Thursday, May 28, 2009

Being the New Guy

Staying with Krista and Howard remains a good time. Krista showed me how to sew, and I tried to patch my work pants, which had been hopelessly torn up by the gears. I ended up having to ask Krista to help me—i.e. do it for me.

I've been eating home-cooked meals, hanging out with people I really like, and generally having every amenity I could possibly want—including some very effective foot-warmers on cold days.

On Tuesday, I got up at 4:30, and, with that patch, I marched across the city and through the empty lots

to the small, standalone cinder building where I was hoping to find work.

I talked to a couple of guys standing outside it. Sounded like there wasn't much going around. Sounded also like being the first one present wasn't going to help me much. I went inside and signed in. This getting up at 4:30 thing was killing me. I took the hat out of my pocket (it was far too warm to wear it), folded it on the table, put my head on it, and went to sleep.

I woke up to a lot more people in the room, and one guy looking down at me sympathetically.


I raised my head off the makeshift pillow, trying to orient myself. "Yeah."

I heard a few laughs. "You watch out, dude, make sure she doesn't catch you."

What were they talking about? "Hmm?"

Another guy carefully and surreptitiously pointed to at the woman behind the counter, then walked over and whispered "If she catches you sleeping, she'll kill you."

"Oh," I said, looking around, still confused. Then I shrugged. "Bring it on." I put my head back down on the folded hat and closed my eyes. I heard laughter and applause.

"What's going on over there?" It came from the direction of the counter, and there was an instant hush.

"What is going on?"

"Nothing, ma'am."

There was a short lull, and then conversation resumed, and I went back to sleep.


The next time I woke up, the room was empty, save for one man sitting next to me. I checked the time on my phone. 9:30 AM. I looked over at him.

"Did anyone try to call me?"

"Nope, everyone got kicked out."

"No work, huh?"

He shook his head. "I used to come here four, five years ago. There weren't any problems getting work here, then. Here," he pulled out a piece of paper that looked like it was at least a few years old. "This is a list of the kind of work they had. Moving, construction, trench work, clerical—everything. But I haven't been here in hears. Hopefully they still do all that."

I'd pretty much tuned him out. I'd noticed that beyond that piece of paper in his folder, there was what looked like a black and white photograph of a house. And either the angle and lighting were masterfully set up, or it had been dodged and burned in VERY well. I asked him about it.

"Oh, that...." He took it out, and, upon closer inspection, I realized it was a pencil drawing. I also realized there was a thick ream of those in his folder.

"This is the house across the street from me. And this is another house I used to own. I used to be a landlord here in Utica, not anymore. And this is the church up toward Corn Hill. These are a few more houses I used to own. This here is Hotel Utica the way it looked back in 1912. That's pretty much what it's like now. Can you imagine? It was a home for drunks for so many years, and now it's back to its old splendor."

I had read in the paper the day before about the $5 million federal loan, on which the Hotel Utica wasn't able to make a single payment. But I noticed on the page below it something that looked like Bavaria.

"Is that Germany?"

The man smiled. "Austria."

"When were you there?" I asked.

"I've never been there. But I've been to Lake Placid."

He flipped through a few more relatively realistic-looking pictures.

"I heard this thing is so big, you can drive a car under it." His finger was pointing to the Eiffel Tower. It stood on the side of a small country road, right across from the Notre Dame. Around them were just grassy, rolling hills, and the country road continued, empty, all the way to the horizon.

I just nodded. "You could drive more than a car under it."

"Oh, is that so?"

I nodded.

"You been?"

"A few times."

We both went silent.

I got up. "Well, I'd better go before they forcibly kick me out."

The man looked up at me. "See you tomorrow?"


And off I wandered. No work. S__t.


The next day, I got up at 4:30 again. To my amazement, I was still only the second guy there.

"What's up, man," I said. "What are you doing here so early?"

"Didn't know how long it would take me to walk here."

"Oh, wow. Never walked here before?"

He shook his head. "It's my first time."

After a couple of hours of sitting around and waiting and watching other people get called to work, I took out my phone and posted an ad on craigslist:
Willing to work below minimum wage! (Utica)

I'm just passing through and need money to continue onward. I'm here today and tomorrow and willing to do pretty much any simple job. Contact me via phone or E-mail. (I have E-mail on my phone, and I can text, so any method will do.)

I realized it was unlikely that anybody would check a listing like that. I checked the job listings myself, but I really didn't feel like modeling, and everything else required a time commitment of more than a day or two. Within hours, I'd gotten some spam, but nothing else.

By the end of the morning, everyone had been sent out to work except the two of us.

"What a f___ing c__t," he whispered, quietly pointing to the counter. "I guess they like their own here."

"Well," I said, "I don't know if I can really blame her. I wouldn't be too happy if I'd been coming here every day for months and some new guy got work instead of me just because he showed up earlier."


I wasn't spending any money, so nothing horrible was happening, but the question remained of what to do in Utica if not work. The only answer came from one of the local stores, and it wasn't a promising one.

I decided I was going to leave Utica. I took out my phone to make sure the weather was good for departing.

And—ta-da!—rain. For five days straight.

Screw it, I thought. I'll try working for one more day, and then I'll plow right through the rain. I don't care if it's uncomfortable. I don't care if it's less safe. I don't care if my bike rusts a little more with every mile. Then I thought about fixing a flat in a downpour, and it gave me pause.


"Don't give up," said the woman behind the counter to me this morning as she kicked me out. Her name was Anne. "You've been coming every day! Be back tomorrow!"

I groaned and stretched as I put on my raincoat, a gift from Bridget back in Worcester. "I don't know..."

Anne looked at me sternly. "I know. You be here, young man!"

I checked my E-mail on my phone. I swear, spammers never tire of trolling craigslist. I wondered how I should have written the post so that normal people would have checked it out. I headed for the door.

"Young man!"

I turned around.

"You promise me you'll be here tomorrow."

"Will you have something for me?"

Anne smiled. "I can't promise you that. But you be here."

I had to smile. "All right. If I'm still in Utica, I'll be here."

"Oh, you're not from here?"

And here we went again.


Krista mentioned taking me out to dinner tonight. This was almost as powerful a factor as the rain in discouraging me from leaving. The rain is supposed to taper off over the next few days, terminating completely on Tuesday. So I'm thinking of leaving on Sunday, when it's just showers instead of sustained rain.

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