Mere Summer Help
Once I lived in Alton and worked a few hours a week at a meat shop in Gilford. I'd drive down Ham Woods Hill, straight over Coffin Brook, then snake across Letter S Road, reaching the southern tip of Lake Winnipesaukee. Breaking free from the traffic onto the Mount Major Highway was always something special. A little speed, a little breeze...
All around Lake Winnipesaukee is where the affluent people go, to their nice little summer homes tucked into the trees and hills around the water. Mitt Romney has a place up there somewhere. You can find pictures online of him riding his jet ski with security boats surrounding him. You know, just being a regular guy.
Being mere summer help, I tried to enjoy the summer when I could, even as I performed the terrible task of spraying meat saws with bleach – and if I was lucky, I'd de-skin a steelhead trout filet. A keeper for my resumé: chopped up peppers and onions and made kabobs. I still chop peppers the way my boss taught me today: cut the head off, yank out the seed cluster, cut in half, cut each half in half, cut each piece in half. Preferably bite-size, as kabob enthusiasts prefer bite-sized pieces on their kabobs.
The people-watching was interesting. The girls were always pretty up there. One older fellow I worked with ruined it, though. “Hey guys, check this out,” he would say, leaning on the counter and watching a well-dressed, middle-aged woman in a skirt bending over by the pork chops. He had that smirk of a teenage boy, raised eyebrow, nodding head. I'd look at my bleach-covered shoes and pulse some bone bits out of a blade with the hose, wishing she'd make up her mind, already.
There was a cute cashier girl, too. Always tidy, blonde hair, a crisp store polo, boat shoes. With a name you could write a song about. Off to college in Plymouth or Durham within the year, probably. I'd buy a few beers after my shift ended and go through her line, but she never looked up. I didn't expect much, but I always wanted her to look up at me.
I'd do it all again the next day. Up the highway, the lake on my right. Some hazy song like “Don't Let It Bring You Down” turned all the way up on those June afternoons. I'd watch a speed boat – tricorn hat or water bug? – zip along. Then I'd zip likewise, just a purple flash of Jetta in some boatman's sunglasses. Someday I won't be a part-time meat cutter, I'll be the guy in the boat, I shrugged.
One day, I jogged from my parking space to the entrance of the store, my store polo enshrouding my head. Some car was creeping alongside me, the old man behind the wheel poking his head out. “You're voting for Romney, aren't you?”
You see, this was the summer of 2012. And there was a Ron Paul 2012 sticker on the back of my beat-up Jetta. And I'm a twenty-something-year-old in an affluent area that probably will swing Mitt's way. But we Ron Paul people were unpredictable madmen who could vote in any direction (if at all) and it scared the old white guys who cared about this sort of stuff. I told the guy, “No, I'm not voting for him.”
“Surely you aren't voting for Obama?” He continued to drift next to me while I walked, now fixing my sleeves and collar. I figured, this guy seems to at least know his politics, so I told him, “They are both owned by Goldman Sachs.” And he waved to me and drove away, nodding.
I was running late by a minute, so I raced to my work area, the big glass meat-and-fake-grass-filled display case. I put on my little hat and my giant white coat and began doling out thick-cut pork chops and cold, slippery pre-marinated steak tips. Suddenly the old man was at the counter, waving me over to him.
“I run this investor's newsletter” – (I'm pretty sure that's what he said) – and I'd like to give you a free month's subscription. It will come right in your mailbox. Will you give me your address?” I decided that sounded cool, so I told him my p.o. box and he wrote it on a scrap of paper with my name. He told me his name and departed, reminding me to vote for Romney. I rolled my eyes and bagged ground beef for a man who insisted the best burgers ever were a mix of ground beef and Andouille sausages. He was right, if you're wondering.
I figured this newsletter would be some rinky-dink, stapled-up, four-page thing called Sal's Stock Market Picks. Maybe some article called Gold, Sold! Then a sidebar about how socialism was going to kill my family. Fun stuff like that.
Boy, was I wrong! A few weeks later, I made my weekly pitstop to the Alton post office and found the tiny box stuffed with a week's worth of issues from a daily newspaper called Investor's Business Daily. I've wondered, ever since, if I misheard the old man. Did he say “newsletter” or newspaper? This thing is a beast, a contender with the Wall Street Journal, the sort of battle rag that could swat a rat.
I made a commitment to try and read it every day. I thought maybe if I sat in the break room with the IBD, then Boat Shoes Girl would think .....wow, maybe he's my dreamy summer boyfriend.....But I wasn't in the break room much. And I figured she wasn't, either.
I knew I wouldn't be in a speed boat anytime soon, flashing my million dollar smile at Boat Shoes Girl – not with my part-time paychecks – so I moved on from the meat shop, conveniently leaving them the week before Independence Day. Hey now, I wanted that day off, too. I drank whisky and pitched a tent in my backyard, then deleted my facebook page after getting in a drunk internet fight. I never did make it to the tent.
Those IBD issues went unread all summer and it's certainly a regret of mine. Not because I missed all those Jonah Goldberg columns, but I think there was an opportunity there for me to wise up. To take myself seriously. But we don't gain any perspective until we've had the experience, right?
My desire for a boat has long passed, as well. I don't want to get run over by Mitt's security team. And the cashier, she's faded into dreams and diary pages. But I think of those drives up and down the highway a lot. I'd drive home after sunset storms, smelling like bleach and just a little bit of fresh ground beef, blasting music more alive in the weather – “Walk Like a Giant,” this time – so much distortion it hurt the speakers. Telling the night I'll try again tomorrow. The water, the trees, the sky, all dusk-colored and filled with destruction. Those beers tasted good back then, the moment I got home.