A friend of mine walked in while I was getting to go to work, my first day on a new job, and he wondered why I was drinking at seven thirty in the morning. “Never let them see you sober.” I told him. “And they will never know when you’re drunk” It worked pretty well because no other person there ever figured out that I spent most of my time on the job too hammered to do simple math. But I was not required to do simple math. I was mowing grass, painting things, and more or less neck down help. It was great preparation for being in the Army, actually.
This was a philosophy with a history, actually. I spent most of the time between when I woke up, and the time I walked through the doors of Early County High getting high. I cannot remember a day of High School when I was sober. My senior year is some sort of weird blur, but in the end, I walked across a makeshift stage in what looked like a long black dress and some overweight man whose son would be arrested for sodomizing his own stepdaughter handed me a piece of paper that had my name misspelled on it. Four years of hell for this?
There was no way I could have ever gone to college at that time. I could barely speak to other people with having this odd feeling the world was about to end. I couldn’t be around other people and be sober. My father’s answer to this was to set me up in the worst possible job he could find, make sure all his buddies could in some way herd me around like a rat in a barrel, and maybe I would wake up one day and realize I ought to go to college. My father’s dream of tormenting me into being a better person was about to be a group effort, a sort of concentration camp style of commercial for higher education.
The first task I was assigned was to rearrange all the stuff in an old shed into some semblance of order. The paper mill’s forestry division has been using this shed for a dumping ground since the 50’s. There were some old things in there, very neat, but mostly it was just junk. I downed a pint of Black Jack, smoked a joint, popped a hit of speed, and began moving stuff around. There was a burn barrel outside so I torched a lot of old cardboard boxes that had gotten wet, dried out, gotten wet again, and stumbled towards returning to the earth. There were cans and cans and cans of paint that I lined up by color, and these were used to mark trees, and there were of course those neat hand held paint guns that could shoot paint quite a distance. There was a lot of old fire setting and firefighting equipment, but mostly this was where people put stuff when they had no idea where else to put it. I found some nails and a hammer so I hung some of the hand tools up on the wall. All in all, in just a couple of hours I had the burn barrel glowing a nice red color and had a section of the shed totally cleared out. It was time for another joint.
Whatever else can be said about pot smokers they are terrific workers when it comes to this sort of thing. Throw in a nice alcohol buzz and some good speed, and there wasn’t a shed on earth I couldn’t clean. I stacked five gallon cans of herbicide in one corner, hung old raincoats in another, raked out all the debris from the floor and burned it, and all the while I was working inside a metal shed in June in South Georgia. We didn’t have air conditioning in our home, and I already had spent most of my time outside so I was immune to the heat. The burn barrel belched out thick black smoke, and I imagined it was some sort of conduit from Hell itself, and the more fire and smoke I could bring forth the more evil creatures I was releasing onto the helpless land. At eighteen, I was a very young eighteen. I had no social skills at all, and I was never so happy as when I was off by myself, being left alone, and being able to be buzzed.
My father sent one of his minions to scold me for my lack of progress. This was a man who as far as I could tell had never gotten his hands dirty in his life. My father’s friends all treated me like I was some sort of ill bred dog, suitable for kicking, and they realized that as long as my father was their supervisor, he could be made happier by their mistreatment of me. Yet even Spiffy, and that was what I called him when he wasn’t around, had to be impressed. He had no idea all the ancient forestry equipment had been stored in the shed, and the marking paint was something they had started to order more of, but here was a goodly supply of the stuff. The hand tools, the shovels, the fire rakes, the axes and bush hooks, were also startling. He had no idea most of this stuff was in the shed at all. Spiffy, even though he was a bit of a weasel, and little more than a fearful little climber in the ranks of the Paper Mill, couldn’t find fault in what I had done. His freshly pressed shirt was getting sweat all over it, and he was going to smell like smoke for the rest of the day, but there inside of that shed was a full days of work done in less than a half. Spiffy wondered aloud if I needed gloves, maybe, and he asked me if I needed any water or anything like that. Spiffy was sweating big inside that shed, and the smoke from the fire barrel was hurting him. Spiffy retreated away from the work, and left me to finish things as I had started. He was very pleased and told me he would come back later with some gloves, and some water. A half hour later my father arrived and berated me for my lack of progress, and wondered aloud at the things burned that might have been some value, and how it was a miracle I hadn’t burned down the shed. This was a pattern that was going to be repeated for the entire Summer, and in the end, my life.