Category Archives: Memory Lane

I’m Cooking Wabbits

I need some advice.

I’ve never had rabbit. I’ve always wanted to try rabbit. So imagine my surprise when browsing through the meat department of Market Basket, I saw rabbit. Skinned and clean, of course, wrapped in cellophane, but a whole rabbit.

Later, I would post on Facebook whether or not anyone knew how to cook rabbit. They can be cooked liked chicken, someone replied. That’s fine, because I’ve cooked plenty of chickens. I was less interested in the tips on how to prepare the rabbit––seasoning and such––because I only wanted to know how cooked the rabbit must be before it’s safe to consume. I like to know what the animal tastes like free of herbs and condiments.

John informed me that I would be eating the rabbit alone. That’s fine, because there would be more for me and Dicky. (Oh, can dogs eat rabbit? That’s something else I need to know)

My dilemma is this.

April, 2012, I was living in Danvers. On Easter Sunday, I went for a walk to the Liberty Tree Mall. I like going to places where I know no one will be. And owing to Massachusetts Blue Laws, there’s no place more desolate and silent than the shopping mall. (Yes reader, the mall was closed. No reader, this is not a confession I am writing from the interrogation room of a police department, so you can be confident in knowing that I wasn’t walking in the mall)

Along the road that runs behind the mall, connecting Walnut Street to Endicott, I found a dead rabbit. Immediately, almost involuntarily, my hand went into my pocket to retrieve the camera that I bought myself on my last birthday. Immediately, almost involuntarily, the joke was clear in my mind (What’s that reader? You don’t know what the joke is? You don’t understand what’s funny about this? Let me spell it out for you. Dead Rabbit + Easter Sunday. Go on, I’ll wait.) I wanted to take a picture of this rabbit, who had been struck down sometime on or before Easter, and post it online. Maybe make a cleverly worded meme and see if I could achieve my fifteen…th of a second’s fame through Facebook or Twitter. But I hesitated.

I hate Easter.

It’s nothing from my childhood. My memories of Easter were always pleasant. Okay, there was one particular Easter that wasn’t so nice, but it wasn’t enough to color my feelings about the entire holiday(there were actually two). The day it happened was the day before Easter, when I was working the cash register at K-mart. What was in the carts, the amounts they totaled.

K-mart sold eggs and Easter candy, but these weren’t Easter sales. Video games, movies, Transformers toys and dolls. This was… Christmas shopping. I remembered Lewis Black’s famous joke about Christmas being Thanksgiving Part One and thinking, “Oh Crap. Easter is Christmas Part Three.”

And that’s why I hate Easter. Because as a child, Easter was a day to color eggs and then go looking for them and then to start devouring them along with the chocolate bunnies and other assorted sweets.

Oh and to religious people who are going to try to respond with shame, over how I could hate a holiday that marks the resurrection of Christ, I reply, “You or wrong, Sir or Ma’am!” Easter is named for the goddess of spring. A pagan goddess. If you were truly devoted as your brain tells you you are, you would refer to the day in question as Resurrection Day. But if you insist on celebrating “Easter” then I remain steadfast in my hatred of this day and the failure of humanity that prompted my feelings.

Moving on.

I could not take the picture. It wasn’t that I was worried about the backlash from the media or from the knee-jerk reactionists that inhabited Twitter, Facebook, and Buzzfeed. It wasn’t that I was afraid of destroying the innocence of children the world over (although I know and am related by blood and marriage to a number of kids who would have found it hilarious). I couldn’t take the picture, because I felt it would be disrespectful to the rabbit.

Yes, I did not want to show disrespect to an animal that that the world collectively describes as something that destroys gardens and reproduces. I didn’t kill the rabbit, but it didn’t die for my amusement, or for the continued amusement of the Internet.

Fast forward to 2016.

I saw the rabbits in their nice packaging, with the label that told me they came from a farm in Iowa. The clerk told me they carried this often, so there was no rush to buy it now.

Later, I will buy one. I will cook it to perfection, trying my hardest not to ruin it. And I will serve it on a plate, with some eggs. Maybe they’ll be scrambled, maybe they’ll be boiled. And some greens. A nice green salad. For full effect, I may also place an appropriately decorated Easter basket on the table beside the plate with the rabbit and the eggs and the salad.

I know, faithful reader, that you see where I’m going with this. To I take a picture of this? Will it make me a hypocrite, to feel so horrible for doing this to roadkill, but not to the one I am about to eat (The rabbit I bought from the store, not the roadkill, please keep up)?

What do you think? Please tell me soon.

 

Sincerely,

Nathanielle Sean Crawford

Author of the blogs Confessions of a Cart Jockey

  The Salem Author From Bennington

And the e-books: Survive by the Sword

The Sweetest Death

 

Reader’s Reply:

Try roasting it with some sage.

Sometimes You Have to Put All Your Eggs in The Basket

When I look back at certain events in my life, I can accept the fact that there were things I could have done differently. There is nothing wrong with owning your decisions, whatever the outcome, but that doesn’t get everyone else off the hook. There will always be times in your life when you need to rely on someone and if they don’t come through, then you only have three choices:

Permanently remove them from your life, forgive them and move on, or keep them in your life but never trust them again. Doesn’t seem like a lot of variety in those choices does there?

The year is 2000-2001, my senior year of high school. By this time I had been in Upward Bound for almost three years, which is where I learned about the Summer Youth Employment Program. It was through SYEP that I got my very first job as a teacher’s assistant for a daycare, although officially it was SYEP signing the paychecks and the daycare considered me more of a volunteer than an employee.

The actual year of SYEP was during the summer between my sophomore and junior years, but the very next summer I could not participate in SYEP because they had changed their demographic to focus only on the 14-16 age range. But that didn’t bother me so much because at the time, I knew in my heart that I wanted to work with children, preferably in a daycare setting. (Incidentally, Early Childhood Education was the original reason I had tried to apply for Salem State University)

During my senior year, I filled out many applications for daycare related positions. At this time, the daycare I had worked for in the summer was bought by the hospital and their requirements were stricter. Even volunteers had to be in college and working towards some kind of education related degree, but there were still plenty of options in Bennington. After much pounding of pavement, the daycare for the Bennington Health and Rehab responded to my application and called me in for an interview.

Aside from the standard question and answer part of the interview, I was obviously introduced to a lot of the children, who were primarily between the ages of one and 4. One such boy, who was about two, was afraid of men. I had such visions of working here and with time and patience, slowly earning the trust of this boy and having a positive influence on him.

The interview went well. I only needed three references and the director of the daycare, a woman whose own son was also among the children I interacted with, made it clear to me that she had to follow up and speak with each reference I put down.

Anyone looking for a job knows the basic rules of references. They should not be people who are related to you or people who are close friends. Generally they need to be people who can attest to your work history and reliability, among other things. But at that time I only had two solid work related references and one of them was the Bennington Potters, which had just undergone a massive management change. At this time, I only had the contact information of three people who would be appropriate as references for any job, but more specifically, any job in a daycare setting. Among them was a teacher from Upward Bound, who was also the mother of my best friend at the time.

Why was she different? Because obviously she’s not my best friend, but my best friend’s mother. As a teacher of a handful of students in Upward Bound, she was more qualified to speak on my behalf to a potential employer. She also knew of my job at the daycare, which I worked at during my second year of Upward Bound and she also had knowledge of my volunteer work (also done through Upward Bound) with a school aged group at a local housing project in Bennington.

Like my other two references, I asked her several times if she would be willing to give me a reference. I asked her many times because I was serious about getting this job. The best thing she could have done for me then, if there was even the slightest chance that she would not get in touch with the director, was to say no. At that point, I would have tried a scatter bomb approach, calling teachers who knew me well, any one that could give me a reference. But because she told me had no problem giving me a reference, I was counting on her and the two other people I put down on the application.

When the director called me to tell me that one of my references did not call her back, you can probably guess who failed to come through for me.

Even then, I knew I should have been looking for backup references, just in case one of my first choices didn’t follow through. The trouble is that since the job was for a daycare, there really weren’t too many people I could count on.

It’s true that you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket. But that only applies when you have a significant amount of eggs, or a significant amount of time. Sometimes all you have is three eggs and if you only put two of them in the basket, you’re left with one rotting egg and you wouldn’t have been any better than if you had just thrown it in with the other two.

In this case I had three eggs. One of them definitely turned out to be rotten and because it had nothing to do with my friendship with her son, I didn’t break things off with him until much, much later. But even when I applied to The Bennington School after turning 21, I didn’t ask her for a job related reference ever again.

Give Me My Name! (4)

At the time this story takes place I was living in Danvers, Massachusetts and I was still using my Vermont State ID. It hadn’t yet expired and Ocean State Job Lot wasn’t paying quite enough to be able to afford a MASS ID and pay the rent for my room/roommate’s drug habit.

I don’t know how it works in every other library in the world, but in the North of Boston Library exchange, if you misplace your card, you can still borrow materials as long as you use the identification you used to apply for the card in the first place. I had used my Vermont ID and since the Salem Public Library is in the same network as the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, I was continuing to borrow items without an issue… until one uppity librarian at the latter library freaked out over two letters.

If you’ve followed the other entries of the same title, or if you’re observant enough to have read my full name, you know that I have an unusual spelling. It’s not something you would really expect to cause so many problems and in reality, it shouldn’t, but that doesn’t stop people from choosing to make things more complicated.

I brought a DVD to the counter. Keep in mind that again, this is the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers and not the library of the same name in Peabody. Do your own research to find out why this is the case, but just keep this fact in mind so that there is no confusion over which library is catching the brunt of my wrath in this entry.

The librarian, a vacuous woman of questionable octogenarianism, took one look at my ID and then looked at the name on the screen of her computer.

“Um, this name isn’t the same as what I have here.”

I was confused.

“It’s Nathanielle Crawford.”

“But on the ID it’s spelled (she proceeds to spell my first name, but leaves out the “L” and “E”)”.

I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes. Actually, no, I didn’t resist the urge, because it was a ridiculous technicality. I couldn’t tell if she was being deliberately obtuse or if this was her mindset by default, but I calmly explained to her that I have no power over how the employees at the DMV choose to write my name. I spell it the same way every time, but they feel the need to knock a letter off for whatever reason. (A big shout-out to the employees of the RMV in Massachusetts, who did not feel the need to make my life as difficult when I finally got my Mass ID. Thank you.)

The librarian suffered a BSOD as I asked her why there was a problem now when I had been using that ID to check out materials since I started using the Danvers Library. Then she asked the stupidest question I have ever been asked by any employee working within the NOBLE system.

“Do you still live in Vermont?”

At that point I just gave up. What precisely did she think was so special about the Peabody Institute Library that I would make that commute? Of course the Hindsight Detectives may swoop in and defend her, projecting their own assumptions into her mind, but trust me when I say that there was no thought process whatsoever in her reasoning.

The real kicker was that she put a “red flag” on my account so that I couldn’t borrow books from anywhere within the network until I proved my residential status. Never mind that I had proven it sufficiently for the people of Salem and that my ID had been the same one I used for six months.

All over two letters.

Well, Peabody Institute Library, I hope it was worth the hassle, but just keep in mind that it wasn’t the only problem I had with you over the years and that I have a whole bag of bad karma to spray the Internet with the next time I have a remotely inconvenient encounter with one of your employees.

The Beech House

Changing names to protect the innocent is a concept that was introduced way back in the Dragnet days, when stories were based on genuine police cases and detective shows were a lot more interesting because they didn’t have to have a murder every single effing episode to keep their audiences.

It’s a courtesy, when you’re writing about real events and real people, to change names. My first brush with this was in the sixth grade, when I wrote a story that included some characters that very coincidentally had the same names as a few of my classmates. Never mind that I had known people in other schools and that some of those characters were named after people I knew elsewhere, those classmates found out about it and took umbrage. So I had to change the names out of courtesy to them.

In the workplace I would change as many names as possible, so that if those people came across my blog they wouldn’t complain about me to the HR, or the store manager, or the corporate brass. With friends that I’m on good terms with but not explicitly intimate, I change names to keep the whack jobs from possibly harassing them. I mean if a blog troll is going to make disparaging comments in my blog, there’s no telling what they might do if their parents ever tell them to leave the house for a couple of hours while their basement apartment gets fog bombed.

So where is the gray line in all of this? When is it okay to use someone’s name in a blog post, or newspaper article, or any media that others may read and come to a conclusion about?

If the person is a criminal who has already been mentioned in the news, they’re fair game. They made their own bed and now they have to lie to it. If that person is the owner of a business, like maybe a boarding house or something in the service industry, then they are also fair game. Because if I send someone to that business to spend money, then it would equally fair to warn people of that person before they spend their hard earned dollars. I’d like to say that it’s nothing personal, but any word of mouth business is going to be driven entirely by personal experience, so lets not beat around the bush.

Arlene was my first land lady. Although I paid Aunt Cat Lady a hundred dollars a month to live in her disease ridden cat shelter, she doesn’t really count. Arlene was the first person I met who rented to me because I had a steady source of income.

There is a bit of history here. My mother babysat Arlene’s son, Howie. Not in 2003, because that would be weird. No, when my mother was in her teens and Howie was just a boy, she was his baby-sitter and this is one of those times when I like to tell people that I don’t believe in coincidences. To round out the theory that destiny guided my path here, my stepfather once rented an apartment in the house next door to us. But if you think familiarity with my family is enough to get me a room in Arlene Manor, think again.

Arlene still owned the house she once lived in on Beech Street. I don’t know where she lived at the time, but it must have been less of a hassle to own the house and rent out the rooms than to flat out sell the place. Unfortunately, as my mother once said, Arlene is the kind of person who will “Step over a dime to save a nickle”.

She would rent out to anyone just to get the cash flowing. And as a point of interest, the only reason a room opened up for me was because the guy who lived there before me was taken out of the house in handcuffs the week before she put the ad in the paper. If I weren’t so desperate to get out of my aunt’s trailer, and my only source of income wasn’t the dredges of Price Chopper, I might have taken that as a sign of things to come and held out for something better.

Let me start off with some of the good things about the house and this particular part of Bennington.

There was a genuine kitchen and a stove. Since spaghetti and ramen made up the bulk of my diet for most of ’03 and ’04, having a fairly spacious kitchen and a stove is a luxury to a guy that can’t afford his own place. Also, there were times when a ‘treat’ for me was a Mama Celeste pizza from Stewart’s, which was just around the corner. So again, the stove was like a gift from Prometheus.

There was also a nice front porch with a decent overhang. I have not yet found a place to live that has a porch quite like this. The reason I loved it so much was because it gave a great view of the road during a downpour.

Beech Street itself is a mostly rural road that eventually leads up into the mountains. In short walking distance from the house, there is a baseball field that stretches out to the woods. Cross the little stream and there is a nice path through those woods that gives you a breathtaking view of an untouched swamp area. If you’re a wildlife nut like me, you may even see a garden snake in this little patch of forest. Also, at certain times of day, you very well may see wild deer in the baseball field, which are a staple of Vermont.

The closer you get to Main Street, the more drama you will come across. It’s not exactly what Steve Hofstetter would refer to as a “ca-click” neighborhood, but there are some interesting elements there. But that’s okay, because if you keep going, there’s a nice walking route that goes across the river and eventually leads you to School Street, which is where the Mount Anthony Union High School running track is located. If you can get past the trauma of having been a student there, or having just moved to Bennington, if you can get past the fact that the majority of the morons you will meet in this town were educated at this establishment, the race track is actually a decent place to stretch your legs.

This concludes the positive aspects of living at Beech Street.

Now let’s talk about Doug.

When I came around to look at the place, Arlene was just eager to get a body into the empty room that the jailbird had once occupied. And being that I was just eager to get out of Aunt Cat Lady’s place, I already had the money order in hand for the first week’s rent and the security deposit.

A bunch of people will be reading this with their Hindsight Glasses on, so let me clear something up. I was twenty years-old at the time and had never gone through the process of renting a place before. So it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was not the normal process for renting any place, much less a room in someone’s house. Unless you were physically present at the time, keep your comments to yourself about what I should and should not have done over a fucking decade ago.

I gave Arlene the money, but the room was not yet available because they were still going through the process of getting rid of the other guy’s things. So even though I had the key to the place, I couldn’t move in yet. But I went around with a couple of family friends to bring some of my stuff in so that I wouldn’t have to go through a big exhaustive moving day.

Doug was sitting there, in the living room. Like the Jailbird, Doug’s time at Arlene’s house was running short, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way his ass was practically glued to the chair. The only other person in the house at the time was a guy I had once met on the bus, who was a good friend then and I hope considers me a friend now, enough so that I will refer to him as Drizzt, for reasons that will be made clear in my Mother’s Day Post.

It was the presence of Drizzt that probably kept things from being too awkward. Having someone already living there who knew me from a previous encounter, made Doug more comfortable with meeting a complete stranger. While bringing some of my totes into the living room for eventual transport up the stairs to my room, it was my pseudo-cousin Steve (I have more Steve’s in my life than a Minecraft Server Admin) who made the most accurate assessment of Doug from the start, “That guy is a fucking goofball”.

An example of Goofball Fuckery came when I had been living in the house for about a week. It was late one night and Drizzt and his girlfriend Hart were there. By this time, I had become somewhat known in the house for buying the Lunchable snack packs, because they were dirt cheap at Price Chopper.

Doug, a recovering drug addict who was not recovering so much from alcoholism, was so wasted that I could have earned this post a cleverness credit by changing his name to Drugged or Drunk, but I didn’t think of it until now. I’m not sure what set him off that night, but it could have been the fact that I finally managed to pry the remote out of his emaciated hands long enough so that I could watch The Golden Girls. Drizzt’s girlfriend was enjoying the episode too and maybe Doug was feeling a bit indignant at having his place in the pecking order so effortlessly usurped.

He staggered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.

“Hey, did you see what Nate buys for snack?” He pulled out one of my lunchables. “Look at this. A grown man is eating lunchables.”

He proceeded to laugh like a moron for twenty solid minutes while the rest of us sat there in uncomfortable silence. I’ve never in my life been at the point where I could get vicious with someone that I was living with, so I didn’t put him in his place for messing with my stuff. But needless to say, he put a real miasma over the other occupants of the house.

Russel, who also rented a room and incidentally worked at Price Chopper for a short amount of time, wouldn’t even spend a minute in the living room. For a while, I followed Russel’s lead, going right up to my room as soon as I got home. Doug ran his mouth again.

“Oh there he goes, hiding in his room like Russel.”

Understand that Doug had not paid the rent in a while. But he tried earning his keep my cleaning the kitchen up and making nice with Drizzt. And for the record, I think Drizzt just did his best to tolerate the guy as much as humanly possible. Drizzt would later confide in me that he suffered from OCD among other things and that living in a house with an ex-con (Jailbird) and a drug addict only exacerbated a lot of his symptoms.

Doug would fall asleep in the living room but he would leave the inside door of the kitchen open and lock the screen door, presumably to let some air into the house, or to possibly tempt a dangerous drifter, I couldn’t tell you. The kitchen door was the only way to enter the house, because for some reason none of our keys would unlock the front door. We could open the front door from the inside, but if the screen door was locked, we could be stuck out there all night until someone woke up to let us in. Russel had this problem once or twice and there is nothing like being awakened in the middle of the night by someone who is just trying to get into his own home and has to resort to shouting.

Finally, Arlene sent her son in to kick Doug out. I wasn’t there at the time, but I imagine a baseball bat was involved, only because I had my own reasons for wanting physical harm to befall Doug. But I returned home after a hard day at work and I was looking forward to seeing my mom, who had been living in Alabama at the time and was preparing to return to Vermont. So Doug’s leaving the house would definitely qualify as being in the win column at that point.

Unfortunately, Arlene’s good judgment of character would make an even bigger splash on our lives later that year.

According to Russel NSFW

Russel was fired from Price Chopper. According to one of the grocery clerks, Russel failed to disclose a felony on his application. This was not an official statement and none of the management would have been in a position to say anything. In retrospect I knew of at least one front end supervisor I could have asked but it didn’t occur to me until much later.

No one knew for certain what the conviction was. But we all had theories and some of us politely kept them to ourselves. Russel was well known to certain members of my family and a few friends I had managed to make and they had their own stories.

I have nothing against religion or anyone who is devoutly religious. Believe it or not, when I call someone a religious whack job or a Bible Thumper, this is not an attack on the denomination itself. Christans, Jews, Wiccans and Vulcan-Pastafarians can all be religious whack jobs or thumpers.

Religious Whack Jobs are people who are barely above the level of mental functioning required to be considered harmless. While still scary, religion gives them a focal point. Something to mutter to themselves on the bus, something to yell at strangers or write on their cardboard signs, or a frame of delivery for begging for change.

Whereas Bible Thumpers are people who very loudly proclaim their religious viewpoints. They smile brightly, wear the designated outfit, and make sure everyone they come into contact with knows that they are Christians, Catholics, Baptists, Wiccans, or Scientologists. But all of that pushing and all of that wild gesticulation that they call prayer, all of the recitations and the declarations are all to cover up the fact that they are hiding something. They get your attention and keep it focused on High so that you never think to look Low.

Russel was most definitely a Bible Thumper.

We were watching Gattaca, my favorite movie. Drizzt and I bonded over a shared interest in film and the creative aspects of writing and performance and we often watched films and discussed them at great length afterwards.

Russel came in to the living room during the opening scene of the movie, where Jerome Morrow is giving a blood sample to punch in at Gattaca.

“Bar codes are a sign of the Beast,” Russel said, by way of casual conversation.

This became a running joke between Drizzt and I. A few times, however, I made Drizzt uncomfortable when I baited and teased Russel. Mostly it was because that was what Doug use to do all the time and in Drizzt’s mind, I was going beyond simply teasing and moving into the realm of bullying and this was before either of us knew what Russel had actually done. One of example of this was pretty blatant.

Russel was talking about how he felt that people who are mentally challenged should have their tubes tied. This is also a guy who has a very “scientific” viewpoint on how someone can become gay. Now he professed a very eugenic viewpoint on people with disabilities. I very subtly commented about how I wish people who committed felonies would receive harsher punishments. “Like people who fail to disclose on their applications.”

Drizzt became noticeably uncomfortable and I made it a point to stop throwing stones in that particular glass house, if for no other reason than to not drive Drizzt away as a friend and a possible future business contact.

Another point of interest to make is that Howie, Arlene’s son, moved back into the house. He was paying sixteen hundred a month for an apartment he barely lived in and this was his childhood home, so I guess he made some deal with his mother. Russel had a problem with it, feeling like he was being “placed” there to watch us. I can’t imagine why it would have even concerned him since he was renting a room from the guy’s mother.

During this time, I had all of my Fridays off at Price Chopper. The reason was, I had started helping out at my middle school’s chess club sometime in early 2003. I was somewhat of a permanent fixture there and even few of the parents knew who I was and what I was doing there.

Also, there was a kid at Price Chopper who was sixteen. He was still in middle school because of a little incident that landed him in juvenile hall for a year, but he was working now and putting all of that behind him. His stepmother was a front end supervisor and his biological mother lived on one of the side streets off of Beech.

His biological knew my mother. Pretty much anyone who knew my mother had the best opinion of me, because they knew that she was not afraid to smack me if I stepped out of line. When she found out that I was keeping an eye out for her son at work, she openly encouraged him to spend more time with me. And whenever he had a beef at work, or school was giving him a hard time, I told him he could swing by my place just to shoot the breeze.

This was still just a little while before the average sixth grader with his own allowance could afford a cellphone. So it is a time in my life when a cellphone would have vastly improved situations, especially when the kid, whom I will call Edmund, (After the character in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) actually did come to my house.

Russel would often strut about the place in only his boxers. It was his house too and though it made the rest of us slightly uncomfortable, we didn’t say anything. My problem with it came when Edmund showed up and I wasn’t there. Russel had come to the door as described and saw no problem with inviting a kid that he knew to be sixteen years old into the house.

If you’re beginning to formulate a theory as to what Russel’s conviction might have been, I warn you now, the ending will not be pretty. Turn back if you’re easily shocked, or if the subject matter makes you uncomfortable, because I won’t be pulling punches. Like the title says: Not Safe For Work.

Often times, I would encounter the kids from the middle school out and about in public. As I said, some of the parents knew who I was. Most of the teachers knew me from when I was a student and appreciated the idea of a former student taking an active role as a volunteer. One kid’s parents, started telling stories that they made up in their heads. He would relay these theories to me and in their hate-filled version of events, I was just a creepy twenty year-old hanging out with seventh and eighth graders.

Understand that there was an ad campaign around this time encouraging adults to “keep a kid off drugs” by having positive interactions with them. These parents would have preferred it if I started passing around a crack pipe.

One day, there was an article in the paper. Russel had been working at the Dunkin Donuts where the old Wendy’s use to be. The article was strangely focused on Russel and how he was such a wonderful customer service associate, who knew everyone’s drinks and was an all around great guy. I should have known that something was up when I saw his name in the paper. The Banner had never shown such a keen interest in a random employee at an equally arbitrary chain store.

I came home from work sometime later. Drizzt’s girlfriend was leaving the house and she told me, “A sheriff came by the house looking for Russel.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he didn’t say why. But he did say to watch him around kids.”

Only two more puzzle pieces to go, kids. I freaked out and caught the bus to Manchester. Yes, that Manchester. I got stuck there because I didn’t know the bus schedule at the time, which caused quite a stir among the family members as I used the phone at the Manchester Price Chopper to call everyone I knew to see if I could get a ride back home. Drizzt’s girlfriend was the one who wound up saving the day and on the way back to Bennington, we all had a wonderful discussion about Russel.

Drizzt’s boss strongly encouraged him to move out of there. Apparently she even asked him what he knew about me and, this is coming from Drizzt, “Nathanielle’s been honest with me from the start. We talk all the time and he’s the only one there that I can trust.” That gave me a lot of warm fuzzies. And it made me even angrier with Russel when Drizzt finally found a place and moved out. But the final straw that made Drizzt leaving all the more painful was when he left a note saying that I had first dibs on the food in his cupboard.

Oh, the dick moves were right back on at that point.

Someone called looking for Russel. A woman. Russel had, at one point, asked me not to tell him if this particular woman had called. I was too polite at the time to tell him, “I’m not your fucking answering service”. But this time, I just happened to be eating something.

I pick up the phone. It’s that woman. I put the phone down and resume eating. Then I pick it up and say, “No, I’m sorry, he’s not here.” Was he there, or was he not? I don’t know and I cared not.

Russel was there for probably another month. Then, out of the blue, his brother came by to help him move stuff out of his room. Then, he left the house. And the very next day, there was much bigger article in the Bennington Banner and this time it was front page news.

Russel was a convicted sex offender. He was on parole, but and to quote him they, “weren’t giving me enough time to do what I have to do.” The story was that he offered a 14 year-old boy a Nintendo 64 in exchange for sex. A neighbor caught them in the middle of it. Funny how he had plenty of time to do what he “had” to do then.

The worst part is, the Banner exercised it’s usual care and discretion by telling readers exactly where he had lived before turning himself in to Bennington’s finest. They practically put a map with an “X” on the spot. If any of those kids’ parents from the middle school had read that, you know it’s only matter of time before one of them found out that I also lived there and declared Death By Association. As far as I know, that never happened, but I had to stop going to the middle school for a while out of sheer fear that someone would find it and jump to the wrong conclusions.

I quickly found Edmund and told him not to come to the house. Then he told me about the incident with Russel in the boxers and I was sick to my stomach that I had invited this kid into my house, with a known sexual predator.

There was no word at all from Arlene or Howie about Russel. I thought about posting the Banner article on the refrigerator door, but thought against it. Russel was gone and there was no point in shoving it in anyone’s face.

To this day, I don’t know if Arlene still owns the house, or if she still rents out rooms. I hope if she comes across this, she understands that I bare no ill will towards her, or Howie, who was in his own way as good a friend as Drizzt. He was even the one who gave me a ride to the hospital the day my sister was born. It was also Arlene who gave me a reference when I applied for a job at the Bennington School. So, it isn’t my intention to slander them or paint them in a negative light.

Hopefully by now, if they are still renting rooms out, they have become a bit more discerning.

Coyote Ugly 2: The Dishwasher’s Destiny

About the middle of May of 2005, Job Corps regurgitated me onto the world with five hundred of my twelve hundred dollar stipend and no applicable job training. Since I was in the Loring Job Corps center at the time, which was in Northern Maine, the plane ticket was for Burlington, Vermont since that is the city I had left from when I transferred to Loring from Northlands in Vergennes.

The remaining seven hundred dollars would not come to me until I had either found a job, or some arbitrary length of time had gone by. And a bed wouldn’t open up at the COTS shelter for another week. (By the way, sometime in the not too distant future, I am going to expound on my respective experiences in both the COTS and Lifebridge so that Lifebridge will maybe learn how a shelter actually operates when it wants to help end homelessness.)

I spent my first week back in Vermont, staying in the crappiest motel in the world. I spent that week pounding pavement and there was a lot of pavement to pound, especially since the Motel California was all the way out on the border of South Burlington and Shelburne, and the magical chariot company of Chittenden County didn’t have a bus running on Sunday.

During that time, there was just one prospect at the SingleMop Superstore across the highway from Price Chopper. Actually, in fairness, this store was loads cleaner than the Salem location, so I imagine they had at least two mops. The corporate interview seemed to be going well, but I was relying on my minimal experience as a dairy clerk at Price Chopper to land the job and unfortunately I didn’t impress the grocery manager on the second interview.

Finally, I got a bed at the COTS night shelter. And with absolutely no help at all from the Job Corps Counselor who was supposed to help me, or the social worker assigned to my case at COTS, I finally found a job as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant called Coyote’s. The funny thing is that it was practically right next door to the night shelter, and I practically tripped and fell on the help wanted sign.

Of all the bosses I have ever had, Jim was probably the one guy in my life that I would classify as a total saint. Because I started off very slowly. Dish washing in any restaurant is a stressful prospect and I was the only official dishwasher on staff four five days out of the week. (Monday and Tuesday became my weekend) There would be nights when I would fall so far behind that Jim or one of the other managers would come in to help me catch up.

I guess my main problem at the time was that I was so meticulous with each dish. The cooks were no help at all. But Jim, ever patient Jim, simply said, “I’m the boss here and you’re doing fine. Don’t listen to them if they’re being jerks to you.”

There was Jim and maybe three other employees I could ever totally count on for their support. Unfortunately for Jim, the majority of employees were not as respectful towards him as I was. The first big hint that my coworkers were not as dedicated to their jobs as they let on was the fact that they were getting high right in the kitchen.

I was still living in the shelter at this time. So, imagine the anxiety I felt when I look up from my sinks and my dishes and I see the head cook doing his best impression of Cheech Marin along with the other two cooks and one of the waitresses. They had improvised a bong out of a plastic container that I assume was used to store food.

I bolted right from the kitchen and complained to one of the other owners, who was not Jim. No, they pulled stunts like this when Jim wasn’t around. But I told the owner, “Look, I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble. But I can’t be here if they’re going to do that back there. What if I go back to the shelter and I have that smell on my clothes?”

The head cook did apologize to me, saying that it was wrong for them to do that in front of me. To date, I don’t recall any other employee of any store ever apologizing to me, so score another point for Coyote’s.

Eventually, I found a place to live that was reasonable for the Burlington area. The universe was really pushing my limits this time, because that place was all the way out on the border of Colchester. One day I will go into great detail about that particular place when I do my Roommates from Hell series. Again, Jim proved his sainthood one night when he offered me money to take a cab home. The walk wasn’t as big of a deal in those days, but obviously when it rained, I appreciated the gesture. However, it didn’t seem like such a kind gesture at first.

I was still falling behind with the dishes. It was raining out and I was stressed because it was another high volume day. I do believe Senator Bernie Sanders was eating there that evening, as he often did.

Ellie, not an owner, but a manager, came into the kitchen and told me that if I picked up the pace, she would give me some money to take a cab home. Well, I took umbrage with this, because the way she presented this offer was as if to say that she had no problem making me walk clear across creation in the rain if I didn’t meet up to her standards. I was doing the best I could, but somehow she believed that if she stuck a carrot on a stick that it would somehow spur me to magically move faster. I had dealt with this particular brand of arrogance many times before and many times since.

Well, I definitely caught up with the dishes, but it was only because business slowed down finally. Because my fangs weren’t as sharp back then I very politely told Ellie she could keep the money. That’s when she told me that Jim wanted me to have the money so I wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. He had asked her to pass that along to me before he left for the day.

Then I found out the next day, from Jim, that there was no special deal attached to the money. He genuinely did not want me to walk home in the rain. Ellie just twisted his words around to light a fire under my ass and Jim probably thought I was throwing the money back in his face when she told him I refused.

It was a long process. Getting shouted at by the cooks when the dishes, pots and pans fell behind was as common as whatever I could expect to hear on the radio that day. But finally, something clicked. I finally figured out the secret. Then it was like lightening.

I lightheartedly titled the post after Coyote Ugly. But do you remember that scene when Jersey finally finds her place as the bar’s musical talent and the montage of her finally becoming a true coyote shows her getting better at working behind the bar as well as juggling her musical career. That was me. I found my stride and on the busiest nights, I was pounding out pan after pan of dishes as rapidly as I could breathe.

There were a couple of nights when I did my job so well that the only reason there were no dishes on the racks for the chefs and waiters to put the food on, was that all of the dishes were literally out on the floor. I actually got to snap back at the chef, “There no dishes to wash, so you’ll have to wait for someone to bring them back in!”

Of course there were nights when I went out there myself to clear tables, even though no one actually asked me to do so. But I only did this on the nights I didn’t get yelled at. Hmmm, not getting yelled at led to my being productive… how come more people don’t catch on to this simple equation?

Eventually, there was talk of Jim selling the restaurant. That talk soon turned to reality and the stress was right back on. I was paying six hundred dollars a month for the privilege of sleeping in the basement of a woman who definitely was not on the twelve step program. But if the job remained steady, I might have eventually found a better living situation. So what happened? I had earned my keep by becoming the best damned dish washer in Burlington, Vermont.

The problem was my coworkers.

As I said, Jim was a saint. But he wasn’t stupid. There were signs all over the kitchen imploring coworkers about the importance of not drinking the profits. Soda was fine; we could drink all the soda we wanted. But employees had to at least pay half price for alcoholic drinks.

I had a drink every now and again. With the staff at the end of a long day, we would have a shot of jaeger to celebrate. I even had my first tequila shot there. But these guys would really just booze it up whenever the urge struck them. There was one guy who actually got fired for drinking all the cooking sherry. You’d think that would be enough, except that the other cooks and waitresses once had a spirited game of beer pong going right in the kitchen. Yes, that same kitchen that those same cooks and waitresses got high in was apparently the best place to play beer pong. And I’m betting you they didn’t pay half price for those beers either.

I think if Jim thought he could hire anyone else, those people would have been gone long ago. But you kind of have this all or none policy in cases like this. Fire one guy and the others might shape up for a little while. It takes time and effort to hire and train the right people for the job and in a place like Burlington that’s known for really good restaurants, you can bet that the right people have already found jobs, or they’ve moved on to somewhere else. Or you fire one guy that’s really tight with the crew and the others might all threaten to leave and the ship will be stuck in the harbor still. I sometimes wonder if Jim wasn’t a victim of his own circumstances, being as generous as he was and placing his trust in the wrong people, only to have it cost him his business in the long run.

This could also be a classic example of why you can’t have friends in business.

Either way, Jim finally sold the place. It would be another month before the new owners officially took over, but in either case, my time was running out. I still had to do the best damn job I could for the busiest part of the week and try like hell to find something else.

An opportunity came to me. It was a job trying to get donations for an energy conservation group. In order to take the job, I had to be the jerk. I had to quit without giving notice and I will never forget the look on Jim’s face that day when I told him I would not be coming to work anymore. If he reads this, I hope he takes this as my sincere apology and I hope he knows I’m grateful to him. I hope he is equally grateful for the fact that unlike his other employees, I had the balls to tell him this to his face and not run around behind him abusing that same trust he placed in them.

For the record, that donations job didn’t work out because I couldn’t convince random strangers that six-thirty came after six o’clock, so what hope would I have of raising money for some energy group that none of them had ever heard of. I did find a better paying job as a dishwasher for the Ice House on the waterfront, but that is another story for another time.

The main thing about this trip down memory lane is that this is a clear case of when I really got screwed over by the actions of my coworkers. As a dishwasher, I really had to get my shit together. If I didn’t, the cooks couldn’t cook and the customers couldn’t eat. The equation was as simple as that and I busted my ass to go from the inexperienced and overly stressed newbie to the confident and competent lynch pin employee of the Coyote’s Cafe. My effort was courteous to the people who depended on the restaurant for their livelihood. But they clearly didn’t give enough of a shit about me to do their jobs well enough to keep the place afloat in the competitive industry.

Challenging Preconceived Ideas

The NorthShire Bookstore is located in the center of Manchester, Vermont. Even in early 2000’s, before they expanded to add the cafe, this was truly the heart and soul of Manchester. With the most impressive selection of books, movies, music and magazines, in the Bennington County area, it’s easy to see how this privately owned bookstore has lasted so long in a market with such notoriously low profit margins. Many well known authors have had book signings here, including Stephen King and Sue Grafton. And I wanted to work there.

In early 2003, I was still working at the Price Chopper in Bennington, where I held the position of, you guessed it, cart jockey. In spite of my repeated requests to be trained as a cashier, the management of Price Chopper did not see me as being capable of anything other than pushing a broom or changing the bags in the bottle machines.

Back then, the world hadn’t yet gotten around to beating the hope out of me, so when I saw the ad in the Banner looking for full and part time book sellers, I couldn’t get to the library fast enough. Once there, I went to the website and filled out the online application. It must have been impressive, because it wasn’t more than a week before I was called by the manager to schedule an interview.

The night before my interview, I was finishing a shift at The Chopper and had cut myself while changing one of the bottle machines. And for the rest of that evening, I begged the Fates not to make me sick, or to at least wait until after the interview. They must have taken pity on me, because I did not get sick and the cut did not become infected. But if you know how superstitious I am, you know that I considered this to be an omen, but not so much that I didn’t go to Manchester the very next day with hope and enthusiasm in my heart.

Bennington is not a major city like Burlington. It’s not a suburb like Salem is to Boston. In fact, it’s not inaccurate to refer to Bennington as I always have in polite company: A hub. It’s a place on the way to somewhere else. The majority of the economy passes through Main Street on someone’s way to North Adams, Hoosic Falls, or Rutland. The Green Mountain Trail bus is the only form of public transportation and it’s not as reliable as the CCTA in Northern Vermont, but it’s only slightly more frustrating than the T on a good day. The saving grace of the Green Mountain Bus is that at one point it was free and now it’s only 50 cents to ride, so the best you can hope for is a really mouthy driver and the worst you can hope for is a driver that wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.

I took the Green Mountain Trail bus to Manchester, arriving several hours before my interview. Taking the later bus to Manchester would have guaranteed my arrival long after the interview, so you can see the logic in the decision. Manchester is not the most stimulating town to wander around in and this was in the days before cheap Internet devices and public WiFi. But I made to the interview before the boredom claimed me.

The interview could not have gone better if the manager took me out to lunch afterwards. I had all the enthusiasm and I answered the questions expertly, impressing him with my bookish nature and I really felt like he wanted to give me this chance. But I couldn’t drive. And he knew about the unreliability of the Green Mountain Bus and he decided to go in the direction of someone who was not vehicularly challenged.

Whether or not I should have obtained, or still now should obtain, my driver’s license is irrelevant. Having one does not entitle me to a car. A shiny new car is not waiting at the DMV for recipients of their first driver’s license. And I sure as hell could not have afforded a car with the six dollars and thirty cents per hour that I was making at Price Chopper, even if I had followed the advice of Billy Joe Royal and saved every dime.

This post is perfect for today, the anniversary of my blog. You may think that all I do is complain and complain and expect the world to hand me a living on a silver platter. But the fact is that my entire life has been a study in trial and error. Trying for jobs I would love on my days off from the jobs that I hated. Taking classes to try and improve my skills and pool of knowledge. Even going so far as to move to a town where I didn’t know anyone, just for a fresh start.

I have always worked within my capabilities, stretching myself to the limit, trying for things that others would have dismissed as being out of their reach or not good enough. The only difference between Nathanielle now and Nathanielle then, is that reality has piled on and done it’s level best to crush the life out of me, so that know I consider it an achievement to be able to stick my head out of the shell.

I only wish people would take into account the thirty plus years of existence that I have experienced in this world, before they assume that all I needed all along was their condescending pat on the head to get me going.

Sometimes the gamble falls short and sometimes the gamble leaves me bankrupt financially and emotionally. Other times, as is the case with the Northshire Bookstore, I take the opportunity, but clearly there is always someone else who makes the final decision and I can’t convince someone that the sky is blue when they are so sure that it’s purple.