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What (not) to do When You’re the Only One Left

Charlotte is a ghost town. It’s been a ghost town since school started three weeks ago. My friends are all gone. Even my siblings are gone: My brother’s at UCF, one of my sisters is at the University of Arizona, another one is at Syracuse; my dog’s with my brother, so even he went to college. I’m the only one left. My term at Oxford doesn’t start until October, so I’m the only one left.

In the beginning I spent a lot of time writing, and going to the gym, and walking around my house just looking at stuff, but that got boring so I took a part time job in a steel warehouse. On my first day, I was paired with Cedric, because he was the guy who was most behind on his work. I asked him for a pair of work gloves, and he laughed at me, and then realized I was serious, and stopped laughing but gave me the work gloves.

“Any more requests, Professor?” he said. This is what he started calling me after I told him I went to Duke.

I’m a little thirsty, I thought, and I kind of have to pee, but I don’t know whether I actually have to pee or whether I’m just nervous about working here. Additionally, since it’s just my first day, could I possibly watch you first and learn how things are done then maybe tomorrow come back and you can watch me work, just to make sure I’m doing it correctly, and maybe could you also give me pointers on my form and advice on how to keep my fingers?

“No,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “Let’s go.” As we stepped into the 200,000 square foot warehouse, I immediately caught the scent of wood, rust, and acid that hinted at the steel’s origins. “That’s the receiving end,” screamed Cedric over the buzz of the saws. I kept waiting for the buzz to stop but it didn’t. It was a warehouse constant, and it sounded like a giant swarm of metallic bees. “And that’s the cutting end,” said Cedric, pointing to the source of the horrible noise. “In the middle, here, is where we put the steel until it’s ready to be cut.”

I looked left, and then right: piles of steel—all colors, shapes, and sizes—stretched out into the distance for what seemed like miles. Aisles between the piles served as alleys for the army of forklifts that flitted between the stacks. Cedric told me I that even a piece of steel the size of a bus steering wheel needed to be picked up by a forklift. I tried lifting one when Cedric wasn’t looking, and I’m short and Jewish and not exactly strong, but no human is lifting even a small piece with his or her bare hands.

“Let’s see, what else do you need to know?” I ducked as a chain whipped past my head and just managed to avoid the swinging metal. “Oh yeah, keep your head up. See that?” Cedric pointed above me to a set of two parallel tracks that spanned the length of the warehouse. There was a big machine attached to the tracks at right angles, and the chain that had almost taken of my head hung down from it. “That there is our friendly neighborhood industrial crane. We’ve got three of those in here, and each one can probably lift about 15 tons. We run them from the ground using these remotes. When we get an order we use the forklifts to bring the steel over to the saws, cut the steel, and then use the crane to put the cut steel onto the trucks. We’ve got trucks rolling through here daily, some dropping stuff off, some picking stuff up. Just don’t be an idiot and you won’t get yourself killed.”

I went into the office, and told them I was a student, and I was going to Oxford next month, which I was really looking forward to, so did they have something that required a little less heavy lifting and was less likely to get me killed, please? They put me in the credit department and gave me the title of Assistant to the Credit Manager, which I got confused and wrote on the bottom of all my professional correspondence as Assistant Credit Manager. This meant that, in the 15 minutes after my boss left but before I clocked out, I ran the entire credit department of a multi-million dollar corporation. For a part time job, that was pretty cool. My new position included other perks as well: I got my own office. It had a computer, and a phone, and it was my job to call companies and ask them to fax me credit references. Once they did, I had to fax the references and ask for their opinion on the companies. If the references had a good history with the company, my company might consider extending their line of credit.

After three days I was so bored that I spent the time between faxes coming up with clever things to tweet about. Most of it was dumb. “Today someone said, ‘are you Kenny Gould?’ I felt good about myself until I realized I was wearing my ‘ask me if I’m Kenny Gould’ sticker,” said one. “What belongs in a ballroom but not on a playground? The electric slide,” said another. By day five, I had quit and gone back to writing and going to the gym and walking around my house just looking at stuff.

I don’t think I’m cut out for an office job. Or a warehouse job. Or any job, for that matter. I think I’d like to be a professional student. In that scenario, I wouldn’t have to deal with ghost towns or saws or Excel-induced migraines; I wouldn’t have to worry about warehouses or credit or dividends, whatever they are. I could get used to just hanging out and learning about stuff.

Soon enough, Kenny. Your plane leaves in 14 days. Soon enough.


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