Charles Rammelkamp, 1/27/2020

Current Occupation: Retired, Reviews editor for Adirondack Review
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by FutureCycle Press. An e-chapbook has also recently been published online Time Is on My Side (yes it is) –  Another chapbook, Mortal Coil, is forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing. A full-length collection, Catastroika, is also forthcoming from Apprentice House.  


Sam Spade Got Me Hired and then Fired


I’d just graduated from college and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next – what sort of career I might pursue.  While I sorted through my options – essentially different graduate school programs; I didn’t have much ambition – I read Dashiell Hammett novels, no longer burdened with homework reading assignments. The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, The Dain Curse. I was especially captivated by the Continental Op, the nameless private investigator for the Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco, and I thought maybe that’s what I’d do, become a private detective.


So naturally I started with the classified ads in The Boston Globe.  I was living in a studio in Kenmore Square at the time, next to the Charles River. That was how I became a security guard for an outfit called Guardsmark, first step into the world of crime and detection. In my gray trousers with the blue stripe down the side, ersatz policeman’s hat with the Guardsmark emblem on the bill, the shiny hard plastic visor, the badge straight from a cereal box, I looked like a guy going to a costume party. The employees at the places where I had my assignments – university buildings, warehouses, hospitals – all seemed to regard me as vaguely ridiculous, pathetic. I didn’t care. I had my Raymond Chandler novels – having read all of Hammett – and all night to read, while I made my rounds with the watchclock key.


Unfortunately, the job got to be very boring very fast.  After bouncing around the area, from Revere to Quincy, I’d settled into a long assignment at a hospital on Summit Avenue in Brookline, the smell of disinfectant pervasive and discouraging.  I thought long and hard about taking the GREs and applying to graduate school. Philosophy? Literature? History? In the meantime, I was still reading the ads and my eye was caught by a weeklong program at a Professional Bartending School on Boylston Street. It sounded like it might provide more of the excitement I’d envisioned as a detective. Quotations from Hammett started coming to me. From Red Harvest:  This damned burg's getting me. If I don't get away soon I'll be going blood-simple like the natives. 


And then I thought, why not try my hand at some hardboiled prose?  I had my boring nightly reports to fill out – time in, time out, all quiet – and who was reading these anyway? Anybody? At first it was just small descriptive stuff – It was about eleven o’clock in the evening, mid-October, a bright moon behind a veil of clouds in the eastern sky…


But soon I’d added suspense. I was sure I’d heard a noise behind the cafeteria door and cautiously made my way in. The room was quiet, so deathly quiet it made me nervous. The sound of my heels on the linoleum was like gunshots. I couldn’t actually make up any incidents, so the prose itself had to do. The “atmosphere.” I’d never seen a community so gripped in fear.


Unfortunately, the hospital administration was not amused. That’s who was reading the reports!  When I arrived at work one night, one of the Guardsmark supervisors was there to meet me. It was the 1970’s, in the age before the internet, and I  didn’t have a telephone in my Kenmore Square studio apartment. This was the only way they could get in touch. Fortunately, Nick Asaro my supervisor, had a sense of humor, and as I’d already handed in my two-week notice – I was going to go to bartending school and take the GRE! – he let me go on my resignation letter, instead of terminating me. How would that have looked to a prospective employer, after all, that I’d been fired as a security guard for creative writing?


3 Comments on “Charles Rammelkamp, 1/27/2020

  1. Hilarious last line. Excellent piece. What a lot of us felt back then, but didn’t express the combination of anxiety, freedom, and what the heck to do with our lives nearly so well.

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