I laid telephone line, then cable when it came along. I pulled T-shirts off a silk-screen press. I cleaned offices in buildings thirty-five floors high. I filed the metal edges of grease fryers hot off a welding line. I humped sod in townhouse complexes, and when it became grass I cut it. I sorted mail. I washed police cars, and then I changed their oil. I installed remotes on gas meters so a truck could simply drive down the street and get the readings. I set posts and put up fences, wood and chain link. Five a.m. at the racetrack, I walked hot horses after their exercise. I bathed them. I mopped and swept aisles in a grocery store. Eventually, I stocked shelves. I corrected errors on mortgage papers for a bank. I racked tables in a pool hall. There’s more I’m not telling you.
All of this befell me as an adult. As a kid, I cut neighbors’ lawns and delivered newspapers, and I watched after little kids while their parents worked. I painted houses. I collected frogs from ponds and sold them to pet stores. And so on.
At fifteen, I went for a busboy position at an all-night diner, but they told me to come back when I turned sixteen. I did.
Sometimes, on top of one, I took a second job. It gave me just enough time to sleep between the two. And eat.
My father worked, harder than I did, and then he died. Then I worked harder. My mother said, “You’re the man of the house now.” I was seventeen. She kept an eye on me, to make sure I worked. I did. You've just read about all that. Eventually she died, too.
I watched my social security numbers grow. I have a pretty good lump. I could leave it to somebody, a spouse or dependent. But there's no one. I have no plan to spend it, but I’ve paid into it.
Today I quit my job, my jobs. I had them all written down, phone numbers too, and I called them. You should have seen me, dialing and dialing, crossing names off the list as I went. Some of them I called sounded angry. Some didn’t remember me, and a few didn’t answer. Others had answering machines, but I told the machines I quit anyway.
I think about my father. How he worked. I sit by the phone now, after quitting all my jobs, and wish he could see this. A blank calendar on the wall. A single bulb hanging over my head, from a single cord, like the one he wrapped around his neck just before he died.
Michael Stigman’s work has appeared in Sycamore Review, South Dakota Review, Zone 3, and elsewhere. He teaches English at the University of Kansas, where he recently earned a PhD in Creative Writing. (12/2005)