Death Metal, Sorting Things, and Living with my Parents

When my kid was little, like from ages 2.5 through 11, he spent hours happily sorting things. Pokemon cards, Hot Wheels, green soldiers, bath ducks–whatever he could get his hands on of which there were more than three. Soap chips that I kept in the guest bathroom at the sink (lol, I had a guest bathroom! Teehee. Who was that woman, anyway?) Pots and pans, according to size and shape. His dad’s liquor bottles, by color and size. (I took a terrific toddler photo that day of my bitsy, surprised-looking two-year-old son surrounded by booze bottles, which somehow he’d managed to get out of the locked cabinet. I’d been distracted by a phone call with my MLM team partners. Long story for another time. Just don’t join an MLM, my friends.)

Neighbors commented on Cisco’s remarkable attention span and drive to organize. “He must be very bright,” one would say. “Is he walking yet?” another would ask, worried. (Although the kid and I had been having conversations since he was one, the guy still refused to walk until, at 2 years, he took his first step into his beloved cousin Amber’s waiting arms. But his comments, unutterably precious, like, “Mama, facsimul bird!” by which he meant he’d observed a turkey vulture soaring high in the blue while we walked in the Santa Barbara hills, taught me that we all develop precisely as we wish according to our own perfect timing.)

I’ve been thinking about Cisco and his love of organizing since I started new part-time work this week as a “Tech II” employee at Goodwill. As part of my training, I get to sort stuff all day, and now I know where his love of order, categorization, and organizing came from. Me! Well, his dad’s a botanist and environmental scientist, so I suppose our son got a double-whammy on that gene. Cisco’s genius has turned out to be in jazz, a highly intellectual and logical music form, so it all makes perfect sense now.

Cisco (center) with his ridiculously talented band mates.

And so, with all the genetic proclivities that I apparently both inherited and passed on, I was in heaven this past week at Goodwill. They’ve started me at the bottom, which I appreciate, because how else do you learn a business? The “bottom,” in this case, is a massive, Costco-like warehouse in which all manner of donations arrive to be sorted, evaluated, and either sent “upstairs” for further doctoring or shipped out to partner companies for recycling.

I worked down there with several people this week, from a Viking-sized woman with an engineering degree who can smash 500-lb. steel plates together when they get knocked awry on the weighing platform to a tiny Somali man who several times took out of my hands the handles of a jack used to move our 800+ lb. boxes of donations around. Grr. I still can’t tell whether his intentions are chivalrous or if he’s merely impatient with my figuring out the geometry of these odd but superbly useful devices. I keep thinking of Rainman saying, “I’m an excellent driver.”

I listened to a morning’s worth of screaming death metal with one warehouse partner and trumpet-dominated ambient music with another, both competing with the blaring classic rock of the nearest neighboring work station 20 ft. away, which seems to be focused on compacting plastic bags full of things that get hauled away by the forklift driver. I call him “the Cowboy” for his daring and somewhat devil-may-care driving style. Actually, I notice most of the forklift drivers have kind of a crazy gleam in their eyes. They remind me of the scene with the Mini Coopers from the 1969 Italian Job. I think I’d like to be one of them. Note to self.

Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned, I’m back living with my parents, now in their 80s. I still can’t believe I was away for 30 years! They’ve changed so much. Last I spent any time with them was when I was 22, right before I left for California for what was supposed to be a year-long adventure. They were vigorous, wealthy, driven business owners then. Now, I see my mom take her little walks next door for bridge, poking her stick in front of her to probe for hidden dangers. She never looks up.

An avid reader who earned a doctorate in human and organizational development in her late 60s, Mom lost an eye to a torn retina a few years back, and just doesn’t feel safe moving around anymore. She’s written a book called Trackless Snow, a lovely piece on women’s resilience during the aging process. My dad (stepdad, but dad since I was 16) is 83 now, and still loves to tell the stories he was famous for in the USO during his term as a forward air controller in his O1E Bird Dog over Vietnam. Having earned two Bronze stars, a Silver star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Purple Heart, he still flirts shamelessly at Mom’s hair salon. He drives her wherever she needs to go and loves her like crazy.

The 01E Bird Dog. My dad used to sit on a lead plate his Marine friends cut out of an old submarine for him.
And he saved a massive whale shark from being bombed by fighter jets as it lazed in a quiet cove. True story.

I guess I’ve changed a ton from my parents’ perspective, too. They keep being aghast that I’d clean up their dinner dishes, remember to give their ancient Pomeranian Luna her pain meds before bed, and express interest in vacuuming my studio upstairs. When I think about it, though, the last they knew of me, I was out partying till early morning in the summers, coming home from Rutgers to do weeks and weeks of laundry, and generally thinking mostly of myself. Also, I knew everything. I wasn’t the awesomest teenager: severely depressed, moody, sarcastic. Now I’m 53, much kinder, and not as judgmental.

Today I finished my fifth day in the warehouse. I worked with a few of the GoodTech guys, who are uniformly sweet, kind, and interesting. For instance, did you know there’s a whole genre of music called “pirate metal”? I didn’t either. But there is, and today I heard jolly, rollicking (mostly screamed) lyrics by Alestorm, along with their more pensive song called “Keelhauled.” If you picture Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, but he’s taken a heroic dose of acid and is also half zombified, you’ll pretty much get the whole aesthetic of pirate metal.

Well, the rain’s starting up here outside my loft window and the spring wind’s blowing in my new turquoise curtains. My parents, whom I love, are downstairs watching something like the 140th episode of the 177-episode Netflix show called “Blue Bloods.” It’s an awful and formulaic program with exactly one female scream, one black or Muslim terrorist, and endless gun violence per episode. They just love it. And sometimes I feel like I did when I’d sit Cisco down for his afternoon pre-nap TV episode of Little Einstein–a tad guilty, but also relieved for the peace and quiet.

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