You know how you keep a bunch of crap that you don’t need and will never, ever use again?
When we left our rent house on Via Zurita in 2011 in order to super downsize so that we could afford the stupid college tuition that went along with the fancy brand of university that had been so perfectly marketed to us, I took everything that hadn’t been touched in the last six months and tossed it onto a pile in the garage. The heap became Mt. Junk and included everything we owned that met the above criterion, including $15k worth of camera bodies and immaculate Nikon lenses. The 1-800-Got-Junk folks hauled it off in a dump truck and it was the best $150 I’ve ever spent.
I have never missed any of that stuff and it was the first major step I took in my life to become free of possessions. Possessions are weight and you carry them wherever you go. Every time I see someone working in the yard, or rather paying to have someone else work in their yard, and every time I see someone in a ridiculously nice car, wearing ridiculously nice clothes, building a ridiculously nice house, plunging into the throes of a ridiculously expensive vacation, or coming out of TJ Maxx with a cart piled higher and more whomperjawed than the Tower of Pisa, I pity them. Each one of those things mires them in place, mentally and physically, whether they know it or not.
From the date of that first Great Purge, every few months I have made the rounds in my continually smaller and more sparsely appointed apartments, tossing or donating almost everything that fails the six month touch test.
Stuff is poison, and the more of it you have, the more you poison your life. No exceptions, sad to say.
Of course some things survived the Great Wanky Purge of 2011, and one of them was a slim folder that contained vital records. They were the lone exception to the Six Month Rule. Even though you haven’t used your birth certificate or passport in the last six months, you’re gonna for sure need them again.
However, I do regularly perform a search-and-destroy on my one small filing cabinet. It’s amazing how paper, when left alone, will fornicate and give birth to more paperwork inside a filing cabinet. The other day as I was purging old bank records, I came across a brittle yellow half-page of legal paper.
It was a handwritten list of previous employment. At first I didn’t recognize it, rather cryptic thing that it was, and then when I deciphered the scribble, I couldn’t remember why I had kept it or why it had survived so many purges. After a bit of brow furrowing, I recalled why. It was part of my application when I took the professional responsibility test for the Texas Bar Exam in 1992, when I had to submit all employment from the previous ten years.
The first thing I noted as I went over it was how short each of my jobs was, but how keenly I remembered each of them.
Central Delivery Service: This was the hotshot delivery service managed by mom’s husband. The secretary’s name was Alma. I organized files and drove my car over the curb one morning, tearing off the oil pan and creating Lake Oilspill in the parking lot, much to the amusement of everyone except me.
H.E.B. Stores: Grocery sacker my freshman year of college. It was the first job I ever had whose primary purpose was allowing me to save up for a better bicycle. It wasn’t the last.
Capitol Oyster Bar: This was at the corner of 15th and Lavaca, around the corner from the Texas Chili Parlor, and I worked as an oyster shucker. Hired by my bike racing pal Kevin Callaway the Good, it was the first job at which I ever excelled. I could shuck a dozen oysters a minute, which is pretty fucking fast, especially when you have to do it for hours at a time. I worked behind the bar and became friends with Old Joe Ford, the career dishwasher who would empty the bus tubs and drink all the booze that the patrons had left in their glasses. He taught me how to eat ribs. One night we were at the Iron Works and he saw my ribs with a bunch of meat left on them. “Boy,” he said, “your momma never taught you how to eat a rib? Shit.” Then he taught me how. I owe you, Joe.
Texas French Bread: Best job ever. Started at 4:00 AM, over at noon, all you can eat fresh bread, pastries, sandwiches, coffee, and fresh-squeezed juice. Plenty of time after work to train. I met Kim and Martha at TFB. Martha and I drove across the U.S. in my pickup, and when I was laid to rest at Keystone Ski Resort, where I washed dishes at the Brasserie, I hopped on my bike one day and made the 120-mile ride to Aspen (you have to get over Leadville Pass, and then at the end of the ride, up Independence Pass, ouch) where I visited Kim, who was staying there for the summer to play in a symphony.
Keystone Ski Resort: Ate mushrooms.
Utsunomiya American Club: My first job in Japan, where I met my wife on the first day of class as an English teacher. My boss was George Haynes along with a lady, Miss Ishikawa, who everyone called “Chief” because she was very tall and imposing. One day I went for a bike ride and got lost and ran into some personal difficulties, and Miss Ishikawa had to come pick me up. 100 miles away.
Kanda Gaigo Gakuin: After the Great Personal Difficulties and Long Drive Matter, my employment at Utsunomiya American Club ended rather abruptly and I got a job in Tokyo at the prestigious Kanda Gaigo Gakuin. My boss was a dude whose name I don’t recall, a large, jovial fellow who went to the train station one day to buy tickets for a trip to Nara Prefecture. In Japanese, he had learned that if you want to be respectful you add “O” to the noun, but he learned it wrong because you don’t ever do it with place names. So instead of saying “Nara kudasai,” at the counter he said “Onara kudasai,” which means “I’d like a fart, please.”
Chili’s: Back in Austin for law school, my buddy Kevin Callaway the Good hired me as a line cook at Chili’s on the corner of Burnet and Research. I wasn’t a very grill chef, but when one of the cooks, a third-string linebacker for the UT football team, started giving me shit, I remarked that he was an unathletic blob compared to the lowliest bike racer. He actually had a bike that he commuted to school on, and he challenged me to a race. I gladly accepted the challenge. He showed up in sweatpants and a Longhorn t-shirt (tough guys ain’t scared of the cold) and I took him on a 35-mile jaunt on a breezy February day in a light freezing drizzle. He kept asking “When are we gonna race?” until, about an hour in, soaked to the fucking skin, hypothermic, and barely able to sit upright, I told him “Now,” and rode off, leaving him lost and potentially dead. I went to work the next day, and the whole kitchen staff wanted to know how badly Sully had kicked my ass on the bike ride. When Sully showed up he looked a tad on the sickly side and didn’t say anything. When they asked me, I didn’t either. Sully may have been dogmeat on a bike but one of his fists was the size of my head.
Japan SLS: After finishing my stint in Germany I got an internship at the Tokyo branch of a German law firm, Japan SLS. My boss was Reinhard Neumann. The secretary was Miss Sasaki. The dude next door was Wieland Wagner, who ran the Vereinigte Wirtschaftdienst news service.
Texas Civil Rights Project: Back in Austin and law school, I got a part time job with the Texas Civil Rights Project. Jim Harrington had just split off from the ACLU. The offices were in a rundown upstairs space on the corner of Fourth and Congress. “Don’t ever go into law,” Jim once told me. “Be a union organizer.” Of course I rode there. Downhill all the way to work, uphill all the way back home. Which is, come to think of it, the way it’s been ever since.
And the odd jobs just kept coming. This one, for example. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!