After perusing the first couple of months of "First Person" – which largely featured stories about people’s beloved pets or what they considered amusing anecdotes about their children – I decided that if I couldn’t contribute anything better I had no business criticizing the submissions. Once I got involved in the process I discovered that The Dispatch was highly editing and, in some cases, largely rewriting the submissions they received from readers. They flattened out the prose, I suppose to conform to some eighth-grade reading level they aspired (despired?) to. (I will say, though, somehow they wound up not taking out my three best one-liners.) The whole experience left me wanting to apologize to all the previous "First Person" authors, for thinking they were unimaginative white-bread writers, when in reality all along The Dispatch was watering us all down from the same editorial fountain.
The following is my original version.....
COLUMBUS DISPATCH / FIRST PERSON COLUMN / PUBLISHED APRIL 21, 2007
I’m writing this in a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in an upscale suburban Washington D.C. mall. It’s a Sunday evening and I’m surrounded by well-to-do families. I’m wearing jeans and a black t-shirt and clearly do not belong here. Where I belong is Columbus, Ohio, working a warehouse job and dreading the upcoming work week.
I’ve worked a lot of warehouse jobs in my life – Service Merchandise, Buckeye Mart, Gold Circle, K-Mart, Ross Laboratories, to name a few. Some of them were temp positions, most were full-time 40-hour-a-week jobs. The Service Merchandise job alone accounted for 16 years of my life.
I liked those jobs. I had completed three years of college before I ever set foot in a warehouse and I think for a time I believed it was a short-term thing. I played guitar and I was headed for the big time. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) Maybe I fancied myself like that character Tom in A Streetcar Named Desire, writing poetry on boxes. After 20 years of unloading trucks, stocking, receiving, and shipping merchandise, it occurred to me that this might not be such a temporary existence.
My father worked in warehouses. I think that might have been another reason I thought of warehouse work as sort of a romantic way of life. I looked up to my father. He taught me everything I know about work and life. He grew up in Chicago during the Depression and left school after the eighth grade to start working full time. He was the supervisor of a Columbia Gas of Ohio warehouse in 1970 when he died of a heart attack at age 56. I was 17 years old. He had always wanted to travel. He never got the chance.
By January 2000 Service Merchandise had gone out of business and I was working for a (now defunct) record store chain, Camelot Music. One Thursday night I was lying on my couch reading when a voice came very clearly into my head, "Hey, check your pulse." My pulse was 38 beats per minute. A couple of weeks later, following a lot of tests and after various monitors had been applied to my person, a cardiologist informed me that my heart was stopping entirely for 5 or 10 seconds at a time while I was sleeping. To make a long story short, by the end of that week I’d had a cardiac pacemaker implanted.
Awhile before that I had opened a show for a rock & roll act out of New York City named Hamell On Trial (aka Ed Hamell). We hit it off and I would tag along when Ed played gigs around Ohio, pretending to be a guitar tech, but always returning to Camelot Music for the day shift. In fact, two days before the pacemaker surgery was performed my soon-to-be wife Debbie and my cardiologist barred me from working a Hamell show in Bowling Green, Ohio, because they were both convinced I would have a fainting spell while driving home and be killed.
Three weeks later, after winding around the south and through Texas, Hamell finished that tour with a date in Cincinnati. I drove down for the show. It was my first big outing after the surgery and recuperation. I walked into the club and said proudly, "Wanna see my incision?"
That night Ed told me he’d just been booked as Ani Difranco’s opening act for a two-week tour of California. He told me the tour was in three weeks, asked if I could I get off work to go along. I have always been the kind of person to play it safe, to protect myself, to not color outside the lines, to work in warehouses. Against all odds I said, "When do we leave?"
I’m writing this in a nice restaurant in an upscale mall outside Washington, D.C., because it becomes much easier to make decisions once your chest has been sliced open. Over the past seven years as a roadie I have seen this country, from sea to shining sea as it were. We started one tour in Atlanta, Georgia, and traversed the entire nation in a rented Ford to wind up in San Francisco, California, by way of New Orleans, Austin, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas, among others. Everywhere we visited I pointed out sights to my dad that I think he would have liked, if he'd ever had the chance to travel.
When I was a child I believed I would never leave the state of Ohio, ever, in my life. By the grace of God and rock & roll I have. I will someday die of a heart attack, as did my beloved father. But not before I saw America, and not today.
(c) 2012 Ricki C.