Jim Trainer


In Uncategorized on December 6, 2018 at 9:27 am

My first job was washing dishes at Martinichio’s Italian Restaurant, at the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights, PA.  I had a paper route too, so, my first job was 2 jobs.  I was 12. I remember distinctly, one of those rageful, slate-grey Fall days on the east coast when the smell of snow hangs in the air like wet stone, looking at my hands–at all the new creases and crinkles to my pink, young skin, dents and callouses and wrinkles put there from wrapping and throwing 8o Philadelphia Inquirers.  I knew acutely it was a loss of innocence and it was with that loss that my life began.  My first full-time job was for Hercules Movers, at the end of the American Century, in the city of Philadelphia—well, outside Philly in Devon and King of Prussia when the boss moved the yard.  It took us the same amount of time to get there even though King of Prussia was 6 miles and another exit out.  I guess it’s the way you can warp physics when you’re burning up the shoulder of 76W in a late model Honda Accord like an angry, silver bullet.  I took the sub in from my first apartment at 45th&Locust. It was the biggest 1-bedroom I could find for $400, and 5 big blocks from the el.  At the end of the line Mike Isajiw would whip around and scoop me at 69th.  We’d bomb up the highway to make it to the yard by 7:30.

It was hard then and it should’ve been.  Felt like me versus the universe which is wildly inaccurate.  Not only was I given this life and handed a destiny, I could choose not to fulfill it, walk sideways, slum it and fuck off.  Which is exactly what I did.  I lowered my rent with each successive move for the next 10 years til I was paying $125 a month to share a 2-bedroom house with 3 other people.  I wrote on a Brother word processor, and I hated that machine.  But I got a lot of work done.  I worked demo, converting a candy factory at 10th&Master to what they called “loft living”.  The smell of butterscotch was steeped into the beams and rafters.  A confectionary sweetness hung in the air and got mixed in with the welding gas and sawdust, metal shavings and pitch.  It was sickeningly caustic and sweet–death that paid and I took a check.

I was the crew chief of the demo crew.  Me, my blood brother Nick, and a crew of men from North Philly, almost twice my age and making half as much.  Pitch is the dust kicked up when you shovel asphalt, so named for its deathly-black color.  Pitch is why you shouldn’t shovel asphalt.  We shoveled asphalt off the roof and down to the top floor, wheelbarrowed it over and dumped it down the elevator shaft.  From the ground floor we’d wheelbarrow it to the dumpster in the alley behind Master.  When the shit hit the ground floor it would fill the place with pitch.  I mean it covered the windows and blocked out the sun so you couldn’t even see.  Now, I’m white.  My Brother Nick is Samoan.  The Crew was either black or Puerto Rican but–black, white, Puerto Rican or Samoan, we were all covered in the stuff and pitch-black from head to toe, except for where the straps fell on your face from your respirator if you chose to wear one. A lot of those men didn’t.

Me and Nick were making $11 an hour.  Not a bad come up from 3 years earlier, making $7.50/hr for Hercules (and $20 a man for pianos, $50 for a safe and cash on Saturdays).  The men on the Crew were making $20 and $30 a day.  They didn’t have to show up but if they did they had to play the role.  This was painfully apparent when Woody the Foreman left.  His replacement Gabe was an archetype of patriarchy and a gross little caricature of the Man.  Gabe was a walking testament to ineptitude, powerful despite his stature and old white authority incarnate.  He was grandfatherly, like a slave owner, with Coke bottle glasses and a big fat belly that hung over blue jeans he folded up at the cuff over his blocky black steel-toed, and held up by big red suspenders.  We called him Big Fat Gabe.  To his face.  He was pompous with power, odious and obnoxious.  He had those men kiss the ring.  Sometimes Daryl would float a broom all day long behind Big Fat Gabe’s desk.  They worked as hard as any of us and they fucked around and sometimes walked floor to floor fucking off the clock but who could blame them at $20 a day?  I didn’t expect this to sound so patronizing.  But why shouldn’t it?  I fought for those guys, for the Crew–especially at the bank when we couldn’t cash our checks without ID.  I broke us off for 15s, lunch and squares–a Kool mentholated pulled from the bottom of a soft pack.  At best we would fill a dumpster and go home (the dump closed at 4 so you could push it or lag, and time it so you’re only working 6 hours shoveling pitch and doing demo on a brutally humid summer day in the city).

I left that job and went on an 8-city spoken word tour by train.  Nick stayed on until he got a bike messenger job and left all my tools behind to be pilfered and stolen and sold.  No one knows what happened to the crew.  Rico, Charlie and Daryl, Playa Hata, Hata Playa and Virgil.  Of course it’d be tragic for any of them to die on the street–violently or otherwise, like–if one of Rico’s long weekends turned into a debilitating addiction or disease.  Truth is the tragedy would be if they went on living in North Philly, a notoriously tough neighborhood in a decidedly hostile city, without healthcare or any skillset how to raise a family or cope, on a high school and not even a high school education.  The tragedy of these mens’ lives is familiar, summed up in Post Office when Henry Chinaski admonishes the county hospital for letting his drunk girlfriend die, asking–“What’s the sin in being poor?

When I got back from tour I got a job at Sam’s Place, a West Philly bodega that sold coffee and American Spirits and Nat Shermans to entitled pricks like me, living in the hood and spending rent on gourmet cigarettes at $7.50 a pack.  Philly was under 2 feet of snow.  The tour was in support of August, my third chapbook and second collection with my first love and girlfriend at the time.  We had a rough go of it, me and Cecira.  She dyed her hair platinum while I was on tour and on a payphone in San Francisco she told me she fucking some Doctor.  Of course that only estranged me.  We went walking in the snow, and headed to Sam’s, and all I could smell was the bleach in her hair, a chemical smell that made me ill that I just shrugged off pretending I cared and didn’t care by blowing long plumes of brown smoke into the cold and drawn from a thin cigarillo.  I wouldn’t work labor again for another 8 years.  This was before the crash and Bush II, before 9/11 and the fucked dance we’ve been doing in death’s maw ever since.  It was a time of surplus, a time of falling in and out of love, when you could make it slinging coffee, so you played in 2 bands and DJ’d for 2 stations.  I was back in the food service business and they ran you a tab.  Coffee, bagels and cigarettes–what else?   3-9:30 on the weekdays.  It was the last time you could make it here or anywhere.  It was the end of the century.

Love&Wages, Jim Trainer’s 5th full-length collection of poetry and prose, will be released through Yellow Lark Press at Malvern Books on December 16. Hosted by The Poetic Butcher and featuring poet Christia Madsci Hoffman (INTENT, Hedgehog & Fox 2017), singer-songwriter Nathan Hamilton and poet Nicole Brissette (Sybil Journal).  Pre-order your copy at jimtrainer.net and receive a coupon for a discount other titles.  Thank you!

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