most of them had no experience and no chance of getting it, but were here out of the same desperation I was.  Behind me, the black kid continued talking to specifically no one.  I smelled cigarette smoke as up the line, a grizzled man with grey streaks across his black beard was staring intently at me.  Well, through me, rather.  At the black kid, who just wouldn’t shut up.
            “Go home, boy.  This is men’s work.  You ain’t got no shot here.”  He left his position and walked back, almost directly in my face as he breathed smoke across my pressed and ironed shirt.  I craned my neck to stay away from the line of spit that flew from his mouth as he barked at the kid behind me. “I’ve welded for goddamn 20 years.  Plenty of these guys have.  Just get the hell out of here.”
            “Hey, I got as much a right as anybody! I’m gonna get one of these jobs!”  I shuffled to the side of the two men, still somewhat between them, but not completely out of the situation as it developed.  The smell of desperation clung to all those around me, and as if we were all back in elementary school, anticipating a fight; a circle of applicants surrounded us, curious as to what was going on in line.  I half-expected someone to begin chanting the time-honored ‘FIGHT’ as the grizzled man confronted the kid.  The crowd grew denser as the young man pointed a surprisingly gnarled, mangled middle finger towards the beer gut in front of him; “I’m not gonna leave.  I’m gonna take this resumé, give it to some boss in there, and then I’m gonna get me a fucking JOB!” His finger jabbed forward, catching the grizzled man in the gut, before withdrawing quickly as the kid flinched.  I had to give him credit: he did not want to actually start a fight.
            The rotund, grizzled man dropped his cigarette and stamped it out quickly with his work boots.  I could tell the seriousness of his venture here: dark blue work shirt, complete with matching pants, meticulously washed and ironed by what I only assumed was his wife; a man like that does not do his own laundry.  He breathed out the last vestiges of smoke from his lungs, scowling deep, the wrinkles in his faces creasing in a drastic matter: “You think you’re owed shit, huh? What, you waltz out of high school like two months ago? Now you want a big boy job, huh? You ain’t gonna get one, get the hell outta here!” He barked the words at the kid in front of him, his arms shaking wildly, knocking into my shoulder as he threw them back attempting to emphasize what he was saying.  There was a large, oval scar on the top of his left hand; I was fairly certain I knew what it was from.  He was not lying about his experience, and I looked around at the rest of the crowd that had gathered.  The two men were making an anxious group of people worse: everyone wanted a job there, and everyone feared they weren’t going to get one.  I knew my chances, and started to move through the crowd, no longer paying attention to the heated words between the two men.  When I got past the crowd, yelling started and I knew immediately what it meant, and so did the lone squad car sitting across the street.  The officer sprinted out, yelling into his radio as he began to shove his way toward the center of the crowd.  I crumpled my own resumé, made without the assistance of the ladies at the library, and threw it into a storm drain.  As I walked down the street, I could still here the faint sounds of yelling in the midday heat.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


            The teller leaned back slightly so she could see exactly what she expected: a middle-aged man in the back office, crying softly into his sleeve as the bank managers tough hands attempted some reassuring pats on the man’s back.  When the door opened and the bank manager walked out, she hurriedly began shuffling through the papers sitting in front of her, making brief eye contact with the manager as he hurriedly walked past, giving her a sly smile and a wink.  She blushed, feeling the heat rising against her cheeks.  In the back office, the man continued to sob quietly.
            It was nearly ten minutes later when the man came out of the back office, eyes still red and his cheeks still stained with the tears of despair.  He made no eye contact with any of the tellers or customers, giving only a cursory nod to the security guard standing by the front door, who swung the doors outward.  Inside, the bank remained unchanged, its customers standing in a close line waiting in front of the counter, statements and signed slips of paper clenched in their hands.
            Outside, amongst the heat radiating from the blacktop, adding to the muggy nature of the day, the middle-aged man, his brow streaked with sweat, sat inside a small sedan.  There was no noise coming from within the car; the man sat, staring blankly forward, still perspiring in the oppressive heat inside of his smallish car.  It was a full five minutes before he turned the engine on, and let the fog of cold air radiate out of the vents.  He sat in the car, the engine running, as the tears began to well up in his eyes again.  He gave himself enough time to regain his composure, before backing the car out across the hot blacktop.  The traffic was heavy; it neared the end of the workday and the streets were filled with commuters running errands and returning to their homes.  After waiting at a red light for what felt like an eternity, the middle-aged man drove his car into the blended flow of commuters.
            The subdivision lacked gates; that variety was across the expansive commercial area that had grown seemingly overnight.  Those were the more prestigious houses: the lawyers, doctors, and the like, growing tired of the constant headache of urban life, flocking into the suburbs, but deciding to segregate themselves from the original inhabitants.  The subdivisions without gates were the heraldry of the middle class; the man, like many of his neighbors, had moved his family to this subdivision a decade ago seeking a safer environment.  He paused once inside the subdivision proper, seeing a newly sold house sitting at the top of the main road towards his own home.  He had passed by it daily, but now just noticed how much it had changed since he last remembered it.  There was a new, vibrant coat of paint drawn across the front; he had remembered a drab yellow, now a soothing light blue accented by white trim across the doors and windows.  There was a white wooden fence across the front, where he had never remembered a fence before.  His car sat next to the curb, and he stared in wonder at the house, drawn into its own nature.  Two small children, a boy and a girl, ran behind the fence while their mother watched from the front steps.  He sighed, and a smile crept across his face, until he continued driving home.
            A yellow sheet of paper was stuck on the door of the house next door.  The man didn’t need to stop to read what it meant, taking stock of the unkempt yard and broken windows, courtesy of the neighborhood children.  The subdivision was a boomtown a few years ago, now, quickly becoming a ghost town.  It was not the first yellow tag the man saw, and he knew, deep down in the pit of his stomach that it wouldn’t be the last.  He drove on, focusing on the road, and not on the houses around him, the tears welling up in his eyes again.
            He pulled slowly into his driveway, killing the engine and sitting motionless for a few minutes before walking out onto the pavement.  He could faintly smell his wife beginning to cook dinner, and from behind the house, the faint laughter of his children playing.  As he approached the house, he screwed his face into a caricature of happiness: his frown twisted up to a smile, betrayed by the look in his eyes.  Before he could even open the door himself, his wife came out, and greeted him; he initial enthusiasm faded when she saw the look in his eyes, and took his hands and led him in.
            Across the street, the only other person visible was sitting on the top step leading up to a modest home.  In his early 20s, the young man stared across the street at the sight of the man and his wife talking in the window of their living room.  He took a sip of coffee out of the mug sitting next to him before leaning his back against the top of the stairs.  He stared up at the clouds as they began to turn orange in the evening sky.  Across the street, the sound of crying could be heard.