The Woods

At the end of my street was a place we called the woods. At the entrance there was a sand dune to the right and a trail that went through the area. It served as a drainage ditch for the healthy houses on High and Low road, million-dollar estates that belonged to some of the healthiest families in Kalamazoo. When it rained the lowest parts of the woods flooded with streets and ponds that had a short lifespan. On a good day you could find deer roaming around and on a bad day college student met with their drug dealers and they would question what to do when you were spotted walking through.
The woods served as a place of solitude within the city, the closest thing to getting away while only a hundred yards away from the nearest street. There were abandoned bridges that had collapsed long ago, pieces of concrete dumped to prevent erosion. The plants and trees changed every year as the rain dropped of seeds from plants found all around the area.
The woods were often the place for people to dump their trash. On one hike I came across a large bag filled with tripods and camera equipment. Everything was new and had not been out for long. I took it back home and called the police. There was a name on the bag and the police were able to trace it back to the owner who already had an insurance payout for the tripods. The police believed that it was a simple case of insurance fraud and that the owner had tossed them for the money he needed.
While cleaning out his closet my step-dad found a large mason jar filled with marijuana seeds from the 1980s. After 15 years it was time to get rid of them. My parents debated what to do with them but my step-dad was insistent he wanted me to dump them in the woods. I was given this jar of seeds that I didn’t know what they were at the time. This must have been seventh or eighth grade and I stuffed the jar in my backpack acting like I was going for a walk. Out in the woods, surrounded by streets that overlooked the area and neighbors who didn’t like kids hanging out in there, I took out the seeds and dumped them around the area. I brought the jar back home and threw it in the trash.
A few weeks later squad cars were parked at the entrance to the woods and the police carried out garbage bags filled with god knows what. We thought it was bodies or maybe one of those satanic sacrifices we were always hearing about on the news. That night the news did a story on the marijuana farm that had been found in the city. The police had pulled all the plants and were seeking information on the people responsible. “We think this is the work of local college kids that were bold enough to attempt a stunt like this. It’s clear this was an organized production.” The police never did find the farmers.
The woods attracted all kinds of people from the area. Young couples trying to get their grove on. The occasional homeless man that set up a tent at the right spot not to be seen for a while. While walking through the dunes, the one place you did not want to be on a hot summer day I came across a tree that had been turned into a Wing Chun wooden dummy. The arms and punching pad tied around the trunk were obvious to me. Someone was learning kung fu. I never learned who it was or if they ever used it. As I became older the woods were deemed off limits and the fun of exploring was over. When I was able to go through it was while walking the dog or riding my bike but there wasn’t much in there and no reason to pass through. The charm of the woods had vanished along with my childhood.
At the end of the trail was the entrance to the sewer. Spray painted and the iron door had been broken open long ago. It was tall enough for someone to walk down but thirty yards in it narrowed down to a crawl space and until you came to the manhole cover over the street. You could hear the metal clanking of cars driving over as you stood in that small space. That was the farthest I had every ventured in and thanks to Stephen King’s It I’m surprised I ever made it that far.
At the end of the trail was the Gilmore house. One of the richest families in the city, the Gilmores had donated this house to western to be used for some fraternity. The brick building with large picture windows overlooking the woods and an overhang for guest to exit their cars, the house looked like something out of a German landscape painting. On the edge of the yard was a large brick oven with its own chimney. I pictured people making pizzas and flipping steaks on the ranks but it was never used. I could never understand rich people. That had all of these things and they never used or enjoyed them.
The woods are still there. A former co-worker of mine lives next to the entrance and told me about the deer that come into his yard at night and feed on the apples he leaves for them. His kids play in the woods and venture out into my old stomping grounds. I hope they are able to enjoy them more than I could. For a kid who read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn the woods were a magical place and thanks to that place I still find myself going to larger versions of the same thing, hiking through trails and finding all sorts of trinkets to take home to the wife. There is a comfort in knowing that when the houses are gone and nature reclaims what once belonged to it the woods will still be there, the place that was permanent in how hit changed while never changing at all.

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Adventures in Cooking: Part 8

So, let’s step back for a moment and rewind to how I ended up working in a kitchen to begin with. My first two and a half years in college was helped with a job working security, also known as paid to do homework. It paid better than the $5.15 an hour I was making at the local Meijer to retrieve carts and I could do homework on the job while I sat in a guard shack on 2nd and 3rd shift. My last semester at KVCC left me with a question of whether to pay for tuition for the coming semester or pay my rent. Because living out of a car didn’t appeal to me, I chose to pay rent and didn’t go back to school for a while. Classes were becoming more expensive, and while I had been making extra money working for the school paper it was enough to pay tuition but not for the books, supplies, and lab cost that were hidden fees beyond the tuition itself.
Once that choice had been made I started asking myself what kind of job I could do and make a decent living? The options were few and one of the places I guarded had gotten to know me over the past two years. When a job was posted, I applied for it and had an interview a week or two later. I put in my noticed with guardian guard service and started in the closed in smelly hell hole that was Charles River.
The company raised and bred lab rats for various companies and zoos around the country. When you have a snake or bird that is depending on clean food you buy a sterile rat to feed them and make sure they don’t die in front of a group of kids from a local school on a field trip. Local pharmaceutical companies also bought these animals for testing. I didn’t lean either way on the subject. What where people supposed to do? Test on humans and end up killing people? I had been guarding the building from animal rights activist and rabid raccoons for two years. If I had a problem with what they were doing I would have left already.
Charles River was a long building surrounded by barb wire fencing and contained ten rooms where the rats were bred and raised. In each of those ten rooms were 40,000 rats in various states of development. That is the rat shit of 40,000 rats in one room. The majority of the shift was cleaning up shit and feeding the little biters. There was this myth that they had bred the biting instinct out of the rats but that turned out to be pure bullshit. I must have been bitten 10-12 times during my 90 days and I can remember every single one. It was always the new mom rats, pissed off that you were checking to make sure they weren’t eating their babies. The ones who did I was happy to toss their ass into the loading room where they were gassed before disposal. It’s a bit harsh I know but what did you want for Casey Anthony or that bitch that drowned her kids in the bathtub?
From the first day to the last I was miserable. The room smelled like shit. You smelled like shit. When you woke up in the morning your breath still smelled like shit. You think the world is bad because Obama or Trump is president, spend the majority of your waking hours with a room filled with rats and then come to me for complaints. I never went anywhere worried that, you guessed it, I smelled like shit. The paychecks kept coming and I deposited those things at the drive through where the teller could see me sitting in the car far far away. I shopped for my groceries on the weekend in the middle of the night. I didn’t hang out with friends and let the money continue to roll in. I had a feeling that after my 90 days were up, I was going to be gone.
And I was right. I was called to the head manager’s office on day 90 and sat down from her across the desk. The HR lady came in with her and I waited. I had talked to these ladies for more than two years as they arrived in the morning and when they left at night. They appeared confused and hesitant then they dropped the news. “we are laying you off.” The manager said. “we’re not firing you, we just don’t need you right now.”
“So, when do I come back.” I crossed my fingers and waited for those fateful words.
“We’ll let you know.”
A grin grew on my face and I stood up, shook their hands which left them with a confused look on their faces and went to my car happy that I would never have to come back ever again. It was literally the shittiest job I ever had.
I went home and slept, man did it feel good. I cleaned my clothes, bed sheets, and showered a few times a day. This went on for a week. After that I had no plans. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My dream was to go into the comic book industry but the market had taken a dump and 70% of the comic shops across the country had closed. The comic book companies had stopped hiring new talent keep the old guys who had been doing it for 20-30 years. I had not talents that I could think of, no special skills, and the lack of self esteem didn’t help one bit. I was one sad SOB with no clue what to do.
I paid my rent for the next month early and gave myself time to figure things out. That turned into selling my comics and action figures on Ebay.com. Don’t give me any shit they are a collector item. I didn’t go out much and only checked my mail once a week. I was in a state the Japanese refer to as Hikikomori. It is most common with young men that have lost their way and no longer want to be a part of society. My bank account dwindled over time and eventually I would have to find a job.
I ran into Rob at the local comic shop and he stopped by with his friend Nate to hang out. We drank beer shared stories about when we worked at Meijer together.
“What are you doing now?” rob asked.
“You’re looking at it,” I said sitting in my living room hanging out with them.
“You need a job?” Nate asked.
“Ya.”
“Olga’s is hiring. You’ll be a dishwasher but it pays and it’s easy as hell.”
“Where do I apply?” I asked thinking I needed to go online.
“You just walk in, they ask you for a few things and then you start working.”
The next day I drove to the mall. It was the first time I had driven in a few days and after five minutes I was in the dish room cleaning plates off and figuring out how to fill the trays to load into the high-pressure washer. Literally, anybody could get this job. After being bit, smelling like shit, and closing myself off form society this was a dream come true. I felt like Bill Murray in What About Bob? Making baby steps out of the hole I had found myself in.
When I hear people complain about their jobs and whine about how tough or boring it is, I think of those rats and try not to slap the shit out of them. People love to bitch and when its about stupid shit stay back because stupid is contagious.
Charles River no longer exist, or at least the building I was in doesn’t exist. Most of the jobs from my youth no longer exist. Baggers are a thing of the past. The rat factory is closed down. I haven’t seen a truck or security guard from Guardian guard service in a decade, they likely are not around anymore. Comics are no longer drawn by hand, instead done on a computer. Layouts are done on a computer instead of gluing stories onto master sheets. My daughter will not know what I am talking about when I tell her about these things. These jobs are gone, a footnote in history to be forgotten like the cobbler and blacksmith. I have seen stories where robots are cooking meals and matching the quality of a chef. I call BS but who am I to argue. When you take the human element away from certain jobs than what is the point? You can say that you are saving cost but have you accounted for the cost of interaction? How do people meet, fall in love, argue, share ideas, or flirt if you take away the means for those things to take place? At what point are we so isolated that the majority of people end up like me 2 years ago going through their own Hikikomori with no job to draw them out. At what point do we start investing in ourselves instead of the bottom line? When the line hits bottom where do we go from there?
To be continued…

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