Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Oct. 8
- Community Blog
Down Tempo Purgatory
Author’s Note: Down Tempo Purgatory, this collection of journalistic prose vignettes inspired by true events depicts two years in the life of four people relocating from New York to Seattle, and then to Portland, Oregon in the eyes of Rick Perlero, who’s left disillusioned by the “Great Recession” and is searching for a chance at a better life, and how those chances present themselves in unexpected ways, shapes, and forms when there’s no turning back. The names of the characters are anonymous pseudonyms of those who were along for the journey, and those that I’ve met along the way. – Richard Lerro
I Transactions in Down Tempo Purgatory
1. New York: Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn
Rick Perlero put two and two together at the last-minute, after getting off the phone with Harlan Sussman, the office manager at Peters Kendell LLP. For a moment, he thought nothing of being called into the conference room on a Friday afternoon, since he wasn't looking at the time. As he left the desk behind the shipping/receiving window in the office services department, accompanied by the mail slots on the right hand side, and the sort table on the left across from it in the shape of a u; He saw that the clock on the wall above the fax station across the way, from behind the window said two thirty. It can mean only one thing at the firm, located in midtown Manhattan on Park Avenue, where he worked for the past two and a half years. The administration has mastered the fine art of employee termination with fine precision. Rick has seen it many times, since he's been there. The crude process usually occurred on Friday's at two thirty. The employee is summoned into a conference room to meet with his or her supervisor to be informed of the termination, along with an explanation, and a request to return the key card. He or she is then given a three o'clock deadline to leave with his or her belongings; trinkets such as family photos, portable radios, and stress balls. When three o'clock rolls around, the assistant office manager begins the process of changing the combination of the locks throughout the office space. Rick slowly walks towards the back exit past the copy machine station; He swiftly glances around the small hive of activity amongst the crew making copies, sending faxes, and running mail through the postage machine for the last time. His pace approaching the conference room behind Harlan's office was as if he was leaving the gallows for the execution in Ye Olden Times. Harlan, who was seated at the head of the table towards the shaded window, along with John, the assistant manager seated at the left end, and Lance, the supervisor on the right, asks to "Have a seat" upon Rick's arrival. He seats himself at the opposite head of the table. Harlan goes on to speak, "We've come to the conclusion that you're no longer suited for the position; Two and a half years is a good run. The tone of what was just said was like an inexperienced grandfather, who's failed at sugar coating the blow of disappointment. Lance chimes in; "It's nothing personal, it's business". They all looked towards Rick for a response. He had nothing much to say, and no longer cared at that point. Rick felt like an automaton, a commodity that outlived his usefulness according to "The Man", after giving his all doing the work of two men every morning all summer, since Harlan reneged on hiring a replacement for the ten to six spot in order to save the firm money; preemptively cutting corners in the dawn of the upcoming recession. In the end, Rick had developed high blood pressure due to his stress level, and was prescribed meds to alleviate it, along with Xanax, and sparking spliffs to further take the edge off. All He cared about at that point was getting unemployment, and voiced his concern about holding down his one room shack on Vleigh Place, off 72nd Drive facing Main Street in Flushing, Queens. John asks Rick if he needed to be escorted out, he replied, "No, I can show myself out." He goes back to empty his things out of the cabinet drawer, with his name tag on it, by the fax machines. All he took was his box of apple cinnamon & green tea, and threw out everything else, such as employee manuals etc. Cole, the late shift copy guy approaches him; "What's up? Rick looked up to respond, as he quickly packed his things; "I'm heading out. I've just been let go." Cole, who's tall, dark haired, tan and obnoxious, was momentarily stunned before going on to ask; "What are you going to do now? "Go home and get wasted", Rick said wearily. They slap each other five, and firmly shake hands. Rick flashes the peace sign, as he walks out the door towards the elevators. He pressed the down button, and said to the receptionist; "I'm out, for the last time". She made a note of it in the log. An elevator quickly arrived, Rick gets on. The time was two forty five. Various random thoughts of how to take the abrupt termination crossed Rick’s mind, as he walked down Fifty-Fourth Street and Park Avenue towards the Lexington Avenue/Fifty-Third subway station at Citicorp Center, in the midst of a cool, sunny, late Friday fall afternoon on the eve of rush hour. He walked on past the surrounding office high rises, clean and clear windows in all their sun lit gleaming glory, alongside gourmet delis, touristy gift shops that sell tacky souvenirs, portable electronics and luggage, and street corner newsstands. By the time he arrived at Citicorp those thoughts were already assessed. By the time Rick lit his second Newport cigarette since he left the office, at the smoking section near the station entrance, he began to go down the list of those thoughts… “So this is how it is, after giving all the energy I had every day to make a living at the firm only to be discarded like a used up empty printer cartridge. In the end, it didn’t matter that I was considered to be “The Man”, the hardest worker amongst the Office Services crew. In actuality, I was less than what was expressed time and again in the past two and a half years, just another expendable grunt.” Rick felt from another angle, that he was fortunate that he was granted instant uncontested unemployment benefits, that would kick in within the course of a week, along with his final pay and unused vacation, paid time off, 401K, and the left over college tuition funds that added up to nearly three thousand dollars in his account; “that’s fine with me, there’s no point in going back to work at Metro Corporate Services, which would pay me around the same amount as my unemployment benefits anyway. Why not focus on finishing my semester, and look for work afterwards?” On the subway ride home, he opted out of the usual leisure read or CD listening session to tune out the tedious and repetitive surroundings of the last off peak train before rush hour, and the first of the tired forlorn faces that dwell within it. All he wanted was peace and quiet, to space out, try not to think, and look forward to going home.
The ride on the express train back to Queens lasted twenty minutes. Rick decided to get off at Union Turnpike to catch the bus and stop off at his mother’s house, a co-op in Regency Gardens off Main Street and Union. It was the same scene upon arriving; Rick’s mom was yet to return from work, his brother, Michael was once again slacking off, blasting the stereo in the living room, not doing anything to better himself, things like obtaining his GED, finding a job, furthering his education, a place of his own, Nothing, Nada, Zippo! Rick’s hurt and disgust at the fact that his brother didn’t learn anything from his big brother lingered for quite some time, but came to the realization that it was no longer worth expressing. It would be shrugged off and go one ear and out the other, and besides he had other things on his mind, such as what to do now that his figured out plans to leave New York for good and start a new life in the west coast, either California or Portland, Oregon after graduating from the New School has officially fallen through. All Rick cared to do at that moment was to call his 420 connect for handful of fat nickels to smoke preferably alone, and make good on his last words to his now former coworker that he’d get wasted. As Rick plopped down on the maroon loveseat in the living room to take a momentary load off, Michael asked him, “what’s up?” taking a pause from his jamming out with his long red hair flopping about to the back ground music mix of Korn and Static X amongst other hard rock/metal artists . “Yo Bro, can you lower it down, so I can hear myself think? Rick asked. The volume lowered as requested. He thanked him, and continued to speak, “Just lost my job”. “That sucks”, Michael replied. “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright. I made out ok considering”, Rick said without going into further detail. “What are you up to, Michael? The usual?” “Yeah, I’m going to hit up Andrew when he comes home from work, and jam with him.” “Alright” “What are your plans, Rick?” “I’m going to hit up Little Charlie and get some herb, go home and chill.” “Why not come with me?” “I wasn’t planning on it; I’ll see how I feel. I’d like to say hi to mom when she gets home.” “Alright.” As it turned out, Rick ended up talking to her from the house phone during her last check in call before leaving work for the weekend, giving the brief update of current events. Shortly afterwards Little Charlie pulls up on his bike through the courtyard, and Rick came out to make the standard inconspicuous transaction. He then took off with his brother towards the direction of his place, which happens to be in the same direction of Andrew and Lauren’s place, around the corner from Rick’s. Once they arrived on the corner of 72nd drive and Vleigh place, Rick said, “What the hell, I’ll stop by for a few; I want to stop home first and change my clothes.” “Cool”, Michael swiftly responded. As they casually arrived at Andrew and Lauren’s, Andrew was already settled in from another hard day’s work installing refrigerator’s and large kitchen appliances in expensive high rise apartments throughout the city for his brother’s company. After he opened the door for them, he went right back his Mac computer workspace arranging one of many of the experimental electronica tracks that he composed on garage band, in the extra half room that he utilized as his session room, equipped with a keyboard, mixing board, along with a bass and guitars hanging on the off white walls dingy from smoke alongside Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix posters. The Small talk amongst the three commenced; “What’s up?” “Nothing much, the usual.” “How about yourself?” etc. etc. Rick went on to speak about losing his job and how he was bummed out about his post graduation plans falling through as the blunt was going around. As usual, Rick stayed around as long as courtesy allowed, long enough to say hi and chat with Lauren briefly when she got home from her job at a mortgage company in Rego Park. He didn’t know either of them very well. He met them through a local 420 connect. It became an in passing smoke buddy sort of relationship, along with the other local riff raff, that also came through in passing. Rick perceived the scene as dive bar-esque, no different from his days hanging out in Cheers bar in Ozone Park on Thursday’s, Heavy Metal $3.50 Pitcher night for small talk, tokes, and spirits with people he didn’t associate with on the regular, and when the night is over, it’s back to the grind of work and college night classes. He left shortly after, telling what he told everyone he interacted with since he came home from his last day at the job. He desired some time at home alone to reflect, eat, smoke more herb with the options of internet surfing, watch his Netflix selection, listen to music, just chill out, which was the ultimate goal. Rick would do just that throughout the weekend, partaking in all the aforementioned options between running errands; paying rent and bills, grocery shopping, and doing laundry at the Laundromat while doing his reading assignment for his Beat Literature class on Monday. He would take it all in stride continuing his routines as if nothing happened. As of Monday, he filed for unemployment online. It was a cinch, the benefits kicked in the following week. All that remained to focus on was college. On Wednesday morning, Rick received a pink pick up slip from the post office. It was as expected, the final post employee termination paper work, regarding his 401k and cobra health insurance options. The line was short that morning, and when the next available called him over, he walked up to the counter; It was last thing he remembered before blacking out, coming to as he was lifted on to a stretcher and into an ambulance. It turned out that Rick had a seizure according to the EMS worker. It wasn’t his first, but would be his last. The final blow of a stressed out chaotic year in the life, caused by Xanax, the very thing prescribed to alleviate that stress…
Chaos presented itself like flaming shit in paper bag left on someone’s after the doorbell rang, once Rick returned to Queens from Brooklyn late October ’06. After a long tedious search for housing amidst the final dealings with his family attorney regarding the sale of his late grandparent’s house on 102nd Road in Richmond Hill, he finally found a month to month single front room, through an apartment rental agency, with a shared bathroom and kitchen (so he was led to believe) in a house on East 15th Street off Avenue J, around the corner from the Q subway line, which conveniently and quickly brought to 14th Street/Union Square, one of his favorite gallivanting spots in Manhattan, along with the Village and Lower East Side. Usha, the landlady, who is originally from India, has cultivated the fine art of the con artist’s hustle, the pitch of the irresistible sell that leads up to the reneging of the arrangement that leaves you cold, regretting you ever taken the deal. The room, which couldn’t be more basic, was an ideal place to get started, a place to eat and sleep, while gallivanting around his areas of choice within Manhattan limits, especially on Saturday’s when the main strip on Avenue J was dead, with no access to fresh bagels at the bagel shop, in observation of the Jewish Sabbath, everything closed except for Dom’s pizzeria , on the corner, the best in the area, where Rick marveled the old school Italian craftsmanship of pizza making, and the convenience store on the corner of the elevated entrance to the subway. He spent the time going to meetings at the LGBT center, and the SGI culture center, where he got acquainted to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. As Rick was beginning to feel settle, Usha knocks on his door to deal him the first blow, “I won’t be able to grant you access to the kitchen after all; I was told the last minute that the lady that lives in the back room is not comfortable with the idea others having access to the kitchen space.” “Really?” Rick’s tone rose sharply to the angry goombah scale; when it came to the old country Italian temper, he learned from the best, he’s seen his grandfather in action many times. “How am I supposed to cook meals? I can’t afford to eat out every night; I’m paying enough for everything else as it is. This is not what we arranged, this is bullshit!” There was no winning this debate, not if he wanted to keep the place and bide his time, while figuring it out. It would eventually get uglier from there. It was at this point where Rick began to cultivate the fine art of fine cuisine cooked out of a microwave and electric grill, without the two other components, that makes the whole damn thing work, the toaster oven, and the microwave stand/cabinet. He wouldn’t complete the elaborate set up, and master it until moving into his second place in Flushing, Queens.
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