Charles Rammelkamp, 4/30/2018
Current Occupation: Retired, Reviews editor for Adirondack Review
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: I am the Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books, in Baltimore and a compulsive writer, which falls more in the category of stuff-I-do than stuff-I-get-paid-for. Recent books include MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, and AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, both as published by Apprentice House (Loyola University), and a chapbook, JACK TAR’S LADY PARTS published by Main Street Rag. Forthcoming from FutureCycle Press in 2018 is another chapbook, ME AND SAL PARADISE.
“Long way to Quincy from Kenmore Square,” Riley, the warehouse manager said when I reported for duty as the weekend security guard, duded up in my uniform: navy pants, officer’s cap, badge and jacket. My first day. He had one of those squeaky Boston accents (kwin-zee, ken-moah skuay-uh).
“Green line to red line on the T, but yeah, took maybe an hour to get here,” I nodded.
Riley looked me up and down, a guy in his fifties with a too-small herringbone sports jacket, a grease-spotted tie on a shirt that didn’t button at the neck, a cigar in his hand like an extra finger.
It was 1975. I was taking a “gap year” between college and grad. school, though it wasn’t called that at the time. I’d come to Boston from Potawatomi Rapids, Michigan, where I’d gone to college, a Midwesterner through and through.
“You go see the Red Sawx much?” he asked around his cigar.
“Once or twice.”
“Okay, well, this job ain’t much. About the worst is some kids throwing stones at the warehouse (wayuhhouse) out back, but mostly it’s slow around here (aroun he-yuh).”
“My commanding officer,” I said, not sure what the proper title was for my boss, O’Malley, “told me I should make the watchclock rounds every two hours, write up a report.”
Riley flinched at that “commanding officer.” He looked like he was probably a war vet, Korea or World War Two, and probably thought I was playing army or something. Commanding officer. What should I call him? I didn’t even have a gun, not even a nightstick.
“Okay, I’ll show you the rounds.”
We walked through the various stations, covering enough of the building to get a thorough overview of the territory. If anything was amiss, I’d be sure to notice when I made my rounds.
“This elevator (elevaytuh) can get stuck sometimes,” Riley said, puffing on his cigar, when we got to the back of the warehouse. He’d shown me all of the stations I needed to pass, the big clocks with the keyholes where I’d twist the key on my belt to show I’d been by.
“Just be careful.” (kehfil)
“There,” he pointed with his cigar out the back bay where the trucks drove up, “they’re out there.” (They-uh they-uh out they-uh). A group of teenagers roved around like feral cats, throwing railroad-sized rocks in the direction of the warehouse. He shook his head. “Kids,” he muttered. Then he raised his voice, pointing the cigar between middle and pointer finger. “Get lost!” he shouted. They ignored him and we continued on our way, Riley unperturbed.
The service elevator was indeed unreliable. You pushed the buttons and it juddered up from the first to the second floor, protesting all the way. It was during my 4:00 AM rounds, a Styrofoam cup of burnt coffee in my hand, that the damn thing gave out between floors. Just stopped.
I began to panic when it wouldn’t move, seeing myself stuck here until Monday morning when somebody showed up for work. I was stuck. In fact, I was stuck in my life, it occurred to me. What was I even doing here, working as a security guard? Had I thought it would be a cool, exciting gig, like Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, instead of a tedious drudge? And what about graduate school next year? Did I really want to pursue a degree in Economics? Wouldn’t a degree in Film Studies be more interesting? But my parents called that a waste of time.
And my romantic life? I was stuck there, too, going nowhere. I’d recently broken up with my girlfriend in Potawatomi Rapids, or rather, the relationship had died on its own. Shirley wanted to settle down in Muncie, Indiana, where her family lived, and she wanted me to settle down there with her, stuck in some sort of assistant manager job in a bank or some such. She’d spelled it out more than once. But I remembered being naked with her and my breath quickened with the memory of her body.
I’d just about given up trying to get the fucking elevator to work. For a couple of hours now I’d been pushing that unresponsive button like a B.F. Skinner pigeon pecking for food. But what else was there to do? Plus, the rancid coffee had worked its way through my system and I really needed to pee. I pressed the button again, and – mirabile dictu – the elevator started to move! Relief flooded over me when the doors opened on the second floor and I stepped out of the elevator.
Suddenly the idea of studying Economics seemed like a welcome, exciting prospect after all. Markets, fiscal policy, economic growth. And Shirley? Well, maybe getting back together with Shirley really wasn’t such a good idea.