Wednesday, May 1, 2024

"I Coulda Been. . . ."

Archiving, as I am now calling it, I found the novel I had begun when I returned from my 'round the country trip after college.  When I got back, I was flat broke and moved into my mother's house.  

"You'll need to get a job."

"I'm not cutting my hair."

That was the conversation.  I wasn't living in the hippie college town now.  I was in a town where hippies were suspect.  You certainly didn't see them working in fast food restaurants or stores at the mall.  You pretty much didn't see them working anywhere.  All my friends were still 100 miles north at the university. Why I hadn't returned there after my trip is still a giant mystery to me.  My old roommate had gotten a job there in a group home for miscreant boys and was living with his girlfriend.  My girlfriend still had a year before she graduated.  I was living in my mother's house and needed a job.  

The only places I thought might hire me were colleges.  There were several in town, and that is where I went, dressed exactly as you see in the photo above, looking for anything.  I thought they might hire me as a janitor or groundskeeper.  

The second place I applied was at the factory.  I walked into what was then deemed "Personnel" and was faced with a stern-faced woman in the uniform dress of the time.  

"May I help you?"

"I'd like to apply for a job."

She handed me a blue form to fill out.  When I finished, I took it back to her.  In our conversation, I mentioned I had just graduated.

"From college?"


She was taken aback, fumbled in her desk drawer, and handed me a white form.

"You filled out the wrong application," she said.  

I wasn't a blue collar worker, I thought; I was a white one.

When I had finished filling out that form and gave it back, she looked at it for a moment and asked, "Do you want to teach?"

"Sure," I said.  

She told me to go see a fellow in another building.  When I walked in, I was facing a tall, straight-backed, conservative looking fellow who asked me to take a seat.  There was no way this guy was going to hire me, I thought.  It was December.  He told me I would be teaching four nights a week in January.  


And that is how I got my start at the factory.  

It wasn't going to pay much, though, so on a lark, I went to my old high school to apply as a substitute teacher.  Again, I was shocked that I was hired.  The principal at the time was the same assistant principal who used to kick me out of school for having hair too long, but that is a story for another time.  He had experienced a sea change, I guess.  I found out later that his son had come out to him, he got divorced, and to some extent he had grown out his hair.  I got called to come in almost every day.  I was, for the most part, working days and nights and doing little else.  I checked books out from the public library and read.  I worked and I read.  And then I had an idea.  

I would write a novel about my Kerouac-ian trip around the country.  

As I organized the things that fell out of the boxes stacked in the closet last week, I found the manuscript.  I remembered sitting in my mother's sun room in the afternoons typing on my old manual typewriter.  I would write an hour a day, I told myself.  I would keep at it.  And then, I remember the day I became embarrassed about it all.  

"Who do you think you are?  You can't write.  This is shit."

And I quit.  I gave it up after some thirty or forty pages.  Maybe I was right, but reading the first chapter this weekend, I was stunned and sad that I hadn't continued on.  I would love to read the whole thing now.  

Here are the first 8 pages written by the kid at the top of the page, twenty-three years old, working day and night, green as an unripe apple, lonely and alone, piss-pot poor, and living in his mother's house.  Even the photo is a self-portrait.  I set my camera on a tripod and triggered the timer.  Early selfie.  

I'm stunned now by the similarities between what I wrote then and the way I write now.  As always, I never got around to editing.  I was tempted to edit it and retype it before I posted it here, but I have decided to leave it as it is, warts and all.  The pages are yellowed now and warped by moisture and time.  They look like something from another age.  And they are, I guess.  You will have to open the images, I imagine, if you choose to read them.  I won't say "don't judge me."  If you come here often, you do every day.  

But,  I can't help wondering. . . what if that kid had kept writing?

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