I keep seeing these spinning rims on kids’ cars. Some species of sharks need to keep moving or they’ll die. Hummingbirds need to hover so they can get some nectar. This car is stopped in front of the store but the rims are still spinning. I can tell you’re not moving, dude. Give it up.
There’s a guy who lives down in the storage building. His name is Terry.
You know the guy from high school who owned three different faux leather jackets, cut his own hair because “no one can do it the way I like it” and told everyone his parents were robots? This is the same kid who in elementary school leaned back in his chair and fell over at least twice a day, stole pencils off your desk and scotch-taped them to his, was suspended twice for biting, and, oh yes, told everyone his parents were robots. Ever wonder what happened to that guy? Well, I found him, his name is Terry; he lives in the storage building.
What’s he up to now, you ask? Well, he grew a long dark beard, and a long black ponytail, and now he sort of looks like a pirate. He sits at a desk with a computer surrounded by boxes and paint cans and broken electronics. He’s got an old boom box propped up on a laundry basket. When I walk by his storage unit, he’s playing role-playing video games on two screens, he’s rolling on the floor guffawing to stand-up comedy on cassette, one time he was painting a Christmas ornament. Does he have a job? Is this his job? Who is paying him to do this? Does anyone know he’s here? When the building closes for the night, does he just roll down the door and curl up in a box? I don’t know. I would ask him, but I can’t get a word in edgewise.
“Oh hey, Terry, how’s it going?” I wheel past with my hand truck, and give him a nod.
“Awful, man, I can’t get this game to work!” He hops to his feet and falls into step with me. “My graphics card isn’t advanced enough, and I know what you’re thinking, I must be some kind of barbarian not to be able to run the Starship Troopers game on my computer–it came out forever ago, I know, but I just haven’t downloaded all the drivers yet because I can’t find them on the web.”
“Yeah.” He takes the hand truck out of my hand, and now he’s pushing it down the hall for me.
“So I’ve got this troubleshooter up, and it’s asking me all these questions like what am I trying to do, because even the troubleshooter can’t figure out what the heck’s going on!”
“Yeah, well, good luck, man.” I reach for the hand truck. Terry makes no move to return it.
“So I’m trying to email my buddy Craig because Craig’s beaten this game like eight times, but I can’t email in that tiny window, so I decide to open up a Word Document and then just cut and paste, right?”
“Right. Listen, I should probably…”
“And as soon as I start typing, guess what happens.”
“I don’t know, Terry.”
“The little paperclip guy pops up.”
“The paperclip guy! He’s all like, Hi, I’m Clippy the paperclip! It looks like you’re writing a letter! Want some help? And I’m all like, No, man, I don’t! You know?”
“Yeah, I guess, man.” Terry scoffs.
“Like I’d accept help from a paperclip.”
“It’s a paperclip. You stick them on a stack of papers, you pop them off, you stick them on another stack. They’re basically the temp workers of office supplies. Do you really want this guy showing you the ropes? I don’t trust him. Staples are around for the long haul. I want to be troubleshot by a staple.”
“Troubleshot? Is that the–”
“Past tense of troubleshoot? Yes.” He points a finger at me emphatically, shoves the hand truck in my direction, and saunters off down the hall. Always good to see you, Terry.
I roll the hand truck down to the loading dock and my shipment is there waiting.
How do boxes get so smashed when they get to me? Nine times out of ten, any package I receive is, by the time it gets to me, no longer a classifiable polygon. It’s just a pile of battered corrugation and tape. You know how when cartoon characters fight and all you see are arms and legs sticking out of a cloud of dust? That’s what these packages look like. And the other one in ten? That’s when they don’t even show up. How does this happen? I don’t suffer this kind of injury when I fly. Although I bet I would if I opened my spam mail and took advantage of those “flight deals” from EZFLYER JOHNSON. That’s probably exactly the kind of “10 dollar travel package” I’m being offered: a roll of tape and a refrigerator box drug behind a train.
I load up my boxes. I have to use eight bungee cords to keep them from falling apart completely. It’s like trying to bundle a haystack with a hair scrunchie.
When I pass Terry again, he’s sawing a plank of wood in the middle of the hall.
“Hey, man–I got the game to work! Craig is the best!”
“Cool, man. Can I get by here?”
“Craig doesn’t have a job or anything, so whenever I call him with video game questions, he’s there.”
“Cool. Can I–”
“I seriously don’t get how anyone can be that lazy. I bet all he does it watch TV and drink soda all day. Probably doesn’t even get dressed in the morning. Just watching TV and drinking soda, naked as a jaybird.”
“Yeah. OK. I have to go.”
“All right, later, man.” He offers a high five, but I pretend not to see. He has Elmer’s glue on his hand. This is not the first time he’s tried this prank.
What is this expression, “naked as a jaybird?” First of all, obviously, the jaybird is an odd standard of nudity, seeing as it’s covered in feathers. But more importantly, when have you been telling a story, and you’re describing the scene, “So there I am in the shower, naked,” and someone interrupts, saying, “Wait, wait, wait. How naked?” and you replied, “Naked as a JAYBIRD,” and they were impressed, saying, “Wow. That really is rather naked.”
I think we’re all pretty clear on what naked is and isn’t. There’s really no need to bring the birds into it.
I roll the hand truck up the street, back to the store. I like this part of my job. I pretend I’m not at work. Just going for a walk. Just me and my boxes.
I roll past a little boy making faces at his baby sister. He has a plastic sword tucked in his belt. She’s wearing a frilly pink princess dress. Kids are everywhere with their costumes, their toys, their imaginary worlds. Here’s a group of people who has so little to do, they’re actually making things up to keep themselves busy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accomplished at the reverse: pretending I have less to do, to keep myself sane.
I roll into the store.
“Steven! You have to help me.” It’s Brenda. She looks desperate.
“What is it?” I set the boxes down with a thud.
“Pascual put me in charge of putting the door back on the sink cabinet and I don’t know how to work the screwdriver.”
“What? You just turn it.”
“I’m from Connecticut.”
“What, you don’t have screwdrivers in Connecticut?”
“Please just do it. He went to the post office.”
“All right. You can put this stuff away. Hand me the screwdriver.” I trudge upstairs.
I have to lie on my back, head under the sink, to get the right angle on the screws. There are clean towels to cushion my head. It’s actually kind of peaceful down here. I should bring a pillow from home, and lay down here more often. No customers to bother me. No boxes to lift. Relaxing while looking busy. This is a perfect moment.
No wonder Dagwood’s always down there working on the plumbing. No wonder guys spend hours with their heads under cars. Maybe Terry and the little girl with the princess dress have something in common. She made up a world, he made up a job. I guess when your life is in slower motion that you want to be, it’s only natural to want to make it look like there’s motion where there isn’t. I get it.
Gotta get me some of those rims.