I heard a rattling outside my apartment's front window and saw a shirtless African American man pushing a shopping cart of collected cans. His gait and voice reminded me of a man I met a couple of years ago named Harris. His pace was brisk. Before I could think about saying hello and seeing if it was indeed Harris, he was pretty far down the street.
For a month I worked a door-to-door sales job selling Quill office supplies. I had resigned my photo op management job, attempted to make a run at writing fiction full-time, learned it was a tough "market" to sustain, shared a sad laugh at the illusory joke on over-excited artists the hard way and was back to working a regular job. My savings had depleted, new bills were coming, and it was the first somewhat legitimate job I found on any online jobs posting that wasn't an obvious scam. I went in for the interview, the post was well written, something about "one man wolf pack" intrigued me and I thought it would be for some fancy marketing job with a cubicle, maybe a small office. In the interview I spent a lot of time rationalizing why I'd leave a management job during the recession. But they called me back for a second interview which brought me out into the streets, doing door-to-door. The guy that took me out for the "in-field" segment of the interview process was nice, level-headed, and made some nice sales and that made me confident in the business model. They brought me in for a re-cap interview and told me I was likable and offered me the job. I learned that I have a propensity toward taking compliments to heart and head when desperate.
Desperation and capitalistic fairy tales.
I started in on training the next day and went through morning "atmosphere." An hour and half each and every morning of self-help-esque inspiration in oratory form from the "leaders." Promising young college grads eager to make their mark on business, and the energy was actually infectious, as I imagine cults to be. I listened to their promises of soon running my own office! Even though that kind of responsibility was exactly what faded my spark for the photo job. Priorities do change, however, when you start to think of money as though each bill denomination is a different vitamin for the spirit. And no one would admit that we were door-to-door salesmen. We were consultants! I'd go out into the field, jacked, ready to get rich quick off of hocking office supplies.
The territory I was trained in was Portage Park. There would be stretches of storefronts all in Polish lettering, and with the late winter afternoon light, I'd feel as though I was returning from Europe each evening. It had a jet-lag like quality. I was always tired and losing weight. I was too fatigued at night to realize I didn't like it and should be searching for other jobs.
After I burned through that territory, making some modest sales and making a lawyer furious with me after miscalculating a sales discount on the calculator of my flip phone, I was on to my next territory. Beyond Garfield Park. The West Side of Chicago.
I didn't do much selling there as I didn't come across that many businesses. Pockets of it were a post industrial wasteland. Boarded up factories. And not to sound racist, but most businesses were chicken shacks or barber shops. These were on the no-no list for Quill business accounts. But I was fascinated. I took the opportunity to wander a part of town I otherwise would never have reason to wander. Run down housing units. People peeing in the street multiple times a day. High speed car chases. I was asked by many if I was selling dope. "Nope," I'd reply. Lone white guy dressed in a suit and pea coat. I stopped in the Public Library to use the bathroom. It looked more like a homeless shelter. Sleeping faces down into the tables. The water fountain tasted like it was urine infused. When I would come across an industrial plant that was still in service, and after being buzzed in through several barriers of security, I'd be lectured by a white male about how I, as another white male, shouldn't be walking around these parts of town by myself.
A hole had begun to bore itself in the bottom of my dress shoe. This was a concern because there was a lot of broken glass on the side walks. The liquor stores had bullet proof glass separating the counter from the populace. Lawn chairs were set up out front. Men were drinking and teasing one another. They paid me no mind. They gave me no trouble. There was an underground mall with hundreds of little booths where clothes, shoes, electronics were sold by individual merchants and it seemed an endless expanse, like a subterranean lake of small commerce on a bed of graffiti-ed tiles.
I walked by a residential stretch. It was starting to get hot out, spring had rounded out the end of winter. Out front of a house that looked like a rotted mesh of oak there was a shirtless man leaning up against his fence. His pockmarked chest had an asymmetrical proportioning of breast and body fat. A bit toothless. We made eye contact. I said "hello, how are you?" He said he'd be better if he had some damn food. I felt bad. I had been packing my lunches but had already ate it that day. I wanted to give him something. I only had credit cards in my wallet. But I decided to shoot the breeze with him. We talked for a few minutes. He was hard to understand, but smiled and laughed a lot. Despite his initial well deserved grumbling about food, he was jolly. His name was Harris. When I decided I should get back on my "sales route" he shook my hand. His hand was sweaty, sticky and greasy. After I rounded the block, out of his view I wiped off the post-shake residue on my panted leg. But I felt bad about it. Really, really bad about. It was sort of heart breaking, in the way of realizing maybe I don't have the best intentions as a person, that I'm already infected with selfishness and germs should be the least of my worries. Here was Harris, a genuinely nice guy, far down on his luck in life. And my first reaction, when out of sight, was that he was a little gross.
I kept my eye out for him the next day when I passed by his dilapidated home. He wasn't out front. I thought about knocking on his front door to see if he wanted to hang out. But I was scared, because I assumed the inside of his home was probably a little gross.
He became a character in my daydreams. Gross Harris, and in these fantasies he was a good friend of mine. Whereas when imagination is applied to conceptions of reality, weird textures are all the more vivid and repel with gusto, such nasty sensations can be muted in the daydream for daydream's sake. And in these daydreams I would try crack without consequence and Gross Harris would laugh at my naivety.
There was a fenced in patch of vegetation by the highway. It looked like a little forest of dead bamboo shoots. I felt the urge to hop the fence, build a fort, and declare myself King. Or better yet, tell Harris about it. Let him take it up and farm the hell out of it. And Harris could be King. He'd be a hell of a King.