And Yet More Suffering

Voice Card  -  Volume 16  -  Suzanne Card Number 9  -  Sat, Sep 1, 1990 11:40 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to Vol 15 John 20 ("EXACTLY!")...

Thank you for your vote of confidence, John, but looking at that sentence again, I started thinking that you could say that about a lot of people in therapy. And artists certainly don't make up the bulk of people in therapy. So it's more than just this, but we've talked about artists and whether they suffer or not enough.

How about garbage collectors? Now there's an occupation that would make me suffer. They have to get up really early in the morning - my garbage collector arrives just as I'm waking up, and I think that's early - and they have to smell rancid meat and get germs and grime and slime all over them and somehow get through five days a week like that.

I met a garbage collector once. He was with a group of large Italian men who rescued me from my garage once when I was locked in late at night. (It's a long story, most of which I'll spare you, but I'd been there for a while and there was no way out - bars on the windows and I couldn't wake up the neighbors).

Anyway, his name was Jimmy. He looked like Richard Gere and he talked like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. We stayed up all night in my kitchen chainsmoking and drinking a bottle of vodka he had in his car. Jimmy was smart and articulate and clever and streetwise and the kind of person on that kind of a night to whom you could say anything at all and it would be OK.

But Jimmy was a tortured individual. He hated collecting garbage but did so because his (apparently) Mafia parents owned the garbage company and that's what they wanted him to do. He drank every afternoon and night after work with his friends and thought he had to be macho because it was expected of him. He implored me never to tell any of his friends if I ever ran into them again that he hadn't made any kind of a pass at me. It's important sometimes just to talk, he said.

And it was true that there was a kind of magic in this drinking and joking around and talking of ours. For the night, anyway, we were soulmates. Jimmy was electric, and I had the sense this was so because he wasn't often honest or revealing about himself and because his wit and his intelligence must have gone largely unappreciated by his family and fellow garbage collectors. Implicit in this side he didn't often show was a larger darker side, and I guess what made the night memorable for me was that I sensed that it could never happen again.

Jimmy didn't make dates. I was supposed to drop in at the North Star (the bar where he went to drink after work). Anytime, he said, the sooner the better.

I did drop in at the North Star a few afternoons later after work, not knowing what to expect. Jimmy hadn't yet arrived - still at home, "cleaning up." It was a neighborhood bar and there were half a dozen or so men hanging around drinking beer. Although I'd never seen any of them before, all of them knew who I was - Jimmy's new flame - and they proceeded to warn me about Jimmy. Jimmy the instigator, Jimmy the maniac, Jimmy the angry boy. The story I remember most vividly was about Jimmy having a fight at the North Star with one of his girlfriends. He kept yelling at her to shut up and when she wouldn't, he carried her outside and stuffed her into a garbage can and put the lid on (which, incidentally, did not shut her up at all).

Needless to say, I knew Jimmy wasn't the man for me long before arriving at the North Star, but I felt like I had to go there anyway. Back in those days, I was attracted to danger, in much the same way some people like to watch fires. I wasn't happy that it existed and didn't want to jump into it but just hover at the periphery, examining.

Maybe it's not clear what I mean from this summarized version, but my question is unrelated to the point of the story. The question is this - how much of Jimmy's bad behavior do you suppose was a result of his job collecting garbage? If he were doing something else for a living, would he be a less miserable human being in any appreciable way?

I would like to move on to raise a few questions about suffering among telemarketers, but my submission is already very late. Maybe next issue.