Friday, February 25, 2005

Written While on the Job, Ha Ha Ha

Feeling uninspired this morning. Nothing to say. Oh well, I think I’ll steal a great idea from my brother ( and relay some work stories. Here goes:

My first job was at PPS Presort Service, located in Bridgeview, Illinois in a warehouse area just off Harlem Ave. A stone’s throw from the garage/place of employment was Simbad’s Castle-the sketchy arcade wherein stoners and would-be pool sharks meet to pretend they were bad asses. Many a game of 9-ball was played and many an 8-ball sold. I am sure the place is still populated with mullet wearing cocks and jocks, paint huffers and adolescents freshly discovering the joys of deviant behavior. On the other side of my gig was a prarie of broken cars and trailer homes. Driving to work was always an exploration of a white trash suburban wasteland.

The job was simple-gratingly so. We sorted mail, all day, every day until the very last piece was in a slot and packed up tight to be taken to the post office. The post office didn’t want to pay its government employees fat wages to perform such menial duties, so they outsourced to us. The company was the brainchild of a guy named Leo, a narcotics officer who supplemented his income with the business and, I can only assume, a lot of kickbacks. Leo was an intimidating guy. Tall, broad shoulders, cop eyes and menacing grin. He wasn’t around much, mostly he just showed up in time to open the doors and let us high school kids into the garage full of mail boards and electric scales. Around 4:30, the first of the delivery trucks arrived. Usually the last would show around 6 or 6:30 and by then we would have a pretty good idea what kind of night it was going to be. Work was done when the mail was fully sorted, broken down and then delivered. Some nights we stayed until 7, some nights a lot later. One never knew until mid-way through the shift. It made it rather difficult to maintain a social life, thus we mostly hung out with each other.

And why not? There was (at first) plenty to drink at the job. And we were permitted to smoke and take breaks whenever we liked. One girl (this is before my time, but I heard the legend) used to take men into the bathroom and service them orally for the low price of 3 dollars. She just liked to make spare money for the candy machine. Yes, it was that kind of place.

The nights were often long, or maybe they just seemed that way. Sorting mail by zip code is the very definition of tedium, and we did what we could to make the clock move faster. Betting was popular. One night this kid killed a fly, turned to his partner at the 600-601 board and said, “I’ll give you all the money in my pocket if you eat this thing.” The other young simpleton agreed, swallowing the fly with a gulp of Pepsi. Of course, he should have seen the contents of his co-worker’s pockets first, because his action only yielded him one dollar.

The biggest money making nights were Tuesdays. The local rock station, WLUP, always played two songs by one artist back-to-back. “Two for Tuesday”, they called it. So when a Beatles song came on, everyone threw their money into a hat and placed their bet, making predictions about the following ditty.

“Magical Mystery Tour,” said Chuck.

“No way,” I said. “A Day in the Life.”

“What’s that?”

“I read the news today, oh boy…”

“Oh, I hate that song.”

“That’s what it’s going to be.”

“I got a fiver that say no.”

And everyone else jumped in. By the time John Lennon sang about the lucky man who made the grade, I was slightly richer.

The betting escalated to ridiculous proportions. One evening, our manager, Bennet, was discussing how he saw some grubby looking man at the grocery store buying dog food. “I’ll bet that was his dinner,” he said. Somehow that conversation led to Bennet betting the entire staff that he could eat an entire can of King Cuts dog food. The money started to pour in. Everyone wanted to see Bennet wolf down processed animal by-products. The rules were simple. One full can of King Cuts chicken and liver flavored dog food, fifteen minutes to devour its contents (including the horrid gravy at the bottom) and only a Dixie cup of water to drink. Bill made it 3/4 the way through the can before vomiting.

One week later, Aileen, a rather large and mad punk girl, succeeded in doing what Bennet couldn’t. She ate a can in eleven minutes, drank the gravy and slammed the sip of water. And she waited until everyone was gone to vomit. I was her manager in this endeavor, engineering the entire thing, using Bennet’s failure as means of generating larger bets.

“Come on, guys, you made out well last week. Throw in some real money if you think she can’t do it. Bet at least a ten.”

Aileen made a sizable chuck that night, even after I took my cut.

And the sex. Oh lord, the sex. Sadly, I never got in on any of it, but many did. Scott, the former manager, used to take breaks in Leo’s office, which was connected to the bathroom. His girlfriend would go to the bathroom from the outside door and sneak into the office to meet her man for a quick romp during business hours. During their trysts, when the phone would ring, we would answer, “PPS Sex Sort.” Ah, good times.

Scott wasn’t the only one. Sometimes Leo would show up with a very questionable woman and have a private meeting in his office. The ongoing theory was that these were streetwalkers who owed Leo a favor. They certainly looked like streetwalkers.

And the violence. There was the usual amount of push-n-shove bullshit- pretty much daily- but occasionally a real fight would break out. Those were exciting times, like being a Roman watching lions devour Christians. Good times, unless, of course, the fight involved you personally. The one person on this Earth I despised with blinding venom was named Bill. We hated each other in high school and that hatred carried over into PPS. In total, I had to be in his vile presence for 8 years of my life. I am a changed man as a result.

The sight of him, his voice, the idiotic manner in which he dressed, the ridiculously asinine things he said, it all mixed into a stew of bile that sickened me. I hated this person with everything in me. I hated him the way Elizabeth loved Robert Browning. How do I hate thee, let me count the ways. Fuck, I can’t count that high. No seasoned CPA could calculate such a figure.

So I was standing at my board, feverishly trying to get the last of the mail sorted so I could get the hell out of there. Bill was standing behind me, chatting up the girl to my left. He, like many, had a crush on the little thing. I couldn’t see him, but his voice. Every word out of his mouth made me see red. I can’t even remember what he was saying, much the way I cannot remember throwing a punch in his direction. But apparently I did. Seriously, I have no memory of doing so, but everyone swears I swung at him, missed, turned around and began working again. All I knew was that I was sorting my mail when suddenly he put me in a headlock. I jabbed my elbow in his gut a few times until he let go. He flew back and knocked over a tray of mail, which had to be resorted.

“What the fuck is your problem!” I shouted.

“You tried to hit me!”

“I did not, you fucking pussy.”

“Um, Vince… yes you did,” said one of my friends.

Chuck confirmed it and I had to believe them. I was so furious I didn’t recall trying to hit him. It was pure, animalistic instinct.

We came to blows once, after work, after dropping off the mail. It involved a long day of trading insults and my spitting in his face. Those were dark days.

This went on for four years. I sorted the mail, weighed packages and eventually turned twenty-one and was old enough to drive the van to the post office. That was a big day. And I gambled and smoked and weathered the occasional brush with violence. Somehow I got comfortable and as I watched people come and go, I realized that it could easily become my life. The business was growing and money was pouring in, even if the employees weren’t seeing it. I was taking day classes in junior college, but I missed a few semesters, took off school entirely and got a second job as a bar coder (more on that in the future), and never really took anything seriously-especially school. This changed when I got accepted to DePaul University.

I only applied because my girlfriend was on my case to do so. She was planning on going and wouldn’t it be fun to go to school together? So I applied, thinking they would never accept me. My grades varied and my attendance was spotty. But in the cold black and white of transcripts, all that mattered was that I had earned enough credits to transfer in as a junior. Well, sophomore actually. I should have been a junior but DePaul, being a private school, did not accept all my classes. No matter. It was my ticket out of the suburbs, out of the southwest side and out of PPS.

I had a second job that summer, working as a driver for an oil company. It was glorious. I had no other responsibilities but delivering company mail to the various offices around the southwest side of Chicago. I got to drive the company car and, if I was caught up, do a lot of slacking. I did this from 1:00 PM until 5 and made it to PPS by 5:15. I t was a hustle, but I made it work.

By this time, Leo had taken on a partner to run the day-to-day operations. His name was Paul. What a prick. Fat, pear shaped, thick glasses and bad comb over waiting to happen on his dull pate. Fucking waste of life. I despised him. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, he should have been a blowjob.

His biggest offense, in my eyes, was being a pig toward every woman who worked under him (and he would have loved to have them really working under him). He flirted with all of them the best he knew how. Mostly it consisted of giving them better treatment and buying them Snickers from the candy machine.

“Here you go, baby,” he’d say, slipping them some candy. Fucking scumbag.

I was willing to ignore the guy and just do my damn work, but he started writing me up for coming in late. I explained to him that I had worked it out with Leo, who still owned 51% of the business, that I would come in at 5:15 instead of 5:00 because of my day gig and that I would stay late to drive the mail in every night. This took more than fifteen minutes, so in essence I was putting in more time than anyone else. This mattered not to Paul. Of course it wouldn’t; why would I expect a micro-manager to understand logic? To make matters worse, two of the girls were consistently late (always by 20 minutes or more) and neither of them ever got in trouble. No, they got Milky Way bars and innuendos.

We had a talk. It was my request and when Paul agreed, we had it out. It started calmly enough. I voiced my complaint, mentioned that the way he ran the place was less than fair and that I was not happy.

“I don’t really care if you or anyone here is happy. Just come in on time and do your job.”

“You don’t care?”

“No, I don’t.”

What a guy. What a prick.

We went back and forth like this and I asked him why some people (the ones with breasts) could clock in whenever they liked and others (me) had to adhere to the strict 5 o’clock rule. He avoided the question the first time and when I asked it again he flew out of his chair and into a rage.


Calmly I rose from my chair, stood in front of his fat face and looked him in the eyes as I said, “Not anymore.”

I was putting my coat on as he said, calmer now, “I’m glad you’re leaving. I don’t want anyone here who doesn’t want to be here.”

“Bullshit,” I said. “You just said you didn’t care if we were happy.”

“Get the fuck out of my office!”

And so ended my tenure at PPS Presort Service. I exited, walking past the dumpsters, oilcans and other trash that surrounded the rear parking lot. I lit a smoke and watched my now former co-workers running around the space, sorting mail and collecting packages. From an outside vantage point, they looked like machine parts-each of them a cog in the great clockwork mechanism. Their movements were almost hypnotic.

I started the engine and drove the hell out of there.

I still dream of zip codes.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Have No Thoughts But of the Teeth

I work for lawyers. This alone feels like an admission of guilt—something akin to, “I am an alcoholic.” The difference is I get paid for my sins. I also get health insurance, which is nice since I go to the doctor at least once a year. Sadly, I do not get dental coverage in this package. This truly sucks as my teeth have long been in a state of disrepair and I do indeed visit the man with the drill and hook on a regular basis.

Last month I lost a crown. I know not where the thing went, but when I woke up it was gone. I must have swallowed the fucker in my sleep. Perfect. There went six hundred dollars worth of dental work. Of course, that amount reflects the going rate of many years ago. The new bill I just got slapped with is a tad higher. Okay, I’ll be crass; the exact amount I owe my dentist is over a grand. This is what it costs to have a fake tooth made and cemented into the mouth. Wonderful.

It’s not the money I have to pay, it’s the reason I have to pay it. My boss, I have heard, is the son-in-law of a dentist, thus his dental work, and the work for his family, is free. Why then should he have to pay for a dental plan? Ugh. Then again, I do get paid more than I should, which is supposed to cover the cost of private dental coverage. This works on paper but in the harsh reality of life in the big city, my checks do not stretch that far. I suppose it could were I to sacrifice other needs and desires, but I maintain that those nights at the bar are not frivolous, they are necessary. One has to keep the ennui at bay somehow.

To make matters worse, we have switched from United Health Care to Blue Cross/Blue Shield. UHC was a fine carrier and covered me (minus a low co-pay) during my hospital visits, infrequent though they were. BC/BS, on the other hand, is no longer accepted at my hospital. Once upon a time they were a top health insurance company but those days have passed. I suspect the lawyers-that-be are looking to save some dough again by switching to them. Ugh again. Well, I can still remain a patient at my hospital if I elect to go from an HMO to a PPO, which I am doing much to my chagrin. I suppose it was inevitable. Everything changes. Still, electing the PPO plan makes me feel as though I have taken another awkward step into adulthood. Next thing you know I’ll be driving an SUV.

Not pressing issues here, folks, just thought I’d vent. Thank you for your time.

Biting the hand that feeds me,

Monday, February 21, 2005

Going, Gonzo, Gone.

Wow. I never thought Hunter Thompson would have anything in common with Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Update on the Last Post

Melt-Banana is also coming back to Chicago. All I need is for Tom Waits to breeze through town and my musical world will be complete.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Boredoms Return

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you my taste in music is odd. I do not wear this as a badge of pride because in my mind I have very good, refined tastes. The rest of the world is screwed up, not me. It’s not my fault people don’t understand the Dadaist vision of Japanese noise artists. Among the many underground bands both domestic and foreign, The Boredoms have long stood out as the best thing to ever come out of Japan, right up there with sushi, Haruki Murakami and Yojimbo. Make no mistake about it: The Boredoms are not a noise act. Merzbow, Masonna, those are noise acts. The Boredoms, like Melt-Banana, may dabble in pure, delicious feedback and walls of chaos, but that hardly puts them in the same category as Merzbow.


I got a wish granted in 1999. I saw The Boredoms play a late night show at the Metro, supporting the Super Æ record. It was a fantastic concert featuring Eye jumping around like the newly reborn sun worshipper he has become, Yamamoto and Hira anchoring the sound with their unassuming stage presence and the triple assault of drummers, most notably the lovely Yoshimi, now famous with indie kids as the screaming girl on that goddamn Flaming Lips record. My real wish would have been to go back a few years and catch them when Yoshikawa and God Mama were still in the band. Anyone with a time machine should contact me. I’ll pay.

Xtop and Tony came with and while Tony’s first reaction was disappointment, Xtop could hardly keep himself from moving to the bulldozer percussion. I was simply blissed out to see what was at that time my favorite band playing before my eyes. Concerts can be like that sometimes.

The sound has changed since the early days. Soul Discharge and Pop Tatari still hold up as enjoyable pieces of fast and frenzied chaos, and Chocolate Synthesizer remains the pinnacle of the early Boredoms freak-outs. Sounding like cartoon music and fuzz-punk slop, that record is pretty hard to top. It’s no wonder the Boredoms moved on to different things. Hard as they might try, they could never reproduce the oddities “Shock City” or “Mama Brain”. A lot of old fans have turned their backs on The Boredoms for no longer bringing the alleged noise. They are none too fond of the trance rock/jungle trip sound of Vision Creation Newsun. The Boredoms have gone from being snotty punks to Kraut Rock-esque experimenters to perhaps the most positive, upbeat and even spiritual band working anywhere. Vision Creation Newsun packs more sincere joy and celebration than anything the fucking Polyphonic Spree could ever produce. I’ll gladly join the Boredoms cult.

So they are coming back to Chicago, even though Eye once commented that he didn’t want to play a show in a country that was at war. I’ll have to catch this show. It’s at the Empty Bottle, which is a dive bar with good music. I’ll be able to stalk the members and perhaps get Yoshimi’s autograph. I’m excited. This may be the last time they come to my city, so I really have no choice. I have no clue if it is the real Boredoms or the now truncated version once called Voordoms (basically, the band minus guitar and bass). Either way, I’m there.

Also, Fantomas is coming yet again. This will be my 3rd time seeing them. They are playing with Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant at the Metro and it ought to be a damn good time. I caught Fantomas last year with Melt-Banana on Easter Sunday, which seemed the perfect day for such a show. Oh, and DÄLEK is coming this month as well. Spring will bring good shows and a smile to my face. Something needs to.