The lunch truck, aka “the roach coach” pulls up around 11 every weekday morning. The diabetic old man that drives the thing, honks its horn – which sounds like that Mexican cartoon character, “Speedy Gonzales” – to let us know he’s arrived. Everyone comes out from their cubicles and offices and rushes down the fire exit stairwell. They stay orderly but there is no mistaking the very serious intention here. The entire company pours out into the parking lot and swarms the truck.
The truck itself is a relic with its reflective sheet-metal body, shitty cellophane-clad egg salad sandwiches and weird built-it compartments full of ice with off-brand sodas and juices all thrown in together willy-nilly. You have to dig around with your forearm up to the elbow in ice just to find a normal can of Coca-cola. The old dude’s obese wife pulls out her stool, sits atop it with her coin change machine and oversees the distribution of old breakfast sandwiches that look like they’ve been sat upon and disposable plastic bowls filled with mushy American chop suey. Yech.
My friends and I use the truck’s arrival to sneak off behind the building and smoke. I buy some rind-dings and a Coke (nothing homemade) and stash the food for later. Then I walk off alone and as discreetly as possible to meet my friends behind the dumpster. We head into the vacant lot between our office building and the housing complex next door and smoke our low quality pot. Dave has already rolled a joint in the bathroom beforehand so we’re ready to go. It’s a nice way to break up the morning.
It’s pretty much an open secret as to what we are doing, even among our supervisors, most of whom have joined us for a session at one time or another. We do our best to keep up appearances, though. Our bosses are, at most like 10 years older than us. Andy and I have just graduated high school and Dave is a year behind us. They (the supervisors) are just out of college and are settling for a shit job supervising a call center instead of being a rock-star or whatever it is they’d prefer to be doing. Seems like just about everyone in Boston wants to be a rock-star. We just need to give our bosses the option of plausible deniability for their bosses. Stay discreet and nobody seems to mind the pot smoking. Also, it’s easier to do our jobs when you are stoned.
Working the phones doesn’t seem like a shit job to me. Sitting around and smoking pot all day while we make phone calls is pretty much ideal, really. We make like $10 bucks and hour too, which isn’t anything to complain about. It beats scooping ice cream, which is what I was doing at my last job. I got fired for taking ice cream home, which is bullshit. What’s the sense in working at an ice cream store if you can’t bring a little bit home with you? Before that I was working at my father’s camera store. He had to fire me when his people caught me stealing cash from the register. He had to make an example out of me. Fuck him.
At the call center there’s nothing to steal, which is fine because I’m not really a thief. Well I am, but it’s not really my thing. It’s not what really does it for me. You know? I like getting fucked up. So it’s not much of a sacrifice to get paid to chat on the phone and get stoned all day. It’s way better than retail. You don’t even have to work that hard on the phones, or maybe I’m just a natural as I don’t seem to have much trouble getting people to talk about their shit, which as it happens is mostly about computers. Sometimes it’s political stuff too, like which candidate people plan on voting for or if people are going to approve this or that local ballot initiative. I can easily keep up with the number of surveys the company expects us to complete. No problem at all.
I make it a point not to do too much better than everyone else. I don’t want to make anyone look bad or let the bosses know that I’m too good at this shit. If I did that they’d just expect more from me. So I’m careful not to overshoot the mark. Andy and David also have an easier time than some of the other older people doing the phone surveys. Maybe it’s because we talk good and don’t have Boston accents like some of the others. Not so much the college students but some of the older folks from the neighborhood who are more “townie.” You know, white Irish working class with the Boston accent, folks from Brighton or Jamaica Plain.
Sometimes I’ll just space out and pretend to be making phone calls or just call a number where I know no one will be picking up the phone. I’ll sit there and listen to it ring until I can’t take it anymore. Sometimes I just draw. Lately I’ve been playing a game with Andy where we make up crossword puzzles for one another. We exclusively use fucked up words, like “buboes” or “mewling.” Just stupid obscure stuff that no one in the world but us would be able to figure out. You know swears and shit, little catch phrases that we’ve picked up from TV or movies that we say back and forth at one another. That kind of thing.
There is this one supervisor of ours, his name is Mike Sullivan and he’s about as Boston as they come. He’s a pasty Irish motherfucker. His brown hair looks like a barber put a mixing bowl on top of his head and cut around it. Then he put a bunch of hair gel in it and feathers it. His hair looks like it belongs on a 12 year old who is getting his class pictures taken in 1983. Because he’s from the working class suburb of Quincy, Mike’s got the accent big time. He wears a pinstriped work shirt with corduroys or Levis and beat to shit, low-top white Reebok tennis sneakers. All of which is to say he’s pretty unremarkable around here. He’s kind of dumpy too, maybe 30 or 40 pounds overweight. He’s like 23 or 24 or something, which seems ancient to me but he’s still really just one of us. He likes to get stoned and he drinks a shit ton of beer, which is kind of par for the course, I guess. He’s got that evil, really negative Massachusetts sense of humor where he’s always putting everyone down, calling people “homos” or “weirdos” but you can tell it’s just trash talking. He doesn’t really hate you. In fact he probably likes you and it’s kind of his fucked up way of letting you know it.
We hang out with Mike after work because he’ll set everyone up with booze. He’s also got a good coke connection, which he unfortunately won’t share with me. It’s really much better stuff than what I can normally get on my own. High school students tend to get crappy coke in my experience. So we’ll get a bunch of blow and hang at his place. That’s despite the fact that he lives with his Mom. Mike lives in a separate part of the house from her, but still gets to mooch cable from her so it’s kind of the best of both worlds. Sometimes we’ll get a pile and go out skating or out to a show. Usually we just end up sitting around his living room doing coke though. If you stop to think about it, which I try not to do, it’s kind of depressing for a 24 year old dude to be sitting around watching “Goodfellas” and stupid music videos and snorting a bunch of coke with some teenagers who don’t even really like you that much. Especially in your Mom’s house. I’m not gonna be like that when I’m 24, that’s for fuck’s sake sure.
One rainy Monday in October we get to work and find out Sullivan has been canned. He came into work on the previous Friday drunk and made a scene, yelled at one of the ladies on the phones when she didn’t deserve it. They sent him home and the HR lady called him over the weekend and told him not to bother coming in on Monday. I had the day off but I would have loved to see him make a scene like that. Damn. It didn’t sound like such a big deal to me, but apparently it’s not the first time this has happened. Seems weird because Sullivan is generally a pretty together dude. It’s a drag because Mike was one of the good guys. He wouldn’t give you any hassle if you made your quota and wouldn’t complain about you taking too many cigarette breaks. Sure he was kind of an asshole too, but if you didn’t take him too seriously, he was ok.
The weed breaks are cool and all, but as the year drags on I realize that this call center shit isn’t going to really cut it long term. Andy leaves the company to move to Chicago and David and I are the only 2 consistent weed smokers left. It eventually occurs to me that I better get my act together and finish my college applications. My Mom is sick of having me around the house and I’ve kind of had it with Boston anyway. Fuck sports and all the fucking sports meatheads around here. I’ve had the same girlfriend for like a year and a half and I’m thinking I should explore my options a little bit. I end up applying to 5 schools all together with either Emerson College or Umass Amherst as my safety schools. I eventually get accepted at all 5 and decide to go to NYU.
August rolls around and I’m just about to give my notice so I can get my shit together before moving down to New York for school. Our supervisor John comes into the break room where Dave and I are smoking cigarettes and tells us that Mike Sullivan hung himself. The dude was dead. I’m shocked. Mike just wasn’t the kind of dude who would do something like that. I mean he was just a straight-ahead, hard partying, good dude. Suicide is for introspective people, people that don’t have a future. Massachusetts was fucking made for people like Mike. He could have owned this town. He seemed so fucking together! What a major drag.
It occurs to me as I walk the streets of Boston that August, thinking I’ve got the rest of my life ahead of me, excited about what is to come, that maybe Mike wasn’t so blind to what a depressing scene blowing lines with a bunch of high school kids at his Mom’s house was. Maybe he was way more in tune than I had ever given him credit for. Still he should have pulled his shit together and not hung himself. Fucking idiot.