It was Monday morning and my body smelled from the residue of my weekend. I arrived at work nearly on time. My suit, shirt, and necktie were not well coordinated. My hair was slightly long and slicked back behind my ears with an excessive glob of hair gel. I appeared messily and unkempt. My eyes were red from the lack of sleep and my need for rest was the result of young foolishness.
After a long night out, which I swore would end early; I found myself walking through the front door of my home and into my bedroom. By the time I was undressed, I was able to fall on my bed with only two hours before my alarm rang to wake me the next morning. In my early twenties, I saw nothing worse than leaving my crowd of friends—only to find something happened or I missed out on an unforgettable opportunity.
My position of employment was an entry level position in an already dying industry. I worked as a salesman in New York City’s Garment District. However, my product was the last to be ordered and least important to production. The competition in my end of the industry was relentless and the price points were low and unrewarding.
I worked for an old man who had been in the industry for more than 40 years. His company manufactured identification items such as woven labels, emblems, and printed hang-tags, size labels, and “Made in U.S.A labels,” which, ironically were made in Taiwan, or in Canada.
I sold these inexpensive items by lots of a thousand to garment manufacturers. In a word; my position was uninteresting. It was unremarkable and lacked the energy or enthusiasm that would have helped me to care. I had few accounts and very few sales. I was perhaps more costly to the company than an asset. But when I was hired, I was hired as a favor to a very influential man with the garment unions, so to avoid any stir, my boss allowed me some freedom.
The office was small. A glass door opened inward to a wood paneled room, which might have been decorated this very same way in the early 70’s. Once through the door, there was a partial wall, which is where Eleanor sat on the opposite side. Eleanor was a short woman, overweight, and whiny with a thick Brooklyn accent. She often complained about the heat in the office. She often spoke about other’s personal business. She was unlikable, wrinkled, and reeking of cheap perfume. Her hair was an odd shade of reddish purple and stood high on her head, which gave a slight view to Eleanor’s bowl-like scalp.
Eleanor was mother to a son, whom also worked for the company. His name was Mark. Mark was equally unlikable. He was thin with a bump in his nose, black hair and beady eyes. Mark’s eyes were like rat’s eyes, slivered in an almond shape. His skin was pasty-white; his pale lips look dried and his bony frame was far from threatening. Mark was dishonest. He unsatisfied that someone like me had a position in the company. I had no sales experience. I was very young looking. I was slightly favored with kind attention that came from the owner.
I was given house accounts to set up my following and allow me enough sales to cover my draw against commission. I was liked by Elsa, the bookkeeper and Eric, the stock boy. I was liked by Alan, my boss, Carlos the Freight Man, Danny the Porter, and other tenants that shared 12th floor with us in our building on East 33rd Street.
I was too old to stay home and do nothing but too young to understand the importance of a career. My social life was still very important to me. I was young and single. I was social, yet somewhat awkward, which meant I lent myself a bit too freely. I lent myself to feel accepted by always agreeing to be the designated driver. This was a fine thing, except the designated driver is always the last to be home.
True, I was sober and aware enough to remember my night. I was also last in the door and last to lay in my bed, head facing the red numbers on my alarm clock as I calculated the hours to the minute’s rest before the alarm sounded. And when the alarm rang, I would be up, showered, and of course, on my way to work.
My method of transit was The Long Island Railroad. I would rush to the train—exhausted—my body drained from all its energy. Often, I smelled the remaining odors of the nightclub or bars, which kept me out so late.
After a combination of poorly handled sales calls and the mild to moderate insults I received by production managers and purchasing agents that actually cared about their job, and in combination with a heavy-head, tired eyes, and the loud, shrilling voice of Eleanor on the phone, I decided to remove myself from my desk.
I slipped away unseen and hid in the back of the stockroom. I drew the blinds down to avoid the insult of a bright sun beaming in. Then I tucked myself into a corner behind several boxes. I folded my arms on top of a box in front of me and then rested my head in my arms.
As I closed my eyes, I thought about the nightlife. I thought about the times I swore to end my nights earlier. Of course, I thought about my inability to do that.
Slowly, I drifted off into the back of my eyes. I felt myself drift into a heavy slumber. I flinched a few times, waking myself, and then returning my head back to a soft, comfortable position.
I was able to fit myself behind the boxes and keep from tattling eyes. Eric the Stock Boy watched over me. He watched the door to make sure Eleanor did not make her way to the back of the stock room. This was a rare thing. Eleanor did not leave her desk much. She typed sales orders. She answered phones and made frequent trips to the bathroom. Eleanor walked to her son’s desk or to Alan’s office. However, her trips to the back room were rare. This is why I chose to crash in the stock room. I chose this place because Eleanor’s wide hips did not always make it through the narrow aisles. Even if Eleanor turned sideways—she struggled to maneuver in the back.
I had drifted for what seemed like only minutes. It could have been minutes—or it could have been hours. My eyes were heavy and my sleep was thick. This was the kind of sleep that was too deep for dreaming. This was the kind of sleep that comes with youth after a long night out with the boys.
Suddenly, I heard the loud rip from the string on the blinds being pulled upwards. The terrible glare from the bright sunlight flew in through the window. It was Eleanor. She was standing in a thick purple turtleneck. She grimaced as if the sight of me was sickening.
I looked at Eleanor through squinted eyes—my eyebrows folded downward to describe my look of contempt. I raised my hand to cover the bright glare from piercing my eyes. Eleanor stood with her head half tilted; hands on her hips and her lips curled with outrage.
Eleanor accused, “How dare you?!”
“You make me sick,” she charged.
The insult of her perfume hung like a putrid yellow cloud in the small room. And to begin with, the stock room was not a kind smelling place. The stock room smelled from old papers and damp cardboard boxes. As she stood to challenge me; the corner of Eleanor’s left upper lip hinged with her yellow teeth exposed, glared at me like a dog snarling at an unwanted intruder. It was then that I realized I would have welcomed the smell of old paper and damp cardboard boxes over the smell of Eleanor’s perfume.
“I’m going to tell Alan and he’s gonna put a stop to this!”
Eleanor charged through the stockroom. I could hear her footsteps clapping heavily against the floor. Her hips bounced into some of the boxes, causing one of the larger boxes to drop to the floor.
“Son of a bitch!” she exclaimed as she opened the door to the office and slammed it behind her.
To my great fortune, I was saved by a fax. I was saved by a large order, which was my first large order with the company. I sold 250,000 overpriced labels to high-volume children’s clothing manufacturer. The order saved my job. Furthermore, this order fueled Eleanor’s distaste for me.
Her son, Mark had a few words to offer under his breath. When I approached Mark later on in the hallway to confirm his choice words, Mark’s recollection failed him.
“I don’t think I said anything bad about you,” said Mark
His eyebrows crunched together as if to show an expression of shock that I would suggest such a thing.
“I have no problem with you,” Mark promised.
Eyes half-closed, my head aching, and my spirit broken by an overweight woman in an overwhelming drench of perfume—I leaned closely into Mark’s shoulder and whispered to him while gripping on one of his weak, meaningless arms.
“Good,” I told Mark,” Because I will throw you out the fucking window!”
Mark seldom spoke to me under his breath after this.
I am not sure how I lived the way I lived. I went out every night. I never came home when I said I would. I never made it home early and I never went to work on enough sleep.
I think about this often. I think about the trick our age plays on us. I think about the age difference between now and then. I also think about my priorities now and my priorities then. They are obviously different. These days my need for the crowd has given way to my need for a good meal after a long day at work and an early bedtime.
It’s not so bad though. I don’t need to live the late night nightlife anymore.
Been there, done that.
Know what I mean?