More from “Withholding”–Discount Book City, Part III.

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The Job

*******

Three main types of duties a day—a few hours at the register, a few at the Buy Counter, and if there was time, section work. An hour for lunch.

The register was the worst, especially if there was a long line of customers and no time for a break from the noise and stress. Long lines at Christmas time almost made me melt down with stress.

When I started, Gordon often abandoned me, and left me to work the register for most of the day. After a year or so, Rita suggested we draw up daily schedules, and assign certain people to work certain places for set times. That was a great improvement.  

The only time the register was pleasant was when it was slow and I could sit down on a stool and price books. That was the only time other than when I ate lunch or did the bookkeeping that I was aloud to sit down.

When I lived in College Station, I had to bike forty-five minutes one way to work and forty-five minutes back. I built up huge, Earl Campbell-esque leg muscles, but this never helped with the constant standing. Being on my feet seven or eight hours a day on a concrete floor left my back, hips, legs, and feet in constant pain.

There was a little erasable white board on the wall beside the register. And every day we’d write the date on that board, as well as famous birthdays, which we’d look up in reference books we kept behind the counter. If I opened and got stuck on the register first thing in the morning, I would make sure that my favorite birthday celebrants would get posted. And I usually wrote their names down with careful and elaborate lettering. But often, the people who’d work the register after me would erase the name or names I’d put down and add the name of someone they liked. It was petty and annoying, but then again, I don’t think I’ve worked any place where so many members of the staff hated one another.   

At the Buy Counter I had to evaluate the books, magazines, music, movies, and ephemera that people brought in, look over the condition, decide if there was much of a market for the item in our store, decide how quickly it might sell, and decide what we’d likely price the item. Then I’d figure out a rate, usually between 10% and 40% of what we’d price the item, and that would be what I’d offer for the item. 20% was for an average item, while 40% or even 50% would be for something that might sell within three days. Then I’d tally up all these separate prices and make a blanket offer. But we only made offers for all the items all together. We never broke up buys item by item, or else we’d have spent hours having to figure and re-figure for the benefit of a seller who didn’t think he got a decent offer the first time.

Some sellers just wanted to get rid of their stuff. Others were more interested in how much money they could get. Often a seller would get angry at the offer and would pack up his stuff and leave.

It took a long time to train a new employee on all these variables, especially what items were worth in our market. A book that might fetch a fortune in Austin or even New York, might not sell in Aggieland.

Unfortunately, because of his laziness, and other matters that came up, Gordon did not train me in the normal time period, so that, even a year after I’d been hired, I wasn’t able to do a buy on my own without supervision. And even after I was pronounced more or less “trained,” Preston was always breathing down my neck, second-guessing and scolding me.

Section work was the most pleasant for me because it afforded me a chance to get away from customers and staff and be by myself. I was responsible for the history, travel, Americana, Texana, men’s adventure fiction, war, and political science sections. When two female staffers refused to work the Children’s Room, saying it was too frustrating, I volunteered to do it all myself, despite its reputation as “women’s work.”

I would shelve books in my sections, straighten them, arrange them either alphabetically or by height “from tall to small.” I also had to do mark-downs regularly, based on the date the book was acquired and its origin. Books from the warehouse were the most valuable and costly, so we didn’t mark them down that often. Some books got marked down every six months, some once a year.

Every year we did an inventory, where we just counted the books. And every year we did inventory and accrual, where we pulled, I think, every tenth book, and boxed it up. These boxes were sent to a special warehouse, and whenever the company opened a new store, it was initially stocked with books from the Accrual Warehouse.

Some employees, like Preston, were very scrupulous about boxing up every tenth book, no matter how good it might be. I, on the other hand, used Accrual as a chance to unload the dead wood, crappy books that weren’t selling.

The Main Warehouse often made shitty deals—to get really good titles they often had to buy lots of crappy ones, and we’d get multiple copies of the same unpopular books year after year—and still be expected to put them out on the shelves.

We all shared janitorial duties. At night we had to vacuum the store with an old, piece of shit machine , the cord to which had exposed wires in numerous places. The vacuum hardly picked up dirt at all; the vacuuming ritual was more for show than anything.

Cleaning the public restroom always made my flesh crawl. I couldn’t bear the idea I was having to get so close to all the shit and piss and public hair of all those filthy strangers. Cleaning the employee restroom was slightly better.

We had to do the bookkeeping three times a day. The morning bookkeeping was the most elaborate and tiresome. Everyone else could get it done in an hour, but it took me two. Sometime when I opened my co-worker would be in a hurry, and would offer to do the books while I did something else. Other times, especially if I was opening with a manager, the person would insist I do the bookkeeping so I could get comfortable with it. But I never did.

At midday we’d switch out register drawers. I was comfortable with this procedure and could do it quickly. Late night bookkeeping was slow; usually I managed to weasel out of it.

One of the reasons I hated doing the books was also one of the reasons I hated working the register: I was disgusted by handling money—especially coins. So often it came to us filthy—tarnished green, rusted red, or covered with black goo.   

And the money had passed through the vile hands of our customers—the middle-aged Thalidomide baby with the dorsal fin in place of a right arm, a thumbnail set in the middle of it like a postage stamp,  the crusty old man with yellow finger nails, the ends of which were cracked off, revealing fibers like those from a broken stalk of celery or a piece of plywood, the frightening old woman who always talked about having [some disease or other].

Every day I spent in that place I found my fears and neuroses increasing.

We had some benefits. Some employees made a big deal about the health insurance, but I never gave a  shit about that.

We got quarterly profit-sharing checks that usually equally one or two regular paychecks. We were told these would come about six weeks after the end of the quarter. Everyone forgot about that time schedule but me. Whenever a quarter ended I would start counting the days. Sometime I’d get impatient and call the Accounting Department as ask what the fucking hold-up was.

Usually, though, the checks would arrive six weeks to the day after the end of the quarter, which always enraged me. I had visions of envelopes full of checks stacked up for weeks in the Accounting Office, while the accountants willfully sat on their asses and did nothing. If they could predict to the day when the checks would be ready, why did they insist on holding onto them for six weeks. Why couldn’t we get them in five weeks? Or four?

My favorite benefit, though, was the Employee Discount, which was 50% for most items, less for others. The company considered out store medium-sized, since we normally had eight or nine employees on staff at any one time.  But the rate of employee purchases at our store was equivalent to a store with a staff of eleven or twelve. I made up for those three or four extra people with my purchases.

Everybody on the staff had a “Hold Shelf” in the Break Room/Office, where they set aside things they wanted to buy, as well as dumped their personal items. Eventually I took over two such shelves. Then two shelves and a couple boxes on the floor. The company had a tiresome policy that we were to purchase our holds within a fairly small time frame, but I couldn’t always afford to do this. Sometimes the managers were hard-asses about this. I just never knew why they cared so much one way or another.

Payday was always a celebration. I’d get the check the night before on the promise I’d not cash it until the day it was dated. I’d get up early, bike to the bank, cash the check, go eat a huge, fatty breakfast at a diner, buy some books, magazines, and CDs at the Bryan Hastings store, then head to work.

When I did buy stuff from my Hold Shelf, I usually had to haul it to the register in a cart—there really were that many items. I’d usually wait for a lull when there weren’t many customers, because it would take so long for a co-worker to ring me up.

Sometimes one or two of my co-workers would stay at the store after their shifts ended just so they could watch the spectacle of me buying books. Their favorite moment was when the clerk would announce the final tally—then they’d look over to me to see if my eyes or face betrayed any emotion—but they never did.

When I bought books at the store I usually bought so many that I’d have to get a co-worker to drive me, my bike, and the books home. Once when Vincent volunteered for this he asked me,

–I have a question. How is it that we were hired at the exact same time, both make the same amount of money, and yet you can always afford to buy so many more books than I can?

–Easy. Unlike you, I’m not responsible for the care and feeding of an automobile, and I don’t have a high-maintenance girlfriend.

I increased the size of my library from about 1,100 volumes to over 7,000 in three-and-a-half years….

Though Discount Book City had been founded by old hippies and retained a hippie vibe, and made a great show of trumpeting its eco-friendly policies, in the Bryan store, we really didn’t do any recycling. The one recycling plant in town took in almost no materials from the citizenry, because it was kept busy recycling all the paper generated by the University.

We had a tiny Stock Room, and after assigning space for back stock, new, unpriced purchases, and other crap, we just didn’t have room to store materials for recycling. We had a few people and institutions to whom we made donations, but they seldom called or came by. Had we held on to everything that came into the store, the Stock Room would have been impassable within three or four days.

Now I saw myself as the Oskar Schindler of the Book Holocaust, and anyway I have always anthropomorphized my books. My heart often went out when I saw a book on our unloading ramp, slated for a rendezvous with the dumpster. I felt as if the books and magazines were crying out for me to save them.

I didn’t care about all of them—I’m not a complete freak. I had my limits. But I did save many hundreds, if not thousands, of books and magazines in my areas of interest. And of course, these were free. Some of my staffers thought there was something morally dicey about this, that if I wanted these things, I should at least pay a token amount. But the way I saw it, they had been abandoned, forsaken. The others didn’t think these things could sell and wanted to throw them away. So I thought them fair game.

(Some co-workers violated company policy by extending their employee discounts to their family and friends. I never did this myself, but I was also never asked to do so. Either way, I didn’t lose any sleep over this apparently unethical practice.)

Some staffers, especially Bert, Preston, Gordon, and Andy, had a real problem with the idea of people fishing books out of our garbage. They believed that our trash was the property of Discount Book City until the garbage men came and hauled it away. They would spray the contents of the dumpster with a hose and dump coffee grounds and dirty cat litter, to discourage dumpster diving. I could understand that they didn’t want people grabbing a book out of the garbage, then bringing it inside and trying to sell it to us again, but beyond that, I didn’t know why they were so passionately upset about dumpster diving.

See, I’ve never understood people who consider the company they work for as an extension of themselves. That when the company is getting ripped off, they’re getting ripped off too. Now if you own the company, your name is over the door, and you take home a lion’s share of the profits, that’s one thing. But if you’re just another wage slave, subject to an arbitrary firing or lay-off whenever the company’s bottom line looks bad, why should you care?

These people seem to be caught in a feudal Lord versus Serf scenario. They feel “My employer–right or wrong! This guy hired me and is giving me a pay-check, so I have to look out for his interests at every turn. I should stay up all night by his front window and bark if other dogs try to step into my Master’s yard.”

Now, sure, I believe in employee loyalty within reasonable limits. If a company treats me well I get it my all, but I won’t take extraordinary measures to make money for my employer unless I get a healthy taste of those profits.

I knew that at Discount Book City my salary would be at a low set rate for about a year, and nothing I did, no amount of work I piled on top of what was already required of me, would change that salary. My salary was already inadequate for my needs, and the quarterly profit-sharing checks, while welcome, were still not large enough to motivate me.

And for that matter, I don’t think any amount of money could’ve motivated me while I was on that job. I had hit the trifecta of misery: I was in constant physical pain, I was severely depressed, and I was utterly without hope. And as a bonus, I hated almost everybody and everything with which I was surrounded.

For several years I let my hair grow out. It grew down to almost the middle of my back. I did this because of my depression, because I had largely ceased to care about my appearance, and so that no one would ever possibly mistake me for one of those crew-cutted Aggie boys. Thanks to my ever-increasing weight I looked rather like the singer Meat Loaf.

Some asshole customer called me “Ma’am” once when I was bent over the counter at the register. I stood up and angrily asked,

–What was it that threw you? The moustache?      

*******
   
Around April 1995, a few months after I’d started at the store, we began a massive renovation. (I think the building had originally been a small grocery store and gas station.)

We hired some temps to load books into boxes, then take them on a dolly to a trailer set up back in the parking lot. I looked at one of the job applications. It had been submitted by an older woman. When asked the year of her birth she wrote “19__?.” When asked if there were any conditions under which she did not care to work she wrote that she didn’t like repetitive and monotonous tasks, Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.

A huge L-shaped wheelchair ramp connected the front room to the middle of the store. This would later provide a great stage upon which bored employees could perform. Several interior walls were knocked down. And the old carpets were pulled up. So much dust was kicked up that I had a severe allergy attack and had to stay home sick for three days.

My mother came to town for a meeting and stayed the night in my apartment—the only time I’ve ever had family sleep in any of my apartments. She sneaked Fred in with her—pets were not allowed at this apartment complex. While my mother went to her meeting, I played with Fred and watched the breaking news on the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which had taken place just a few hours before.

Thanks to the renovation, Gordon neglected to give me and Vincent a raise that we were due upon completing our new employee probation period. This mistake was never rectified, and we were always one pay grade below where we were supposed to be.

*******

I’ve written about how inconvenient the town was for a person without a car. There was also little to choose from in the areas of dining, shopping, and entertainment. To get to the main movie theatre I’d have to ride my bicycle part of the way along the shoulder of a highway. There were a couple restaurants I did like, though, as well as a farmer’s market that carried spectacular fruit and vegetables.

The store had a subscription to “Publisher’s Weekly.” The managers always tore out the best sellers lists and posted them in the Stock Room. I was the only one who ever read the magazine. I used it as a catalogue, to see what new books I might want to order.

I did my special orders from the bookstore in the A&M Student Union. They mostly sold clothing and other crap with Aggie logos and slogans on them but they did have a small trade books section. One knuckle-dragging clerk had to look up my customer file when preparing an order for me, and made the rather absurd observation,

–Wow, man, you sure do read a lot.

I was a regular patron at the two Hastings store in town. They sold books, music, and movies, and while their selection wasn’t great, it was better than nothing. A Barnes and Noble opened up my last year in town.

At some point, Preston decided he didn’t need to hold on to so many books, because he wasn’t finding time to read them. But since our store was months behind in pricing the books we were buying, he sold them to a small store that had just opened, which specialized in rare and collectible books. I don’t think it stayed open very long, though.

Once in a great while I made the long trip into old downtown Bryan, to look for old books in the antique stores there. I made a few good finds.

I heard there was an antique dealer with a shop closer to me, so I went to check his place out. It was really more of a junk shop, and his books were the sort you see in garage sales. But he fancied himself a rare book dealer, and made quite a fuss when I told him where I worked. He asked,

–So, do ya’ll sort you books alphabetically, or by “jenner”?

It took me a minute to realize he meant “genre.”   

My chief source of recreation during my time in Aggieland was the University Library. I got a Community User’s Library Card, and checked out dozens of books at a time. They had a lot more bound issues of old magazines out on open shelves than the UT Libraries did (at least, of the magazines that interested me), and I made thousands of photocopies.

I spent many happy hours in the stacks, especially the ones in the oldest section of the Library, where the books were still classified by the Dewey Decimal, rather than the Library of Congress System. I checked out and enjoyed books that hadn’t been checked out since before I’d been born. I checked out and enjoyed books that hadn’t been checked out since before my mother was born. I imagined these old books smiling with joy at having been rediscovered and loved again, at long last.

I read many books about book collecting. This helped a great deal  with my job.

*******

A&M held a film festival. After a screening of “Platoon,” Oliver Stone lectured on “Spirituality in Cinema.” The topic went way over the heads of the audience. At the Q&A, one “Good Ag” (as they are called) got up, took the sprig of grass from between his teeth, and announced,

–Well, Mr. Stone, I don’t nothin’ about spirituality in cinema, but if you ever decide to make a movie here at Texas A&M, I can guarantee we’ll show you some good ol’ Aggie spirit!

Stone’s response, if he made on, was not recorded for posterity.  

I attended a screening of “Swimming with Sharks,” a dark comedy about a young Hollywood production assistant who exacts revenge on his rude and sadistic boss. This time the movie went over the head of the audience. During the Q&A, I had to serve as interpreter and liaison between director George Huang and the audience, which consisted mainly of film students. They couldn’t believe any bosses in Hollywood would be that mean, and worried if it was possible to get a job out there and still remain a nice person. Huang was mostly at a loss for words, s if he couldn’t get over how ignorant and naïve these people were.

And I also attended a lecture given by John Waters. Actually, “lecture” is too strong a word—it was more like a twenty-minute stand-up comedy routine.  Afterwards, I got his autograph and hung alongside the table like a fawning twit, eager to hear whatever Waters had to say or to ingratiate myself to him. In my embarrassing attempt to impress Waters, I committed the unpardonable sin of stepping on his punch line.

A woman leaned over the autographing table, pulled her top down low, and asked Waters to autograph her breasts. Waters said,

–This reminds me of that famous story about when Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were in a restaurant and a woman came over and asked Williams to autograph her breasts. This homophobic man watched this, got disgusted by Williams and Capote carrying on, went over to the table, pulled out his penis, and said, “Well, since you’re autographing things, why don’t you autograph this?” and Williams looked at it and said….  

And I blurted,

– “I can’t autograph it, but maybe I can initial it.”…

*******

The customers never failed to surprise us. We found strange things in the books people brought in to sell us. Sometimes we gave them back. Sometimes we kept them and posted them on the Stock Room wall.

I once found a recently-used condom stuck inside the front cover of a paperback, and commented to a co-worker,

–You know, we want our customers to enjoy books, but this is really too much.

A clergyman left behind photos of a nude teen boy with a raging erection.

A fat woman left behind photos her scrawny boyfriend took of her sprawling on a bed, wearing a black lace bra, and shit-stained white panties.

A young man left behind a studio portrait of himself with a girlfriend. Unfortunately, this was not the girlfriend who’d come with him into the store, and she got mad and made him tear the picture up.

A couple pulled their truck up by our back door and asked me to come outside and help them bring in some books they wanted to sell. The bed of the truck, and everything inside it, including the books and the boxes they were stored in, was soaking in motor oil. The couple actually had the gall to get mad at me when I said I couldn’t even look at these books, much less make an offer.

Humor-wise, it was hard to know where to draw the line. Our store business stamp was a 70s-style cartoon of a man in a top hat. I stamped this image onto a piece of paper, then beneath it made a drawing of the back of a flasher, who was opening his raincoat. In the balloon I wrote,

–”Expose yourself to a good book!”

Gordon didn’t find this funny, and tore it down.

*******

Easter 1995. For some stupid fucking reason the store was open that day. Gordon and I were standing at the register. A young man walked in. He seemed pleased to see us. I turned all Jack Webb on him.

–Wow, man! I can’t believe this! I’m so happy you’re open! I’ve been, like, all over town and this is like the only place that’s open today!

–There’s one other place open today, sir.

–Oh yeah?

–Yeah.

–What is it?

–It’s called “church.”

*******

An elderly woman came into the store, wanting to know if we had “Final Exit,” or any of the other books about suicide, written by Derek Humphry. I took her to where those books were shelved, and told her all about them. I didn’t notice until many months later that she never returned to the store, and I wondered if I had anything to do with that.

******

I was scheduled to work the register one day from 10am to 12, take an hour off for lunch, then return to the register at 1pm. In the morning I listened to the soundtrack of “The Silence of the Lambs” on the store stereo. At noon, Vincent came up to relieve me.

When I finished lunch, I heard that Vincent had turned the tape back on. I wanted to make the perfect Hannibal Lecter entrance. I had Billy strap me onto a dolly, and as the main title music played, he rolled me down the wheelchair ramp, and set me up beside the register.

*******

The lease on my apartment in College Station was about to expire. It didn’t look like I’d be escaping from Aggieland any time soon. I decided to move to an apartment closer to the store. My mother said to get one that allowed pets and she’d bring me my old cat, Poose, to come live with me. She was about to move to her new townhouse in Brenham and use the Bellville place only on weekends.

But when she showed up at my new apartment, she’d brought Fred instead. Her new boyfriend, John, didn’t believe in letting pets live inside the house, and since Fred and I had bonded on our visits, she thought we’d make a good match. Poose, who was a house cat with no front claws, she dumped outdoors. Several weeks passed before I could get a ride to Bellville and go rescue Poose. He was half-starved, and his thick fur was full of sticker-burrs….

I kept a close eye on my animals. A&M had a famous veterinary school, and my neighborhood, which was a mile from the campus, had missing dog and cat notices on every telephone pole. I had to think those poor animals were stolen and used for experimentation.

There was a Pakistani grocery on the corner where I sometimes bought canned Indian food for a dietary change of pace. Once I walked Fred past there when the owners were standing outside and they freaked out, because of their backward belief that dogs were unclean. They jumped around, shouted and waved their arms around as if Fred was rabid and about to bite them. 

*******

My friend Todd S___ called me one night around 2:30am, drunk and on the verge of tears. He’d found a stack of letters I’d written him over the years and had remembered what good friends we’d been. He apologized for not keeping in touch with me. I said it was no problem, but since we only lived two miles apart and he had a car and I didn’t, he should come by some time and we could hang out.

He asked if I was planning on moving back to Austin any time soon. He’d graduated from A&M with honors, but had only been able to find work as a dishwasher and bar-back.  

–I’m trying to get something going. I hope to move back in the next six months, but nothing seems to be working yet.

–Well, I hope you can. Move back to Austin and I’ll come with you. I’ve either gotta move to Houston or Austin or something. Bryan/College Station is killing me.

Todd was one of the few people I’ve ever known that I considered an intellectual equal. I never felt I had to talk down to him the way I do with everyone else.

Two or three weeks passed. I considered sending Todd a vulgar greeting card to remind him to come on by.

Late one night our friend Carter Newton called from Lubbock:

–So I guess you heard about Todd.

–I’ve not heard anything about Todd. Last time I talked to him was about two or three weeks ago.

Todd had committed suicide. Blew his brains out with a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun.

Todd had been engaged to and living with a girl from a conservative Hispanic family. They wanted her to marry an ambitious, up-and-coming conservative, Hispanic, Catholic, MBA—not a downwardly- mobile, atheist, Anglo with a degree in philosophy and poetry.

He came home early one night. She was fucking one of his friends in the bed they purchased as their matrimonial bed.

Todd went into a slide. He stopped hanging with his old friends and began running with a dangerous new crowd. He developed a serious drinking problem and a taste for the harder drugs. He became something of a recluse when he wasn’t making a spectacle of himself drinking.

Finally, some old friends convinced him to go to a party during the Easter weekend, but he disappeared from there.

No one could find him.

Two or three days later his roommate found him. He’d moved into the attic, shaved his head, and killed himself with a shotgun that had been in the house when they moved in.

Todd’s family was spread all over the world. His sister was eight or nine months pregnant and living in Italy, so she couldn’t travel. His father was working in the oil business in Saudi Arabia. His mother was sailing up the Nile. His Holy Roller brother Trey, with whom he did not get along, came down from Austin to handle the arrangements. A week-and-a-half passed before the family all got back to Texas….

I went with Todd’s friend Jim K__ down to their old home, the Houston bedroom community of Cypress-Fairbanks. I found the place suffocating.

I’d brought along a book by E. M. Cioran, a nihilist philosopher Todd turned me onto. I was thinking about reading some passages at the funeral. But I wasn’t planning to ask the S___ family if I could speak, because then they’d have felt obliged to allow me. I decided to wait to be asked.

The night before the funeral, Todd’s friends—Jim  and the Newton brothers, Carter and Riley, and I went out to Houston to bar-hop, for what I called “Todd’s rolling wake.”

On the way out of Cypress-Fairbanks I toasted a large Baptist church. This was a symbol of all he despised—because, as he described it, this particular church was the one all the Cy-Fair adults and teens joined because of its social cachet—not because they actually believed in its tenets.  

He told me one of the oh-so-proper female members had given him a blow job in the parking lot when they were both in high school.

The funeral was awful. Todd’s mother asked me if I’d like to speak just as I was walking into the chapel, but I’d not brought the Cioran book with me.

The music was a mixture of schmaltzy soft pop and country tripe and old school Baptist hymns, which sounded like curses and mockery on everyone’s lips. Throughout the service I kept thinking, Oh Todd, I am so sorry. I am so sorry this funeral is playing out this way.

Up front Todd’s whore ex-fiancee cried her eyes out, as did a young man who looked a lot like Todd, and whom no one seemed to know. All the people who came up to speak about Todd were strangers to me, Jim, and the Newtons.

Afterwards, we friends talked about the funeral. I said,  

–Well, I guess this means if you check out early, you get a shitty funeral.

Carter had to head to the airport to catch a flight to South Texas for wedding.

Jim, Riley, and I went to Todd’s aunt’s house for a reception.

I met Trey. He was every bit the self-righteous prick that Todd had described.

Trey seemed almost happy, almost triumphant in an “I-told-you-so” sort of way. He believed Todd’s ex had dumped him because he refused to raise their children as Christians. This was a lie. He said she could raise them as Christians (and indeed, he seemed to have a greater respect for Catholicism than he did for Protestantism), as long as he could get a few words about other systems of belief or non-belief. But I didn’t bother to set Trey straight.  

Todd was a writer, and I couldn’t believe what I’d heard that he’d not left beside a note. Trey looked uncomfortable and said,

–You need to talk to Mom.

A few minutes later I was in a guest room with Todd’s mother, looking at a photocopy of what appeared to be the suicide note. (The cops had the original.) It was found in the manuscript of a novel Todd had been working on for some time—an autobiographical work about a family that had been damaged by the alcoholism of several of its members. Mrs. S____ believed Todd  had developed the drinking problem because he was researching the book.

At any rate, that was a hard note to read. It wasn’t long, but it seemed to take forever to get through. It was hard for me to process that here was the final statement of someone who was taking leave of the world—and not only that, but someone I knew well.

All I remember was the first line:

–The god has won.

I assured his mother that Todd believed in belief. He just didn’t respect people who believed things blindly, without investigation, who professed beliefs just to go along with the crowd or win social acceptance.  

That evening Jim and Riley and I went to College Station and stopped for drinks at Todd’s favorite bar. (And yes, we did notice the irony, considering his alcohol problem.)

I overheard some patrons who had overheard us. One of them said,

–Hey, I think they know that guy—you know, the really bad drunk that killed himself.

I hated to think that was how Todd might be remembered.

Todd’s body had been cremated. The urn with the ashes was not present at the funeral. His ashes were strewn over a family ranch in West Texas. I never got a chance for a formal good-bye.

Ten years after Todd’s death I looked up the grave of E. M. Cioran in a Paris cemetery and left a rose there in memory of my friend.

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