Monthly Archives: October 2013

I’m Alive and Life Sounds Like This Sometimes

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Almost six years ago, the man with the short white hair in the portable folding chair in the foreground of this photograph—the one turning to his right perhaps to discuss with his friend some matter regarding the monster truck Nite Stalker—installed the security system in our house here in Front Royal. Three years before that, in 2004, he also installed the security system in our house in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, Virginia, back when I thought we couldn’t move any farther from the city. Back when we still had to travel some distance to partake of the dust, roar, and fumes of a monster truck competition.

I remember on that day in 2004 I was waiting at our new house for the technician from Brinks Security Systems to come, and I looked out the window. Already parked in our driveway, to my surprise, was a big pickup truck from Brinks, and inside was the guy in the photograph here, his mouth wide open and about to take a bite out of his sandwich. When he saw me he paused—he was startled and surprised to be caught mid-bite—then proceeded to finish chomping down on his sandwich. He looked like the sort of kid you’d see sitting in the back of the classroom back in when you were a freshman in high school—the skinny little kid who never talked but had just seen Clint Eastwood in something like Outlaw Josey Wales and now had a face to go along with his dreams of one day being some kind of badass. But instead of becoming a badass he grew up to be a technician installing security systems. It was all right as far as those things went, but it sure as hell wasn’t the same as being someone Clint Eastwood would play.

It had turned out that Clint/Josey/The Brinks Guy had gotten to our house early, and so decided to have his lunch in our driveway. I watched a few moments more as he kept on eating, chewing down on his sandwich and looking at me and looking all around himself as if at any moment he might have to defend his possession of that sandwich. I couldn’t quite relate to that shit, and that he was looking at me like I was a sandwich thief, but I backed off anyway.

When he finally got out of the truck and walked toward our house, I could tell he wasn’t a city person. I could also tell he was still damn angry about being caught mid-lunch, mid-bite. Maybe in addition to the possibility that I might steal his sandwich, he also thought that whatever impression as a professional he was trying to make was obliterated by being caught in the act of eating, and the only thing worse he could have imagined would have been to be caught picking his nose. Well, maybe there were worse things, but I wasn’t going there, because people like him, I thought, were likely to talk about all the craziest shit—the shit I just didn’t want to hear about when all I wanted was to get our security system installed.

It was a while before the scowl came off of his face, but finally it did. Eventually, he talked, and he talked about how long it took him to become a master technician. I was genuinely impressed—the job he was doing was one I would be sure to fuck up big time (I can’t put together a simple bookcase from fucking Ikea without screaming at some point how pain-in-the-ass difficult it is).

Three years later, when I got laid off from my job, we left that house and moved to this one out in the land of monster trucks where life, we thought, might be cheap. Our first night in this house, we slept on blankets we’d laid down on the floor. The next day was when the movers came with our furniture, and the guy from the cable company came to set up our television and internet connections, and then the guy from Brinks security came back to set up the security system in our new house that was away from the big city and actually near his neck of the woods.

As soon as he stepped in the door I recognized him, but he didn’t remember me at all. When I told him that he’d installed our security system back when we lived close to the city, he had to jog his memory to recall that, “Oh yeah, I used to work closer to DC.” It was a busy day, and the only other words I remember from that day were spoken by Clint/Josey/The Brinks Guy who said, in response to something I asked or maybe Heather asked, “I live on the side of a mountain.” He said it somewhat defiantly and putting proud emphasis on the word ‘mountain’—as if, if he weren’t in polite company and on the job, he’d follow those words with “you got a fuckin’ problem with that?”

For some reason I remember shit like this. Just like I remember the salesman named Irving Berlin from back in the 60s. And a sales clerk named Kirsten Mortimer who sold me some socks at Hecht Co. in 1983. And Dave Grohl, before he became famous, being a snotty clerk when I bought a couple of LPs at Tower Records one afternoon also in the 80s. There are some memories from the 90s and when I lived in New York—when I did my heaviest, most heroic drinking—that are gone. Still, I’m surprised by how much I can remember and how much other people can forget.

I see the Brinks Guy around from time to time. Of course, Brinks, which became Broadview Security, has now been taken over by the ADT corporation. Which means the Brinks name doesn’t work for him anymore—so maybe I’ll just call him Outlaw Josey Wales. Anyway, Outlaw Josey Wales doesn’t remember me or recognize me. One time I saw him on Main Street here in Front Royal and I nodded at him, and he just shot back this look of bewilderment, as if he were thinking, ‘Why the hell is this weird motherfucker looking at me?’ So now, when I see him, I don’t nod and I don’t try to say “Hi” and I know for sure that if I see him in the window of a restaurant, and he’s eating, that I’d better look the hell away.

This morning, for this first time in over twenty years, I listened to Vin Scelsa’s radio show. I used to listen to him on Sunday Nights on WXRK, sitting alone in my apartment when I lived on Avenue B in New York, and so often his show would introduce me to some song or some singer or some band I’d never listened to before and would end up loving. He’d also play a lot of stuff where my reaction would be ‘what is this shit’ and I’d end up changing the station back to WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station which played mostly jazz—jazz was something which, in New York, I could always rely on.

Today, when I found out Vin Scelsa was still doing his show, and that I could get it on WFUV’s website, I went to my computer and pulled up the latest show. He started out with a fabulously happy song by Michael Franti & Spearhead called “I’m Alive (And Life Sounds Like).” It was a new song, and I’d never heard it before—a song I’ll remember to play for Maggie and Julien and Heather. After half an hour, though, he began playing some stuff that sounded like total crap to me, and I turned it off. Tomorrow, though, is another day, and because of the songs I end up loving—and all the songs I never knew before and all the things I need to remember—I’ll keep listening.

-Jose Padua