A million strange strangers

Salt Lake was a weird fucking town. I’ve seen stranger, but this had a certain flavor of off. Everyone seemed more or less aimless, glassy eyed, and utterly bored. Granted, this was only within one square mile of the bus station, but it was an interesting thing to view either way. Apparently it is quite the hub of rail hopping and transient kids, crashing in run down apartments or warehouses til some other seasonal job calls to them from far away.

It all started with one little group of self-professed punks…

Pretty sure they "borrowed" over a pack of smokes from me.

Pretty sure they “borrowed” over a pack of smokes from me.

… and ended with the strangest walk to a gas station I’d ever taken (and I’ve taken many.)

The boys above painted rocks with anarchy symbols, cats and a few random squiggles. They bummed smokes, kicked each other in the balls and sold what appeared to be stolen cell phones to a kid we’ll call James.

James was the quieter one of the group, and apparently newer to them all. He was no stranger to life on the rails. I had been speaking with them for a while when James came back from a short walk, coffee and snacks in tow. Having been stuck in this god awful station for 7 hours now without food or the sight of my best friend caffeine, I flat out begged him to show me the gas station.

Note: When you’re doing shit like this, you put far more trust into strangers than you normally would. Asking a nice homeless man to take you through back alleys for a donut shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.

Regardless, I asked, because fuck it. Social conventions suck. Off we go, wandering along — me and my new buddy James.

Except James is a full blown paranoid schizophrenic. I learned this the moment he opened his mouth.

James: “What do you think of Israel?”

Me: “In what c–”

James: “THESE GUYS HAVE A GROUP NOT UNLIKE THE CIA AND TALIBAN THAT ARE GOING TO INFILTRATE OUR GOVERNMENT BUT LUCKILY MY UNCLE IS IN THE CIA AND I CAN HELP THEM BECAUSE I KNOW TH–”

And this continued. For the entire walk. I tried to keep pace with him as he threw his arms up and yelled to the sky along the way to the gas station. Everything was punctuated with  “y’knowhamean?” Too concerned to ever say SWEET JESUS FUCK NO WHAT DO YOU EVEN MEAN? I made do with constant nods of approval and “Yep!” Luckily not everything he spoke of was conspiracy– he was fond of flowers, weed, and the stars as well.

We finally manage to get to this station. I rush in and grab as much crap as I possibly can, swearing silently to myself that I needed enough to ration off as to avoid doing this again. I noted the security guard there was now trapped by his very confusing words, and he gave me a wide-eyed stare as James rambled off at him. I just shrugged and shook my head, offering my best I’m so sorry look. I just wanted to get out of there and back to the mass of people that could be witnesses in case he figured me an Israeli spy and shanked me.

This kid needs help, I thought, as we made our way back through the run down streets and abandoned buildings. I felt bad for him, his family, for his life.

“You know? Isn’t it nice out? Isn’t this great! Most people just like… don’t listen to me, yaknowhamean? They think I’m stupid and I know I say a lot of shit bu I ain’t stupid, yaknowwhamean? Right?”

Right there. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. The sun was shining, and the wind blew dust around us. It was cold and alive, and so was he, eager and hoping for someone to validate him. I realized how often this man must be dismissed, passed over, forgotten and written off. He had nobody in the world to just say “you’re okay, man,” and so many must view him as subhuman. He even said so himself: “it’s like I people don’t want me to exist.” I felt like the biggest piece of shit for considering, even for a moment, that I needed to get far away from him. He hadn’t shown any sort of malice, no violence, and even spoke of his deep fear of confrontation.

“You’re not stupid, man. I know what you mean. You’re a good guy.”

I couldn’t think of some great, inspiring speech to give him. I had nothing to offer, standing in the middle of nowhere in my unwashed clothes and dire need of sleep. I was lost too, far from anything I knew, and I felt like that’s all that was needed. It was just us, two strangers with nothing to give. He smiled at me. I smiled at him. We walked back in silence, his gaze on the asphalt and hands in pockets. But he was smiling. We were friends now.

I lost track of him soon enough. It’s a busy station. Eventually, the bus arrived for us all. I rushed into the rear to take the tiny seat nobody wanted in an attempt to be alone with it, maybe sleep some. James was the last one to get on the bus, and not much was left for him. He made his way to the very last seat and quietly, expecting to be turned down, asked if he could sit next to me.

James, despite, or because of, his delusions then became a sort of bodyguard. He saved the seats, kept watch over the bags, and left me to my attempts at sleep.

Then I fucked up.

We made a few stops, and slowly people trickled off. Finally, more seats opened, and there was enough space for us to spread out. James had come back on the bus as we were getting ready to pull away again, and without thinking he would take it the wrong way, I asked if he’d want one of the open seats so he can sleep more comfortably.

To him, right then, I rejected his company. I watched his face go from neutral to utterly dejected in a matter of seconds. Before I could clarify that I was only asking for his benefit, not to get rid of him, he grabbed his stuff and moved to the front of the bus. Every other stop we made, he kept a distance. I didn’t push the issue, and at first I was a little angry. I didn’t do anything wrong, I told myself. He took it the wrong way. You don’t even know this guy, why are you so worried about him?

But I was worried. I felt bad because by then, he was just glad to be able to talk to someone. The other guys he was travelling with poked fun at him and used his kindness, and while it visibly upset him he didn’t know how to stop it. He seemed resigned to it. I couldn’t help but end up protective.

After another night it was time for me to part ways with the group of rail chasers. They were headed off to California to pick berries of some sort, and keep moving along. With them slipped my momentary friend, a crazy fucker with wild delusions. A few people told me was crazy for talking to the dude, but they didn’t even try. I didn’t do anything special or unique, I just talked to a lonely stranger. Maybe it bothered me because I’ve been in his position before, alone and unsure how to communicate that (minus the crippling delusions.)

I hope someone befriended him. I know I don’t owe the guy anything, and he’s “just another stranger”, but it meant something to him to have someone to talk to. It meant something to me to gain his trust when he trusted nothing. So I’m sorry, James. You’re gonna be alright, dude, somehow.

No Decency? No Problem!

I haven’t been writing as often as I would like, due to the last week being rather… different. But hey, it was full of things to write about, so here’s the most important and first thing to set it all off.

Years ago, I was working for a coffee place where I had been rapidly promoted after my trial period, and from then on it was smooth sailing. I was repeatedly called in for overtime to cover for missing workers, and the main duties of the manager fell to me daily. I pretty much ran the place, and nobody questioned it– I was good at it. We had been facing troubles with the upper management, and went through four in the time I worked there. By the last manager, I was worn out and getting sick from my later diagnosed Crohn’s. I ended up being so sick that I was hospitalized five times in three weeks, and had to take time off. I had never used vacation or personal days, so I didn’t see a problem. The new manager that randomly disliked me, however, did.

So, shortly after his arrival and while I was sick, he started sniping at my performance. I didn’t do anything right by his standards, even though I followed the books more than anyone. Slowly, he began eliminating workers to place people he knew in their positions. They didn’t follow the rules, but he didn’t care. They kissed his ass, and that was the important factor.

During my sick time, he began calling me daily to berate me for not being at work. The time had been approved by the district manager, so I decided not to add fuel to the fire and rat on the manager for harassing me. Our store had been through enough turmoil without me making it more difficult, and for love of my job, I kept my mouth shut.

Due to this, within a week of my return I was left with the choice of quitting or being fired due to “three strikes on the dress codes.” Apparently, if it’s hot and you roll up your sleeves to show a possibly offensive (a bird of paradise adorns both my wrists) you can be fired. But, if you’re the managers friend and have magic mushrooms and a tripping caterpillar on your leg for the world to see, it’s fine.

I quit that day and didn’t bother returning for my last of the week. I was fed up, still sick, and hurt. I had poured myself into that job, forgoing social life and personal. It was brought down by one man with a grudge, for no particular reason other than I happened to be there. I lost the last health insurance I have had, right before a double diagnoses of two very problematic illnesses.

These adorable kitties make this part less depressing.

Fast forward now to a week ago. I started to see the familiar signs all over again, but this time not with my job– a worker with a grudge, trying desperately to infuriate  my husband on a daily basis. He’d come home angry and exhausted over the constant verbal abuse from this guy, but for the sake of keeping the peace, never bothered to report him. He figured it would blow over, and I tried not to let it get to me. He worked his ass off daily only to be yelled for no particular reason.

 

Luckily, he was spared for two weeks and managed to work with another crew that enjoyed his company and work ethic. They constantly complimented his quick ability to learn, and how much he had already accomplished. They even shared a dislike for his other co-worker, as everyone had problems with the guy. He was all around not someone anybody wanted to bother with. Things seemed to be going well. As all good things tend to end, he was put back on shift with the wonderful man we’ll call Earl. So Earl keeps up with verbally assaulting him, badmouthing everyone (including the upper management) and being rather vague as to what he wanted my husband to do. Still, he did his job and worked as hard as he could.

Some might think I am biased. Truthfully, it could be my own mother doing a bad job and I’d still fire her. I don’t look at friends as friends when we’re working together. I have been in such a position, and despite my own like for the person, did what had to be done if they just refused to work. If I have to boss you around, I will. If you’re doing something wrong, I will correct you. Work is work, it’s not personal. With my husband, I’ve seen his work ethic and his abilities. I’ve personally watched an old boss beg him to stay because he was such a fine employee. So when he came home and let me know he was fired for not doing a good enough job, I called a big fat bullshit.

Apparently, Earl had been quietly going to the bosses and complaining about his laziness and inability to work, none of which anyone has ever seen before and probably never will. This was, in fact, a job he had hoped for. To go out of his way to screw it up would be a stupid move on his part, and stupidity isn’t something he’s good at.

Without speaking to my husband at any point or the other workers, he was let go, all thanks to one guy that likes to kiss some ass. Now, to make a point, he was the third guy this man has worked with that magically didn’t make the cut. Nobody bothered to notice this trend, apparently.

It’s practices like this that truly bother me. All it really takes is one person to come along and ruin someone else’s job record, financial situation and desire to do well. While we’re lucky this came during my work season, it still hits hard when we were just finally catching up.  There’s nothing good to come of losing your job in this economy– except now, there won’t be more constant berating and we can move on to better things without this holding him back.

My job, however, is still awesome.

As if by sheer luck, while I was thinking of writing this my husband turned to me as we exited the highway and pointed out the work truck and his ex co-worker driving back at about 6:30 pm, alone, and a long way from the warehouse. Obviously his productivity has gone up, being three hours behind already with another 40 minutes to go. Unlike this man, though, we’re not going to stay bitter over it all. It does solidify my distrust in people offering a stable job, and it absolutely reminds me that there’s always someone who can and will try to fuck you over.

For now, I’ll enjoy having him home with me more often until we can get things straightened out. When that time comes, if someone decides to be abusive at work, it’s getting reported. People like that don’t deserve to keep coasting along screwing up everyone else’s day just because they can.