A Two-College Town

It was the late spring of 1995. I had just left my job as a house painter. They were idiots. I was puttying bare wood in one room, and they were spraying the final coat in the next. On lunch breaks, the crew made vile gay jokes—just to see if I got pissed. The day started at 7:00 in the morning. I pretty much quit just on that basis.

The Daily News Record had a small classified section. There was an advertisement for R.A.S. Electronics, looking for help installing sound systems. I knew my way around RCA cables and speaker wire, so I applied. The application was painless—three questions. There was a very nice woman working behind the desk, Sandy.

RAS - cropped

My first day was with Rick and two other people. (Rick was a tall Caucasian with red hair and moustache.) It was a government building; they needed to get a wire through a cinder block wall. We took turns with a giant drill. We made a huge mess, but didn’t clean it up.

After that, it was pretty much the two of us. Every day was different. A wealthy man wanted his home theater set up. I set the equalizer the same as on my stereo. Rick walked up and fooled with it for ten seconds, and it sounded glorious. At a nearby ski lodge, I climbed to the top of several tall poles to replace speakers. I went, “Check-one-two. Check-check-one-two,” over the speakers of the local university’s dining hall. It was the biggest audience for my spoken word performance. One time, Rick and I were driving down a rural road. We went past someone’s mailbox, just as an explosion went off inside. Sometime later, we saw a big rock, about the size of a car engine, rolling across a city intersection. We both saw them. I swear.

At the time, I wasn’t at all religious. I didn’t like stepping inside churches, but it was part of the job. Lifting big speakers to the ceiling involved going through the attic and using a pulley. It was awful work, especially on hot days.

A lot of the churches had pipe organs. If they would have let me play one for five minutes, a blessing would have been given.

One odd behavior that Rick had was stealing. We were in the office of a dormitory, and he took something. I saw a Joy Division video cassette. I figured that it would be a bunch of stupid videos, but it turned to be some obscenely lo-fi concert footage. It was very cool. I felt guilty and gave it to Goodwill.

On THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THE DECADE, Rick and I were working in a church. We found a television in the basement. I didn’t have an emotional stake in the issue, but Rick was upset. (For those of you who are too young to remember—it was the verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial.)

Sandy was a nice person. A family of ducks had taken up residence by the door. She called the local TV station, and they did a piece on it.

Unfortunately, Sandy was terrible at accounting. In three consecutive weeks, three paychecks bounced. I was so upset that I quit. Rick took me to the bank machine, and he got my money. He needed me to do a job, but I walked out.

Yes, that’s right. He gave me the money, and I still left. Rick had been good to me. We had built a sturdy rapport. I liked the job. Was it really worth quitting because of a couple of bounced paychecks?

Actually, I was tired of being somewhere at 9:00 in the morning, five days a week. The next job I got was working at the local university’s cafeteria. The day began at 10:00. It was where I experienced my first pulled muscle, in my lower back. I talked to a lawyer for a worker’s compensation claim. It wasn’t worth the projected settlement since I was moving to Nashville.

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