Carl Yastrzemski, 1978October 29, 2007
(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1977)
A couple years after the dud peyote in Truckee I moved in with my brother, who was living in a tiny railroad apartment on 2nd Avenue and 9th Street in Manhattan. I’d just finished my aimless post-college trip around Europe and I needed money. I got a job as a UPS driver’s helper for the holidays, then when the holidays ended I switched to loading trucks at the UPS warehouse on 10th Avenue and 42nd Street. My shift started in the middle of the night, but for some reason instead of taking the 3rd Avenue bus uptown from 9th Street and then transferring to the crosstown 42nd Street bus I walked the whole way. I set out at around 2 in the morning. Nothing ever happened to me on all but one of the nights, even though for most of the way I walked out of earshot and sight of any witnesses. But one night I got hit by a car. The driver had been blazing up 3rd avenue and made a left-hand turn onto the west-bound street I was crossing. He hit the brakes, but I still got scooped up onto the hood and then tossed back down onto the street. The guy got out, his eyes wide. I struggled quickly to my feet. The two of us stood there, staring at each other.
“I’m OK,” I said. I said it a few times, trying to convince the both of us. “I’m OK. I’m OK.”
I banged up my knee pretty bad and ripped my jeans and the elbow of my shirt, but nothing was broken. I walked the rest of the way to work and punched in and worked my shift, my knee hurting more and more as the shift went on.
My job was to grab packages coming down a long groaning conveyer belt and sort them into one of four trucks parked behind me. Four other guys also worked the conveyer belt, each with four trucks to load. Five guys facing us worked a second conveyer belt. A cheap boombox played Everybody Dance Now over and over. The guy to my right shadow-boxed during the occasional lulls in packages coming down the line. The guy to my left had an African name and made an anti-Israel comment one night. I was the only white loader, but the supervisor was a harried white guy with a receding hairline and a mustache. He wore a tie and white short-sleeve button-down shirt and was always in a rush.
It was tiring, monotonous work. The boxes turned my hands black and all my clothes gray. During the daily 10-minute break, I sat in one of my trucks and read Dante, hell then purgatory then paradise as the months went by. At quitting time I walked home down the west side and cut across 29th Street past towering early morning prostitutes, spent condoms strewn all over the sidewalk like kelp left behind by the receding tide. Near home I yanked a newspaper out of the trash and read it back at the apartment while eating generic three-for-a-dollar mac and cheese and drinking cans of beer, the blinds shut against the morning light.
One day near the end of my walk home from that job I stopped at a light and looked across 3rd Avenue and saw my brother standing there, staring back at me. He was on his way to work. He had a heavy duffel bag weighing him down. I had my newspaper from the garbage. We both started laughing. Why not? One minute you’re a kid and the next you’re chained all night long to a conveyor belt. And your brother, your hero, is lugging a duffel bag full of undone work to an office job where his biggest thrill in many months has been finding and correcting a misspelling of the proper noun Yastrzemski.
(to be continued)