Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Grill Cook Within

I was as prepared to be on my own at nineteen years old as I was when I was nine, or nine months. I had never washed dishes. I had never washed clothes. I had never cooked food. I had never shopped for food. I knew how to buy alcohol. I could find pot anywhere on earth. But I had never actually been in a grocery store without my mother or one of my grandmothers in my entire life. I had no knowledge as to what it would cost to rent an apartment. I didn't know how to get utilities hooked up. I had a checking account, once, but had never really had to balance it. I had no idea how to get a tag for a car.


 

But I really didn't care.


 

Brunswick Georgia was several times larger than my hometown of Blakely, and to me, it seemed to be a paradise. I was two hundred miles from home, and no one knew me. Back in Blakely I lived in the shadow of my father, and the expectations I would become a carbon copy of his highly respected citizenship. Bankers loved him. The Clergy loved him. The men he worked for loved him, the men who worked for him loved him, and no one could understand how on earth I could possibly be so totally fucked up and still be his son.


 

I could eat in a fast food restaurant and not run into any of my father's friends, or their expectations. I could walk down the street, or rather stagger down the street, and not have anyone call my father to and be scandalized. I went to a truck stop and got a job as a dish washer, and I hoped that I was in some way qualified to have a job like that. I was making three dollars and ten cents an hour, and thought that was an ungodly amount of money. That was a six pack an hour!

When my boss called me in for my first month evaluation I was fairly certain I was going to get fired. Instead I got a raise to three sixty-five an hour, and was promoted to Grill Cook. He told me I was one of the best employees he had ever hired, and hoped I would think about becoming a manager. As high as I was, because I was stoned all the time, I realized for the first time in my life an adult was treating me like an adult. Becoming a Grill Cook in a truck stop had just become the high point of my life.

I remember Old Man Murry, the guy who rented me and my roommate the duplex. I was totally astounded apartments were not rented out by the month. Sign a lease? Who the hell knew where they would be in a year? I was not prepared for the power company wanted a deposit. I had no idea the city was the entity who controlled the water. My roommate got into some weirdness about drugs so he was booted by me and the second roommate who lasted a couple of months. Suddenly, after just three months of having roommates in a strange town, I was totally alone. There were some things that happened with the roomies there were terribly funny, and I'll get back to that some day, but there for a while, after nineteen years of being locally famous for being my father's failed son, I was living the life of total invisibility.

I learned to cook on the job. I remember learning to boil eggs, and how long to leave them boiling. A three minute egg did not cook in three minutes. Because I was broke all the time I ate one meal at work when I got there, and anther when I left. There was never any food at home, and very rarely did I have anything to drink that didn't have alcohol in it. I discovered at the lower end of the food chain, no one gave a damn if you were stoned, or drunk, as long as you did your job.


 

I was already doing to job as manager for a couple of months before they sat me down and talked to me about me moving up the ladder, career wise. I would have to cut my hair, stop drinking on the job, stop smoking pot on my breaks, and stop taking speed on the double shifts. It was weird. Here are two guys and one woman who are the upper management types telling me I have to stop taking drugs to get my next promotion. I promised them I would do anything but cut my hair, and they decided to wait and see.


 

Meanwhile, the man they were going to make hiring, firing, and scheduling decisions was learning how to do his own laundry, learning how to shop for food in a grocery store, and very slowly but surely learning to do those things adults did to keep the bills paid and keep the lights on. I had to keep the heat off because I would rather buy pot than pay fifty bucks a month on a power bill and keep the heat running. There wasn't enough money for a phone once a week I would use a pay phone to call my family. At first my father treated me being on my own as some sort of fit. I was going to come home as soon as I cooled off. Then when he found out I had found a job it was more or less as if I was playing at being an adult, and would get bored with it soon. After a few months he became increasingly worried; I may have actually flown the coop.


 

I remember how terrified I was during this time. Even the booze and the drugs couldn't keep back the rising fear the world would come to an end and there I would be, hanging out in midair. I remember the first time I was in jail and they asked me if I wanted to call my parents, and I told them I'd sit it out. There was this nineteen year old, who looked five years younger, desperately trying to figure something out, sitting in jail, and wondering if this was what life was going to hold.


 

Take Care,
Mike

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