Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Fifty-nine

Posted by ilbebe on December 17, 2011

A few months into working the greatest job I’ve had so far at Smug’s Pizza in Old Town Eureka, I realized that for all the job’s virtues, I wasn’t really making enough money. King Cobra forties were holding steady at the same “sale” price of $1.49 that they’d been at for more than three years, but $1.49 being significantly more than free I decided it was time to take a second job. A few years earlier my friend Craig had taken a job delivering a local advertising paper and had quickly realized that no one seemed the wiser when he just tossed all of his route out at the local recycling center. It seemed like a good fit.

I scheduled an interview for an hour before I had to go into Smug’s one day and got ripping high before I left the apartment, figuring that would be a crucial safeguard against taking the job even remotely seriously from the get-go. My strategy proved wise. The interview was one of several I’ve been in where the manager basically described the job and then asked if I felt like I could handle it. With my eyes wide open, I said that indeed I felt that was up to the task of delivering the crucial message of the Weekly. My soon-to-be supervisor sat up a little straighter in his chair and remarked “You seem like a highly motivated individual.” In my mind, I thought “I’m so motivated! Why haven’t I gone to interviews stoned before?”

So I was given the job, and the opportunity to take on four different routes in three distinctly different parts of Arcata. I would begin the following week; on Tuesday, a bulk delivery driver would deliver approximately four-hundred papers to my apartment that I had to fold, bag, and then deliver. The wage differed route to route depending on the size of the route, i.e. how many addresses the route contained. Keep in mind this was an advertising rag that contained no editorial content that was delivered free and unsolicited to every house in the “metro” Humboldt Bay region. I was an independent contractor, so my earnings would not be taxed up front on my wages, and for my weekly efforts distributing this noble compendium of used car and yard sale listings, I would make around sixty dollars.

The bulk delivery arrived as scheduled Tuesday morning, and I set to work folding and bagging the papers in my living room while listening to a Cream album, Disraeli Gears, that I’d bought from the boyfriend of a Smug’s co-worker at their yard sale two weeks earlier. I figured it would take an hour, instead it took closer to three. I started delivering the papers around three and figured it would take an hour to deliver all the papers. It took four. I sighed, realizing this expenditure of my precious time, better spent getting high again and brainstorming other opportunities for grift, was a necessary sacrifice to scout out my routes. The following week’s delivery was accompanied by the desired results of my reconnaissance.

This was the “start/stop” list, which simply listed addresses which had taken the time to call the Weekly’s offices and request one of three things. The first, and most common, note was the stop order, which mean an address no longer wanted delivery. My supervisor, who I saw only one more time after being interviewed and hired, stressed that the most crucial requirement of my post was to obey stop orders. “These people take the time to call me and my staff, and say all kinds of nasty things to me about not wanting this garbage thrown on their driveway, and if it happens again, blah blah blah. They’re sad little pricks, so you just don’t want to deal with ‘em and I DO NOT like taking their calls. So read the list.” Clearly the business acumen that had propelled him to the lofty post of Assistant Delivery Coordinator had been honed at the school of Fuck A Squeaky Wheel.

The other orders were either special instructions for delivery, i.e. “Put it on the porch near the door”, or start orders, where an address hadn’t received the paper the week before and wanted one delivered. This often happened mainly because the Weekly’s crackerjack distribution management team was having a devil of a time keeping a consistent crew of drivers employed. Strange, I know, that a ridiculous minimum-wage job performing an act that a majority of county residents, if they could be bothered to form an opinion, saw as a malicious nuisance would have such high turnover, but these were the wild and wooly times of August 2004. Killboy Fuckbot, an eleven-piece musical collective that my friends had assembled, was on tour in Eastern Washington. Strange things were afoot.

In any case, I had two start orders, three special delivery instructions, and nineteen stop orders. Based on this data, I furthered my investigation, hoping to calculate the minimal amount of effort required to do the job, by delivering only the five papers that had been requested that week and taking the other 395 straight to the recycling center. This took forty minutes, which I took to represent a nearly 600 percent increase in my hourly wage. I was riding pretty high on the hog, and also on marijuana.

The following week the list contained the same two start orders, the same three delivery instructions, and two new start orders. This seemed to confirm that market conditions for the Weekly had gone unchanged in the year and a half since my friend had done the job, which is to say that fully 99 percent of the county was fundamentally indifferent as to whether they received the paper or not. I requested two more routes, raising my weekly pay to about eighty-five dollars.

The scheme proceeded flawlessly for about three months, and could probably have gone on for many more months, if not years, but unfortunately I lost my mind and my job at Smug’s after a disastrous break-up and subsequent trip to Las Vegas. I returned from Vegas completely unhinged by the events of the prior three weeks to find a message on my answering machine from a woman who worked at the Weekly who I had never heard of or met. Apparently she was my supervisor’s superior, and her careful vernacular and tendency to make questions out of statements evidenced an advanced education.

“Hi, I’m calling for Landon Phillips, this is so-and-so with the Weekly, who you deliver for? I’m calling because the Arcata city council will be holding a meeting next week to discuss banning delivery of the Weekly, which would affect your job, and we would like you to go to the meeting and say that like, you like your job at the Weekly, and you do a good job, and you follow all the stop orders, and like, the City Council shouldn’t ban the Weekly. The meeting is next Monday at 7 PM at the Council Chambers, which are at City Hall, and if you have any questions…” and so on and so forth. The message was more than a minute long, and I had to listen to it three times before it started making sense.

The owner/editor-in-chief of the legitimate town newspaper, the Mouth, had been mounting a campaign for nearly two years trying to find a way to ban home delivery of the Weekly, not out of competitive spite, but because he saw the uncollected papers that routinely piled up in the city’s sidewalks and gutters as an eyesore and a nuisance that was costing the city money for waste removal and storm drain maintenance. Popular opinion was relatively indifferent to the issue, but I felt he had the facts on his side. Through his journalistic efforts, he had gotten the City Council to place a discussion item on the agenda considering adoption of an ordinance that would ban distribution of “nuisance publications”, which he sought to define as unsolicited advertising materials. Windshield fliers for a local cash advance business were mentioned in an editorial that ran the week after the meeting, but it was pretty transparent that it was the Weekly that he had in his crosshairs.

I received a follow-up call from the same functionally anonymous Weekly supervisor the day before the meeting, the first Sunday of November.

“Hi, this is so-and-so, from the Weekly? Who you work for? You still work for us, right?”

“Um, yes, I delivered my route last week and was planning on doing it this week as well…”

I hadn’t delivered my route that past week. Before returning to Arcata from Las Vegas, a cancelled flight had triggered a series of life-changing decisions that had seen me shirking the obligation I had made to staff a polling place in Arcata on election day, November 2. Instead I had started the day with a Peach MD 20/20 while en route to Riverside, CA with three friends I was in a band with to meet another friend attending the University of California there who had lined up some gratis studio time for us to record. The evening saw the five of us continuing southward to Tijuana and my attempting suicide with booze and cold capsules. The next morning we woke up and were told that Bush had been re-elected following some uncertainty with the results from Ohio. I couldn’t believe the US had re-elected a killer. I didn’t give much consideration in the days that followed to my small peanuts job delivering a garbage rag.

“Oh, well, that’s good to hear. Did you get a call from someone here about the City Council meeting?”(Yes, from you, in fact. You left a message. You don’t remember, huh? Perhaps that’s because I have no idea who you are and I doubt you have any idea who I am either. It is very odd to get a call from a complete stranger telling you to do something. It seems an ill-considered and desperate act, and sort of makes me wonder if I should do it.) “Yes, I was planning on going.”

It was no problem convincing my friend T to go with me to the Council meeting. “You mean the guy from the Mouth got the City Council to consider banning the Weekly? And the Weekly called you to ask you to speak on their behalf? Don’t you just take the papers to the recycling center?”

“Yeah”

“Meet me at my place at six, we’ll have a couple of beers and walk down there together. I’ve always wanted to go to a Council meeting. This is going to be great.”

The call to order proceeded on time, and the two agenda items ahead of the discussion item were past minutes adoption and a simple proclamation reading, which was all said and done with in less than ten minutes. The meeting had begun, and the battle was on. After reading the agenda item and making it very clear that this item was not a proposed ordinance, but simply a discussion item to consider whether an ordinance should be proposed, the floor was opened up for public input.

The first speaker was the president of the Weekly, who emphasized his Rotary membership and pleaded with the City Council to keep the Freedom of Speech in mind when considering putting him out of business. Groans went up from the audience, but the Assistant Delivery Coordinator, who was sitting in front of me but had not recognized me (since he had met me only once, three months earlier) leaned towards his confederate sitting next to him and muttered “First amendment, motherfucker.”

The next speaker was a local kook who spoke at every council meeting at incomprehensible length about the need for protection against some cosmic threat posed by the Man only tangentially related to the actual idea that was ostensibly the topic of the public input. That guy was nuts. I wondered what grocery stores cashiers thought of him, if they knew his theories or if he was able to keep his gargantuan intellect in check long enough to buy corn flakes without incident.

After five more speakers, it was eight o’clock and a brief recess was called. T and I went outside to make some last-minute adjustments to the statement I was going to make. Then I went back inside, stood in line for another twenty minutes while three more people each spoke past the five-minute time limit, and then the floor was mine.

“Hello, I’m Landon Phillips, I’ve been a resident of Arcata for five years now, and I just wanted to say that it has been a pleasure and a privilege to come to this meeting and see firsthand how the people of this town waste your time talking about extraordinarily trivial matters. I’m moving away soon because of this sort of nonsense, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to come up here and speak pointlessly to you and to my fellow citizens. Thank you for your time.”

As I retook my seat, the Assistant Delivery Coordinator muttered to his confederate “Who the fuck is that guy?”

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One Response to “Fifty-nine”

  1. Justin said

    Hey, glad to see you got the the Americaphiles up and running again! Entertaining as always!

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