John vs. The Garbage Truck (The Worst Summer Job Ever)

June – August, 2004

I’ve had some pretty crappy jobs in my life: employee of the Zaro’s bakery in the bowels of the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers (for about 2 hours before losing it and quitting by blowing up on a problem customer), spending a summer mucking shit and tossing hay at my father’s horse farm upstate, or waiting tables at an ill-prepared and understaffed entertainment venue and frequently getting sat with a 60 person section all at once. No job, however, has ever been quite as bad as the summer I spent working for the local Department of Public Works in my hometown of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

Had I known at the time I agreed to it exactly what the job entailed, I never would’ve done it; however, I didn’t exactly have the foresight to see what was coming until it was too late.

I picked up the job through the internship I’d had for the second half of my senior year in high school. As a result of having a complete dick of an Economics teacher that year, who believed that a relatively “easy A” kind of course (that was a minuscule state requirement at best) should have more work assigned to it than most AP courses require, I failed the class by one point. I’ll repeat that. He failed me by one. fucking. point. The guy had that much spite in his blood. As a result of this, I was forced to take the course over again throughout the second semester, which required making a drastic alteration to my schedule and checked me into an up and coming experimental class that was in its pilot stage called “Senior Alternatives.” The idea was that, rather than spend a semester in a classroom, the participants of this course would go out during their final period on certain days and intern under a member of the local village government and earn their last credits that way. I made a wise decision in my choice of mentor, as I chose the Village Manager, who was in his final year before retirement, was fresh off of a nasty divorce settlement while settling down with Wife B, and had completely checked out of any cares he had for his job… rightfully so. I probably would’ve done the same thing.

I was supposed to meet with this guy about three times a week. He usually only showed up for one of them, if that. In the event that happened, I’d usually just go home and smoke pot or something else completely useless to occupy my unimportant teenage time, as I really had no aspiration to do much aside from that at that point. By the time the end of the semester arrived, and I’d completed the lone assignment he gave me for the entire five month span within the first two weeks with flying colors, he wrote a letter to the teacher of the course recommending me for an A+ for the semester and, armed with the knowledge that I was not going to college in the fall, asked me if I’d like a job. Thinking he was offering me something, fresh out of high school, working for him at the Village Hall, I jumped at the opportunity and agreed before he ever told me what it was. The job was not, in fact, at the Village Hall, but working for the local DPW as a Seasonal employee for a measly $8 an hour. Lesson learned.

When I asked him what the job entailed, he left out most of it and simply told me it was, for the most part, “Just trimming hedges and stuff.” I figured it would be good exercise, I didn’t have to hunt in a competitive summer job market to end up waiting tables, and I’d get to work on my tan while being outside. My reasoning was immediately silenced when I showed up the first Monday after graduation and was instantly told to get my ass on the back of the garbage truck. It was recycling day. Oh, goodie.

The only reason I accepted this as an option for a job was because it offered me the flexibility to have non-weekend hours and evenings free to work on my post-hardcore/emo band that I was convinced at the time was going to make me “famous” someday, having little foresight or direction to realize that the seemingly dying genre wouldn’t make it much further than the following summer or two before it would fade into obscurity and I’d become too old to maintain its target audience; however, this was my motivation, as was getting the Hell out of my mother’s house before our souring relationship was the death of me. With these two motivators in mind, I busted my ass and embodied myself as John Black: The Musician Garbage Man.

After a while, the smell of the garbage juice and dead animal carcasses in the boiling summer sun began to lose its vomit-inducing effect on me and I started to suck it up and really embrace being a hard worker if it meant some extra padding on my paycheck. Of course, I did my fair share of partying and enjoying my youth in the off-hours – it was, after all, my senior summer – but, I was in arguably the best shape of my life, I was happy in the relationship with the girl I was with, I was making decent money for a fresh out of high school kid working a 37.5 hour week, and I was keeping myself busy and out of the house. Truth be told, I worked damn hard at that place. The Union guys hated me because I’d always show up early and steal the good truck spots that made the extra money, and the drivers loved me because I hustled enough to have us wrap early so we could go home halfway through the day and still make a full day’s pay, rather than the old timers, who’d stumble in hungover or still drunk and take their sweet ass time out of the misery of being there, knowing they were making the same pay regardless. In comparison to the other two guys from my graduating class that were also doing this until they left for school in August, I was a freakin’ gold medalist. Why? Because I had to be.

Of course, this was all until later in the summer, when mid-August hit and it all came screeching to a halt. I had freshly come off of a week of being kicked out of the house for the second time in my life for no apparent reason other than sheer useless conflict with my mother. At this point, I was busting my ass harder than ever before to make and save my money to move out, and I was doing so often times without eating breakfast or lunch in an effort to reduce my costs.

One overcast Thursday morning in August, I grabbed my morning coffee, forgoing breakfast, and hustled my way onto the job to catch the first recycling truck out. It was one of those humid summer days where the air feels as if it weighs a hundred pounds, and just walking around feels like swimming in a dirty hot tub. I was running myself ragged trying to get our usual route done, and I was doing so alongside the (literally) retarded local drunk who shared a similar name to a famed fictional movie boxer, and who seemed to focus more on checking out underage girls than actually moving to get the job done. We made the turn onto Edgar’s Lane, and that’s where my life changed.

I will now note two things about myself, not commonly known:

  1. I have always been convinced that I am somewhat Hypo-glycemic, so without food, after a certain amount of time, my blood sugar begins to drop and it becomes very difficult to function, eventually resulting in dizzy spells. At this point in the story, the very naive 17 year old version of myself has not eaten in about 15 hours.
  2. At the age of 13, I had an accident while sledding in which I severely damaged my right leg, just below my knee, after trying to bail out on a sled run and hitting a light pole dead on. After two separate incidents of being on crutches, the doctors informed me that I have a condition called Osgood–Schlatter disease, which means, all bullshit terminology aside, that my knee injury would continue to give me problems until after I’d stopped growing. As a result of this, a properly placed hit to the injury zone, even years later, would send a sharp shooting pain throughout my entire body.

With those two points in mind, the next part of the story will make a lot more sense.

Towards the end of our stroll up Edgar’s Lane, I emptied one of the final house’s recycling bins into the back of the truck, threw it back on that house’s lawn, and jumped back onto the rear platform, banging my knee on the ledge quite hard. The pain of the hit didn’t immediately set in, but made its presence very well known seconds after I turned around and righted myself and the truck began moving. I recall a feeling of dizziness and my vision began to become cloudy.

The next thing I knew, I was looking up at two paramedics. I was on the ground, so it seemed, and had been there for quite some time. I saw a few more people drift in and out of my field of vision, but had no idea where I was or what had happened to me.

I remember asking them what happened and only getting the cryptic response, “We don’t know.” This led me to believe that something had happened to the truck and we had crashed or something, but I was very wrong in that assumption.

As they shined their flashlights in my eyes, they asked me questions to gauge how conscious I was. That exchange went something like this:

“What’s your name?”
“John Black.”
“What’s today’s date?”
“August 19, 2004.”
“John, who’s the President of the United States?”
“Ugh. That schmuck!”
“Okay. He seems to be fine.”

Still, no one would tell me what happened to me or how long I had been on the ground for. They were very careful moving me as they put a neck brace on me and put me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. The actual ambulance ride went fairly quick. The main topic of conversation throughout the entire ride was which of the paramedics was going to be the one to have to call my mother, who was the manager of the Dobbs Ferry Emergency Room at the time, on the first morning she’d had off in about ten days.

After the guys got me into the Emergency Room, everything became a fast paced blur of action as new faces were introduced to the situation, and doctors and nurses began their examinations. The first glimpse I caught of myself, still having no idea what had happened or any recollection of hitting my knee on the way back onto the truck, was when I was put onto the X-ray table and saw my reflection in the glass of the camera. I was shocked to see that I was missing half of my face.

I’ll repeat that: I was missing half of my face.

Despite noticing that I looked like a post-accident Harvey Dent, I remained fairly calm and kept my composure, something I still look back and become proud of. This also just could’ve been because I didn’t have the energy to get upset, but that’s not the point.

After they wheeled me back into the ER suite, which would become my home for the next few hours, the doctor told me that the statement that he’d received from the truck driver was that he checked his mirror as we were about to turn a corner and noticed me fall, face first, off of the back of the truck, smashing the left side of my face. When he stopped the truck and got out to come help me, he noticed that I was having a seizure and immediately called the paramedics for help. They later determined that my seizure was trauma related, which prevented me from having to go through many years of continued medical monitoring.

Still in shock that any of this occurred, I tried my best to tell the doctors everything I could remember up until the accident, which sadly wasn’t a whole lot. I didn’t remember hitting my knee right away, I could just barely remember getting into work that morning.

The next faces that I saw were that of my mother and my sister. My mother’s first assumption was that my accident was drug or alcohol related, and she immediately demanded to see my blood work. The doctors would later calm her down and assure her that it was not chemically related, that I was clean of drugs or alcohol, and that they had absolutely no idea what caused the accident.

The next person I remember meeting was the surgeon, who had the uphill task of stitching up and repairing my now blood and goop-laden face. His strategy, after giving me a quick injection at the impact zone to numb the pain, was to stretch skin from the non-damaged parts of my forehead down to a small point aligning with my left eyebrow, where he would stitch it all together and make it good as new. This seemed to comfort me, until I realized that I would not be put to sleep during this process, and would now have to watch as this massive needle and thread made its way in and out of the top of my field of vision. It was also made tremendously more awkward by the curiosity of my sister, who was interested in becoming a surgeon at the time, who stood over me as the man gave her a quick lesson and described, in great detail, every move he was currently making as he performed his operation. Horrifying, to say the least.

My sister, after she’d satisfied her curiosity with my blood and skin tissue, then offered to make a call I knew she did not want to make. My girlfriend at the time, previously described in The Bamboozle story as Cracked Out Natalie Portman, had not been informed that anything had happened to me, and at this point was in the middle of her road test to get her driver’s license, assuming I was going about another work day. My sister, my mother, and Cracked Out Natalie Portman liked each other about as much as Darth Vader and The Emperor liked The Rebellion, so this had the potential to get interesting.

When Cracked Out Natalie Portman, in the middle of her test, saw her phone ring with my sister’s number in the middle of the day instead of mine, she immediately knew something was wrong, pulled the car over, answered the phone, and proceeded to break down crying in front of the instructor, promptly failing her road test. She was a bit of an overly emotional girl at the time.

About an hour later, much to my surprise, Cracked Out Tits McGee 90 Pound Soaking Wet Scary Yonkers Metalhead Natalie Portman came rushing into my line of sight, took one look at me, screamed, “Oh my God! Your face!” and threw herself dramatically onto the stretcher, crying hysterically for a moment or two before being plucked up by my mother, who is a rather large American.

I honestly thought my mother was going to use Cracked Out Tits McGee 90 Pound Soaking Wet Scary Yonkers Metalhead Overly Emotional Natalie Portman as a toothpick, but instead, she just shoved her into a corner and said, “He has head trauma. Don’t. Do. That.”

At this point, knowing I had another two days of this, I turned to the surgeon and asked if he had any heavy sedatives that might allow me sleep through this. He laughed, told me I was on my own, and walked out of the ER Suite. Prick.

The girlfriend and mother dynamic significantly worsened over the course of the next two days, as my hospital room became a social hangout for any number of random band fans that Tits Portman called to come visit me. The fact that she survived without my mother killing her and wearing her as a hat still amazes me, as well as the rest of the hospital staff, to this very day.

I was released that Saturday after extensive testing concluding that I was not Epileptic. My face healed rather quickly and, today, shows no signs that I ever even had the accident. With all kidding aside, I’m lucky to be alive and I’m lucky to remain relatively unharmed by the whole event. The truck driver, paramedics, and hospital staff really did do an amazing job and I truly do thank them for every second of their time that they spent making sure I came out of it alive.

Over the course of the next year and a half, both the Village Manager who got me that job and one of the lead guys that directed me throughout that summer both lost their lives to heart related conditions while serving their town. I don’t know if that’s a sign that I got off easy or what, but I remind myself of that every day.

So, whenever you feel like you’re miserable at your job, remember that it didn’t almost kill you, and feel slightly better. If, at that point, you know you can’t possibly be happy with what you do, move on. It’s that simple.

At the end of the day, there are the things in life that we can control and the things that we can’t. If you can’t control it, no sense wasting time being upset about it. If you can control it and it still makes you unhappy, change it, because life is far too short to spend with regret.

Stay happy, friends.

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